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Sony MVC-FD92

Sony adds a Memory Stick slot to a popular 1.3/1.6 megapixel (interpolated) design, for increased storage and improved image quality!

Review First Posted: 4/16/2001





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MSRP $599 US

 

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1.3-megapixel CCD for interpolated images to 1,472 x 1,104 pixels
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8x optical zoom lens
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True dual-media design (floppy disk/MemoryStick)
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Movies with sound and unique Clip Motion animation mode


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), they stunned the digicam world by announcing no fewer than six new models. This year (2001), they 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.

Two of the FD Mavicas -- the MVC-FD92 and MVC-FD97 -- have broken ground as the first "dual-media" digicams, adding a built-in slot for Sony's Memory Stick storage media, as well as the existing 1.44MB floppy drive. This expanded design overcomes the previous FD Mavica limitations, by 1) providing a high-capacity storage option (Sony recently announced a 128MB Memory Stick) in addition to the floppy disk storage, and 2) providing image transfer capability between the two media within the cameras. These new features are sure to add to the popularity of Sony's Mavica line, along with the lower price/feature points we've observed across the entire line of new Sony digicams.


High Points



Executive Overview
Like the other Sony Mavicas, the MVC-FD92 appears to be bulky at first sight, measuring a hefty 5.75 x 4.1 x 3.1 inches (143 x 103 x 79mm), but the larger size is a small price to pay for the convenience of floppy disk image storage. The 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). The MVC-FD92 also accepts Sony Memory Stick media, an added bonus that allows you to use both media types, and transfer images from one storage media to the other.

Despite its appearance, the camera weighs less than you'd expect, thanks to its sturdy, all-plastic body (1 lb. 7 oz., or 660 grams, with the battery, lens cap, floppy diskette, and Memory Stick installed). A shoulder / neck strap makes the camera easily portable, and an accessory camera bag is available to add protection to portability. Combine that with the 8x optical zoom, loads of features, and the MPEG movie capability, and you'll appreciate just how much Sony has packed into the FD92 camera body.

The MVC-FD92 provides a 2.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor for composing images. (There is no optical viewfinder.) The monitor features a fairly detailed information display and on-screen menu system, though it does not report the shutter speed and aperture settings. The 8x optical zoom lens includes focal lengths from 4.75-38mm (equivalent to a 41-328mm zoom on a 35mm camera), with maximum apertures from f/2.8-f/3, depending on the zoom setting. The focal range extends from approximately 10 inches (0.25 meter) 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 the second or so that the autofocus system requires 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 "tweak" the exposure 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). These features, combined with the capability of connecting an external flash, provide a good bit of control over flash exposure. 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-FD92 has a movie option that enables you to record MPEG files with sound for as long as 60 seconds in 160 x 112-pixel size, and as long as 15 seconds in 320 x 240-pixel size. (Movie captures have most of the same exposure options as still images.) A Clip Motion animation mode allows you to capture as many as 10 still image frames to be played back as a single animation. Clip Motion images are saved as GIF files and played back at a rate of approximately 0.5 frames per second. You can also record sound clips as long as 40 seconds to accompany still images.

Under the Record menu, the MVC-FD92 gives you the added option of recording still images as black-and-white GIFs (good for capturing text or white boards), or saving e-mail size images (320 x 240-pixel resolution for easier e-mail transmission) at the same time as the higher-resolution files. There's also an uncompressed TIFF mode that records TIFF files at 1,280 x 960-pixel resolution, in addition to a JPEG compression level established in the Record menu.

The MVC-FD92 stores images to either a 3.5-inch floppy diskette or a Sony Memory Stick. 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 images 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. Of course, the Memory Stick does not have the same benefits as the 1.44MB floppies -- low cost and no special drivers needed -- but the Playback menu offers options for copying images from one medium to another.

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. A USB cable and USB drivers are supplied for quick connection to a PC or Macintosh. An NTSC A/V cable allows US and Japanese users (PAL for European models) to view captured images and movies on a television set, as well as record them to video tape.

