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Sony MVC-FD87

Sony announces an affordable 1.3-megapixel digicam with basic features, good quality pictures, and a dual-media storage drive!

Review First Posted: 5/4/2001



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MSRP $499 US

 

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1.3-megapixel CCD delivering 1,280 x 960-pixel images
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3x optical zoom lens
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3.5-inch floppy diskette image storage with optional Memory Stick Adapter
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Powered by rechargeable InfoLITHIUM battery pack


Manufacturer Overview
Sony has long held a dominant position in the digicam marketplace, with a wide range of models enjoying enormous popularity with consumers. Last spring (February, 2000), it stunned the digicam world by announcing no fewer than six new models. This year (2001), it repeated this hat trick at Spring PMA in Orlando, FL, once again announcing six new units. As they did last year, this year's announcements affected both the Mavica and Cyber-shot lines, and four of these models included members of the FD Mavica family, enormously popular because of their floppy disk storage media.

The new MVC-FD87 continues the "baseline" Mavica format, with floppy-only storage, extending the line's capabilities with 12-bit digitization (for excellent highlight detail), a fast 4x-speed floppy drive, and a number of evolutionary feature enhancements.


High Points



Executive Overview
Like the other Sony Mavicas, the MVC-FD87 appears bulky at first sight, measuring a hefty 5.75 x 4.1 x 3 inches (143 x 103 x 75mm), but the larger size is a small price to pay for the convenience of floppy disk image storage. Almost a mirror image of the FD92, the FD87 is a more trimmed-down version, with less features, a smaller lens, and no interpolation of its 1.3-megapixel CCD. The camera weighs slightly less than the FD92, at 22.2 ounces (630 grams with battery, lens cap, and floppy diskette) and its sturdy, all plastic body should withstand most average wear and tear. A shoulder / neck strap keeps the camera portable, and an accessory camera bag is available for added protection and easier toting.

The MVC-FD87's boxy shape accommodates a 3.5-inch floppy diskette, which can be removed from the camera following image capture, plugged directly into your computer's floppy drive, and the photos dragged and dropped onto your hard drive with no software intervention (a feature that has made the Mavica line extremely popular with consumers). Like the FD92, the FD87 offers both floppy disk and Memory Stick image storage options, however, the FD87 uses the same drive for both, accepting the Memory Stick only when inserted into an FD2M/FD2MA Floppy Disk Adapter (both the Memory Stick and Adapter are optional accessories).

The MVC-FD87 offers a 2.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor for composing images, with a fairly detailed information display and on-screen menu system (minus the shutter speed and aperture settings). The 3x optical zoom lens offers focal lengths from 6.1-18.3mm (39-117mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) with maximum apertures from f/2.8-f/2.9 depending on the zoom setting. Focus ranges from 9.84 inches (25 cm) to infinity in normal mode (at the wide-angle setting) and from 1.18 to 19.2 inches (3 to 50 cm) in Macro mode, with a handful of fixed focus settings available as well.

Exposure is automatically controlled at all times (unfortunately the instruction manual doesn't report the complete range of apertures or shutter speeds). A variety of Program AE modes equip the camera for special shooting situations, with choices of Automatic exposure, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape, Panfocus, and Spot Metering modes. Twilight and Twilight Plus modes extend low-light performance (although not to true night photography levels, the flash is required for dark scenes). Landscape mode locks the focus at infinity, and Panfocus allows you to quickly change focus from far away to close-up subjects. Both Landscape and Panfocus modes are perfect for fast-action shooting situations, when you don't have time to wait for the autofocus system to change focus. Spot Metering mode changes the default averaged metering system to one that bases the exposure on the very center of the frame -- ideal for high-contrast subjects.

Though exposure is completely automatic, an exposure compensation adjustment allows you to override the exposure reading from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. White balance options include Automatic, Indoors, Outdoors, and Hold (which merely recalls the previously used setting). The onboard flash gives you some added control, providing four operating modes (Auto, Auto Red-Eye, Forced Flash, and No Flash) and allowing you to set its intensity to one of three levels (High, Normal, and Low). There's also a sharpness control, ranging from +2 to -2, and a selection of menu-selected Picture Effects, which include Solarize, B&W, Sepia, and Negative Art.

