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Sony MVC-CD250

Sony adds features, and brings the price down on a 2 megapixel CD Mavica!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 02/20/2002

Executive Overview
With the introduction of the Mavica MVC-CD250, Sony combines the convenience of CD-R image storage with the ease of full automatic exposure control and a lower price point than previous models. The MVC-CD250 features a two-megapixel CCD for capturing high resolution images (a maximum resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 pixels) and a large buffer memory, to facilitate CD-R recording. With a user interface nearly identical to that of the recently released Cyber-Shot DSC-P71 model, the CD250 features smooth operation and user-friendly controls. Though the camera's size is governed by its relatively large CD-R/RW media, the camera has manageable proportions and comes with a neck strap for easy carrying.

The CD250 doesn't offer an optical viewfinder, only a large, color LCD monitor for image composition. (Although Sony does offer an optional clip-on eye-level finder attachment that shields the LCD from ambient light and lets you view it through an eyepiece.) When the LCD monitor is active, an information display reports the remaining battery power, CD capacity, flash status, and the number of available images, plus various exposure settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, image size, and quality. A "Solar Assist" feature includes a small translucent window above the LCD that directs additional light behind the panel in bright conditions. This added illumination boosts the effective brightness of the LCD's backlight, making the display much more usable in direct sunlight and other very bright shooting conditions.

The CD250 is equipped with a 3x, 6.4-19.2 mm lens (equivalent to a 41-123 mm lens on a 35mm camera), with a maximum aperture ranging from f/3.8 to f/3.9, depending on the lens' zoom position. Focus is automatically controlled using a contrast-detection system, though you can select Multi or Center focus area options. You can also choose one of the five available fixed focus settings, ranging from 0.5 meters to infinity. An AF assist light helps the camera focus in low light situations, and can be enabled or disabled through the camera's Setup menu. The CD250 offers Sony's 2x Precision digital telephoto, increasing the zoom capabilities to 6x (although digital magnification results in the usual greatly reduced image resolution and quality).

In addition to the full Automatic exposure mode, the CD250 also offers a Scene mode. Available "scenes" include Twilight, Twilight Portrait, and Landscape, each designed to obtain the best exposure for specific shooting situations. Shutter speeds are automatically controlled on the CD250, and range from 1/1,000 to two seconds. Though the LCD monitor doesn't report this information, you can access the exposure information in Playback mode, via a detailed information display.

A Spot Metering option switches the exposure metering system to take readings from the very center of the image for difficult subjects such as those with strong backlighting. (A crosshair target appears in the center of the LCD monitor.) The CD250's White Balance options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, and Incandescent, to accommodate different types of lighting. Though can't manually control exposure, an Exposure Compensation adjustment lightens or darkens the image from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. For low-light shooting, the camera's ISO setting offers Auto, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, and the "Twilight" scene settings boost ISO to 200, while permitting longer exposure times. The built-in, pop-up flash features Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed operating modes, with a variable flash intensity setting. Similar to other Sony digicams, the CD250 also features a Picture Effects menu, which captures images in Solarized, Sepia, Black & White, and Negative Art tones and a Sharpness setting allows you to control the sharpness and softness of the image.

The CD250 uses Sony's "MPEG EX" technology to provide greatly extended MPEG movie recording directly to the CD-R. One of the real breakthroughs of the CD250 (and its big brother the CD400) is that there's no arbitrary limit to how long you can record a movie for. - You can use the entire capacity of the CD-R disc, letting you record movies of up to 5 minutes, 52 seconds in the highest-quality mode (320 x 240 pixel HQX), and as long as 89 minutes in "SQ" movie mode (low-quality,160x 112 pixel images). This is pretty impressive, a real first for digital still cameras. (Sony is very careful to not bill the CD Mavicas as "camcorders," and for good reason when you compare their capabilities with "real" camcorder models. Still, this enormously extended recording capability is pretty unique.)

Like most of the Sony Mavica line, the CD250 offers a variety of still image recording modes, including a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images. Voice mode records sound clips to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken). An E-mail record mode captures a smaller, 320 x 240-pixel image size that's easier for e-mail transmission, in addition to an image at the selected resolution size. Finally, a Burst 3 mode captures three images in rapid succession (0.5-second intervals) with one press of the Shutter button.

Besides its movie recording modes, a Clip Motion option (available through the Setup menu) works like an animation sequence camera, allowing you to capture a series of up to 10 still images to be played back sequentially. - The captured images are assembled inside the camera into a single animated GIF file. The camera also offers a Multi Burst mode, which captures an extremely rapid burst of 16 frames (30 frames per second), saved as a single movie file. The frames play back at a slower frame rate, giving the effect of slow-motion footage.

Like most of the Sony Mavica line, the CD250 offers a variety of still image recording modes, including a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images. Voice mode records sound clips to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken). An E-mail record mode captures a smaller, 320 x 240-pixel image size that's easier for e-mail transmission, in addition to an image at the selected resolution size. An Exposure Bracketing mode captures three images at different EV levels, to help ensure the best possible exposure. Finally, a Burst 3 mode captures three images in rapid succession (0.5-second intervals) with one press of the Shutter button.

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, GIFs, or MPEGs depending on the Record mode, and are stored on the 80mm CD-R or CD-RW included with the camera. An NTSC video cable connects the camera to a television set, for reviewing images or recording them to video tape. (European models come equipped for PAL, but the camera itself can switch between the two standards via a Setup menu option.) A USB cable provides high-speed connection to PC computers, although Macs appear to not be supported directly. (You can read the "finalized" CDs on Macs with the aid of a software "init" provided by Roxio, formerly known as Adaptec Corporation.) The included software bundle appears to consist of "Pixel ImageMixer", a new (and apparently PC-only) software package. I'll try to evaluate this after PMA, once I've gotten hands on production models of the CD400 and 250.

The CD250 uses an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series), and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. InfoLITHIUM batteries communicate with the camera, showing exactly how much battery power has been consumed, and reporting remaining battery capacity via a small readout on the LCD screen. This is really valuable in avoiding lost shots when your batteries die unexpectedly. Battery life is also excellent, among the best I've found. That said, my standard recommendation of keeping a second battery pack charged and ready to go still stands, especially when the AC adapter isn't convenient.

Like Sony's other Mavica cameras, the CD250 is enjoyable to use, and its user interface and function set will be particularly appealing to novice users. Best of all, you get excellent image capacity with the CD-RW recording media, and a long enough movie recording time to rival some digital video cameras. Overall, a great camera for "midrange" users who want good photo capabilities and cheap memory media for long-term storage and/or long excursions away from the computer.


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