For power, the MVC-FD92 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-FD92 performed reasonably well, with good color and detail. The lack of exposure controls limits the camera's low-light performance somewhat, but the available Program AE modes should handle a large variety of shooting situations. Throw in the 8x optical zoom, flexible media storage options, and variety of fun and creative effects, and the FD92 makes a welcome addition to the already popular Mavica line.


Design



The MVC-FD92 maintains the same box-shape styling of the popular Sony Mavica line, incorporating a floppy disk drive for image storage, and a Memory Stick option for larger memory capacities. As with the other Mavicas, the FD92's dimensions are larger than most digicams (necessary to accommodate floppy diskettes). Still, the camera makes good use of its real estate, packing in a lot of features and a large, easy-to-view LCD monitor. The FD92 measures 5.75 x 4.13 x 3.13 inches (143 x 103 x 79mm), and weighs in at 23 ounces (660 grams) with battery, lens cap, and floppy diskette included (relatively light considering its size). That said, the FD92 can be easily carried with its accompanying neck strap, or toted around in the optional camera bag.



The FD92's 8x lens rounds out the left side of the camera, with the lens barrel protruding about 0.75-inch from the side panel and about an inch from the camera's front. A small, spring-loaded cap protects the lens when not in use, and features a small eyelet for tethering it to the camera body (to prevent loss). The front of the camera also includes 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. A large, sculpted hand grip on the right side of the camera provides a firm grasp for your hand, and a molded plastic ledge provides extra grip for the fingers.



A built-in microphone is the only feature on the FD92's top panel, though the LCD monitor backlight and two neck strap eyelets are visible from above.



The floppy diskette slot takes up the right side of the camera, with the Disk Eject lever and the Memory Stick compartment doors 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. The small door sheltering the Memory Stick slides easily to the right before opening outward to expose the Memory Stick slot.

Under the rounded lens barrel, on the camera's left side, are the connector jacks. The DC In jack is covered by a rubbery plastic flap that remains tethered to the camera even after you pull it out. Opposite the DC In jack are the ACC and A/V Out jacks, which connect to Sony external flash units and the NTSC A/V cable, respectively.



All of the camera controls (with the exception of the Shutter button and Zoom lever) are located on the FD92's back panel, along with the 2.5-inch LCD monitor. The Volume lever and LCD Backlight control are 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. There's also a small speaker, a USB connector jack (covered by a small rubber flap), the Memory Stick compartment, and a Memory Stick/Floppy Diskette switch, enabling you to select one of the two storage media. A ridged thumb grip built into the top right corner of the back panel helps to secure your hold on the camera.



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 rear panel access makes it very convenient for shooting in a studio.)


Viewfinder
The FD92 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 Memory Stick or floppy diskette space available, the number of captured images (or available recording minutes in Movie mode), image size and quality settings, the remaining battery time, plus other variables such as flash mode, exposure mode, and Macro setting. Like many of the Mavica models, the LCD menu is called up by pressing the up arrow key on the Arrow rocker pad (pressing the down arrow turns off the menu). Once the menu is displayed, the user 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. Normally, you'll leave this on all the time, as the LCD display would be very difficult to see without it. Like some other Sony digicams though, the MVC-FD92 also incorporates a "sunlight assist" window above the LCD screen. This window lets in outside light to help illuminate the back of the LCD, increasing its brightness in sunny conditions. In fact, it works well enough that you may be able to turn off the power-draining backlight entirely if the sun's directly overhead, hence the on/off switch for the backlight. 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-FD92's LCD monitor showed approximately 91.78 percent accuracy at both wide-angle and telephoto settings. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the MVC-FD92 was a bit tight, but performed reasonably well in this respect.


Optics
The MVC-FD92 features an 8x, 4.75-38mm zoom lens (41-328mm equivalent on a 35mm camera) with the maximum aperture ranging from f/2.8-f/3, depending on the zoom setting. The f/2.8 maximum aperture makes the FD92'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 16x, although quality is normally compromised with digital telephoto, because the camera's software is simply cropping and enlarging the central portion of the image (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 and still maintain good detail and low noise. Though it's not a substitute for true optical zoom, the Precision Digital Zoom does a pretty good job.

