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Sony MVC-CD350

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

Review First Posted: 06/18/2003

MSRP $499 US


CD-RW provides 156 megabytes of write-once or rewritable storage!
3.3 megapixel CCD delivers up to 2048 x 1536 pixel images
Surprisingly compact for a disc-media camera
Excellent image sharpness, color, and low light shooting capability

Manufacturer Overview

The year 2003 brings important new capabilities to Sony's revolutionary CD-Mavica digital camera line, which first began in late Spring 2000 with the introduction of the Mavica CD1000. Storing their images on CD-R (and now CD-RW) discs, the CD-Mavicas are a logical extension to Sony's original and enormously popular floppy-disk-based Mavica design. With each 80mm CD-R/RW disc storing 156 MB of data for well under a dollar at retail, the CD-Mavicas make nearly perfect traveling companions, since you can fit gigabytes of permanent storage into less space than that occupied by one paperback novel.

The improvements in this year's CD-Mavica lineup are less sweeping than those implemented in 2002, but the CD500 continues the tradition of the CD400 before it, of offering true "enthusiast" features in a CD-based digicam.

With introductory list prices of $599 and $899 for the MVC-CD350 and CD500 respectively, the new models once again bring CD-R(W) technology further down market, competing with conventional digicams at fairly modest price premiums. Of course, all the whizzy CD technology would be meaningless if the cameras didn't perform up to par with other non-CD models on the market. Fortunately (for Sony and our readers alike), my tests indicate that the new cameras perform very well indeed, on a par with the top models in their respective resolution categories. Given the low cost of the (high capacity) media and their relatively compact sizes, these new cameras could be the ideal "vacation cameras," perfectly suited for extended trips without a computer to offload images. - The long battery life afforded by Sony's InfoLithium battery technology is also most welcome on extended outings. If you're planning a long trip, you'd do well to seriously consider one of these new CD-Mavica cameras!

High Points

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.

The Mavica CD350 features an updated user interface, introduced on other members of Sony's 2003 digicam models, plus CD-R/RW image storage, a concept Sony pioneered with its CD1000 model almost two years ago. Conforming to the round, three-inch storage media, the CD350 body is smoother and more curved than floppy-based Mavica models, losing the boxy shape necessary to accommodate floppy disk media. Although it's still a handful, the CD350 is surprisingly compact given its large media size. At 5.25 x 3.75 x 3.0 inches (131.7 x 92.3 x 73.8mm), it doesn't offer pocket portability, but it does come with a neck strap and is easily carried in a small accessory camera bag (highly recommended to protect the camera). At 18.4 ounces (522 grams), including the battery, the CD350 is reasonably lightweight, with a hard, plastic body that gives it a strong, solid feel.

The non-telescoping lens dominates the left side of the camera's front panel, sharing its space with a small self-timer / autofocus assist lamp. Just below the lamp is the microphone grille. A rubberized finger grip protrudes from the right front side, providing a comfortable hold for your right hand, which should fit comfortably around the curve of the understated hand grip. When the camera is powered on, the 6.4-19.2mm lens does not extend beyond the lens barrel. A set of filter threads just inside the lip of the barrel accommodates Sony's line of accessory lens adapter kits.

The hand grip (right) side of the camera has only a neckstrap attachment eyelet.

The left side of the camera has the second neckstrap eyelet on top, an "Open" lever for the CD-R compartment, and connector compartment. A small, plastic cover protects the connector compartment, which houses the USB, A/V Out, and DC In connection jacks.

The CD350's top panel contains the Shutter button, Mode dial, and Power button. There's also a small, green LED lamp next to the power switch that glows steadily whenever the camera is powered on.

The remaining features and controls are on the CD350's back panel. These include the color LCD monitor, with the speaker alongside and control buttons below. A small, red LED above the LCD monitor indicates when the disc is being accessed. To its left is a small orange LED that indicates when the flash is charging or when the camera is powered off and the battery is charging via the AC adapter. In addition to serving as a navigational tool in the LCD menu system, the four-way Arrow Rocker Pad controls several camera functions through its four arrow keys, including Flash mode, Macro, Self-timer, and Quick Review. Three dedicated buttons control such features as Menu, Display, and Image Size / Trash. At the top right, the Zoom / Index button controls the zoom setting in Record mode and displays an Index of images and magnifies displayed images in Playback mode.

The CD-R compartment takes up the entire left side of the back panel, with the rear surface of the compartment door holding several camera control buttons and the LCD monitor. The compartment door flips open when the release lever is opened, but does not deactivate the LCD monitor. Instead a message on the LCD monitor reads "Cover Open." A tiny, red LED lamp above the LCD monitor lights whenever the camera is accessing the CD-R.

Finally, the CD350 features a fairly flat bottom panel with a battery compartment door and tripod mount. Depending on the tripod mount you might use, there's not quite enough distance between the compartment door and tripod mount is large enough to allow for quick battery changes while working with a tripod. A sliding, plastic door protects the battery slot, and a small button locks the battery into place and releases it when you're ready to recharge or replace the battery cell. The tripod mount itself is metal, a detail we always appreciate, especially on heavier models like the CD350. Also on the bottom panel (beneath the LCD monitor) is a tiny Reset button, which resets all the camera's settings to their factory defaults.