Aside from the traditional still capture mode, the MVC-FD87 offers a Text option for recording still images as black-and-white GIFs (good for capturing printed text or meeting white boards), or smaller 320 x 240-pixel E-Mail files for Internet transmission (recorded simultaneously with higher-resolution files).

The MVC-FD87 stores images to either a 3.5-inch floppy diskette or a Sony Memory Stick (via a floppy adapter). Floppy storage makes it exceptionally easy for users to transfer images to a computer. Simply pop out the disk and insert it into your computer's floppy drive. There's no cabling to figure out and you don't have to worry about using the AC adapter while downloading to save battery power. The downside to floppy disk storage is that the 1.44MB capacity limits you to only five high-resolution images on a disk. The Memory Stick, however, offers storage capacities as high as 64MB on a single card, and when used with the floppy disk adapter, offers the same drag-and-drop advantages.

MGI PhotoSuite SE and VideoWave come packaged with the camera's software CD. PhotoSuite SE provides organized image downloading, image correction capabilities, and a variety of creative templates for making greeting cards, calendars, and other novelties. VideoWave software provides movie playback and minor editing capabilities, though the camera does not have movie capture capabilities. Similarly, the software CD includes Sony SPVD-004 USB drivers for both Mac and Windows platforms, though the camera does not have a USB connection jack. (We assume this is because the same software CD is bundled with the MVC-FD92 models, which do include these features.)

For power, the MVC-FD87 runs on Sony InfoLITHIUM NP-F330 rechargeable battery packs. (NP-F550 packs can also be used.) What's great about the InfoLITHIUM system is that the battery communicates with the camera regarding power consumption. The camera displays remaining battery time in minutes on the LCD, next to a battery symbol. To conserve battery power, an auto power-off option shuts down the camera after three minutes of inactivity. This is great from an energy conservation standpoint, but we'd like to be able to adjust the shut-down time.

Throughout our testing, the MVC-FD87 performed well for its 1.3-megapixel class, with nice color and great detail. The camera's white balance system accurately assessed most light sources, and the camera's macro capabilities are very commendable. The lack of exposure control limits the camera's low-light performance somewhat, but the available Program AE modes should handle a large variety of shooting situations. Overall, this slightly scaled-down addition to the Mavica line is a great choice for consumers who want the ease of a point-and-shoot camera plus good quality images.


Design
The Sony Mavica FD87 looks a lot like its more accessory-rich cousin, the Mavica FD92. Both feature the same traditional, box-shaped Mavica design (necessary to accommodate the floppy diskettes), though with smaller, side-mounted lenses. Measuring 5.75 x 4.13 x 3 inches (143 x 103 x 75 mm), and weighing 22.2 ounces (630 grams) with the battery, lens cap, and floppy diskette, the FD87 is just a hair smaller than the FD92. Its smaller 1.3-megapixel CCD and scaled-down features provide a less pricey version of the FD92.


Instead of connecting to a computer, the FD87 transfers images to the computer using a conventional 1.44MB floppy disk or a Memory Stick inserted into a Sony Floppy Disk Adapter (both the Memory Stick and adapter are optional accessories). There's no messing around with cables or software drivers. The FD87 also has a trimmed-down selection of features, compared to the FD92, though most of the basic Sony favorites, such as the Picture Effects menu and E-Mail recording mode, are included.


The FD87's 3x lens rounds out the left side of the camera with the lens barrel protruding about an inch from the side panel and less than a half inch from the camera's front panel. A small, spring-loaded cap protects the lens when not in use, and includes a small eyelet for tethering it to the camera body (to prevent loss). The front of the camera also houses the Zoom lever, built-in flash, Shutter button (on its own sloping panel), self-timer lamp, and a flash photocell window just below the flash.Under the rounded lens barrel on the camera's left side is the DC In jack, covered by a plastic flap that remains tethered to the camera even after you pull it out.


A large, sculpted hand grip on the right side of the camera fits comfortably into your palm, with a molded plastic ledge on the front that provides extra grip for the fingers. The floppy diskette slot takes up the right side of the camera, with the Disk Eject lever nearby. The Disk Eject lever takes a little getting used to, as you have to slide the release button to the left, and simultaneously push down on the Eject lever to release the floppy disk. But once you get the hang of it, the process is very simple.