The FD92's focal range extends from approximately 10 inches (0.25 meter) 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. -- The MVC-FD92 performs exceptionally well in the macro category, capturing a tiny minimum area of just 1.70 x 1.27 inches (43.15 x 32.36mm). Though it doesn't offer a true manual focus option, the FD92 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 optical zoom position in Panfocus mode is fixed at the maximum wide-angle setting. (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 FD92 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 MVC-FD92 is moderately high at the wide-angle end, as we measured an approximate 0.6 percent barrel distortion during our testing. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as we measured an approximate 0.4 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration is low, showing about three or four 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 FD92 is relatively straightforward, with a familiar user interface design used on many of the Sony Mavica and Cyber-Shot models. The camera features mainly automatic exposure control, with a handful of special exposure modes for specific shooting situations. Exposure modes 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 really 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, with a small, green spot at the top of the LCD that blinks as the focus is adjusted, and 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 FD92, 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 AE/AF Lock function on the camera, you can change the auto exposure area by simply moving the camera. Basically, you place the area you want to base the exposure 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. 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 FD92 is equipped with a built-in flash that Sony rates as effective from 11.9 inches to 8.3 feet (0.3-2.5m). In our testing, we found the FD92's flash remained powerful as far as 15 feet from the target, though intensity was somewhat dimmed. The flash was the brightest between eight and 13 feet, and we rated it as effective to about 10 feet, based on our testing.

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.

An external flash sync connection, located on the lens side of the camera (labeled "ACC"), accommodates Sony's external flash unit, the HVL-F1000. We would have liked to see a mounting shoe on top of the camera. As it is now, you'll need to either handhold the flash or purchase a bracket to mount the flash to the camera.

Movie Mode
The Movie mode allows you to record both moving images and sound. You can record as long as 60 seconds at the 160 x 112-pixel size and as long as 15 seconds at 320 x 240 pixels. Within these timeframes, the camera records both image and sound as long as you hold down the Shutter button. The amount of recording time available appears on the LCD monitor, and may be less than 60 or 15 seconds, depending on the amount of storage space available on the floppy disk or Memory Stick. If you just press the shutter button momentarily, the camera records for 5, 10, or 15 seconds, as determined by the Record Time Set, adjustable within the Record menu. Movies are recorded as MPEG files, providing the same amount of exposure control as with still images (with the exception of flash). You can also use the optical zoom, which is a good way to introduce interesting, cinematic effects.

Clip Motion
Clip Motion is a feature we've enjoyed on other Sony digicams, since its introduction on the DSC-P1. The Clip Motion capture mode turns the FD92 into an animation camera, recording as many as 10 frames of still images (depending on resolution), which are then combined into a single GIF file for animated playback. Frames can be captured at any interval, with successive presses of the Shutter button. When you've captured as many photos as you need, you just press the center of the Arrow rocker pad to tell the camera to finish the sequence. Available image sizes are Normal (160 x 120 pixels), which records a maximum 10-image sequence, and Mobile (80 x 72 pixels), which records a maximum of two images. Of course, the number of actual captured frames may vary based on available Memory Stick or floppy disk space. (You have a maximum of 10, but could be constrained to fewer if your memory is very full.) Files are saved in GIF format, and are played back with (approximate) 0.5-second intervals between frames. Unlike Movie mode, the flash is available with Clip Motion.