For composing images, the CD350 features a color LCD monitor that automatically activates when the camera is powered on. The Display button just below the LCD monitor controls both the information and image display. Pressing the button once cancels the information display, and the next press turns the information display on again. (The LCD itself is always active.)


Sony also sells a clip-on eyelevel viewfinder/magnifier. Called the DSAC-MVC, this gadget has a complete optical system in it, including a diopter adjustment, and purportedly provides enough magnification of the high-quality TFT LCD that it's quite usable for manual focusing. The MVC sells for $79.95 U.S., and is available online from, if you can't find it at your local dealer.

In Record mode, the LCD monitor's information display reports a bounty of information, including image resolution, JPEG compression level, number of remaining images (plus available CD-R space), exposure compensation, f/stop, shutter speed, flash mode, and an excellent feature unique to Sony cameras -- the number of minutes remaining on the battery! In Automatic and Scene modes, a half press of the shutter button is necessary to display the current shutter speed and aperture settings, and in some capture modes, only applicable readings will be displayed.

In Playback mode, the LCD monitor offers an Index display mode as well as a 1.1 - 5x Playback Zoom, which enlarges captured images for closer inspection. Once enlarged, the Arrow buttons enable you to scroll around inside the image. The Display button controls the information and image display in Playback mode, cycling through two modes: Image with information, and image without information. The Playback image information includes the file type (movie or still), image size, where the image falls in the Playback index, remaining CD-R capacity, file name, date and time the image was taken, and the remaining battery power. Pressing the W side of the zoom control displays a thumbnail index of shots stored on the disc, and pressing it a second time takes you to a double-screen display of specific exposure information about the current image. (Sorry, I missed shooting these, so they're not in the animated screen shot above right.) The CD350 provides an LCD brightness adjustment through its Setup menu, which changes the display to Bright, Normal, or Dark, depending on the shooting situation.

Free Photo Lessons

Learn how to use lens aperture to control depth of field - Visit our free Photo Lessons area!

The CD350 is equipped with a 6.4-19.2mm lens (equivalent to a 41-123mm lens on a 35mm camera), apparently manufactured by Sony themselves. (The higher-end CD500 sports a sharper Carl Zeiss lens.). The lens is protected by a removable, spring-lock lens cap, which comes with an easy-to-thread lens-strap opening and a small tether strap to keep it from getting lost.

The lens aperture is automatically adjusted from f/3.8 to f/11. Shutter speed ranges from 1/1,000 to two seconds, depending on camera mode. (The maximum exposure time in normal modes is one second, while in Twilight mode, it extends to two seconds.). A macro mode is engaged by pressing the right Arrow button, which changes the minimum focus distance to 1.18 inches (3cm) at wide angle and to 31.5 inches (80cm) at telephoto.

Focus can be controlled either automatically or manually (via the Menu button), with a focal range from 19.7 inches (50cm) to infinity. In Auto focus mode, a central focus bracket appears in the center of the LCD display to help you line up shots. Especially helpful in limited lighting is the AF assist light, selected via the Setup menu, which helps the camera make adjustments in Auto Focus mode. We were very impressed with the results from the AF assist light, as it focused flawlessly under the darkest shooting situations.

The lens also features filter threads to accommodate a variety of Sony lens conversion kits. When working with a Sony lens conversion kit, you need to inform the camera (via the Setup menu) that the lens is attached, so the camera's autofocus can allow for the additional optical element. The filter threads are a fairly standard 37mm size, so users should have no trouble finding compatible filters and accessories.

The "Smart Zoom" digital zoom function is enabled through the camera's Setup menu, effectively increasing the CD350's overall zoom capabilities to 3.8x for 2.0M images, 4.8x for 1.2M images, and 9.6x for VGA images. It is not available when 3.1M or 2.8M (3:2 ratio) image sizes are selected. When engaged, Smart Zoom takes over once you've zoomed past the normal telephoto range. You can see the change from optical to digital zoom by observing the marker in the zoom range indicator on the LCD panel. As always, I feel compelled to note that digital zoom isn't equivalent to the magnification you get from a true optical zoom lens. Digital zoom works by simply cropping out the central pixels of the CCD array and then packaging the results as a separate image. In the case of "Smart Zoom," Sony wisely eschews interpolation of the final data to recreate a full-sized image.This avoids the data loss that interpolation brings with it, but is the reason why the amount of Smart Zoom available is a function of the image size selected.

Free Photo Lessons

Learn about white balance and simple lighting techniques for dramatic shots in out free Photo Lessons area!

Exposure control on the CD350 is just as straightforward and uncomplicated as on other models from Sony's 2003 lineup. A Mode dial on top of the camera lets you quickly select major camera operating modes, including Auto, Program, and Scene modes. Additional control buttons on the back panel access the Menu system to change basic exposure settings, such as metering options, exposure compensation, and white balance.