All of the camera controls (with the exception of the Shutter button and Zoom lever) are located on the FD87's back panel, along with the 2.5-inch LCD monitor. The LCD Backlight control is on the left side of the monitor, while the Mode selection button and Power switch (with indicator lamp) are positioned directly beneath the LCD. The Flash, Focus, Program, and Display buttons are one row down, with a Menu/Arrow rocker pad on the right. A ridged thumb grip built into the top right corner of the back panel helps to secure your hold on the camera. Below the thumb rest is a small LED that lights whenever the camera is accessing the floppy disk.


The FD87's top panel is completely feature-free. However, the LCD monitor backlight and two neck strap eyelets are visible from above.


The battery compartment and tripod mount are on the camera's bottom panel. The metal threaded tripod mount is reasonably sturdy, though it's too close to the battery compartment to allow quick battery changes while working with a tripod. (We are pleased to note, however, that the DC In jack's left panel access makes it very convenient for shooting in a studio.)


Viewfinder
The FD87 provides a 2.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor for composing images, but no viewfinder. The Display button, just below the LCD monitor, controls the information display, which reports the amount of floppy disk space, the number of captured images, image size and quality settings, the remaining battery time, and other variables such as Flash, Focus, and Program AE modes. Pressing the up arrow on the Arrow rocker pad displays the LCD menu system (pressing the down arrow turns off the menu). Once the menu is displayed, you can scroll through each submenu and its contents using the arrow keys.

The LCD features a backlight, which can be turned on or off by a sliding switch on the top left side of the back panel. This backlight brightens the display when shooting in sunny conditions, and significantly increases the brightness level when shooting indoors. There's also an LCD Bright adjustment in the Record menu, which changes the contrast of the display to lighten and darken the image.

In Playback mode, the LCD monitor offers a six-image index display mode and a playback zoom that enlarges captured images as much as 5x. Once a captured image is enlarged, the arrow keys of the Arrow rocker pad can be used to scroll around the image, allowing you to check fine details. The image information display in Playback mode reports the date and time the image was captured, the file name, image resolution, number of images saved on the memory card or floppy disk, and the amount of storage space remaining.

In our tests, the MVC-FD87's LCD monitor showed approximately 91.6 percent accuracy at wide angle and about 92.3 percent accuracy at telephoto. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the MVC-FD87 was a bit tight, but performed reasonably well in this respect.


Optics
The FD87 is equipped with a 3x, 6.1-18.3mm zoom lens (39-117mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) with a maximum aperture ranging from f/2.8-f/2.9, depending on the zoom setting. The f/2.8 maximum aperture makes the FD87's lens quite "fast," because the larger aperture allows in more light -- a plus when shooting in low light or photographing fast-paced action (which requires a faster shutter speed). The larger aperture is also good for portrait shots, because its limited depth of field helps to isolate the subject against a slightly blurred background.

A series of 37mm filter threads on the inside lip of the lens allows you to attach accessory filters and lenses to extend the lens' capabilities.

The 2x Precision Digital Zoom is turned on and off through the Record menu. When engaged, it effectively extends the camera's zoom range to 6x. Quality is always an issue with digital telephoto, as the camera is simply enlarging the central portion of the image and thereby decreasing the image quality (resulting in higher noise levels and lower resolution). We've always been fans of Sony's Precision Digital Zoom, however, because it manages to enlarge the image while maintaining fairly good detail and low noise. Though it's no substitute for true optical zoom, the Precision Digital Zoom does a pretty good job.

Focus on the FD87 ranges from 9.84 inches (25 cm) to infinity in normal mode at wide angle, and from 1.18 to 19.2 inches (3 to 50 cm) in Macro mode at the wide-angle setting. Though it doesn't offer a true manual focus option, the FD87 does feature several fixed focus settings, each controlled by the Focus button on the back panel (just below the LCD monitor). Pressed sequentially, the button cycles through Autofocus (no icon), Macro, 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, and Infinity settings. A green dot in the top portion of the LCD monitor blinks while the camera is focusing and glows a steady green when the focus is set.

