DCRP Review: Sony Mavica MVC-FD95
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Thursday, June 29, 2000
Last Updated: Wednesday, July 5, 2000

Longtime DCRP readers know that I've been hounding Sony for some time to send me their cameras for review. These same readers also know that I've never been a big fan of floppy-based cameras. The new Mavica still relies on the floppy disc for storage, but thankfully, Memory Sticks are now supported, though you have to shell out even more money to get that ($79) -- and the camera already costs a lot ($999).

This camera was not sent to me by Sony -- though future models will be -- special thanks to Advandig for helping me out!

The Sony Mavica MVC-FD95 is a camera that bears a striking resemblance to Sony's camcorders, especially the controls. That's not a bad thing though. But what really stands out is the bulk of this camera -- it's giant. Its dimensions are 5 x 5 x 7.25 inches, and it weighs over two pounds! That's almost five PowerShot S100s! But I found that if you don't mind the bulk, and either get the Memory Stick adapter or have a lot of floppies, the Sony is pretty cool camera.

What's in the Box?

The MVC-FD95 has an OK bundle in the box:

  • The 2.1 Mpixel Sony Mavica MVC-FD95 camera
  • Rechargeable InfoLithium battery w/charger
  • AC adapter
  • Shoulder strap
  • A/V out cable
  • Software including ArcSoft PhotoStudio v2.0SE and VideoImpression v1.0
  • 67 page manual for camera

It was nice for Sony to include a lens cap (with strap) and a hefty shoulder strap with this camera. It's easy to carry around (though it's heavy) and your lens is always protected.

There's no USB or serial support on this camera -- it's floppy or nothing. This is a problem for our fellow Mac users, who no longer have floppy drives. A product that I discovered that makes life a lot easier for us Mac users is VST's Tri-Media Reader. This small gray USB device reads floppies, SmartMedia, and CompactFlash! Read my review of this product for find out more!


The AC adapter and InfoLithium battery

The big news here in Sony's InfoLithium battery, which is also on their camcorders. Sony claims that the included NP-F330 battery can last for 65 minutes, or 650 images, which is probably about average. If you buy the $60 NP-F550, Sony says that you can go for 150 minutes, or 1600 photos! Of course those are best case scenarios, so your mileage will vary.

Another cool thing about the InfoLithium battery is that the LCD show how many minutes are left before the battery dies. I'm not sure how accurate that is, though.

The battery charger also doubles as the AC adapter, which strangely plugs into the side of the lens barrel, under a hard to open door.

The manual is just OK -- nothing wondrous.

Look and Feel

We've already established that the FD95 is very big and bulky, so I won't dwell on that anymore. It does give you plenty of room for your hands, though. The construction is very solid, and all the doors stay shut. Let's get right into our tour.

If you look up at the first photo on the page, you'll see a few important things. First is that huge F2.8 lens-- it's a 10X optical + 2X digital zoom. Be warned, once you get into digital zoom territory, the quality starts going down. See the photos of the airplanes in the gallery to see what I mean. Even if you just use the optical zoom, the range is really amazing - it's equivalent to a 39 - 390mm lens in a 35mm camera.

Also on the front is a microphone for making movies, and the zoom controls. The zoom is smooth, and totally silent - I really noticed the camcorder influence here.

Now onto the back of the camera -- I wasn't kidding when I said this thing was huge!

The optical viewfinder isn't really optical -- it's an LCD. While it does provide a through-the-lens view, I found it hard to use outdoors. It has a faux diopter correction for those with glasses, which helps. A nice thing is that the viewfinder projects well behind the LCD, so nose smudges won't be a problem.

The main LCD display is huge - 2.5 inches - and is of excellent quality to boot. Everything you need to know is on that LCD, especially since the usual LCD info display isn't on this camera.

Some other buttons of note on the back:

  • LCD on/off
  • Volume up/down
  • Flash on/off (you have to pop open the flash first, of course)
  • Power on/off
  • Display (shows more or less info on LCD)
  • Menu navigation
  • Mode switch: Play, Still, Movie

You can also see the floppy eject button, which is well designed so you don't accidentally eject a disc, and the speaker for playing back sounds and movies.

You want more buttons? Here they are! I actually like having these buttons, since it's easier to change functions than having to go through tedious menus. The buttons are (starting at the top):

  • Flash open
  • Spot meter on/off
  • White balance: Auto, indoor, outdoor, manual
  • Program: Aperture priority, shutter priority, twilight mode, twilight plus mode, landscape, "panfocus" mode (changes the focus quickly from a close subject to a distant subject)
  • Macro on/off
  • Focus: auto/manual
  • Steadyshot on/off

Just below that is the a/v out terminal, for hooking into your television.

A few notes about some of these things... first of all, SteadyShot. This is an image stabilization system first seem on Sony's camcorders, and it really does make a difference. Try zooming all the way in, and toggle the switch-- you'll see the difference.

Manual focus takes some getting used to. There is indeed a manual focus ring at the front of the lens, but it's not mechanical in any way-- it's digital. You'll see the image on the LCD double in size, and you can adjust the focus accordingly. I didn't care for this feature.

In aperture priority mode, you can choose from 9 different aperture values, ranging from F2.8 to F11. In shutter priority mode, you can choose from 17 different values, ranging from 1/500 sec to 8 sec.