Three still exposure modes offer varying levels of control: Auto, Program, and Scene modes. In Program mode, the camera controls the basic exposure, but allows you to determine all other variables, such as ISO, white balance, and flash.

In addition to the aforementioned main exposure modes (Auto and Program), there are seven preset Scene modes that adjust the camera for shooting in specific situations: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, and High-speed Shutter mode. Twilight mode adjusts the exposure to capture a bright subject in dark surroundings (neon lights would be a good example), without washing out the color. Because Twilight mode usually employs a slower shutter speed, a tripod is recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Twilight Portrait uses Twilight settings but also fires the flash to capture portraits in dark settings. Landscape mode uses a smaller aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in sharp focus, allowing you to capture broad vistas of scenery. Soft Snap lets you shoot skin colors in brighter and warmer tones, adding a soft focus effect to minimize wrinkles and blemishes. Snow mode preserves color in snowscapes, recording clear and sharp images. Beach mode does the same for seascapes, preserving the blue of the water. High-speed Shutter mode uses a fast shutter speed to stop motion in bright settings.

For normal exposures, the CD350 uses a "multipoint" metering system, meaning that the camera takes multiple exposure readings throughout the image to determine the best overall exposure. For high-contrast subjects, a Spot Metering option (controlled by a button on the back panel) takes the exposure reading from the very center of the frame. A center crosshair target appears on the LCD monitor (inside the focus brackets), to show the location of the spot exposure reading. For metering off-center subjects, you can take your reading of the subject you want metered, then use the AE Lock feature by half-pressing the shutter button to lock the exposure reading. Once exposure is locked, you can recompose the image and release the shutter.

Exposure compensation can be manually adjusted from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. The camera's light sensitivity can be set through the Record menu to Auto, or 100, 200, or 400 ISO equivalents, increasing the camera's low-light shooting capabilities with higher ISO settings. White Balance (WB) can also be controlled in all exposure modes, with available settings of Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, and Flash. As with many other Sony cameras, the CD350 offers a Picture Effects menu, providing a little in-camera creativity. Settings like Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, and Negative Art can add interest to your images by altering color or reversing the highlights and shadows.

The CD350 also offers a menu selection for adjusting image sharpening in-camera, providing normal, plus, and minus settings. Normal is fine for most uses, but you might want to boost the sharpness if your shots will be printed on a low-quality inkjet printer. On the other hand, the lower sharpness setting may be useful for images that you plan to manipulate in Photoshop or any other image editing application. In these programs, you typically want to apply sharpening at the end of the manipulation process. There are similar settings for Saturation (color intensity) and Contrast. - Given that I found the default contrast of the camera a little high, the low contrast option should come in handy.

Finally, a 10-second self-timer can be activated by pressing the down Arrow button on the back panel. Once the shutter button has been fully depressed, the small LED lamp on the front of the camera counts down the seconds until the shutter is released (a green dot in the LCD monitor flashes as well). You can cancel the timer by pressing the down Arrow button again.

When you have images stored on the CD-R/RW, the left arrow key on the Arrow rocker button (back panel) activates a quick review of the previously captured image, and offers a delete option for removing the image. Pressing the arrow key a second time returns you to the normal image display screen, as does pressing the shutter button halfway.

The built-in flash on the CD350 has four settings that are activated by pressing the Flash button on the Arrow rocker pad: Auto, Forced, Slow Synchro, and Suppressed. Auto puts the camera in charge of whether or not the flash fires, based on existing light levels. Forced Flash means that the flash always fires, regardless of light level. Slow Synchro fires the flash like Forced by slows the shutter speed to capture more of the background. Suppressed Flash prevents the flash from firing, regardless of light levels. A Red-Eye Reduction mode is activated through the Setup menu. Red-Eye Reduction fires a small pre-flash to reduce the occurrence of red-eye effect in people pictures.

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. In Normal mode, flash range extends from 31.5 inches to 8.2 feet (0.8 to 2.5 meters).

Movie and Sound Recording
In any of the CD350's still capture modes, you can record short sound clips to accompany images. This option is available through the Record menu by selecting the Voice Record mode. You can record up to 40 seconds of sound for each image by holding down the shutter button. By pressing and releasing the shutter button quickly, you can record for only five seconds.

The Movie mode is accessed on the Mode dial on top of the camera by selecting the film frame icon. You can record moving images with sound at either 640 x 480-pixel VGA resolution or 160 x 112-pixel "email" resolution. Standard quality resolution sizes record movies in the MPEG VX format. Sony's advanced MPEG VX technology means that 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. This is pretty impressive, as only a very few digicams currently on the market support full VGA-resolution movie recording.. (Sony is very careful to not bill the CD Mavicas as "camcorders," and for good reason when you compare their capabilities with "real" camcorder models. Still, this enormously extended recording capability is pretty unique.)

