DCRP Review: Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, December 12, 2000
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 12, 2000

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Sony has always explored new storage formats since the inception of the consumer digital camera. First, it was the floppy disk. Even with the slow read/write speeds and small capacity, people bought up Mavicas like crazy, making Sony the #1 manufacturer of digital cameras. Next, it was the Memory Stick -- a small flash memory card the size of a stick of gum -- that Sony hopes to share across all its products. In the end, though, the Memory Stick is just another proprietary storage format.

As cameras got better over the years, the floppy started to be less appealing. When you could once fit 30 or more photos on a disc, suddenly it was 4 or 5. What could Sony come up with to have the portability and ease-of-use of a floppy, but with a higher storage capacity? Well, the answer lies inside the Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000 digital camera -- it's a CD-R drive! Yes, this camera actually writes onto 156MB, 3" writeable CD's (CD-R). While it isn't much faster (if at all) that a floppy, it sure holds a lot more photos. It's also much cheaper than comparable flash media. A 160MB CompactFlash card runs well over $350, whereas the 3" 156MB CD-Rs have been sighted for as little as $1 in bulk!

One thing (which may not be so good) is that this is the first digital camera that has consumables. That is, products you use once and must replace. If you're saying "Gee, that's just like my film camera", you're right! These CD-RS are write-once. Once they're filled, they can't be used again -- you've got to buy more. Sony sells 5 packs of these CD-RS for around $20 -- they're available for less in bulk from other manufacturers. Do keep in mind that the CD1000, with an already high price of entry, will cost you more down the road that most other digital cameras.

What's in the Box?

The MVC-CD1000 box contains everything you need to start shooting. It includes:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000 camera
  • Five 3" (156MB) CD-R discs
  • NP-F550 rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • 3" to 5" CD adapter
  • Software including MGI PhotoSuite and VideoWave SE, and drivers
  • Manuals for camera and software


Camera shown with 3" CD-R and NP-F550 battery

Sony includes a nice rechargeable battery set with the CD1000. The NP-F550 looks and performs like a camcorder battery. It even knows how much time is left before it runs out! Sony says that the battery should last for about 100-120 minutes depending on usage. Recharging takes between 150 and 210 minutes.

The battery charges inside the camera, and when you turn the camera on, you have an AC adapter too.

This is the first camera in the Mavica line to include a USB port -- a nice touch, especially given the "finalization" process that I will describe later in the review.

A number of accessories are available, including the HVL-F1000 external flash, both tele and wide-angle conversion lenses, as well as neutral density filters.

If your computer's CD-ROM drive cannot hold 3" CD-R discs, Sony has included an adapter which fits the 3" CD inside a 5" CD.

While my test camera didn't include a lens cap or strap, I'm told that a normal, retail CD1000 will include both.

Sony's camera manuals are much like their VCR manuals -- confusing and full of fine print. Of course, so are most other camera manuals.

Look and Feel

If you thought the Sony MVC-FD95 was big, wait until you see the CD1000. Not only does it have to hold a CD-R drive, but it has a big ol' 10X zoom lens to boot. This is the biggest digital camera out there, period. It's also one of the heaviest. This is NOT the camera you're going to slip into your pocket. The camera has a lot of plastic on it, so I'm not sure how much wear and tear it can take. Don't forget also that the CD1000 has that CD-R drive in it -- so you'll want to be careful in real world usage!


CD1000 (left) shown with Coolpix 950 (top right) and FinePix 4900 (bottom right)

The CD1000's dimensions are 5.5 x 5.25 x 8.625 inches, and it weighs in at a hefty 35 ounces (that's 2.25 pounds!!). Given so much real estate, you'd expect that holding the camera is easy, and that is the case. There's a nice grip for your right hand, and plenty of lens to put your left hand around.

The f2.8 lens of the CD1000 is one of its high points. With a 10X zoom ratio of 6 - 60mm (equivalent to 39 - 390mm on a 35mm camera), you'll find that you can fit even the most distant subjects into the full frame. See below for a little example of how nice such a big zoom is:

   

Full wideangle

Approx. 3X zoom

Approx. 10X zoom

Full telephoto (10X optical + 2X digital)

The lens always stays inside the barrel, which both protects it, and makes the camera "boot up" faster. The zoom is both exceptionally smooth and quiet while operating.

