Sony Mavica FD87 Review

Steve's Digicams

Sony MVC-FD87

Steve's Conclusion

The Sony "Mavica" digital cameras have been around for quite a few years now, beginning with the original MVC-FD5 camera and its VGA-sized images. The key to their success is based on the fact that they store images on regular 3-1/2 inch floppy diskettes. Floppy diskettes (floppies) are cheap and plentiful but what makes them really useful is that they can be read on PC and Mac computers alike. You take a picture, it's recorded on the floppy, you take the floppy out of the camera and put it into your computer's drive and seconds later you are seeing the picture on the screen. No special cables or software needed, that's the beauty of it.

However, storing images on floppies has become a problem since the cameras have been upgraded with one and two-megapixel sensors. The FD5 wrote 640 x 480-pixel images that were only 30KB in size, you could store a whole pile of them on each diskette. The FD87 can capture 1280 x 960-pixel images that average about 225KB in size so now only 5 or 6 fit on each floppy diskette. And when you record MPEG movies, a 15-sec 320 x 240 movie will require the entire 1.4MB of space.

The Sony MVC-FD87 is the least expensive of the Mavica line of digital cameras that is compatible with both the 1.44MB floppy diskette and Sony's Memory Stick cards. Like the FD95, the FD87 is Memory Stick compatible when used with the optional MSAC-FD2M floppy adapter. This adds about $85 (plus the cost of a Memory Stick module) to the cost of the camera but it does give you access to 4MB to 64MB (soon 128MB and 256MB) of image storage. The only problem with the FD2M adapter is speed, it is rather slow at both reading and writing on the camera and on your computer because it is limited by the throughput of the floppy drive controller. Unless you have lots of free time on your hands the best way to move the data from a Memory Stick to the computer is by using a USB-enabled Memory Stick card reader. Or look at one of the other Mavicas that has both the Memory Stick card slot and a builtin USB port like the FD92 or the FD97.

Storage issues aside, the FD87 is a good camera that's easy to use. As with all of the Mavica cameras, it has a huge 2.5-inch color LCD that is used as both the viewfinder and the playback screen. Indoors these big color LCD displays are marvelous but they suffer when used outdoors in the bright sunlight. To help overcome this problem the FD87 is equipped with a solar-assisted LCD screen. There is a window across the top that lets the bright ambient light come in behind the LCD and illuminate it much the same way that the backlight works. This not only makes the display easier to see but it also cuts down on the amount of battery power used as those backlights are very power hungry devices. Thankfully the FD87 is powered by the "L" series of Sony InfoLIHIUM batteries so portable power is not that big of an issue to begin with. The actual amount of battery power left is always displayed on the LCD in minutes so you always know what's left.

Typical of most digital cameras the FD87 has a 3x optical zoom lens that covers the normal to moderate telephoto focal range. This zoom range is further enhanced by a 2x digital zoom feature but as with all digital zooms a certain amount of image degradation is to be expected. There is no "magic" involved here, a digital zoom simply enlarges the center section of the image to fill the entire area, it is not the same as an "optical" zoom. The digital portion of the zoom can be enabled or disabled in the menus so you don't accidentally use it when you don't want it. The onscreen icon that is displayed while zooming the lens in and out shows where the digital zoom range begins but it is only a tiny dividing line in an already tiny icon.

The one thing that most people remark about is the size of the Mavica cameras, they are big compared to other digicams.  If you're looking for a small digital camera you should check out the ultra-compact models like the CyberShot P30 or P50. The P30 has the same 1.3-megapixel image resolution and 3x optical zoom lens capabilities of the FD87 in a truly pocket-sized package. On the other hand, a lot of people would rather use a bigger camera because they're easier to hold steady.

No matter what your need or fancy is, Sony has a digicam that is just right for you -- check out the list of Sony cameras we have listed in our Review Index and you'll see what I mean.

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