Another notable feature of the CD350's movie recording capability is that you're able to use the optical zoom lens while recording movies. Most digicams with audio capability don't let you adjust the zoom setting while recording is in process, to prevent noise from the lens motor from interfering with the sound track. The CD350's lens motor is quiet enough that Sony left the zoom enabled during movie recording. - Not to say everything is perfect though: In very quiet environments, the CD350's microphone can easily pick up the lens motor noise, as well as the soft noises of the CD drive's operation.

Clip Motion
This is a slick little feature that I really enjoy, which first appeared a couple of years ago on the Sony DSC-P1, and now seems to be a pretty standard option on all the latest Sony models. The Clip Motion capture mode turns the CD350 into an animation camera, recording up to 10 frames of still images, which are combined into a single GIF file for animated playback. Frames can be captured at any time 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, and it merges all the images into one animated GIF file. Available image sizes are Normal (160 x 120 pixels) and Mobile (120 x 108 pixels), and the number of actual captured frames may vary with image size (Mobile is  restricted to two frames) and available CD 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, flash is available with Clip Motion. (Note though, that the GIF format only permits 256 colors, far less than millions the camera normally captures.)

MultiBurst is a newer recording option I first noticed on last year's DSC-P51 and DSC-P71 Cyber-Shot models. The mode captures an extremely rapid burst of images, stored as a single 1280x960 frame on the camera, which are played back as a single movie (giving a slow-motion effect). You can select between Fine and Normal quality settings, and available frame intervals include 1/7.5, 1/15, or 1/30 second. When viewed on a computer though, the images simply appear as a single 1280x960 image with the individual frames arranged as 16 small sub-images within it. MultiBurst is a great tool for doing short-duration time/motion studies. (Think golf- or tennis-swing analysis.)

Special Record Modes
The CD350 gives you several recording format options for still images. Through the Record menu, you can select TIFF for uncompressed images, Voice (mentioned above), E-mail, Burst 2, or Normal modes. E-mail mode records a smaller (320 x 240-pixel) image size that takes less time to transmit to friends and family by e-mail. The e-mail image is recorded in addition to the image size selected through the Record menu's Image Size option. (The TIFF option likewise records a maximum-resolution TIFF image in addition to a JPEG at whatever size and quality setting you've selected.) Burst 2 mode allows you to take a maximum of two frames in rapid succession, at 0.5 second intervals. Since Burst 2 mode images are captured directly to buffer memory, the frame rate is independent of image resolution or the amount of information to be recorded, but the tradeoff is that only two frames can be recorded without pausing.

Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release 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 an Imaging Resource proprietary test system.

NOTE: My qualitative characterizations of camera performance below (that is, "reasonably fast," "about average," etc.) are meant to be relative to other cameras of similar price and general capabilities. Thus, the same shutter lag that's "very fast" for a low-end consumer camera might be characterized as "quite slow" if I encountered it on a professional model. The comments are also intended as only a quick reference: If performance specs are critical for you, rely on the absolute numbers to compare cameras, rather than my purely qualitative comments.

Sony MVC-CD350 Timings
Time (secs)
Power On -> First shot
Highly variable. The longer time is for a new disc, the shorter one if the disc hasn't been changed since the camera was last turned on, and there are few files on it. Takes longer for more files on an unknown disc, fastest for empty disc that was in the camera before it was turned off.
Fairly fast, assuming it isn't writing to the disc. Can take up to 33.4 seconds if you just snapped a series of shots that filled the buffer, and up to 64 seconds if you just shot a TIFF-mode image.
Play to Record, first shot
Time until first shot is captured, from "instant review" mode or normal playback mode. Very fast.
Record to play (max/min res)
Images appear quickly as a low res version, then "fill-in" within a few seconds. First time in each set is for camera sitting idle in record mode to start with. Second time is for immediate switch to playback mode after snapping a photo. Quite a bit slower than average, due to the relatively slow CD data rate.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
VERY (!) fast, particularly at wide angle lens setting. Even telephoto is faster than most camera's wide-angle performance. Great for sports!
Shutter lag, manual focus
A bit faster than average.
Shutter lag, prefocus
Very fast.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution
Quite fast for first 6 shots in large/fine mode, then drops to 5.2 seconds per shot. In VGA/normal, cycle time is 1.54 seconds for a very large number of shots.
Cycle time, TIFF mode 61.6 Quite slow.
Cycle time, continuous mode
("Burst 2")
0.50/2.0 fps
Moderately fast, burst of only two frames though. (Max/min res performance is the same.)

Shutter lag on the CD350 is among the very best of any camera I've tested, an amazing 0.33 seconds with the lens set to its wide-angle position. Even at telephoto, the CD350's autofocus is faster than that of most cameras with the lens set to wide-angle. Manual focus speed is a bit faster than average, but prefocus time is blazing. (Great for sports.)

Cycle times are quite good also, and the CD350 has a 6-frame buffer for shots in large/fine mode. It's odd though, that the camera can only grab two frames in succession in continuous mode. (Which Sony calls "Burst 2.")

