DCRP Review: Sony Mavica MVC-FD200
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, February 11, 2001
Last Updated: Monday, February 11, 2002

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People love the Sony Mavica cameras -- they've been some of the best-selling digital cameras of all time.. My guess is that it's the floppy format that they love the most, even though they can't hold many photos, and are very slow to read/write. Still, floppies are amazingly cheap compared to other storage media -- they're basically free.

I've never been a big fan of the Mavica line in the past, due to my anti-floppy bias. The Mavica MVC-FD200 ($499) tries to make the "floppycam" a bit more modern, adding a much-needed Memory Stick slot. The floppy is still there, but you'll want to use the Stick as often as possible. It writes much faster, and holds a ton more photos.

For those who want to save money and don't mind a 1.3 Megapixel camera, the MVC-FD100 is also available for $399.

Learn more about this new Mavica in our review!

What's in the Box?

The Sony MVC-FD200 has a good bundle, with almost everything you need right in the box. It includes:

  • The 2.0 (effective) Mpixel Sony Mavica MVC-FD200 camera
  • NP-F330 rechargeable InfoLithium battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • CD-ROM featuring Pixela ImageMixer and drivers
  • 99 page manual (printed)

Sony includes everything you need, except something to save those photos onto! Whether you're going the floppy or Memory Stick route, you're going to need to be one of them before you can start using the camera.

Aside from that, the news is all good. Sony includes the excellent InfoLithium NP-F330 battery with the camera. There's also an AC adapter which charges the battery in-camera (or just powers the camera). The NP-F330 will last for about 75 minutes before needing a recharge (which isn't that long). If you need more "juice", you'll want to pony up for the NP-F550, which will last for twice as long. The nice thing about these InfoLithium batteries is that they can tell you, practically down to the minute, how much power they have left.

Sony includes a lens cap and strap with the camera. For those who want some accessories, conversion lens and filters are available from Sony at additional cost.

The FD200 is also fully compatible with Mac OS X and Windows XP. Apple's iPhoto software will work as well.

Sony's manuals aren't great. They're like the ones that come with your Wega TV or a VCR -- not very clear, in other words.

Look and Feel

The Mavica FD200 isn't what you'd call a small camera. It's bigger than almost any other camera out there, especially considering it only has a 3X zoom lens. Why is it so large? The answer, of course, is that floppy drive that makes the camera appealing to so many. Thought it is bulky, it's remarkably easy to hold, even with one hand. There's plenty of room for the other hand, as well.

The camera is made of what I'd call "high grade plastic". The official dimensions are 5.5 x 4.0 x 3.0 inches (W x H x D), and the camera weighs a healthy 645 grams (with battery and floppy disk inserted). Let's start our tour of the MVC-FD200 now:

The FD200 has a relatively slow F3.8 lens, with a focal range of 6.4 - 19.2 mm. That's equivalent to 41 - 123 mm. The lens is threaded for 37 mm attachments, and as I mentioned, both lenses and filters are available. The lens on the FD200 never comes out of the body.

That sticker just to the left of the lens is very misleading. It says "up to 1600 shots / up to 2.5 hours battery life". Well, that's if you buy the high capacity battery for $60!

Above that sticker is the flash, which has a working range of 0.5 - 2.0 m. In real world usage, the flash didn't do a very good job, as you'll see later in the review. There is no support for an external flash on this camera.

There is no AF illuminator on this camera, so focusing in low light is tough. Too bad they didn't put the Hologram AF feature found on the more expensive DSC-F707 on this one!

Towards the top left of the photo, you can see the zoom control. The lens moves silently and smoothly. The shutter release button is just above that.

Here's the back of the FD200 now. If you're wondering what happened to the optical viewfinder, well, there isn't one. You have to rely on the LCD for everything, which consumes the batteries that much quicker.

That said, the 2.5" LCD is beautiful -- it's very large, bright, and fluid. There's a window at the top of it, which can let light through if you shut off the backlight (see switch just below the screen). Using natural light for the LCD only works outdoors with direct light.

There are two switches directly below the LCD. The one one on the left is the aforementioned LCD backlight switch. The next one is for changing between Playback, Still, and Movie mode.

