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Sony MVC-CD300

Sony expands its CD-equipped camera line, adding erasability, buffer memory, a 3-megapixel CCD, and a more compact case!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 2/28/2001

Executive Overview
Building on the popularity of Sony's excellent line of Mavica digicams, the MVC-CD300 offers many of the same user interface designs we enjoyed on the DSC-S75, with the added convenience and capacity of the CD-R recording media that made the MVC-CD1000 so great. Much smaller than the floppy-based Mavica digicams, the CD300 is easy to tote in a small camera bag. An accompanying neck strap gives you the option of carrying the CD300 out and ready to shoot.

The CD300 doesn't offer an optical viewfinder, only a large color LCD monitor for image composition. When the LCD monitor is active, an information display reports the remaining battery power, CD-R capacity, flash status, and the number of available images, plus various exposure settings, such as aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, image size, and quality. The information display is enabled or disabled by pressing the Display button beneath the LCD monitor.

New on the CD300's LCD is a "sunlight assist" feature, which 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 CD300 is equipped with a 3x, 7- 21mm Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens (equivalent to a 34-102mm lens on a 35mm camera). Zeiss optics are noted for their quality and sharpness, making the lens a significant feature of the camera. Our assessment is that it performs better than the lenses on most digicams we've tested. The aperture can be manually or automatically adjusted from f/2.1 to f/8.0, and focus is automatically or manually controlled, with a distance readout display on the LCD monitor to assist with manual focus. A 2x digital telephoto function is available through the Setup menu, increasing the CD300's zoom capabilities to 6x (although digital magnification results in the usual decreased image resolution and quality). Macro performance is good, with macro focusing distances ranging from 1.62 inches (4cm) to 8.0 inches (20cm).

A significant feature of the CD300 is its user interface, an implementation of the greatly improved "Year 2001" interface design we first saw in the DSC-S75. This interface design uses a mode dial and expanded horizontal menu system on the LCD to greatly simplify the process of setting various camera options. There's also a small thumb-actuated command wheel for changing settings such as aperture and shutter speed without entering the main menu system. The net effect is a dramatic improvement in ergonomics and usability relative to Sony's earlier designs.

In addition to its fully Manual exposure mode, the CD300 provides Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program AE, and Scene exposure modes. Aperture Priority allows you to select the working aperture -- from f/2.1 to f/8 -- while the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority allows you to select the shutter speed -- from 1/1,000 to eight seconds -- while the camera selects the appropriate aperture. Program AE places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure parameters. The Scene exposure mode provides three preset shooting modes: Twilight, Landscape, and Portrait, which are designed to obtain the best exposure for specific shooting situations.

A Spot Metering option switches the exposure metering system to take readings from the very center of the image (a crosshair target appears in the center of the LCD monitor). White Balance options include Auto, Indoor, Outdoor, or One Push (the manual setting). Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The camera's ISO setting offers Auto, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, increasing performance in low-light shooting situations. The built-in, pop-up flash features Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed operating modes, with a variable flash intensity setting. As an added bonus, the CD300 offers an external flash socket and mounting shoe, which allow you to connect a more powerful flash to the camera. (Although the flash connector is a proprietary Sony design, restricting you to using only the Sony HVL-F1000 flash unit.) A Picture Effects menu 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 CD300 offers the MPEG EX movie recording option, which provides for extended MPEG movie recording directly to the CD-R. The slower writing speed of the CD-RW drive (as compared to Memory Stick cards) means that the CD300's movie durations are still restricted by the size of its buffer memory, but the recording times are reasonably long. Maximum recording time at 320 x 240-pixel resolution is 60 seconds, or 360 seconds at 160 x 112 pixels. A Clip Motion option, available through the Setup menu, works like an animation sequence, allowing you to capture a series of up to 10 still images to be played back sequentially. Menu options for the Clip Menu mode include White Balance, Image Size, Flash Level, Picture Effects, and Sharpness adjustment.

The Record menu offers a list of Record mode options, including a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images; a Text mode that captures images as black-and-white GIF files, perfect for snapping pictures of white boards and meeting notes; and a Voice recording mode, in which you can record sound clips up to 40-seconds long to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken). There's also an E-mail record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240-pixel image size that's easier for e-mail transmission. (This mode actually records two images: one in the 320 x 240-pixel format and another at whatever image size is selected through the Record menu.) An Exposure Bracketing mode captures three images at different EV levels, to achieve the best possible exposure. A Burst 3 mode captures three images in rapid succession (0.5-second intervals) with one press of the shutter button, plus a Normal setting.

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, MPEGs, or GIFs depending on the Record mode, and are stored on the three-inch CD-R included with the camera. An NTSC video cable is also provided for connecting to a television set. (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 or Macintosh computers. Software supplied with the CD300 includes MGI's PhotoSuite SE (Mac and Windows) and VideoWave SE (Windows only) for image downloading, image-correction capabilities, and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards and calendars, as well as basic video editing utilities.

The CD300 uses an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series), and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. We really like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they 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 we've found. Despite the excellent battery life, our 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 CD300 is enjoyable to use, and its user interface and function set have something for everyone. The full-featured exposure control options will satisfy the most advanced user, while its auto-everything "Program" exposure mode will meet the needs of the least-experienced novice. Best of all, you get increased image capacity with the CD-RW recording media. Great optics, a 3.3-megapixel CCD, and CD-RW image storage give the CD300 a strong edge in the digicam marketplace.


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