Like other models in the Mavica series, the CD350 starts up from power-off fairly slowly, because the camera has to check the disc to see how much space is left, and where the next image should be stored. The camera obviously has a trick or two up its sleeve in this area although: If you load a new disc (or just open and shut the back door with the power off), the camera somehow knows it has to scan the entire disc to determine space and where the next picture will go. This takes 22 seconds. If you just shut the CD350 down without removing the disc although, the next time it starts up, it seems to recognized the disc, and startup time is reduced to only 2.4 seconds. Shutdown time is about average, unless the camera is in the process of writing to the CD, in which case, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to a full minute for the camera to fully shut down after you hit the power switch..

Other than the long startup and record-to-playback times, the CD350 is a surprisingly responsive camera: In fact, it has about the fastest shutter response of any consumer-level camera I've tested to date.

Operation and User Interface
As I mentioned in the Design section of this review, the CD350 offers the same new and improved user interface that we've seen on other 2003-model Sony digicams. Additional external camera controls reduce the reliance on the LCD menu system and help simplify overall camera operation. The ready access to exposure controls and other camera functions, and the uncomplicated LCD menu system, mean that you spend less time scrolling through LCD menu screens and options. The Mode dial and the method by which some functions were assigned to the four-way Arrow key pad (very clearly marked I might add), also speed operation.

Control Enumeration

Shutter Button: Located on the right side of the top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when pressed halfway. Fully depressing the button fires the shutter. When the Quick Review (the shot just taken) is displayed on the screen, a half press of the shutter button returns the LCD to the normal image display. When the Self-timer is enabled, fully depressing the shutter button kicks off the 10-second countdown.

Mode Dial: This dial controls the camera's operating modes. Options include Scene (SCN), Program (black camera symbol with "P"), Auto (green camera symbol), Playback, Movie (film frame), and Setup modes.

Power Button
: Just to the left of the Mode Dial, this button turns the camera on or off.

Zoom Lever: In the top right corner of the back of the camera, the Zoom lever control the optical and digital zoom (when enabled) in any capture mode. In Playback mode, the wide angle side activates the Index Display mode, while the telephoto side controls the Playback Zoom up to 5x (the wide angle button also zooms back out). Once in Index Display mode, pressing the wide-angle side again displays the image information for the highlighted thumbnail, including exposure information.

Four-Way Arrow Rocker Pad (also: Flash, Quick Review, Macro, and Self-Timer Buttons): Situated in the bottom left corner of the back of the camera, this button serves a variety of functions. On its surface, the pad features four arrows, one pointing in each direction. When any settings menu is engaged, these arrows navigate through the menu options. Once an option is selected, you confirm the selection by pressing on the center of the button. (You will hear a dual tone when you press the center, as opposed to the single tone you hear when you press an arrow.) In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images, while the up and down arrows control the playback volume. If a movie file is displayed, pressing the center of the button triggers the movie playback. When Playback zoom is enabled, pressing the center of the button returns the LCD to the normal 1x image display.

In addition to menu scroll functions, the Arrow Pad also controls certain exposure and camera settings. The Up Arrow button is marked with a flash symbol, and cycles between the Auto, Forced, Slow Synchro, and Suppressed Flash modes (in all capture modes except Movie). The Right Arrow button, marked with the macro flower symbol, enables and disables the camera's Macro mode. The Down Arrow controls the Self-timer mode, cycling between Normal and Self-timer capture modes. Finally, the Left Arrow activates and deactivates the Quick Review function, which displays the most recently captured image on the LCD screen.

Menu Button: Located to the right of the Arrow Rocker Pad and below the LCD, this button activates and deactivates the settings menus in any camera mode except Setup (which automatically displays the menu upon entering the mode).

Display Button: Just beneath the LCD monitor, the Display button controls the LCD display in all camera modes except Setup. Pressing the Display button sequentially cycles through two modes: image with information display or image display only.

Image Size / Trash Button: This is a new addition to Sony's 2003-model cameras, moving the image size selection off the LCD menu system and onto the camera's back panel for faster access. Directly to the right of the Exposure Compensation button, the Exposure Image Size / Trash button permits selection of available image resolutions in Record mode or deletes images in Playback mode.

Open CD-R Compartment Button: Resting on the side of the CD-R compartment, this sliding button opens the CD-R compartment door.

Camera Modes and Menus

Program AE: Noted on the Mode dial with the green camera symbol, Auto mode places the camera in control of both the aperture and shutter speed settings, letting you set the some exposure variables (Image Size, and Flash).

Program : Marked on the Mode dial with "P", Program mode lets you select combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings, as well as the remaining exposure variables (White Balance, ISO, Exposure Compensation, Focus, Image Size, Picture Quality, Flash, and Normal or Spot Metering).

