Review: Sony Mavica MVC-CD250
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002
Thursday, June 20, 2002
review of this camera is now complete. Photos have been re-shot
where needed, and all sample photos were taken with a production-level
this camera is so similar to the MVC-CD400 (read
our review), the text will be very similar in many places. Why
reinvent the wheel?
the beginning, Sony created the Mavica. And it was popular. The
original Mavicas used floppy disks to store photos on, and they
flew off the shelves. People loved the convenience and low cost
of the floppy disk media.
then, SmartMedia and CompactFlash (especially) really started to
pull away in capacity and speed. So Sony created the Memory Stick
format. But what about people who wanted the floppy convenience?
Sony still makes the floppy Mavicas, but they've started to transition
to CD-R and CD-RW-based cameras instead. The first CD Mavica, the
CD1000 was bulky, slow, used write-once media, and my camera at
least was unreliable. But Sony been improving the CD Mavicas --
and the new MVC-CD250
($599, 2 Megapixel) and the MVC-CD400
($899, 4 Megapixel) are living proof. If you want to learn more
about the CD400, read my review
CD250 is sort of a scaled down version of the CD400. It lacks the
manual controls, laser focusing (Hologram AF) and Carl Zeiss lens
of its more expensive sibling. That doesn't mean that it's stripped,
however. Learn more about the new CD250 in our review!
in the Box?
MVC-CD250 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
2.0 (effective) Mpixel Mavica MVC-CD250 camera
156MB CD-R discs
156MB CD-RW disc
cm CD adapter
InfoLithium rechargeable battery
charger / AC adapter
featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
page manual (printed)
the new CD Mavicas, Sony is really pushing the CD-R/RW format as
the value leader in digital photography. The CD250 and CD400 include
over 1 gigabyte worth of storage -- 6 CD-R discs plus 1 CD-RW disc,
in the box.
are two types of CDs you can use with the CD Mavicas. CD-R discs
are write-once discs -- there's no deleting photos (well, you can,
but you don't get the space back). Using CD-R discs is a lot like
using film -- you take your pictures and when you run out, it's
time to buy another CD-R disc. Sony sells 5 packs of CD-R media
you'll probably want to do, however, is use CD-RW discs instead.
Here, you can reuse the discs, really delete pictures, and save
money at the same time. The CD-RW discs will cost you more up front
(3 pack for $20), but in the end, it may be worth it.
shown with CD-RW disc inserted
the deal with using discs. When you're ready to pop your CD-R or
CD-RW disc into your CD-ROM drive, you must first "finalize"
it. This adds some 13MB to the disc and can take a minute or two.
When you're done, theoretically, it will work in your computer.
If you have a CD-RW drive, you often do not have to finalize the
disc to use it (it really depends on what equipment you have). If
you want to add more photos to the disc, you will need to initialize
the disc. This won't erase anything, but it will take up more space
on the CD-R disc. For CD-RW, you can "unfinalize" which
will get some of that 13MB back.
this sounds confusing, take a look at this flow chart in the camera
us Mac users, it's not quite so easy. In Mac OS 9.2 and Mac OS X,
I was unable to get my CD-ROM or CD-RW drive to read the discs,
regardless of if they were finalized or not. They worked fine in
my Windows PC. Mac users can still connect the camera via
USB and download photos that way. For us Mac users, it's not quite
so easy. In Mac OS X, I was unable to get my CD-ROM or CD-RW drive
to read the discs, regardless of if they were finalized or not.
If you're using Mac OS 9.2 or earlier, download
the UDF Volume Reader software from Roxio -- then you can read finalized
discs. They worked fine in my Windows PC. Mac users can still
connect the camera via USB and download photos that way.
of USB, the new CD Mavicas handle the USB connection differently.
They use the new PTP standard (I'm not sure what the old standard
was called), and Sony includes the necessary drivers.
all that CD stuff makes sense. Now let's talk about batteries. The
CD400 uses the familiar M series InfoLithium battery. The good news
is that its rechargeable and should last for a while (about 110
minutes per charge), and they tell you exactly how much power they
have left (in minutes). The bad news is the same with all proprietary
batteries: they are expensive and you cannot easily find them when
you're in a bind. In other words, Disneyland doesn't sell them.
