Sony Mavica CD250 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Sony MVC-CD250 is a "Point-n- Shoot" 2.0 Megapixel digicam that delivers good images. It's the more basic of the new "CD Mavica" cameras for 2002. The 4.0-megapixel MVC-CD400, is a more creative and controllable camera with Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and full Manual modes. Both cameras employ an 8cm (3-1/2 inch) mini-CD disc drive for image storage whereas other digicams use flash memory cards. Both cameras have a 3x zoom lens. The CD400 has a Carl Zeiss Vario- Sonar lens and the CD250 has the Sony 6.4 to 19.2mm f/3.8 lens (41-123mm 35mm equiv.) At $599 ($200 less than the CD400) the CD250 has the ability to record still images up to 1600 x 1200 size in JPEG or TIFF format and movie clips with sound. If printing 4x6" prints, you can select the 1600(3:2) format which is the perfect ratio for non-cropped prints. When you want a smaller image select from a range of space-saving sizes down to 640 x 480. The CD250 builds on the features of the CD200 and adds the improved HQX movie mode as well as other improved features.
The unique feature common to all of the CD Mavicas is the mini-CD recorder drive. Sony is the first and only camera maker to integrate an optical CD burner into a digicam. When I first heard about them I imagined all sorts of in the field failures were bound to happen but amazingly over the last two years I have heard of only a few problems. This type of media has an advantage in the fact that when you use the CD-R type discs there is virtually no way to accidentally erase your images, CD-R is a write-once technology. Even with the rapidly dropping prices of flash memory, using the CD-R discs costs only about one and a quarter cents per image ($2 for disc that holds about 160 images). Using the CD-RW (rewriteable) discs it is possible to get the cost as close to nothing as possible the longer you use and re-use them. Sony of course recommends the use of only their brand of CD-R and CD-RW discs. There are 3rd- party vendors selling mini-CD discs but their quality is not assured so use at your own risk.
The mini-CD technology does have its disadvantages. At power-up the disc must spin up to speed and be read to locate where to write the next image file. This took as long as 20 seconds when I had a disc that was 1/2 full and had opened the CD drive in between power down and power up. The time it takes to write an image to disc is a little longer than with flash memory cards, under 4 seconds. The shot-to-shot time is a little above average at about 3 seconds in single mode (all shot in 1600 x 1200 Fine mode - no flash.) To take the disc out and play in most computer's CD drive you must finalize the disc first in the Setup mode. This uses up about 15MB, a bit wasteful when you consider the disc only holds 156MB. Some computers with CD-RW drives and Adaptec's DirectCD drivers may be able to read the unfinalized discs.
The CD250 offers exposure automation with Program AE. Program AE is the fully automatic "Point-n-Shoot" mode where the camera selects a combination of shutter speed and aperture to produce the best possible picture given the lighting conditions. Automatic NR(Noise Reduction) is always on in any mode when the exposure time reaches or exceeds 1/2 second. In addition there are three Scene modes: Twilight, Twilight - Portrait and Landscape selectable through Setup menu options. Though it does not have the more manual modes, there are some other manual controls that are accessed through the Record Screens & Menus.
The CD250 employs the Sony 6.4 to 19.2mm f/3.8 lens which has a 41-123mm 35mm equivalent. When in the full wide angle position there is moderate barrel distortion and at full telephoto there is slight pincushioningand neither gets in the way of good snap shots. The dedicated macro mode focuses on subjects as close as 3cm (about 1.2 inches) from the lens when in wide angle position. Normal focus range is about twenty inches to infinity and the camera's autofocus system is relatively fast and accurate. In dim to low light there is a focus illuminator that not only assists the autofocus but also greatly brightens the LCD viewfinder. You can adjust the focus manually when desired. The lens has 37mm threads for filters and add-on lenses and comes with a tethered, snap-on lens cap. The CD250's Sony 3x lens is a very good performer and produces sharp and colorful images.
Dominating the back of the CD250 is a huge 2.5-inch 123K pixel color LCD that is found on all of the Mavica cameras. There is no optical viewfinder so all framing and previewing is done on the color LCD. When used as a viewfinder it shows about 99% of the final captured image so it rates right up there as being extremely accurate and its non-glare surface improves its visibility in full sun viewing. All information overlays and menus are highly visible on the big LCD without losing your preview image. During playback you can zoom-in to your images to check for critical focus or color and it's really nice to review a movie on that big screen. The color LCD can be illuminated by a back light but it can also be illuminated by ambient light when outdoors thanks to the solar window across the top of the display. Using the solar window and manually switching off the backlight whenever possible will extend the runtime of the battery as those backlights consume a lot of power.
And speaking of batteries, the CD250 is powered by an InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery pack. The CD250 and CD400 use the "M" series NP-FM50 battery which gives it enough power for about 120 minutes of recording time or about 160 minutes of playback time. The remaining runtime of the battery pack is continuously displayed on the LCD screen in minutes so you never have to wonder when the battery is going to run out. Extra batteries aren't cheap as Sony gets about $60.00 for them. The battery is charged in-camera or you can purchase an optional external rapid charger like the Sony BC-VM50. The AC-L10B charger that comes with the camera also serves as an AC power supply for extended indoor use or during downloads to the computer.
The CD250 can record motion video with sound in 320HQX, 320 x 240 or 160 x 112 pixel mode. The maximum recording length in the HQX mode is limited only by the remaining capacity of the CD. The 320HQX mode capture rate is 16 frames per second. The 320HQ movies play back in full screen on the color LCD or to a connected TV set. The non-HQX (320 x240 and 160 x 112) movies play back in a smaller window. You can also make mini animation sequences using the Clip Motion recording mode that lets you capture up to ten images in either 160 x 120 or 80 x 72 pixels that is combined and turned into an animated GIF image in-camera. Another Movie mode option is MultiBurst which captures up to sixteen 320x240 continuous frames and records them as a 1280x960 image.
The CD250 is far from being a "pocket size" camera, it has a physical size and weight comparable to a 35mm SLR. Because of the CD drive these cameras will never be able to be made much smaller but you can have one hanging around your neck for many hours without fatigue. The overall image quality is good and the white balance does a respectable job in most lighting conditions. The built in flash handles most indoor picture taking tasks with ease and pops up automatically when needed. The Landscape + Portrait mode (slow sync flash) is a very useful mode that when tried, can improve many snap shots by leaving the shutter open longer and collecting more of the available light behind you subject as is shown in our Sample Photos page.
The Mavica CD250 delivers reasonably sharp, colorful and properly exposed images. The size is not an attribute to most but the huge LCD, in comparison to other digicams, is a plus to me. It's very easy to use in bright daylight and I haven't been able to say that about many LCD's. The cost per picture is minimal, travel photography doesn't require hundreds of dollars in flash media cards, thanks to the CD discs and the battery life is excellent. So we'd have to rate the CD250 as an excellent 2-megapixel camera that's priced right at $599.99 (as of July, 2002) which is $200 less than the preceding model. With the CD-250's lower price, inexpensive recording media and good image quality, this camera is sure to please.
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