Scene: Scene mode provides access to seven preset Scene modes that adjust the camera for shooting in specific situations: Twilight, Twilight Portrait, Landscape, Soft Snap, Snow, Beach, and High-speed Shutter mode. Twilight mode adjusts the exposure to capture a bright subject in dark surroundings (neon lights would be a good example), without washing out the color. Because Twilight mode usually employs a slower shutter speed, a tripod is recommended to prevent blurring from camera movement. Twilight Portrait uses Twilight settings but also fires the flash to capture portraits in dark settings. Landscape mode uses a smaller aperture setting to keep both the background and foreground in sharp focus, allowing you to capture broad vistas of scenery. Soft Snap lets you shoot skin colors in brighter and warmer tones, adding a soft focus effect to minimize wrinkles and blemishes. Snow mode preserves color in snowscapes, recording clear and sharp images. Beach mode does the same for seascapes, preserving the blue of the water. High-speed Shutter mode uses a fast shutter speed to stop motion in bright settings.

Setup: Setup mode lets you change basic camera settings.

Movie: Movie mode, marked on the mode dial with a film strip symbol, captures MPEG movies with sound. Most exposure variables are available, except for flash and ISO. If the Clip Motion option is selected from the Setup menu, Movie mode will capture up to 10 frames of still images, and combine them into a single animated GIF file. When Multi Burst is selected in the Setup menu, the camera records a rapid burst of frames, saved in a single image frame but played back on the camera as a slow motion animation.

Playback: Captured images and movies can be reviewed and played back in this mode. Images can also be erased, write-protected, copied, resized, set up for printing on a DPOF device, or played back in a slide show.

Record Menu: The Record menu is accessible in all capture modes by pressing the Menu button, however, not all menu options are available in all capture modes.

Setup Menu: The five-panel setup menu is automatically displayed on the LCD monitor upon entering Setup mode:

Playback Menu: As with the Record menu, the Playback menu is accessed by pressing the Menu button when in Playback mode. The following options are available:

Image Storage and Interface
The CD350 records still images and movies to a three-inch (80mm) CD-R or CD-RW disc. This virtually eliminates the hassle of downloading files from the camera to your computer. Instead of messing around with cables and driver software, you simply take the CD from the camera and slide it into your computer's CD-ROM drive. An adapter is provided for those computers that don't accept the three-inch CD format. (This should be rare although, since the 80mm CD form factor was part of the original CD specification, so most computers should accept them.) There's also a USB connection and cable supplied with the camera (the USB port is in the connector compartment on the lens side of the camera). The USB connection lets you connect the camera as a disk drive to Windows computer (Windows 98, 98se, Me, and 2000 Professional are supported) or a Macintosh running OS X. The USB connection apparently does not support the Mac OS however.

A small CD icon on the camera's LCD display lets you know how much of the disc is full and how many images are available, depending on the current resolution and quality settings. An "R" or "RW" below the icon lets you know what sort of disc is currently loaded in the camera. In Movie mode, the LCD reports the available recording time at the current movie quality setting. The CD350 allows you to protect individual images on the disc from accidental erasure or alteration through the Playback menu. The freedom of a CD-R drive has many advantages over saving images to floppies (as on some Mavica models), the main one being the greatly increased amount of storage space -- 156MB.

It's important to note that there's a key limitation in Sony's CD-RW implementation, in that it's a sequential rewritable device, not a random access one. The reason for this is that the head movement and data clock synchronization requirements, which are dictated by true random access operation, would result in performance (write-time) tradeoffs that are unacceptable for digital camera applications. Thus, the "RW" aspect of the CD350's discs has some constraints on it. Foremost is the sequential operation, which means that you can only delete the last image recorded. That is, you can't open up more space on a disc by going back and deleting images shot earlier in the session. You can delete multiple images, but only one at a time, starting with the most recent and working backward. The huge benefit of CD-RW although, is that you can "unfinalize" and "format" discs, which (respectively) helps you save disk space when moving back and forth between camera and computer, and lets you reuse discs by wiping out all the previously captured images.

A brief note here, in response to some questions I've received about the earlier CD Mavicas: This issue of what constitutes "erasing" of an image and what images you can actually erase seems to be the cause of a lot of confusion. Several people have pointed out that the camera lets them "erase" images other than the last one shot, and in fact that they can do this on CD-R discs as well as CD-RW ones. You can always "erase" any image on either a CD-R or CD-RW disc, but you won't see a corresponding increase in storage capacity reflective of the space that the deleted image occupied. This is because "erasing" any image other than the last one shot (or any image on a CD-R disc) doesn't actually wipe out the image data from the disc, but instead merely deletes the file listing in the disc's directory so that the "erased" image data can no longer be accessed. You can only truly erase the last image data written to the disc, and then only on CD-RW media.

There's another generic limitation of CD-RW technology to be aware of, which is that the signal level delivered to the CD-ROM drive by CD-RW discs is quite a bit lower than that from normal CD-ROMs or CD-R write-once discs. Thus, some older CD-ROM drives may have trouble reading the CD-RW discs. As far as I know, any CD-ROM drive manufactured in the last three or four years should be able to read a CD-RW disc with no problem, but if you encounter difficulties, try a different CD-ROM drive before assuming it's a problem with the CD-RW disc or the CD350 itself. (Mac owners see the note below though.)