Sony includes an AC adapter which charges the battery while it's
in the camera. That takes 2.5 hours.
CD250's lens is threaded for 37 mm attachments, and and Sony has
numerous lenses and filters available. Unlike the CD400, you don't
need a conversion lens adapter to use them. You can also use Sony's
proprietary HVL-F1000 external flash. One major difference between
this and the CD400 is that the CD250 does not have a hot shoe, and
cannot use third party flashes.
CD250's big brother, the CD400, with DSAC-MVC clip-on viewfinder
is another useful accessory: a clip-on viewfinder ($80)! Since the
CD250 and CD400 only have LCD's, some folks will definitely want
this! I finally got to try one of these, and it's pretty neat. You
can look through the optical viewfinder (which is just showing you
the LCD), or flip that door down and view the LCD directly.
did not try the Pixela ImageMixer software, so I cannot comment
on that. The manual, while still confusing (you saw that flowchart),
is better than those included with older Sony cameras.
new CD Mavicas are looking more and more like SLR-style cameras.
In fact, some people might not even notice that it uses CDs, as
the big "bulge" that used to be on the top of the camera
is gone. There's a larger right hand grip, and a new-style popup
flash as well. The camera is made of the high grade plastic that
is typical of Sony's cameras.
the CD250 is smaller than its predecessors, it's still a big camera.
I'd compare it to a regular SLR camera, though lighter. This is
one camera that will not find its way into your pocket. The official
dimensions of the CD250 are 5.5 x 3.75 x 4.0 inches, and it weighs
608 grams with battery and disc installed.
start our tour of the CD250 now.
CD250 has as different lens than on the CD400 (and, at F3.8, much
"slower"). This one is a standard-issue Sony 3X optical
zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.4 - 19.2 mm, which is
equivalent to 41 - 123 mm. The lens, as I mentioned, is threaded
for 37 mm attachments. One other note: the lens never extends out
of the body, unlike on the CD400. That means faster startup times,
and the use of the zoom while recording movies.
up, you can see the popup flash, which has a working range of 0.8
- 3.5 m. The CD400 has a wider range of 0.5 - 5.0 m. I've still
got more to say about flashes in a bit.
big difference between the two new CD Mavicas is the focus assist
system. While the CD400 has the fancy Hologram AF laser focusing
system, the CD250 has a regular old AF illuminator light. While
the camera can't focus as well in low light as the CD400, it's still
way better than not having an illuminator at all.
you've already read the CD400
preview, you'll immediately be able to see a difference between
the two cameras in the above picture -- a lot fewer buttons! One
thing that is not different is the huge 2.5" LCD screen, which
is the only way to preview pictures (I already mentioned the optional
viewfinder attachment). The LCD's quality is excellent -- it's big,
bright, and fluid. Like the other Mavica cameras, you can turn off
the backlight and let the sun do the job, but you'll need a lot
of direct light to actually make it useable. One big disadvantage
of LCD-only cameras is that it becomes awfully hard to use in bright
just a single button below the LCD, which toggles the info shown
on LCD, and then the LCD backlight.
with our tour now: on the right side of the LCD you'll find the
zoom controls, the four-way switch, and the menu button. The zoom
controls are well-placed, and move the lens smoothly and silently
(much more so than on the CD400). The four-way switch is used for
menu navigation, plus changing these settings:
review (left) - quickly shows the last photo taken
the lower right of the menu button is the CD250's speaker.
the top of the camera, where you'll find another big difference
between the CD250 and CD400. The CD400 has a real, honest to goodness
hot shoe, while the CD250 has what is called a "cold shoe".