The four buttons below that are for:

  • Flash
  • Focus (Macro, 0.5, 1.0, 3.0, 7.0 m, infinity)
  • Program AE (Twilight mode, Twilight plus mode, landscape mode, panfocus mode, spot metering)
  • Display - turns info on the LCD on/off

A quick note about those Program AE modes. Panfocus mode will quickly change the focus from a close subject to a distant one -- this is great for people-pictures in front of landscapes. I don't know why spot metering is here, but this makes the camera judge the exposure using a small area (a spot) that you determine.

To the right of those four buttons is the familiar four-way switch, which is used for menu navigation mostly.

The two switches to the right of the LCD are for power and to move between the Memory Stick and floppy mediums.

On the far right of the photo you can see the release for the floppy drive, the Memory Stick slot, and down at the bottom, the USB port. I'll take a closer look at the storage options a bit later in the review.

There really isn't anything to see on top of the FD200. There's no LCD info display (a shame, considering how much real estate they have on this body), but I guess it doesn't matter since you have to use the main LCD anyway. The shutter release button can be seen top-right.

On this side of the camera, you can find some more I/O ports. To the left, normally under a cover is the DC in port. You'll plug in the AC adapter into that slot. The video out port is to the right.

The side of the camera says that it has a 6X precision digital zoom. I suppose this is true, but in reality it's a 3X optical zoom with a 2X digital zoom if you want it. Using digital zoom will reduce the quality of your photos, so I recommend keeping it turned off.

Here's an angled look at the other side of the camera. You can see where the Memory Stick and floppy drive are located. The floppy drive is rated at 4X, which is four times faster than a really, really slow floppy drive.

Here's another look at the side of the FD200. Ejecting the disk is manually done, but easy enough. The drive clicks along fairly quietly while it's in use.

Finally, here is the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the battery compartment and metal tripod mount. The NP-F330 battery is also shown -- it's big!

Using the Sony Mavica MVC-FD200

Record Mode

Since there's no need to extend the lens, the FD200 starts up in just two seconds. When you press the shutter release button halfway, the camera takes a rather sluggish second or more to lock the focus. When you fully press the button, the photo is taken with minimal delay.

The subject of shot-to-shot speed helps illustrate why I don't like floppy cameras. When using the Memory Stick, you'll wait about 2.5 seconds before you can take another shot. However, if you use the Floppy Drive, it will lock up the camera for 6.5 seconds.

Storage capacity is the other "beef" I have with the floppy disk format. Again, the Memory Stick wins big in this category. This chart should explain:

Image Size # photos saved (approx.)
Floppy disk Memory Stick (16MB)
1600 x 1200 4 16
1600 (3:2 aspect ratio) 4 16
1600 (Extra Compression Mode) 8 -
1024 x 768 10 40
640 x 480 30 96

The 1600 (ECM) mode is only available for floppy images. The ECM mode compresses the images ever more than they already are. Here's an example of the differences in compression:


Memory Stick: 812 KB
Floppy Drive: 324 KB

Memory Stick: 876 KB
Floppy Drive (ECM mode): 152 KB

How can this be? Well, in order to stuff those measly four high res photos onto the floppy disk, the Mavica has to turn up the JPEG compression even more. In ECM, they add even more compression. The more JPEG compression, the cruddier the image quality. Since there's more "breathing room" on a Memory Stick, images are much less compressed.

The FD200's "overlay-style" menu system is pretty simple. Let's take a look at the various menu items and what they do

  • Self-timer (on/off) - 10 seconds
  • Effect
    • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
    • Date/Time (Day&Time, Date, Off) - whether or not the date/time is printed on your photos
  • File
    • Format
    • Disk Copy - copy one floppy to another
    • File numbering (Series, Normal)
    • Clip Motion (160 x 120, 80 x 72) - make animated GIFs of up to 10 frames
    • Image Size (see chart above)
    • Rec Mode (TIFF, Text, E-Mail, Normal) -- more on this below
  • Camera
    • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
    • Digital Zoom (on/off)
    • Sharpness (-2 to +2)
    • White Balance (Hold, Auto, Indoor, Outdoor)
    • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
    • Exposure Compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV)
  • Setup (the usual stuff)

There is no true manual white balance or continuous (burst) mode on the FD200, unlike some of the more expensive Sony cameras. The "hold" white balance mode is for use with single-colored subjects or backgrounds.