There are two quick-focus modes among the Program AE selections -- Landscape and Panfocus -- that allow you to preset specific focusing distances for fast shooting situations. Landscape sets focus at infinity for faraway subjects, while Panfocus sets the zoom position on wide-angle and locks the focus. (The Sony manuals aren't too clear on exactly what "Panfocus" does, however, it appears to set the lens to a smaller aperture and the focal distance to the lens' "hyperfocal" distance, where everything beyond a given distance is in focus.) We can see how these modes would be helpful at kids' soccer games and other sporting events, when the fast-paced action doesn't give you much time to fool with focus.

One quirk we've observed with the FD87 and other Mavica models is that the camera momentarily "freezes" the viewfinder display whenever the shutter button is halfway pressed. This is a significant issue when shooting action subjects, as a lot can happen in the few tenths of a second while the display is either frozen or transitioning between modes. Without special handling, this makes the camera decidedly less valuable when shooting sports action and other fast-changing subjects. There is somewhat of a workaround to this problem, however. You can half-press and hold the shutter button prior to the action you want to capture, then fire the shutter when the moment arrives. Focus and exposure are locked at the moment the shutter button is initially depressed, but the response time is much faster when you actually take the picture. You can also set the focus at the Infinity setting, or use the Panfocus Program AE mode. While this isn't necessarily a fatal flaw, it is one we'd very much like to see corrected.

Optical distortion on the FD87 is moderately high at the wide-angle end, as we measured an approximate 0.69 percent barrel distortion during our testing. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as we measured an approximate 0.5 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is low, showing about two or three very faint pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)


Exposure
Exposure control on the FD87 is very straightforward, with a familiar user interface design used on many of the Sony Mavica and Cyber-Shot models. The camera features primarily automatic exposure control, with a handful of special exposure modes for specific shooting situations. Exposure modes (referred to as Program AE modes in the Sony manual) are accessed by pressing the Program button on the back panel, which cycles through the Automatic Exposure, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape, Portrait, and Spot Metering modes. The camera controls both shutter speed and aperture in all exposure modes and does not report these settings on the LCD display. (While many consumers won't be concerned about this, we often like to know what exposure the camera has selected.)

Landscape and Panfocus modes control the camera's focus, with Landscape setting the focus at infinity for faraway subjects and Panfocus allowing quicker focus times for fast-moving subjects. The Twilight modes simply adjust the aperture and shutter speed for dark settings like night skylines and fireworks. Normal Twilight mode sets the exposure system to somewhat underexpose the image, so bright lights, sunsets, and neon signs won't wash out, but instead retain their full color. Twilight Plus makes less exposure adjustment, but boosts light sensitivity for taking pictures under even darker conditions. Spot Metering mode takes the exposure values from the very center of the composition, as opposed to averaging values from the entire image, which is useful for high-contrast subjects, where you'd rather have the exposure set for a specific highlight or dark area. When spot metering is enabled, a target crosshair appears in the center of the LCD display to help line up the shot.

Camera operation is relatively smooth, as you just point and shoot most of the time, leaving the exposure decisions to the camera. Halfway pressing the shutter button sets focus and exposure, triggering a small, green spot at the top of the LCD monitor to blink as the focus is adjusted and then glows steadily when the camera is ready to take the picture. While a few of the camera functions are controlled by individual control buttons on the back panel, most features require the LCD menu system. We always like to see the least amount of reliance on the LCD monitor as possible, but given the lack of an optical viewfinder on the FD87, the LCD monitor is our only choice. Regardless, we found the LCD menu system's setup to be very navigable, even though it requires a fair amount of button pushing to perform certain tasks.

Although there is no adjustable autoexposure / autofocus lock function on the camera, you can change the autoexposure area by simply moving the camera. Basically, you place the area you want the exposure to be based on in the center of the field of view, halfway press the shutter button to set the exposure and focus, then reposition the subject into the desired composition while continuing to hold down the shutter button halfway. Once you've framed the picture, just fully press the shutter button to capture your photo. Exposure compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments, through the Record menu. White balance is adjusted using the same process, with options for Automatic, Indoor, Outdoor, and Hold (which recalls the previous white balance setting used).