It's basically just a bracket on which to mount a flash (there are
no electrical contacts). You must use the Sony HVL-F1000 flash if
you need more flash power.
in front of the shoe is the popup flash (which pops up automatically,
by the way).
to the right, you can see the microphone, mode wheel, and shutter
mode wheel (which has the power switch below it) has a very "notchy"
feel (that's a good thing) and has the following options (fewer
than on the CD400):
Mode lets you choose between Twilight, Twilight Portrait (flash
slow sync), and Landscape mode. The camera picks the best settings
for these situations.
this side, you'll find most of the I/O ports, as well as the release
for the CD-R/RW drive's door. Let's take a closer look at those
top to bottom:
drive door release
port (for the Sony HVL-F1000 flash)
the other side, the only thing you'll find is the port for the AC
adapter (which is included with the camera). As you can see, there's
a plastic cover for it.
here is the bottom of the camera. Here's where that M-series battery
(shown here) goes, and there's also a metal tripod mount here as
the Sony MVC-CD250
times for the CD250 can really vary. Sometimes it's almost instant
(2 secs), other times it can take much longer to read the CD. Once
things get started, though, the camera is responsive. When you depress
the shutter release button halfway, the CD250 locks focus in about
a second. There is no noticeable shutter lag on the camera.
has obviously put lots of buffer memory in the CD250, to alleviate
the slowness associated with the CD-R/RW format. As such, the delay
between shots is minimal -- about a second or so. If you take a
TIFF image, the story is different -- expect the camera to be inoperable
for over 40 seconds while the file is saved to the CD.
newest Sony cameras have three noise reduction systems to make your
pictures better. There's one for chrominance (Clear Color NR), another
for luminance, and finally, one for noise (Slow Shutter NR). When
shutter speeds drop below 1/2 sec, the "Slow Shutter NR"
noise reduction mode kicks in. This results in a longer wait for
the image to be recorded, but you'll be rewarded with a less noisy
quick note about longer exposures on the CD250 -- while it can go
as slow as 2 seconds, that's only in Twilight mode. In normal record
mode, the slowest shutter speed used is 1/30 sec. By contrast, the
CD400 has full control of the shutter speed and aperture.
a look at the image size/quality choices on the CD250:
photos on 156MB CD (approx.)
(3:2 aspect ratio)
you can see, those little CD's can hold quite a lot of pictures.
Sony gives you seven of them in the box (including one CD-RW) so
you'll be set for a while.
CD Mavicas use the familiar Sony "overlay-style" menu.
It's easy enough to figure out. Here's what you'll find in the menus:
compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
(Multi Area AF, Center AF, 0.5, 1, 3, 7 meters, infinity) - more
Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent) -
lots more options here than on old models
(Auto, 100, 200, 400)
Size (1600 x 1200, 1600 (3:2), 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
Quality (Fine, Standard)
Mode (TIFF, Voice, E-Mail, Burst 3, Normal)
Level (High, Normal, Low)
Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
(-2 to +2)
white balance mode has been expanded on the new CD Mavicas. No more
indoor, outdoor, or hold choices. The CD250 lacks the manual white
balance found on the CD400. The focus menu is a bit different as
well. You can choose between 3 point auto focus (called Multi Area
AF; the camera chooses the subject, not you), or Center-point focus.
If you want to manually focus, you can choose one of the preset
distances. Another thing missing from the CD250 compared with the
CD400: no exposure bracketing.
more details on those Rec Mode choices:
uncompressed large image
Records an audio file along with a still image
Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
Records three images continuously at 2 frames/sec
Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here
are the interesting ones:
Tool (finalize, format, initialize, unfinalize) - handles all
those CD functions I described earlier.
Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion, Multi-Burst) - explained below
(Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on
numbering (series, reset)
before write (on/off) - this is new! Review a picture (and delete
it if necessary) before it's saved to the CD.
Moving Image feature has a new addition: Multi-Burst mode. This
is similar to a feature found on the Nikon Coolpix cameras. It will
take 16 shots in a row and put it into one 1280 x 960. I guess it's
good for analyzing your golf swing. You get to choose from several
between-frame intervals -- 1/7.5 sec, 1/15 sec, and 1/30 sec. There
is also a movie-like feature called ClipMotion which will take 10
images and put them into an animated GIF for you.