The back of the camera has most, but not all, of the camera controls. The biggest attraction here is probably the very large 2.5" LCD display. Sony has many, many years of LCD development under their belts (from all those Handicams), and as a result, the CD1000's LCD is probably the best out there. Not only is it big, but it's also bright and fluid.

Like the Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom and Fuji FinePix 4900 Zoom, the CD1000's optical viewfinder is actually a EVF, or Electronic Viewfinder. Of the three cameras, the Sony EVF is definitely the best by a large margin. It's very bright and sharp -- not at all grainy like the other two cameras -- almost as good as the main LCD. And, by some technical trick that I haven't yet figured out, the CD1000's EVF only turns on when your eye is up to the viewfinder. Pretty neat if you ask me. The EVF has diopter correction, for those of us with glasses.

To the left of the main LCD is the Display button, used for toggling on-screen info on the LCD. Above the LCD are buttons for flash, macro, spot metering, volume, LCD on/off, as well as a four-way switch for the menu system. To the right of the LCD you'll find the power switch.

On the top of the camera, there's not much going on. You can see the "accessory shoe" in the lower part of the photo. I hesitate to call this a "hot shoe" because there aren't any contacts there -- it's more like a flash bracket. See below for more on using an external flash.

The simple switch to the right puts the camera in either Movie, Still, or Playback mode.

Just above that is the shutter release, which is well placed and provides good tactile feedback. Just in front of that (which is easier to see in the first photo on this page) are the zoom controls.

Looking around the corner a bit, you can see the CD-R drive opened up. How long will such a device last in a digital camera that's always on the go? After my own problems, I'm not so sure. I'll go into detail about those problems later in the review.

Now onto the left side of the camera -- you can really get a feel for how big this thing is from this side.

The two buttons at the center of the photo are for focus and SteadyShot. When you flip the focus button to Manual, you can use the focus ring at the tip of the lens barrel to focus. Like with the FinePix 4900, this isn't a true mechanical process -- the ring electronically tells the lens what to do. The SteadyShot function, also a feature on Sony's camcorders, helps eliminate camera shake.

Above those buttons are those for Program AE and white balance. With Program AE, you have the following modes:

  • Program (normal) mode
  • Aperture priority mode
  • Shutter priority mode
  • Twilight mode
  • Twilight plus mode
  • Landscape mode
  • Panfocus mode (changes the focus quickly from a close subject to a distant subject)

In shutter priority mode, you can select from 17 values between 8 and 1/500 sec. In aperture priority mode, you have 9 choices between f2.8 and f11.

There are just a few choices for white balance - less than on most cameras - but at least Sony included the important choice. You can choose from:

  • Auto
  • Indoor
  • Outdoor
  • Manual ("one-push")

And that important choice is, of course, manual white balance. Here, you just put a white piece of paper (or whatever you want to be white) in front of the camera and hit the appropriate buttons, and you're set. So while the camera lacks white balance modes for incandescent and fluorescent lighting, the manual white balance feature should allow you to get around it.

The button at the top of the photo pops up the flash, which has a range of about 2 to 8 feet.

Below the flash button, under a rubber cover, is a nonstandard external flash sync port. As I mentioned, Sony sells the HVL-F1000 external flash. I'm not sure if other flashes are compatible, but I would assume the answer is no.

The final item on this very busy side of the camera is the release for the CD-R cover.

There's not much happening on the right side of the camera either - just the DC in port for that AC adapter.

Last but not least, here's the bottom of the camera. The only thing of note here is the metal tripod mount at the center of the photo. Oh, and there's the battery compartment, which has a nice spring-loaded door.

Using the Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000

Record Mode

The CD1000 is a camera which does a very good job as both a point-and-shoot camera as well as manually controlled camera. The amount of time it takes the CD1000 depends on how many photos are already on the CD. With a brand new CD-R, it takes about 3 seconds to start up, whereas with a fully loaded disc, it's more like 13 seconds.

When you depress the shutter release halfway, it takes the camera roughly one second to lock focus. The delay between fully depressing the shutter release and the actual picture being taken is negligible. The recycle time on this camera is about three seconds (in Normal mode, 1600 x 1200), which isn't too bad at all.


