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Sony MVC-CD350

Sony updates its CD-based digicam line with a new 3 megapixel model.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 06/18/2003

Executive Overview
Building on the popularity of Sony's long-lived line of Mavica digicams, the MVC-CD350 offers a very similar user interface to that of other 2003 model year Sony digicams, with the added convenience and capacity of the CD-R recording media that made the original MVC-CD1000 so great. While larger than digicams using flash memory for picture storage, the CD350 is still easy to fit into a camera bag. An accompanying neck strap gives you the option of carrying the CD350 out and ready to shoot.

The CD350 doesn't offer an optical viewfinder, only a large color LCD monitor for image composition. (Making framing a bit of a challenge outdoors in full sun and in other brightly lit situations. - See the CD500 for a partial solution to this, with its "solar assist" LCD lighting setup.) Whenever the LCD monitor is active, an information display reports the remaining battery power, CD-R/RW capacity, flash status, and the number of available images, plus various exposure settings, such as f/stop, shutter speed, exposure compensation, image size, and quality. The information display is enabled or disabled by pressing the Display button beneath the LCD monitor.

The CD350 is equipped with a 3x, 6.4-19.2mm lens (equivalent to a 41-123mm lens on a 35mm camera). Focus is automatically or manually controlled, with a choice of five preset distance settings in manual mode. A Smart Zoom digital zoom function is available through the Setup menu, increasing the CD350's zoom capabilities depending on image size. Macro performance is good, with macro focusing distances ranging from 1.18 inches (3cm) to 31.5 inches (80cm).

A significant feature of the CD350 is its user interface, another implementation of the same basic interface Sony has used since 2001.. This interface design uses a mode dial and expanded horizontal menu system on the LCD to greatly simplify the process of setting various camera options. The net effect is a very straightforward interface with excellent usability..

In addition to its fully Auto exposure mode, the CD350 provides Program AE, and Scene exposure modes. Program AE places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, while you control the remaining exposure parameters. The Scene exposure mode provides seven preset shooting modes: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, and High-speed Shutter, which are designed to obtain the best exposure for specific shooting situations.

A Spot Metering option switches the exposure metering system to take readings from the very center of the image (a crosshair target appears in the center of the LCD monitor). White Balance options include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash. Exposure Compensation is adjustable from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The camera's ISO setting offers Auto, 100, 200, or 400 equivalents, increasing performance in low-light shooting situations. The built-in flash features Auto, Red-Eye Reduction (enabled in the Setup menu), Forced, Slow Synchro and Suppressed operating modes, with a variable flash intensity setting. A Picture Effects menu captures images in Solarized, Black & White, Sepia, and Negative Art tones. Sharpness, Saturation and Contrast settings allow you to adjust those attributes of the image.

The CD350 offers the MPEG VX movie recording option, which provides for extended MPEG movie recording directly to the CD-R, even at full VGA resolution. With Sony's advanced MPEG VX technology, the CD350's movie durations are limited only by the available space on the CD-R/RW discs. (That is, there are no arbitrary limits imposed by buffer memory limits.) At 640x480 resolution, maximum recording time is 5 minutes, 51 seconds, while at 160x112 pixels, movies can run as long as 89 minutes and 11 seconds. A Clip Motion option, available through the Setup menu, works like an animation sequence, allowing you to capture a series of up to 10 still images to be played back sequentially. Menu options for the Clip Menu mode include EV, Focus, Metering, White Balance, Flash Level, Flash Level, and Picture Effects. The Image Size button lets you select either Normal (160 x 120 pixels) or Mobile (120 x 108, restricted to two frames).

The Record menu offers a list of Record mode options, including a TIFF mode for saving uncompressed images; and a Voice recording mode, in which you can record sound clips up to 40 seconds long to accompany captured images (great for "labeling" or annotating shots you've taken). There's also an E-mail Record mode that captures a smaller, 320 x 240-pixel image size that's faster for e-mail transmission. (This mode actually records two images: one in the 320 x 240-pixel format and another at whatever image size is selected through the Record menu.) A Burst 2 mode captures two images in rapid succession (0.5-second intervals) with one press of the shutter button. A Normal setting rounds out the Record menu options.

Images can be saved as uncompressed TIFF, JPEGs, MPEGs, or GIFs depending on the Record mode, and are stored on the three-inch CD-R or RW included with the camera. An NTSC video cable is also provided for connecting to a television set. (European models come equipped for PAL, but the camera itself can switch between the two standards via a Setup menu option.) A USB cable provides high-speed connection to PC or Macintosh computers. Software supplied with the CD350 includes Pixela ImageMixer (Mac and Windows).

The CD350 uses an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series), and comes with an AC adapter that doubles as a battery charger. I really like the InfoLITHIUM batteries because they communicate with the camera -- showing exactly how much battery power has been consumed, and reporting remaining battery capacity via a small readout on the LCD screen. This really helps avoid missing shots when your batteries die unexpectedly. Battery life is also excellent, among the best on the market. Despite the excellent battery life, my standard recommendation of keeping a second battery pack charged and ready to go still stands, especially when the AC adapter isn't convenient.

Like Sony's other Mavica cameras, the CD350 is enjoyable to use, and its user interface and function set have something for everyone. The full-featured exposure control options will satisfy the most advanced user, while its auto-everything "Program" exposure mode will meet the needs of the least-experienced novice. Best of all, you get increased image capacity with the CD-R/RW recording media. Great optics, a 3.3-megapixel CCD, and CD-RW image storage give the CD350 a strong edge in the digicam marketplace.

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