A 10-second self-timer mode is accessible through the Record menu and is available in all photography modes. Once in this mode, a half press of the shutter button sets focus and exposure, and a full press triggers the self-timer countdown. The timer will count down from 10 seconds by flashing a small LED on the front of the camera, which accelerates at two seconds.

Sony has also included its Picture Effects menu, which allows you to record images in sepia or black-and-white monotones, as well as apply creative filters such as Negative Art and Solarize. These effects appear "live" in Record mode, meaning that the LCD monitor previews the effect. A Date/Time function enables you to record the capture date and time over the image, and a Sharpness feature adjusts the overall image sharpness in levels from -2 to +2.


Flash
The FD87 is equipped with a built-in flash that Sony rates as effective from 11.9 inches to 8.3 feet (0.3-2.5 meters). In our own tests, this rating actually seemed quite conservative, as we found the flash to be very bright all the way out to 14 feet.

A flash button on the back panel of the camera cycles through Automatic, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, and Suppressed flash modes. An icon displays on the LCD monitor to identify each mode, except for Auto, which has no icon. Auto puts the camera in charge of whether or not the flash fires, based on existing light levels. Red-Eye Reduction fires a small pre-flash to reduce the occurrence of red-eye effect in people shots. Forced Flash means that the flash always fires, regardless of light level, and Suppressed Flash prevents the flash from firing, regardless of light level.

You can adjust the flash intensity to High, Normal, or Low through the Record menu. This option makes the flash more accommodating to varying light levels or different subjects. We liked the fact that we could adjust exposure for the flash and ambient lighting separately, a feature that makes it easier to achieve more balanced exposures.

Special Recording Modes
The FD87 features three recording modes for still images -- Normal, E-Mail, and Text -- accessible in the Record settings menu, under the File submenu. The E-Mail option records a still image at 320 x 240-pixel JPEG size for easy e-mail transmission, in addition to a full-resolution file at whatever image size you've selected from the menu system. Text mode records a black-and-white GIF-formatted image file, perfect for recording meeting notes or white boards. The Text (GIF) format records a high-resolution black-and-white image with a great deal of compression (that is, the resulting images take up very little memory), but the penalty paid is the very long processing time required to reduce the full-color image capture to the black-and-white GIF format.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the Shutter button on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it using Imaging Resource proprietary testing.

Sony Mavica MVC-FD87 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
6.9
Time is delay until first shot captured.
Shutdown
~0
No lens retraction to wait for, meaning zero shutdown normally.
Play to Record, first shot
2.3
Time is delay until first shot captured, about average.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.4/7.1, 1.4/4.7
Shortest times are for image already processed to floppy, longer times are for image just shot, max & min resolution.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.82
About average.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.63
A bit slower than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.21
A bit faster than average.
Cycle time, max/min res
6.2/4.5
A bit slower than average, not bad for writing to a floppy though.


Overall, the FD87 is about an average performer. Its shutter lag times are quite competitive, but its shot to shot time is average to a bit slower than average. (Although on the whole, surprisingly fast, considering that it's writing to a floppy disk.) Perhaps not the first choice for sports shooting, but overall, not a bad performance.


Operation and User Interface
The MVC-FD87's user interface is very similar to that of the MVC-FD92 and many other Sony digicams, with very straightforward operation and an uncomplicated menu system. There are few control buttons to decipher, therefore the FD87 relies heavily on the LCD menu system. The camera operates under automatic control, with a handful of exposure options available to make minor adjustments. The LCD menu system is short and sweet. Subject tabs at the bottom of the LCD screen are activated and closed by pressing the up and down arrow keys. We appreciated that you can still see a large part of the view when the menu is displayed so you can observe the effects of your menu selections.

Control Enumeration


Shutter Button: Located on a sloped panel on the front of the camera, this large silver button sets exposure and focus when pressed halfway. When fully depressed, it triggers the shutter.


Zoom Lever: Just below the Shutter button, the Zoom lever controls the optical and digital zoom (when enabled). In Playback mode, it controls the digital enlargement of a captured still image, as large as 5x.


LCD Backlight On / Off Switch: Located on the left side of the LCD monitor, this sliding switch turns the LCD backlight on or off.