What you see on the main LCD, you'll also see on the EVF

As I mentioned earlier, the CD1000 has an electronic, rather than optical viewfinder. The good news is that you get to see much more information in the EVF than you would on an optical viewfinder. The bad news is that an EVF just isn't the same as looking through glass (or plastic as the case may be).


Record mode menus

I've already mentioned many of the options you can choose from on the CD1000 -- but there's more inside the menu system in record mode. These include:

  • Self-timer (10 sec)
  • Effect
    • P. effect (solarize, B&W, sepia, negative art, off) - sets the image special effects
    • Date/time (day & time, date, off) - sets whether to insert the data and time into the image
  • File
    • Disc Tool (initialize, finalize, cancel) - more on this in next section
    • Position Sensor (on/off) - orientates pictures correctly
    • File numbering (series/normal)
    • Image size - see below
    • Rec. Mode (TIFF, text, voice clip, e-mail, normal) - see below
    • Rec. Time Set (5/10/15 sec) - recording time for movies
  • Camera
    • Digital zoom (on/off) - 2X digital zoom
    • Sharpness (+2 to -2)
    • Flash level (high/normal/low)
    • Exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
  • Setup
    • Demo (on/off)
    • Video out (NTSC/PAL)
    • Language (English/Japanese)
    • Clock set
    • Beep (beep + shutter, shutter only, none)
    • LCD brightness

A few notes on some of the above choices now. First, here's a chart describing the image size options on the CD1000:

Image Size Number of images per CD-R
1600 x 1200 160
1600 (3:2) 170
1024 x 768 350
640 x 480 1080 (!)

In the Rec. Mode portion of the menu, there are additional choices, including:

  • E-mail - saves a 320 x 240 image in addition to the regular sized photo
  • Voice - save up to a 40 second sound clip with each photo
  • Text - Recorded as a black & white GIF image
  • TIFF - uncompressed image format

Do keep in mind that these other modes will decrease the total number of photos per CD. You can store around 20 TIFF files per CD-R disc.

Now how about some photos?

My initial attempts with the macro test gave me an image that was just too dark. Even bumping up the exposure compensation didn't help. So I tried longer exposures, and got the shot you see above with a 1 second exposure. With that out of the way, the CD1000 took a pretty nice macro shot. You can shoot as close as 2cm in macro mode on the CD1000!

The story behind why I don't have a nightshot illustrates my big problem with the CD1000. There I was: Monday night at Treasure Island. No, I wasn't in Las Vegas -- I was on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. If you've been on the Bay Bridge, you've gone right through it. I setup the CD1000 on a tripod and was all ready to take my pictures, when I saw a message on the LCD: Disc Full!

Now, with any other camera, I'd delete a photo or two, and then have room to take the photos I needed. Not so with the CD1000. The CD-R drive on this camera is write-once, not rewriteable. You can "delete" photos via the camera interface, but they're never really gone -- they still take up space on the disc. Suddenly the CD1000 doesn't seem quite as "digital" as other digital cameras, at least in my eyes.

I was able to lower the resolution to 640 x 480, and I took one picture -- which turned out blurry since the camera vibrated when I hit the shutter release button. I can tell you that, although very blurry, it did take in a lot of light, and probably would've been an acceptable picture (if you really want to see the photo, I'll put it up).

The story continues: So I was stuck without any extra CDs on a Monday night on a mostly deserted island with a camera that was already supposed to be back at Sony. I couldn't finish my tests since I couldn't take anymore photos, so I delayed the review one day while I bought another CD-R. And here's where I got "taken to the cleaners". After returning empty handed from CompUSA, I ventured into the SonyStyle store at the Metreon in San Francisco, where I was sold a single CD-R for -- brace yourselves -- $12.95. And that ends the story...

Overall, though, photo quality was most impressive. The CD1000s photos are much less compressed than those on the FD95 camera I tested a few months ago, and it shows. If you really want the highest quality, you can use TIFF mode. Take a look at the gallery to see some sample photos.

Movie Mode

With the CD1000, Sony continues to have what I feel is the best movie mode in the business. You can take movies at 320 x 240 (HQ), 320 x 240 (Std.), and 160 x 112. For the 320 x 240 modes, you can record up o 15 seconds; for 160 x 112, up to a full minute. Of course, the CD1000 records sound, and even lets you use that nice zoom lens during filming.


