DCRP Review: Sony Mavica MVC-CD250
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, February 24, 2002
Last Updated: Thursday, June 20, 2002

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The review of this camera is now complete. Photos have been re-shot where needed, and all sample photos were taken with a production-level camera.

Since 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?

In 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.

But 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?

Well, 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 of it.

The 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!

What's in the Box?

The MVC-CD250 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.0 (effective) Mpixel Mavica MVC-CD250 camera
  • Six 156MB CD-R discs
  • One 156MB CD-RW disc
  • 8 cm CD adapter
  • NP-FM50 InfoLithium rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger / AC adapter
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
  • 129 page manual (printed)

With 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.

There 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 for $15.

What 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.


MVC-CD400 shown with CD-RW disc inserted

Here's 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.

If this sounds confusing, take a look at this flow chart in the camera manual:

For 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.

Speaking 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.

Hopefully 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.

The 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.


The CD250's big brother, the CD400, with DSAC-MVC clip-on viewfinder

Above 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.

I 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.

Look and Feel

The 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.

While 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.

Let's start our tour of the CD250 now.

The 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.

Moving 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.

Another 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.

If 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 light outdoors.

There's just a single button below the LCD, which toggles the info shown on LCD, and then the LCD backlight.

Continuing 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:

  • Flash (up)
  • Macro (right)
  • Self-timer (down)
  • Quick review (left) - quickly shows the last photo taken

To the lower right of the menu button is the CD250's speaker.

Here's 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.

Just in front of the shoe is the popup flash (which pops up automatically, by the way).

Moving to the right, you can see the microphone, mode wheel, and shutter release button.

The 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):

  • Scene Mode
  • Auto Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode
  • Setup Mode

Scene Mode lets you choose between Twilight, Twilight Portrait (flash slow sync), and Landscape mode. The camera picks the best settings for these situations.

On 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 I/O ports.

From top to bottom:

  • CD-R/RW drive door release
  • Accessory port (for the Sony HVL-F1000 flash)
  • USB
  • A/V

On 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.

Finally, 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 well.

Using the Sony MVC-CD250

Record Mode

Startup 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.

Sony 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.

The 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 image.

One 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.

Here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the CD250:

Image Size # photos on 156MB CD (approx.)
Fine Quality Standard Quality
1600 x 1200 131 235
1600 (3:2 aspect ratio) 131 235
1280 x 960 195 347
640 x 480 658 1291

As 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.

The 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:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments)
  • Focus (Multi Area AF, Center AF, 0.5, 1, 3, 7 meters, infinity) - more below
  • White Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent) - lots more options here than on old models
  • Spot Metering (on/off)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image Size (1600 x 1200, 1600 (3:2), 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (TIFF, Voice, E-Mail, Burst 3, Normal)
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2)

The 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.

Here's more details on those Rec Mode choices:

  • TIFF: uncompressed large image
  • Voice: Records an audio file along with a still image
  • E-mail: Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
  • Burst3: Records three images continuously at 2 frames/sec

In Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here are the interesting ones:

  • Disc Tool (finalize, format, initialize, unfinalize) - handles all those CD functions I described earlier.
  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion, Multi-Burst) - explained below
  • Date/Time (Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on your photos
  • Digital Zoom (on/off)
  • Redeye reduction (on/off)
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • Confirm before write (on/off) - this is new! Review a picture (and delete it if necessary) before it's saved to the CD.

The 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.

The 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.

Like 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.

Above 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 details.)

On 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!

Movie Mode

The 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.

One 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.

Movies are saved in MPEG format, as you might guess by the name.

I have a real world sample movie for you -- for a change.


Click to play movie (3.0MB, MPEG format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The 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 & scroll".

In 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!

The 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.

You can get more information about photos by zooming out twice. You'll get a scrollable list of information that you can see above.

I 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.

The 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.

How Does it Compare?

My 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.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • CD-R/RW format is excellent value
  • Huge 2.5" LCD
  • Great movie mode (can even use optical zoom)
  • AF illuminator

What I didn't care for:

  • No optical viewfinder
  • Poor Mac compatibility
  • Concerns about durability of CD-RW drive
  • Sluggish read/write times, esp. in playback mode
  • A very expensive 2MP camera

When 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.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the MVC-CD250 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? How about a third?

Nobody 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.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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