Mode Switch: Situated just below the lower left corner of the LCD monitor, this switch controls the camera's operating mode, placing it in Play or Still modes.


Power On / Off Switch: Directly to the right of the Mode switch, this sliding switch turns the camera on and off. The small green push button in the center of the power switch is a safety lock that ensures that the switch will only move with your finger pressing down on it.


Flash Button: The first in a series of buttons along the bottom of the camera's back panel, the Flash button controls the operating mode of the built-in flash, cycling through each setting:



Focus Button: To the right of the Flash button, the Focus button controls the camera's focus mode. Pressing the button sequentially cycles between Autofocus, Macro, and several fixed focus settings: 0.5m, 1.0m, 3.0m, 7.0m, and Infinity.


Program Button: The next button to the right of the Focus button, this button controls the exposure mode, cycling through the following:



Display Button: Directly to the right of the Program button, the Display button controls the information display on the LCD screen, in both Record and Playback modes, alternating between limited and full display.


Menu / Arrow Rocker Button: The final button in the series, the Arrow rocker pad serves multiple functions. The pad features four arrows, one pointing in each direction. In all camera modes, the up arrow brings up the LCD menu tabs at the bottom of the screen, while the down arrow turns them off. Once a menu is displayed, all four arrow keys navigate through settings and options. Pressing the center of the button serves as the "OK" button, confirming menu selections. In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images on the floppy disk or Memory Stick.


Disk Eject Lever: Located on the right edge of the back panel, this lever slides downward to eject the floppy diskette. Like the Power On/Off switch, the Disk Eject lever features a safety feature -- in this case, a small lever that must slide to the left before the eject lever will slide down.


Camera Modes and Menus
Still Photography Mode: The Still Photography mode sets up the camera for capturing still images. All of the camera's exposure capabilities are available, including the following Program AE modes:



Playback Mode: This mode allows you to review captured still images and movies on the LCD panel. An index display puts as many as six images on the screen at one time for quick review, while a playback zoom function enlarges captured still images as high as 5x. Images can also be trimmed, write-protected, deleted, played back in a slide show, set up for printing on DPOF devices, or resized.

Record Menu: Pressing the up arrow on the Arrow rocker button calls up the Record settings menu in Still capture mode. From there, you have the following submenus:



Playback Menu: Activating the Playback menu pulls up the following submenus:



Image Storage and Interface
The MVC-FD87 records still images to a double-sided HD 3.5-inch floppy diskette (DOS-formatted) or a standard Sony Memory Stick inserted in a Sony FD2M/FD2MA Floppy Disk Adapter (both the Memory Stick and Adapter are optional accessories).

Recording to a floppy eliminates the hassle of downloading files from the camera to your computer, and is a primary reason for the Mavica's huge popularity in the consumer marketplace. Instead of messing around with cables and driver software, you just take the diskette from the camera and put it in your computer. A small disk icon on the camera's LCD display lets you know how much of the disk is full and how many images have been shot. In addition to the standard write-protection provided through the Playback menu, the entire diskette can be write-protected by sliding the lock button on the diskette itself). All of the standard rules for floppy disk usage apply here, such as keeping diskettes away from heavy magnetic fields and not getting them wet. This type of image storage is perfect for PC users, who should have a floppy drive readily available on their machine. Newer Mac users, however, will need to use an external floppy drive since the latest Macs don't come with floppy drives.

The downside of floppy storage though, is the limited capacity offered by the medium. While 1.44MB was a lot of space a few years ago (when 0.3-megapixel digicams were considered high-tech), but with the FD87's 1.3-megapixel sensor, things are definitely a bit cramped, and only six high-resolution images can fit on a diskette at one time. This also means that the images are stored with a higher level of image compression than is common on other high-end digital cameras, resulting in higher levels of compression artifacts in the images.

As a solution to the space limitations of floppies, the MVC-FD87 can also store images on Sony Memory Sticks via a floppy disk adapter. Memory Sticks come in varying capacities from 4 to 64MB. Like floppy diskettes, Memory Sticks feature a sliding lock that write-protects the entire card from formatting or any other alteration. The LCD reports the number of images already captured and displays a small Memory Stick icon showing the approximate available space. To download images from the Memory Stick to your computer, simply insert the floppy disk adapter as you would a normal floppy, and drag and drop the files to the computer hard drive.