Click to play movie
(MPEG format, 15 secs, 5.2MB, 320 x 240 HQ mode)

While it's not going to win any awards, the sample movie above should give you an idea about the quality of the CD1000's movies.

Initialization and Finalization

With the CD-R technology comes some new procedures to go through to use it. When you first insert a new CD-R into the camera, the LCD will say "Not initialized". So, you initialize it. This takes a few seconds, and then you can take pictures.

Let's say now you want to put the CD-R into your computer. You can't just stick it in and expect it to read it. You have to finalize it first. I'm assuming it closes the session on the disc during finalization, but what I know for sure is that it takes up 13.5MB of the CD-R each time you do it. It also takes about one minute to do this.

Now pretend you still have a decent amount of room on the CD-R, and you want to take more pictures on it. You've got to initialize the disc AGAIN. When you're ready to put it back on the computer, you've got to finalize it AGAIN.

Like most things, there are workarounds to these issues:

  • If you have a CD-R or CD-RW drive, you may be able to mount the disc without finalizing it first
  • You can avoid all this finalizing if you hook the camera to your Mac or PC via the included USB cable (maybe save finalizing for the very end)

CD-R Troubles

One thing that concerns me about the CD-R on this camera is how it can handle all the jostling around during real world photography. A CD burner is a very sensitive device that must be precise in order to "burn" the tiny pits on the CD-R disc which ends up holding your photos. The slightest bump could damage the data on the disc!

It could just be the camera I was sent, but I'm already having trouble with the CD-R drive. When you finalize or initialize a disc, you're supposed to put the camera down flat. Well, when I did this, midway through the finalization process, I'd hear a horrible vibrating noise from the drive, which would stop the process in its tracks. If I waited long enough, I got a disc error.

While cursing away at the camera, I found the workaround for this problem. When this happens, I'd tilt the camera about 45 degrees to the left, and it magically stopped grinding and started writing again. That trick works like a charm.

Of course, this could all be my review camera... but who knows if it will crop up in others?

Playback mode

The CD1000 has a nice playback mode, with plenty of features.

The usual features are here -- slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

A few nice bonuses include the ability to rotate your photos, as well as resize them.

You can also playback those movies, complete with sound -- there's even volume buttons on the back of the camera.


Playback mode

Scrolling between high res thumbnails takes about 5 seconds, which is higher than average. No additional information is available about your photos, such as the exposure settings used to take the picture.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom in as much as 5 times, and then move around inside the photo. Both zooming and scrolling are not perfectly smooth, but still very good.

As I mentioned earlier, you can delete photos in playback mode, but you won't get that space back on the disc like with most cameras.

How Does it Compare?

I want to say up front that I very much like the Sony Mavica MVC-CD1000 for its "camera features". It's got a great 10X optical zoom, nice manual controls, good photo quality, and it's easy to use. What I'm not sold on is the CD-R technology itself, as you've probably noticed throughout the review. While it's the cheapest storage out there per megabyte, you lose a lot of the "digital camera features" such as the ability to truly delete photos, as well as to reuse the storage media. Isn't that why you bought a digicam in the first place? Plus, based on my own problems with the CD-R mechanism, I wonder how long these will last before they really start to have problems. If you're absolutely sold on the CD-R technology, then my concerns probably don't bother you. But it was me shopping for a camera, I'd choose a more traditional camera -- and save some money while I'm at it.

What I liked:

  • Impressive 10X optical zoom
  • Very good photo quality
  • Nice manual controls
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Excellent movie mode with sound
  • USB support (at last)
  • Support for (proprietary) external flash
  • Nice & useable LCD and EVF
  • Very cheap storage

What I didn't care for:

  • Not sold on CD-R technology
  • Slow read/write speeds
  • Way overpriced ($1300!)

If you really want a big zoom lens, check out the Olympus C-2100 Ultra Zoom and Fuji FinePix 4900 Zoom. Otherwise, there are tons of nice cameras for less money that you can find in our Reviews & Info section.

As always, I recommend a trip out to your local reseller to try out the MVC-CD1000 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? Or more?

Check out CD1000 reviews from Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and DP Review.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.


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