Special Recording Modes
The MVC-FD92 features five Record modes for still images: Normal, E-Mail, Voice, Text, and TIFF modes. The E-mail option records a 320 x 240-pixel JPEG file for easy e-mail transmission, in addition to a full-resolution file, at whatever image size you've selected in the menu system. This lets you capture full-resolution images, as well as a smaller version that you can just drop into an e-mail to share with others. In TIFF mode, the FD92 records one uncompressed image at 1,280 x 960 or 1,280 (3:2) pixel resolution, in addition to a JPEG image at the size and quality settings already established in the File submenu. The Voice option allows you to record a sound byte to accompany a still image, for as long as 40 seconds. (As with Movie mode, a quick press of the shutter button in Voice mode records for only five seconds.) Finally, the 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-FD92 Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
5.0/5.3
Time is delay until first shot captured. (Shorter time is with Memory Stick enabled: Camera needs to check floppy first, to see if there's space available.)
Shutdown
~0 - 15
No lens retraction to wait for, meaning zero shutdown normally. Max time is time until floppy may be removed if Text-mode image is being processed.
Play to Record, first shot
1.1
Time is delay until first shot captured, very fast.
Record to play (max/min res)
1.6, 3.1, 8.3, 15.0
Shortest time is for image already processed to floppy or Memory Stick. Next is for high res JPEG image just captured, using Memory Stick. 8.3 seconds is for JPEG to floppy. Longest is for text-mode image just captured, to floppy.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.75
A bit faster than average.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.61
A bit slower than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.18
A bit faster than average.
Cycle time, max/min res
2.6/2.0
7.2/4.6
Shorter times are for Memory Stick, longer for floppy disk storage. (Memory Stick times are quite fast.)

Overall, the FD92 is an average to somewhat faster-than-average performer. It's shutter lag times are at the lower end of the range among competing cameras, and it's shot to shot time is surprisingly fast when its saving files to a memory stick. There's no continuous-drive mode, so it may not be the first choice for sports, but the 2.6 second cycle time (again, when writing to a memory stick) isn't bad at all. Overall, a pretty good performance.


Operation and User Interface
The MVC-FD92's user interface is very similar to that of other Sony digicams, with very straightforward operation and an uncomplicated menu system. There are few control buttons to decipher, therefore the FD92 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 see the effects of your menu selections, as you can still see a large part of the view when the menu is displayed.

Control Enumeration


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


Volume Rocker Button: Located near the top left corner of the LCD monitor, this rocker button controls the camera's voice playback and beep volume.


LCD Backlight Off/On Switch: Just below the Volume button, 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, Still, or Movie 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 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: To the right of the Focus button, the Program button controls the exposure mode, cycling through the following options:



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 Pad: 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 Memory Stick or floppy disk.


MS / FD Switch: Located under the speaker on the right side of the back panel, this sliding switch designates which type of memory is in use. "MS" refers to the Memory Stick and "FD" refers to the floppy drive or disk.


Disk Eject Lever: To the right of the MS / FD switch, this lever slides downward to eject the floppy diskette.


Camera Modes and Menus

Movie Mode: Selected by sliding the Mode switch to the "Movie" position, this mode allows you to capture movies as long as 60 seconds at 160 x 112 pixels or as long as 15 seconds at 320 x 240 pixels, with sound. All of the camera's exposure capabilities are available (except for the flash), including the ability to change from standard Automatic exposure to any of the Program AE modes.

Still Photography Mode: At the center position of the Mode switch, 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 much 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 Mode Menu: Pressing the up arrow on the Arrow rocker pad calls up the capture menu when in Still or Movie capture modes. From there, you have the following submenus:



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



Image Storage and Interface
The MVC-FD92 records still images and movies to either a double-sided HD 3.5-inch floppy diskette (DOS-formatted) or a standard Sony Memory Stick. An MS / FD selector switch on the back panel specifies to which media the camera will record.

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 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 FD92's interpolated 1.6-megapixel sensor, things are definitely a bit cramped, and only five high-resolution images can fit on a diskette at a 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 floppy disk space limitations, the MVC-FD92 can also store images on Sony Memory Sticks, via another memory slot on the side of the camera. Memory Sticks come in varying capacities from four to 64 megabytes. Like the floppy diskette, the Memory Stick features 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.