Here's more details on those Rec Mode choices:

  • TIFF: uncompressed large image - requires at least an 8MB Memory Stick
  • Text: records a GIF in black & white
  • E-mail: Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image

Okay, enough about menus already, let's take a look at our photo tests!

The MVC-FD200 did a fine job in our macro test. You'll want to have good lighting when doing shots like this, as my first attempts with lower light levels did not come out so well. You can get as close as 3 cm (at wide-angle) in macro mode on the FD200.

The night shot test didn't turn out quite as well. Before you say "but your location isn't a good one for this shot", I can tell you that we also took an old Coolpix 950 out too, and it ran circles around the Mavica. The above shot was taken in Twilight Plus mode and that's the best I could get out of it. It's not bad, but it would be better with some real control over exposure.

That brings up a related subject. I did some "real world" shooting (more than I usually do, at least) with the FD200, when I took it and the Olympus D-40 on a trip to Sacramento. I attempted to take pictures (with and without the flash) inside the CA State Railroad Museum with both cameras, and the pictures always came out poorly. The flash on the FD200 seems to be weak -- even at full power.

I don't have any side-by-side comparison photos to show you, but if you look at the FD200 gallery along side the D-40Z gallery you will see the difference. What's scary is that the cameras are very close in price, even though the D-40 has double the resolution.

Outdoors, the Mavica FD200 fared better. Images were sharp and the colors were accurate. It's when things aren't so bright that I had problems. Chromatic aberrations (also known as purple fringing) wasn't a major problem. Take a look at the photo gallery and judge the quality for yourself.

Movie Mode

The FD200 can record silent movies in MPEG format. You can record up to 60 seconds (with the shutter release button held down) at 160 x 112, or up to 15 seconds just by pressing it once. At the 320 x 240 mode, you're limited to 15 seconds no matter what. There is no "HQ" or "EX" mode like on some other Sony cameras.

You can use the zoom lens during filming (yea!). Here is a very unexciting sample (sorry):


Click to play movie (MPEG format, 1.2MB)

Can't view it? Download Quicktime.

Playback Mode

The playback mode on the FD200 is pretty basic. Some of the features available include slideshows, resizing, "zoom and scroll", DPOF print marking, and image protection.

You can copy images from the Memory Stick to the Floppy and back again. You can also do full floppy-to-floppy and Stick-to-Stick transfers.

The "zoom and scroll" feature (as I call it) let's you zoom in as much as 5 times into your photo, and then move around in it.

Another nice feature, though it takes some button-pressing to reach, is the ability to select a group of photos to delete. You'll need to be in the thumbnail (index) mode to get there.

The FD200 doesn't tell you anything about your photos other than their number and the date/time they were taken. It would be nice to see the exposure information as well.

How Does it Compare?

I had mixed feelings about the Sony Mavica MVC-FD200. You already know that I'm not a big fan of the floppy disk storage format due to speed, storage space, and power consumption issues. It's great, then, that the Memory Stick is there as well. If you end up mostly using the Memory Stick, what you really have is a heavy, expensive, 2 Megapixel camera. The camera took nice pictures outdoors but was less impressive in lower light situations. The feature set is pretty basic, though most people will be happy with it (I would've preferred some real manual controls). If you're sold on the floppy format, you're probably going to buy this camera no matter what I say. If you're on the fence, I'd take your $500 and buy another camera that's smaller, faster, and more full-featured.

What I liked:

  • Great bundle
  • Build quality, ergonomics good, despite its bulk
  • Very good photo quality outdoors
  • Two storage options - camera is pretty fast while using Memory Sticks

What I didn't care for:

  • Floppy disk storage - slow, uses too much power, adds bulk to camera
  • Expensive for a 2MP camera
  • No media included with camera
  • Poor low light performance
  • Missing features found on other $500 cameras (sound in movie mode, manual controls, etc.)

If you're looking for a floppy-camera, the Mavica is really the only game in town. The MVC-FD97 is also 2 Megapixel, but has 10X optical zoom. The MVC-FD100 is a 1.3 Megapixel version of the FD200. Panasonic also makes a camera that can read both floppies and SuperDisks, but it's not great.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the FD200 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 few more opinions?

None yet!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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