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Sony MVC-FD95

Sony takes the Mavica line to 2.1 megapixels, and 12-bit digitization!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 7/13/2000

Executive Overview
As with other models in Sony's Mavica digicam, you may be thinking that the MVC-FD95 is a bit of a handful. We initially thought so too, since the FD95's large size stands out from the more pocket-sized digicams we commonly test. Don't let its size fool you though, what the FD95 lacks in compact portability, it well makes up for in many other areas. For example, the larger camera size is necessary because it actually stores images on 3.5 inch floppy diskettes (a feature which has earned Sony much popularity in the consumer marketplace). With image storage on floppies, you're free from the hassles of cables, download software and compatibility issues. Despite its appearance, the camera actually weighs quite a bit less than you'd think by looking at it (34 oz. or 970g), thanks to its sturdy, all plastic body. Combine that with the 10x optical zoom, loads of features and the MPEG movie capability, and you'll appreciate just how much Sony has actually packed into the FD95's body.

The MVC-FD95's optical viewfinder is an intriguing feature, as it appears to be a smaller version of the rear LCD monitor, complete with information display and menus. The "optical" viewfinder actually uses a tiny (and lower-power) LCD screen to show you what the camera's seeing (a little like an "electronic SLR" or single-lens reflex). We like the idea of being able to see the exposure settings, flash, etc. in the viewfinder, but we also found it a little difficult to navigate the menu system with your face so close to the camera and preferred to switch over to the larger LCD monitor when making menu selections. The MVC-FD95 offers a 10x optical zoom with its 6 to 60mm lens (equivalent to a 39 to 390mm lens on a 35mm camera). The lens also features Sony's remarkably effective "Steady Shot" system that helps you hold the image steady when you're shooting at the extreme telephoto settings the FD95 is capable of. Focus ranges from 9.8 inches (25 cm) to infinity in normal mode and from an amazing 0.8 to 9.8 inches (2.0 to 25 cm) in Macro mode. Finally, apertures range from a very fast f/2.8 to f/11. There's even a manual focus mode, where you can focus the lens by hand, using the ridged focus ring on the end of the lens, just like traditional manual focus lenses for film cameras.

Although there's no full manual exposure option, Sony does give you both Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority exposure modes. In these, you select one value while the camera chooses the most appropriate corresponding one. There are also Twilight and Twilight Plus modes that extend low-light performance (although not to true night-photography levels - use the shutter priority exposure option for that), and a full Program AE for times when you want the camera to do all the work. Landscape mode locks the focus at infinity and Panfocus allows you to quickly change focus from far away to close-up subjects. Both 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. We were glad to see the inclusion of a manual (One-Push, as Sony calls it) white balance mode in addition to the standard Automatic, Indoors and Outdoors options. We also appreciated the spot metering option, which gives you greater flexibility over your exposure with backlit and other difficult subjects. The on-board pop-up flash gives you some added control as well, letting you set its intensity level. Combined with one of the semi-manual modes and the capability of connecting an external flash, you have a good bit of control over flash exposure. There's also a sharpness control and an entire menu of picture effects, which let you shoot images in black and white or sepia monotones, with a solarized effect, or as negative art.

Aside from the traditional still capture mode, the MVC-FD95 has a movie option that lets you record up to 60 seconds of images and sound in a 160 x 112 pixel size and up to 15 seconds at a 320 x 240 size. Movies are recorded as MPEG files and most of the same exposure options are available as for still images. Additionally, you can record up to 40 second sound clips to accompany still images. Under the capture mode menu, the MVC-FD95 gives you the added option of recording still images as black and white GIFs (good for capturing text or white boards) or email-friendly images (320 x 240 size for easier email transmission) at the same time as higher-resolution ones.

As we said earlier, the MVC-FD95 stores images to a 3.5 inch floppy diskette. This makes it exceptionally easy for users to transfer images to a computer. Simply pop out the disk and insert it into your computer's floppy drive. There's no cabling to figure out and you don't have to worry about using the AC adapter while downloading to save battery power. The downside to floppy storage is that the 1.44 megabyte floppy capacity limits you to only 4 high resolution images on each disk. You can also purchase an adapter and save images to Sony's MemorySticks, storing up to 64 megabytes of images on a single card. Of course, the adapter/memory stick approach loses the floppy's benefits of low cost and no need for special driver software.

Packaged with the camera is ArcSoft's Camera Studio software bundle, compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. This package makes it simple to collect images, display them in a slide show or photo album as well as make minor corrections (take out Red-Eye or enhance color, etc.) and make creative image manipulations. Also included is a basic video editing program, for enhancing your MPEG movies.

For power the MVC-FD95 runs on Sony InfoLITHIUM NP-F330 rechargeable battery packs (NP-F530 and NP-F550 packs can also be used). What's great about the InfoLITHIUM system is that the batteries communicate with the camera about its power consumption. The resulting information appears to you as remaining battery time in minutes displayed on the LCD next to a battery symbol. The camera has an auto power-off option which shuts down the camera after three minutes of inactivity. This is great from a battery conservation standpoint, but we'd like to be able to adjust the timer somehow.

After all our testing, we really liked the versatility of the MVC-FD95. The combination of a 10x optical zoom, whimsical picture effects, the MPEG movie capability and the use of floppy disks make this a fun camera to use. The optical stabilization on the 10x zoom lens makes it far more useful at telephoto settings than it would be otherwise. We think that novice consumers and advanced amateurs alike will find much to like about the FD95: You get enough exposure control to get creative, with the luxury of a full automatic mode when you want to take it easy.

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