You get a nice selection of image sizes with the MVC-FD92, from the interpolated 1,472 x 1,104-, to 1,280 x 960-, 1,024 x 768-, and 640 x 480-pixel resolutions. There's also a 1,280 (3:2) aspect image size which crops the top and bottom of the image slightly. Compression level depends on the type of media being used. For example, images are recorded at Fine quality when the Memory Stick is in use, or Normal quality for the floppy diskette. In addition to 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 640 x 480-pixel 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
TIFF
Normal
Highest Resolution 1472x1104 Images N/A 5
Approx.
Compression
N/A 17:1
High Resolution 1280x960 Images
N/A
6
Approx.
Compression
N/A
15:1
Standard Resolution 1024x768
Images
N/A
10
Approx.
Compression
N/A
16:1
Low Resolution 640x480
Images
N/A
30
Approx.
Compression
N/A
19:1


Following are the approximate number of images and compression ratios for an 8MB Memory Stick:

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
8 MB Memory Stick
TIFF
Fine
Highest Resolution 1472x1104 Images N/A 10
Approx.
Compression
N/A 6:1
High Resolution 1280x960 Images
1
12
Approx.
Compression
1:1
5.5:1
Standard Resolution 1024x768
Images
N/A
20
Approx.
Compression
N/A
6:1
Low Resolution 640x480
Images
N/A
48
Approx.
Compression
N/A
5.5:1


The following shows the approximate amount of movie recording time for a Memory Stick (8MB) and a floppy diskette:

Resolution Sizes
Seconds:
Memory Stick
Seconds:
Floppy Disk
320 x 240 pixels
80
15
160 x 120 pixels
320
60


The MVC-FD92 sports a speedy USB computer connection, as a way of quickly downloading images stored on Memory Sticks or floppy disks. Based on our experience with a number of Sony cameras now, Sony deserves kudos for the speed and stability of their USB drivers under Windows - We rarely have a problem getting a Sony digicam to connect! As for speed, we clocked the MVC-FD92 at a transfer rate of 369 KBytes/second, copying data from the Memory Stick. (We didn't test it, but assume that memory transfers from the floppy drive are limited to normal floppy speeds.)


Video Out
Both US and Japanese models of the FD92 come with an NTSC A/V cable for connection to a television set (because there is a PAL setting on the camera, we assume that European models come with a PAL cable). Once connected to the TV, you can review images and movies or record them to video tape.


Power
The MVC-FD92 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 (displayed on the LCD panel in minutes remaining 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). There's also an auto power-off function which shuts down the camera after three minutes of inactivity. The AC adapter also acts as the battery charger. You simply leave the battery in the camera and plug in the AC adapter. If the camera is switched off, the "Charge" LED will light up (located directly over the power switch).

We love the InfoLITHIUM battery technology, because you know within a few seconds of turning the camera on exactly how much charge/operating time is left. Overall battery capacity is quite good, and buying an NP-F550 battery gives very good operating life. Finally, the lithium-ion technology used in the InfoLITHIUM cells means that the batteries don't "self-discharge," holding 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. These numbers agree well with our own measurements, and in fact seemed a bit conservative, as we measured 112 and 133 minutes respectively, with a freshly charged, new battery pack. (As with other Sony cameras, the InfoLITHIUM system prevented us from making our normal power-consumption measurements, so the record/playback times above are the extent of what we can tell you about the FD-92's power consumption.)


Included Software
The FD92 comes with a USB cable for quick connection to a PC or Macintosh. Also included is a software CD loaded with USB drivers, MGI PhotoSuite SE, and MGI VideoWave III SE software. Two versions of MGI PhotoSuite are included on the CD. 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. Unfortunately for Mac users, VideoWave III SE is compatible with Windows systems only (the same versions as PhotoSuite). 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, the 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. MGI's VideoWave III SE provides minor video editing and enhancement tools, allowing you to cut out frames, add music, and apply creative effects.


