Sony Mavica CD300 Review
Sony Mavica MVC-CD300
Sony radically changed the world of digicams with the introduction of the MVC-CD1000, the first digital camera to use a CD-Recorder. Using an 8cm disc it stored up to 156MB of images and movies but it was limited by the inability to delete unwanted images or reuse the media. A year later Sony answered those problems by releasing two new CD-based Mavicas, the 2-megapixel CD200 and the 3-megapixel CD300. These new cameras employ a CD-R(W) drive which allows the use of either write-once CD-R or rewriteable CD-RW discs. This gives you the ability to transfer the images to the computer and then format and reuse the CD-RW discs many times. There are some incompatibilities with CD-RW discs and older CD-ROM drives but most modern drives made in the last couple of years should work fine. You can always transfer image data from the camera via the USB port if needed.
When the CD1000 was first brought to market the 3-inch (8cm) mini-CD discs were already reasonably priced but in the last year more companies have begun producing them and the prices have dropped sharply. Sony of course recommends the use of only their CD-R discs, so far we have not had any problems using generic media in the CD1000. I would highly recommend using the Sony brand CD-RW discs in the CD200 and CD300 cameras though as the ones made for PC CD-RW drives are not manufactured the same and may cause problems or not work at all. As for the durability of the miniature CD-R and CD-RW drives there have been very few reports of drive failures, something we wondered about since we first saw it. Even with the rapidly dropping prices of flash memory, using the write-once CD-R discs costs only two or three cents each ($3 for Sony disc, approx 1mb per image). And using the CD-RW discs it is possible to get the cost as close to nothing as possible the longer you use and re-use them.
We have defined the CD300's storage technology so what of the actual image quality and the capabilities of the camera itself? The CD200 and CD300 offers extensive real camera control of exposure via Program AE, Shutter speed priority, Aperture priority and full Manual mode. In addition there are three Scene modes (Twilight, Landscape and Portrait) selectable through Setup menu options. Program AE is the fully automatic "Point-n-Shoot" mode where the camera selects the best combination of shutter speed and aperture to produce the best possible picture given the lighting conditions. Shutter speed priority is used when you need to stop fast-moving subjects or to intentionally blur them. In shutter speed priority you select the shutter speed (8 secs to 1/1000) and the camera will match the necessary aperture value. Aperture priority is used when you need to control the depth of field (range of focus), aperture values from F2.8 to F11 can be selected. The larger the "F" number the greater the depth of field. The camera will select the appropriate shutter speed. For total control the Manual mode lets you select both the shutter speed and the aperture value.
The CD300 is similar to the Sony DSC-S75, both have 3-megapixel image resolution and employ a 3x Carl Zeiss lens which insures the sharpest possible pictures. Of course the CD300 is physically larger than the compact S75 due to the internal CD-RW drive but they do share the same, simplified user interface.
When in any of the still image record modes you can select the White Balance from the popup menu. Options include Auto, Indoors, Outdoors or One Push for manually setting the white balance by using a known white or gray "target." The ISO sensitivity by default is Auto but the user can lock in the equivalent of ISO 100, 200 or 400. The image size is 1600 x 1200, 1600 x 1200 (3:2 for printing), 1024 x 768 or 640 x 480 and you can select Fine or Standard quality. Recording mode can be TIFF (only in 1600 x 1200), Text (black and white saved as GIF), Voice (capture up to 40 sec sound clips to go along with still images), Email (captures the selected image size PLUS a 320 x 240 size image), Exposure Bracketing (captures 3 images varying the exposure for each), Burst 3 (record up to 3 frames at the fastest possible speed) or Normal. The user can also set the flash output strength at Low, Normal or High. The Picture Effects menu lets you select a creative mode such as Solarize, B&W, Sepia or Negative Art. And you can set the sharpness level at Normal or +1, +2, -1 or -2.
Dominating the back of the CD300 is a huge 2.5-inch color LCD that is found on all of the Mavica cameras. There is no optical viewfinder, 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. 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. Sony is producing an optional $80 DSAC- MVC eyelevel viewfinder that snaps over the LCD and allows it to be used like a regular camera. The color LCD can be illuminated by a regular 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 whenever possible will extend the runtime of the battery as those backlights consume a lot of power.
And speaking of batteries, the CD300 like all Sony cameras is powered by an InfoLITHIUM rechargeable battery pack. The CD200 and CD300 uses 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. The battery is charged in-camera or you can purchase an optional external rapid charger like the Sony AC-VQ800. The AC-L10 charger that comes with the camera also serves as an AC power supply for extended indoor use or during downloads to the computer.
The CD300 can also record motion video with sound at 320 x 240 or 160 x 112 pixels. The maximum recording lengths for 320 x 240 is 60 seconds and the 160 x 112 mode is good for up to 360 seconds. The MPEG-EX format captures the action at 8 frames per second and the audio is sampled at 4 KHz. The higher quality 320HQ mode captures at 16 frames per second with an audio sample rate of 10 KHz. The 320HQ movies play back in full screen on the color LCD or to a connected TV set. The MPEG-EX movies play back in a smaller window. You can also make mini animation sequences using the Clip Motion recording mode. You can capture up to ten images in either 160 x 120 or 80 x 72 pixels that will be combined and turned into an animated GIF image.
The CD200 and CD300 are far from "pocket size" cameras, with a physical size and weight comparable to a 35mm SLR. They are considerably smaller than the CD1000 with its huge 10x stabilized zoom lens. Because of their CD drives 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 to very good and the white balance does a respectable job in most average lighting conditions. The built in flash handles most indoor picture taking tasks with ease and pops up automatically when needed. It does tend to overexpose closeups shots no matter how much "-" exposure compensation you dial in as well as setting the flash output to minimum.
The bottom line is that the cost per picture is minimal thanks to the CD discs and the battery life is excellent so we'd have to rate the CD300 as an excellent 3-megapixel camera that's priced a little high ($999) due to the unique CD-RW drive. The big plus is that it's an excellent choice for those going on extended vacations that don't want to bring a laptop or invest a small fortune in flash memory or portable storage devices. You can buy the 3" CD-R discs in bulk for less than a buck (see below) which means you can pack a bunch of them in your suitcase and shoot as many pictures as you want.
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