For all their usefulness, digital cameras still compare unfavourably with their conventional counterparts in two key areas. First, there’s the lack of capacity for image storage, especially if you are shooting at higher resolutions, and second there’s the impermanence of the record of what you’ve photographed. There’s no roll of negatives to store for future re-use, and unless you are diligent – and have the facilities – no hard backup of your work either.
But now Sony’s come up with a deft solution to both of these shortcomings at once. Instead of the usual flash memory, Sony’s new Mavica MVC-CD1000 has a built-in CD-R drive which uses small format 8cm discs with a 156MB capacity.
Each disc can store up to 300 – count ‘em – 1024 x 768 exposures, or an equally impressive maximum of around 140 shots taken at the camera’s maximum 1600 x 1200 resolution. Once the disc is full, it constitutes a permanent archive in its own right, and can be viewed from most CD or DVD drives on a PC or notebook.
The discs aren’t meant to be overwritten and used again, like flash memory, but at £5 or so each, the cost of running the camera isn’t going to present many problems.
Using normal JPEG compression, images are written to disk very quickly, with even 1600 x 1200 resolution exposures taking only a few seconds, but if you go for the uncompressed TIFF mode then the write time goes up to half a minute or more, since the file sizes are fairly large.
The results can be viewed from the camera itself using a USB connection to a PC, and in the unlikely event that you don’t already have a photo editor, a copy of MGI’s PhotoSuite is included with the camera.
Apart from the need to accommodate the CD-R drive in the camera back, the other reason why the Mavica is relatively large is that it has a full 10x optical zoom, where most cameras offer 3x at best. You can push this even further with the 10x digital zoom, but a gradual deterioration of the image quality inevitably appears as you crank up the magnification. At the other end of the scale there’s an impressive macro mode which allows you to work as close as 2cm from the subject.
All the other features you’d expect from a top quality camera are present, including a built-in flash, manual aperture/exposure priority modes, manual focus and an anti-camera shake function. The Mavica even has a through-the-lens viewfinder, so what you see on the LCD is exactly what the camera is pointing at.
The camera is well designed, which made the controls easy enough to use, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of the major functions. The rocker stud which walks you around the on-screen menu system can be slightly fiddly, but this was only a minor niggle.
Picture quality was excellent at 1600 x 1200, very good at 1024 x 768, good in VGA and perfectly usable below that, with no obvious artefacts of JPEG compression. The focus was crisp overall, and the colours were vivid and true. All in all, the new Mavica has a lot going for it, and unless you have a specific requirement for a small camera, or the budget rules it out (it’s certainly not cheap), it’s one you should take a careful look at in person before you decide what to buy.
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