Included Hardware
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-FD92'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 FD92 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the FD92 produced very nice images, with good color and detail. Color accuracy was reasonably good throughout our testing, although the large color blocks on our Davebox target appeared slightly weak in their saturation level, and the large magenta and red blocks had a bluish tint. The camera's white balance system seemed to handle most lighting situations well, with the automatic setting usually providing the most accurate results. The camera had some trouble with the incandescent lighting of our Indoor Portrait, producing either a magenta or sepia color cast. The heavy blues in the Musicians image also posed a bit of a challenge, as the FD92 produced either a very cool or warm image. Still, the FD92 does well in most instances, with good color accuracy overall.

In our laboratory resolution test, the FD92 began to show moire patterns starting at around 550 lines per picture height in both horizontal and vertical directions, although strong detail is visible out to at least 650 lines. This performance is about right for a camera with a 1.3 megapixel sensor: We'd put it near the top of that category.

Optical distortion on the MVC-FD92 is moderately high at the wide-angle end, as we measured an approximate 0.6 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared only slightly better, as we measured an approximate 0.4 percent pincushion distortion. Chromatic aberration was low, showing only three or four 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.)

Though the FD92 offers only automatic exposure control, the variety of Program AE modes that include Automatic, Twilight, Twilight Plus, Landscape, Panfocus, and Spot Metering exposure modes provide some flexibility. We found good highlight detail in many of our tests, particularly noticeable in the bright white bay window of our Far shot.

The MVC-FD92 had a little trouble in the low-light category, as we were only able to obtain somewhat bright, clear images at light levels as low as eight foot-candles (88 lux) in the normal, Program AE mode. We could still see the target as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), but images were almost pitch black at the lower light levels. (We could see the silver disk at the 1/16 of a foot-candle, 0.67 lux, level.) We achieved noticeably better results when we switched to the camera's Twilight exposure mode, capturing reasonably bright images as low as one foot-candle (11 lux), though images shot in the Twilight exposure mode resulted in a pink cast. The target is still visible at the 1/16 of a foot-candle (0.67 lux) light level in Twilight exposure mode, but the image is much too dim. Noise is moderate with the Twilight exposure setting, and moderately high with the Program AE exposure mode images. To put the MVC-FD92'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 city night scenes are right at the edge of what the camera can comfortably handle in terms of dim lighting.

We found the MVC-FD92's LCD monitor to be a little tight, showing approximately 91.78 percent accuracy at both wide-angle and telephoto settings. Since we generally like to see LCD monitors as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the MVC-FD92 performed only reasonably well.

The MVC-FD92 performed exceptionally well in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of just 1.70 x 1.27 inches (43.15 x 32.36mm). Detail and resolution both look great, with sharp, crisp details throughout the image, and very nice color. The brooch in our Macro shot appears slightly soft, possibly due to a limited depth of field or the close focal range. Still, the printing details of the dollar bill are very sharp, as are some of the individual fibers in the paper. We noticed some slight corner softness from the lens and the gray background shows a moderately low noise level. The MVC-FD92's built-in flash has some trouble throttling down for the macro area, probably due to the very close shooting range. The lens blocks some of the light, causing a shadow in the lower left corner, and the close proximity of the flash causes a glare on the brooch. Still, the details of the dollar bill are clear and sharp in the flash shot.

Overall, the MVC-FD92 performed well in our testing, with good color accuracy and overall image quality, and excellent macro results. Though exposure control is limited, the FD92's variable Program AE settings and Movie capabilities make it flexible enough for most shooting situations.


Conclusion
With all the great qualities of the Mavica line that have made these digicams so popular, the MVC-FD92 is a welcome new addition to the Mavica family. Limited exposure control keeps the camera at point-and-shoot ease, while a selection of Program AE exposure modes and recording options (such as E-mail, Voice, etc.) give the FD92 enough flexibility to handle a variety of situations. The Movie and Clip Motion modes are an added bonus, and the Picture Effects menu increases your creative options with some fun special effects. The FD92 is clearly aimed at those consumers who want a good digicam with the ease of floppy disk image storage and automatic exposure control. You'll pay a bit of a premium for the floppy disk capability, but the inclusion of a Memory Stick slot removes the image-quality limitations imposed on earlier models by the space constraints of floppy storage. The FD92's popularity should easily match that of its predecessors.


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