The FD87 offers a nice selection of image resolution sizes, including 1,280 x 960, 1,024 x 768, and 640 x 480 pixels. There's also a 1,280 (3:2) aspect image size which crops the top and bottom of the image slightly. In addition to the write-protection, resizing, and copy features offered in the Playback menu, images can also be cropped after playback enlargement. To crop an image, simply enlarge it with playback zoom to the desired size and press the Shutter button. A new, 640 x 480 image is recorded and the LCD returns to the normal image display.

Below are the approximate number of images and compression ratios for a standard 1.44MB diskette:

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
1.44 MB Diskette
Normal
High Resolution 1280x960 Images 6
Approx.
Compression
15:1
Standard Resolution 1024x768 Images
10
Approx.
Compression
16:1
Low Resolution 640x480
Images
30
Approx.
Compression
19:1


Below are the approximate number of images and compression data ratios for a 8MB Memory Stick:

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
8 MB Memory Stick
Normal
High Resolution 1280x960 Images 32
Approx.
Compression
15:1
Standard Resolution 1024x768 Images
52
Approx.
Compression
16:1
Low Resolution 640x480
Images
159
Approx.
Compression
19:1



Video Out
The Sony MVC-FD87 does not feature Video Out capabilities.


Power
The MVC-FD87 comes with a Sony InfoLITHIUM, NP-F330 rechargeable battery. (It can also use the higher-capacity NP-F550 battery.) InfoLITHIUM technology allows the battery to communicate with the camera to let you know how much power is left. (The remaining time is displayed on the LCD panel in minutes as well as via a battery icon). If you need to run the camera for longer periods than the battery pack will allow, the supplied AC adapter should do the trick. The AC adapter plugs into a small socket on the camera's side panel (lower right corner beneath the lens barrel), and powers the camera while in use. It also acts as the battery charger when the battery is installed and the camera is turned off, indicated by the glowing "Charge" LED directly to the left of the power switch. There's also an auto power-off function which shuts down the camera after three minutes of inactivity.

We have always appreciated Sony's InfoLITHIUM battery technology, because you know within a few seconds of turning on the camera exactly how much charge/operating time is left. Overall NP-F330 battery capacity is quite good, and the optional NP-F550 battery provides even longer operating life. Finally, batteries based on lithium-ion technology don't "self-discharge." They hold their full charge when not in use, for months at a time. Sony estimates that a fully charged NP-F330 will provide approximately 70 minutes of continuous recording time and about 80 minutes of continuous playback.

 

Operating Mode
Battery Life
Capture Mode, w/LCD
94 minutes
Capture Mode, w/o LCD
128 minutes
Image Playback, w/backlight on
111 minutes
Image Playback, w/o backlight
144 minutes



Based on our own experience with the included NP-F330 battery, Sony's runtime figures are pretty conservative. Our numbers don't include actuation of the floppy drive though, so it's possible they may be a little optimistic. Still, very good battery life, and the optional NP-F550 battery would provide exceptional run times. (We love Sony's InfoLITHIUM batteries!)


Included Software
The FD87 comes with a software CD loaded with MGI PhotoSuite SE and MGI VideoWave III SE, as well as Sony SPVD-004 USB drivers. Two versions of MGI PhotoSuite are included: Version 8.1 is compatible with Windows 95/98/98Se/Me/2000/NT4.0, Version 1.1 is compatible with Macintosh OS 7.6.1 to 9.0. VideoWave III SE is compatible with Windows systems only. (We assume that Sony is packaging the same software CD with both the FD87 and FD92, since the FD87 does not have a Movie capture mode or a USB connection.)

MGI PhotoSuite SE retrieves images from the camera in a very organized manner, allowing you to view them through a slide show or an album and then set them up for printing. In addition to the traditional editing and manipulation tools, PhotoSuite offers a variety of templates to help you turn your images into mock magazine covers, sports cards, greeting cards, and calendars. Combined with the camera's own internal picture effects menu, MGI PhotoSuite SE allows you to really get creative with your images.