Using the CD-Rs in the camera is relatively simple. Whenever a new disc is inserted, the camera will tell you that it needs to be initialized. Not being a CD maven, I suspect (but am not sure) that this involves writing the "lead in" area for the next session, a roughly 9MB area reserved for the table of contents information for the upcoming session. Initializing the disc appears to be a more critical operation than normal CD-R recording, as the camera asks you to place it on a level surface and avoid vibration during the process. Once a disc has been initialized, operation of the CD350 is the same as for any other Sony camera, regardless of media.

When you're done with a set of shots and want to set up the CD-R to be read in a conventional CD-ROM drive, you must "Finalize" the session. The camera leads you through this process using menu screens similar to those used for the initialization process. Finalizing also appears to be a more critical procedure than normal image writing, since the camera again asks you to rest it on a flat surface while it's being carried out. My guess is that this process writes the lead out for that session, and goes back to fill-in the session's Table of Contents in the lead-in area. The first lead-out on a disc occupies about 13MB of space, subsequent ones require about 4MB. The space taken by finalizing and reinitializing a disc leads to one of the major benefits of CD-RW technology over CD-R. With CD-R, every time you finalize and reinitialize a disc, you lose about 13MB of storage space. With CD-RW discs, you can "unfinalize" a disc, recover that space, and allow the camera to write new images to it. Additionally, unfinalizing a CD-RW doesn't erase any files. To completely erase all images on a CD-RW, the CD500 offers a Format option through the Setup menu, which also requires the camera to rest on a level surface with no vibrations. The Format function takes several minutes to complete. It's my guess that the camera is actually rewriting the entire disc, restoring it to a completely blank, initialized state. NOTE that unfinalizing and formatting are only possible with CD-RW discs, not ordinary CD-Rs.

In addition to finalizing a disc, the Playback settings menu allows you to write-protect, delete (sequentially), resize, or rotate individual images. When an image is resized, the original version is left where it is on the CD, and a new copy is appended to the end of the list of images, resized to the dimensions you selected. Rotation is much more confusing. The original image actually remains in place (even on a CD-RW disc), and a new, rotated version is recorded. The camera edits the directory structure of the disc though, so the new rotated version appears in the same place as the original, in the list of images as you step through them sequentially, or view them as thumbnails. Although the original image is still physically recorded on the disc, it is no longer accessible to either the camera or a computer. (I'm not sure, but some data-recovery programs may be able to retrieve "overwritten" or "deleted" files like this from the CD-R/RW discs.)

You can also designate whether the camera numbers each image sequentially (from one CD to the next), or restarts file numbering with each new CD, by making a change in the Setup menu. The camera's Digital Print Option Format (DPOF) compatibility allows you to mark specific images for printing. Through the Setup menu you can decide whether or not to print the date and/or time on each image as well.

Image Size options include 2,048 x 1,536, 2,048 x 1,536 (3:2 ratio), 1,632 x 1,224, 1,280 x 960, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 pixels (E-Mail recording option). Movie file sizes are 640x480 (VGA), and 160 x 112 pixels for MPEG Movies, or 160 x 120 and 120 x 108 pixels pixels for Clip Motion files. In addition to the uncompressed TIFF file format, the CD350 offers both Fine and Standard JPEG compression levels, and a GIF option for Text and Clip Motion recording modes.

The table below shows the approximate still image capacities and compression ratios for the CD-R disc (main resolution sizes):

Image Capacity vs
(CD-R disc)
Fine Quality
Standard Quality
Highest Resolution 2048x1536 Images 11 81 145
1:1 5:1 9:1
High Resolution 1632x1224 Images 12
Standard Resolution 1280x960 Images
VGA Resolution 640x480 Images

A note about media: Whenever you put a non-Sony CD-R or -RW into the CD350, it flashes the message "Mavica DISC RECOMMENDED" on the LCD as it starts up. For the record, non-Sony CD-Rs seemed to work just fine in my test unit, but prior conversations with Sony technical staff revealed that inexpensive third-party discs sometimes have problems with concentricity between the center hole and the data tracks, which can cause read/write problems. I never encountered this while working with third-party media in various Sony CD Mavicas, but did actually have a problem with expanded-capacity media in the CD400 sample I used for my review of that model. Expanded-capacity CD-R media has been commonplace with full-sized CDs for some years now: The standard spec for full-sized CDs is a capacity of roughly 650 megabytes, but 700 megabyte (and larger) discs are now quite common. In the same fashion, while the "official" spec for 80mm media is a capacity of 156 MB, you can find third-party discs on the market with capacities of 185 MB or more. This is an appreciable increase in capacity, to the extent that you might be tempted to give it a try. If you do, I'd advise checking it out carefully before you entrust your precious photos to it. I was using a 185 MB disc in the CD400 during some of my test shooting, and ended up needing to reshoot a series of test photos. The problem was that, while the camera appeared to recognize and utilize the expanded capacity, after finalizing the disc, I was unable to retrieve the last dozen or so shots I'd recorded on it. It's possible that I might be able to access those photos via the USB port, but I never had time yet to wrestle with the software on my balky main Windows PC. Even if it does work in that scenario, I'd still advise against using expanded-capacity media as an inherently risky proposition.