CD250 produced a well-exposed, low noise photo in our night shot
test. Despite having a slower lens and no manual control over the
shutter speed, the camera's night scene feature still pulled off
a nice shot.
the CD400, the CD250 did a fine job in our macro test. The subject's
colors look good and the image is fairly sharp. The minimum focus
distance in macro mode is 3 cm (1.188 inches) at wide-angle, and
80 cm (31.5 inches) at telephoto.
is our red-eye test. The camera's red-eye reduction system didn't
totally eliminate this phenomenon. It's visible, but not horrible.
Many software products can remove red-eye. There was a fair amount
of red channel noise in this test shot -- you can see a bit of it
here. (Note that this image was blown up 200% so you can see the
the whole, the CD250 delivers very good quality photos. My test
shots were nicely exposed, with accurate color. Chromatic aberrations
(purple fringing) were not a major problem. But don't take my word
for it, check out the photo gallery and
judge for yourself!
CD250 uses Sony's new MPEGMovie HQX mode and that's great news.
First, some history. A few years ago, Sony came out with the MPEGMovie
HQ mode, which was higher quality (though still 320 x 240) than
most digital camera movie modes. Then came MPEGMovie EX, which got
rid of time limits on video (until your memory card filled up),
though not at the HQ setting. MPEGMovie HQX allows you to do it
-- direct writing of HQ video until you run out of space. You can
get over 5 minutes of video (with sound) on each CD.
big surprise: the CD250 lets you use the optical zoom while filming.
This is a rarity indeed, and I think we have that enclosed lens
to thank for that.
are saved in MPEG format, as you might guess by the name.
have a real world sample movie for you -- for a change.
Click to play movie (3.0MB, MPEG format)
view it? Download QuickTime.
MVC-CD250's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on
most point-and-shoot cameras. The basic features include slide shows,
DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom &
addition to those, you can also resize, trim, and rotate photos
in-camera. Do note that when you trim a photo, if you choose a high
resolution, the resulting image will not look good!
zoom and scroll mode lets you zoom in as much as 5X, and then move
around in it. This is handy for making sure your image is in focus.
can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll
get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.
would have liked a delete button on the camera itself, rather than
having to invoke the menu every time I want to remove a photo, but
that's a minor gripe. You can, however, delete a group of photos.
Put the camera into thumbnail mode (zoom out once), invoke the menu,
and choose Delete, then Select and you'll see what I mean.
CD250 moves between images fairly quickly in playback mode, though
there's disc accessing for five seconds or so when you do move.
I believe the camera caches the photos on each side of the current
one for quicker viewing. Things get much slower when you zoom out
to thumbnail mode - it took about 12 seconds to read the 9 thumbnails
off the CD. It's also slow if you start moving quickly through your
photos one at a time.
Does it Compare?
final thoughts about the Sony Mavica MVC-CD250 is very similar to
the floppy-based cameras that I've reviewed. If you're sold on the
CD-R/RW format, then the CD250 is a great camera. It's got excellent
photo quality, a good deal of controls, a very nice movie mode,
an AF illuminator, and a inexpensive media format. On the other
hand, you've got a bulky, slow (in terms in read/write speed), and
expensive digital camera with lots of moving parts. A CD-RW drive
is a delicate instrument, so I've got to wonder how long these things
last in real world use. Also, the camera isn't what I call "Mac
compatible", as the CDs cannot be read in your CD-ROM drive.
If you like the CD format though, the CD250 is a great choice. If
you don't care about the CD format, I'd look at some other 2 or
3 Megapixel cameras instead.
good photo quality
format is excellent value
movie mode (can even use optical zoom)
I didn't care for:
about durability of CD-RW drive
read/write times, esp. in playback mode
very expensive 2MP camera
it comes to CD-based cameras, the CD250 and CD400 are the only game
in town. For help picking out other cameras, please visit our Reviews
& Info section.
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the MVC-CD250 before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a second opinion? How about a third?
has reviewed production-level CD250's yet either. But if you want
pre-production camera reviews, Steve's
Digicams and Imaging
Resource both have them.
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for
a personal recommendation.