In the Box
Included in the box are the following:



Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing only our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the MVC-FD87's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the FD87 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the FD87 produced great images, with accurate color and nice detail for a 1.3 megapixel camera. The camera's white balance system performed well during our testing, though it had some trouble with the difficult incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait, producing orange and sepia color casts. We used the automatic white balance setting during most of our testing, as it produced the most accurate results overall (though we noticed a tendency towards warmer images in a few cases). The FD87 handled the high-contrast lighting of our Outdoor Portrait reasonably well, but the blue flowers showed a slight purple tint at the edges. Color accuracy on our Davebox target looked pretty good, with nice saturation as well.

The MVC-FD87 did a bit better than average for a 1.3 megapixel camera in our resolution tests, producing clean detail to 600 lines per picture height horizontally, and 550 lines vertically. Strong detail was visible to 700 lines horizontally and 650 lines vertically. Color artifacts in finer detail are pretty well controlled.

Optical distortion on the MVC-FD87 is moderate at the wide angle end of the lens' range, where we measured an approximate 0.69 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as we measured an approximate 0.5 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is quite low, showing about two or three very faint pixels of coloration on either side of the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.) Overall, a pretty good lens, although slightly prone to flare under very contrasty lighting situations, as seen in our Far-Field test shots.

The MVC-FD87 had a little trouble in the low-light category, as we were only able to obtain bright, usable images at the eight foot-candle (88 lux) light level, in both Program AE and Twilight exposure modes. With the Twilight exposure mode, images were still reasonably bright and clear as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), though with a magenta cast. The target was still visible as low as 1/16 of a foot-candle (0.67 lux) with the Twilight exposure mode, though very dim. With the Program AE mode, images were still reasonably bright and clear as low as four foot-candles (44 lux), but again with a magenta cast. Images became progressively darker as the light level decreased while shooting in Program AE mode, with the target barely visible at the 1/16 of a foot-candle (0.67 lux) light level. Noise is very low at the higher light levels in Twilight exposure mode, increasing to a moderate level as the light level decreases. With the Program AE mode, noise level remains moderately low. (We direct readers to Mike Chaney's excellent Qimage Pro program, for a tool with an amazing ability to remove image noise without significantly affecting detail.) To put the MVC-FD87's low-light performance into perspective, an average city night scene under modern street lighting corresponds to a light level of about one foot-candle, so night exposures will most likely require use of the built-in flash. The table below shows the best exposure we were able to obtain for each of a range of illumination levels. Images in this table (like all of our sample photos) are untouched, exactly as they came from the camera.

We found the MVC-FD87's LCD monitor to be just a little tight, showing approximately 91.6 percent of the final frame at wide angle and about 92.3 percent at telephoto. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the MVC-FD87 performs reasonably well here, although given a choice, we'd like to see it at 95% or so.

The MVC-FD87 did exceptionally well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 1.68 x 1.26 inches (42.79 x 32.09 mm). Detail and resolution both look great, with sharp, crisp details throughout the image, and very nice color (though overall color balance was a little cool). The printing details of the dollar bill were very sharp, as were some of the individual fibers in the paper. We noticed some slight corner softness from the lens and a little barrel distortion from the wide-angle lens setting. The MVC-FD87's built-in flash had some trouble throttling down for the macro area, probably due to the very close shooting range. The lens blocked some of the light, causing a shadow in the lower left corner. Still, the details of the dollar bill are clear and sharp in the flash shot.

Overall, we were pretty pleased with the MVC-FD87's performance. Though exposure control is limited to automatic control only, the FD87 provides a nice complement of preset shooting modes. The FD87 also produces good color accuracy and image quality, meaning you can trust the automatic adjustment in most shooting situations.


Conclusion
Following in the footsteps of the popular Mavica digicam line, the Sony MVC-FD87 offers many of our favorite Sony features, including the Picture Effects menu, InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery, and floppy disk image storage. In most cases, limited exposure control keeps camera operation to a simple point-and-shoot level, while still delivering great color and good image quality. It's the perfect digicam for consumers who want to take great pictures without worrying about complicated exposure decisions, and who want to take advantage of low-cost floppy disk storage and the resulting ultra-simple process of copying the images to their computer. All in all, the MVC-FD87 is a worthy member of the hugely popular Mavica digicam line.


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