Notes for Mac owners: In order to avoid a 1MB limit on writeable file size, Sony had to go with the Level 3 ISO CD standard, which supports larger data sizes in packet-writing mode. This means that Macs need a UDF format extension to be able to read the resulting discs. NOTE that the "UDF Volume Access" extension that shipped with Mac OS9 is apparently not adequate to the task. Although Apple's UDF Volume Access claims support for Version 1.5 of the UDF ("Universal Disk Format (tm)") specification, Roxio's UDF Volume Access "init" is apparently required to read the version of the UDF format used by the Mavica CD350. I can, however attest to the fact that the iMac supports both the 80mm disc size, as well as the Roxio Volume Access extension, as I was able to successfully read "finalized" CDs from the CD500 on our slot-loading iMac. (A 400MHz DV model, running Mac OS 9.0.4.)

For Mac OS X users unfortunately, the situation is somewhat worse: As noted earlier in this review, Macs running OS X can import images via the USB connection into either Image Capture or iPhoto, although I wasn't able to get my G4 PowerMac running OS X 10.2 to properly recognize the camera with iPhoto 2.0. (It worked fine using Image Capture 2.0, but the application took a *long* time (a couple of minutes I think, although I didn't time it) to recognize the camera. Unfortunately, there's no equivalent to the UDF Volume Access init for Mac OS X, so the only way to read the discs is to use the camera as a USB-connected CD drive: The Mac's own CD-ROM isn't capable of recognizing the finalized CDs created by the CD350.

Video Out
Both United States and Japanese models of the CD350 come equipped with an NTSC video cable for connection to a television set. (We assume that European models come with a PAL cable, since there is a PAL setting on the camera.) Once connected to the TV, you can review images and movies or record them to video tape.

The CD350 is powered by an NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery pack (M series) and comes with an AC adapter which doubles as an in-camera battery charger. The InfoLITHIUM battery packs exchange information with the camera, reporting approximately how many minutes of battery life are left. This information is displayed on the LCD monitor with a small battery graphic. The AC adapter plugs into a small socket on the camera's back panel (lower right corner). It can run the camera without a battery inserted, or charge the battery when the camera isn't in use.

The Li-Ion battery packs used in Sony cameras prevent me from making my usual power measurements, but the good news is that the InfoLITHIUM system reports projected camera runtime while the battery is being used in the camera. The following runtimes were reported by the CD350 with a freshly charged battery, in Capture and Playback modes. (Note that the runtime with the LCD backlight turned off will doubtless be longer than what is indicated on the LCD monitor, but I can't tell what that time is, since the time-remaining readout is only shown on the LCD screen.) While these are some of the best runtime numbers we've seen among digicams we've tested, we still always recommend you purchase and pack along a second battery. (Another advantage of the Li-Ion technology used in the InfoLITHIUM batteries is that they don't "self-discharge" like conventional NiMH rechargeable cells do, and so can hold their charge for months on the shelf or in your camera bag.)

The communication between the InfoLITHIUM battery pack and the camera preclude our normal camera power measurements, so we're reduced to simply reporting the time-remaining numbers for a fully charged battery in capture and playback modes. Battery life on the CD350 is notably long, but I still strongly recommend purchasing a second battery to carry as a spare.

Operating Mode
Battery Life
Capture Mode, w/LCD
161 minutes
Image Playback
204 minutes

Included Software
The Sony Mavica-CD350 comes with a software CD loaded with Pixela ImageMixer 1.5, and PTP manager (Picture Transfer Protocol, a protocol used by Windows XP). Pixela ImageMixer runs under Windows 98/Me/2000/XP and Mac OS 8.51-9.2. (NOTE: In order to read the CD500's discs on the Mac OS 9, you do need a special software "init" in your system folder, available from Roxio (formerly Adaptec Corporation). Click here to get the "UDF" init.)

In the Box
Included in the box are the following items:

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Sony Mavica MVC-CD350's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the CD350's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

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The original CD1000 CD Mavica was a revolutionary digicam, with inexpensive storage provided by CD-Rs and the trademark "universal media" appeal of the Mavica line. The CD350 continues the line's march toward lower price points. While still significantly more expensive than competing flash memory-based three megapixel cameras with similar capabilities, the CD350 puts CD-based digital photography in reach of more people than ever before. Given the appeal of "infinite" storage via low-cost CD-R/RW discs, and the near-universal compatibility they offer for file exchange, I predict that the CD350 will be a popular model, particularly in business and educational environments. I'd really like to see a less contrasty default tone curve, but the available reduced-contrast setting helps with harshly-lit subjects. On the plus side, the CD350 is one of the fastest-focusing digicams I've tested to date. If you're looking for a good all-around digicam with a solid feature set and impressive, low-cost storage capability, the CD350 belongs on your short list.


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