The twilight modes gave me some strange results on my night shot test that you'll find in the next section -- purple or red sky? Weird.

Moving onto the top now -- you really get an idea of how big this thing is -- you can see the flash, shutter release button, and what's this -- a hot shoe? Yep, just to the right of that, under a little plastic cover, is a flash sync terminal. It seems to be proprietary, with Sony selling the $119 HVL-F1000 external flash (and no mention about using anything else).

Finally, a look at the floppy drive. While it's a 4X speed drive, flash memory is substantially faster. Even with the FlashPath adapter for Memory Sticks, it's way behind.

On the bottom of the camera, you'll find the battery slot, as well as a metal tripod mount.

Using the Sony Mavica MVC-FD95

I'm going to cover three areas in this section: Still, playback, and movie.

Still Mode

The boot-up time of the FD95 seems to vary. In playback mode, it takes around 10 seconds, while in still mode, it takes roughly 5 seconds. While there's a bit of lag during auto-focus and shutter release, it's barely noticeable. The real slowness happens after you take the photo -- it takes around 7 seconds to write the photo to the floppy disc! Apparently (according to Steve's Digicams), the FlashPath adapter takes twice as long to write to the Memory Stick as it does to the floppy! Aie!

Taking pictures is a real piece of cake -- compose the picture, push the button down halfway, let it focus (wait for the green dot on the LCD), and then press the rest of the way to take the shot. Sony, being Sony, has a phony shutter sound that is played when you take a photo (you can turn it off if you like).

While you cannot approve a photo before it's saved to disc, you can hit the left button (on the four-way switch) to review the last photo, and delete it if you wish.

The photo above shows the LCD display in Aperture Priority mode. That little hand is telling me to keep still, and there's only 9 minutes left on the battery. It's in 1600 x 1200 mode, and there are no photos on the disc yet. Strangely, the FD95 doesn't tell you how many photos are remaining; rather, it tells you how many you've taken. Considering you can only hold FOUR per floppy at 1600 x 1200, this isn't a big deal.

All the options you commonly change are on the side of the camera (shown in the previous section), so menu usage isn't needed often. But here's a look:


Push up on the four-way switch to get here
 
 
Push up again, and right once to get to here

And here are your choices - just push in the four-way switch to say OK
 

So what can you change in these well-designed menus? Here's what:

  • Effect
    • P. Effect - various special effects such as solarize, black & white, sepia, etc
    • Date/Time - shows the date and/or time on your pictures
  • File
    • Disk tool - format or copy discs
    • File numbering - series or normal (start over each new disc)
    • Image Size - shown in menu above
    • Rec mode - Text (records a GIF file in black & white), Voice (adds a sound to your image), E-mail (saves a 320 x 240 JPEG in addition to full-size), normal
    • Rec time set - How long movies are - 5/10/15 sec
    • Various play-only settings (DPOF, slide show, etc)
  • Camera
    • Digital zoom on/off
    • Sharpness +2 to -2
    • Flash level - high, normal, low
    • Exposure compensation - +2.0EV to -2.0EV
  • Tool
    • Copy images
    • Resize images (play mode only)
  • Setup
    • Demo mode
    • Video out - NTSC or PAL
    • Language
    • Clock set
    • Beep sound (shutter only, beep on/off)
    • LCD brightness

So how about some photos already?

No review would be without this shot! It ain't a Coolpix 950/990, but the FD95 takes respectable macro shots as close as 2cm (0.8") away. It actually did better in the white balance department than my CP950 usually does!

Here's what I was talking about weird night shots. The sky was definitely not this color in real life! This was shot with a 1 second exposure. Aside from that, there isn't a lot of noise and the detail is pretty good. Locals should know where I am :-)

There is no uncompressed TIFF mode on this camera.

There are lots more photos in the gallery for your perusal.

Playback Mode

Playback mode is pretty run-of-the-mill: slideshows, zoom and scroll, DPOF, and thumbnail mode (Sony calls this index mode, and it shows 6 images per page).

While zooming into the photos is very smooth (and very precise), scrolling isn't quite as fast.

You can delete one, all, and get this -- multiple images! FINALLY someone else besides Nikon realized that it's nice to delete two or three photos at the same time! Bravo, Sony!

You can resize your images to a smaller size if you wish, and you can copy images from one disc to another.

Unfortunately, the camera doesn't give you any details about what settings were used to take the photo!

Movie mode

You have a few options in movie mode on the MVC-FD95. You can just hit the button and it will record for 5 seconds (or 10 or 15, if you change the default). Or, you can hold down the button and keep recording until the disc fills up.

You have two choices for movie size - 320 x 240 or 160 x 112. You are limited to 15 and 60 seconds when you hold the button down, respectively. The movies are saved in MPEG format.


View the full movie (15 sec, 1.3Mb. rated PG)

I apologize up front for not having a more interesting movie to show off, but it's pretty late and there's not much to tape at night. While my movie above won't win any awards, the one I taped certainly did.

You can use the optical zoom while filming these movies - I only mention this because there are some cameras that cannot.

How Does it Compare?

The Sony Mavica line is really one of the kind, and the MVC-FD95 stands out as the top of the line, at least until the CD1000 model ships. Though it's very large and bulky, it's designed extremely well and is very easy to use. The photo quality is generally good, though JPEG compression is obvious in some cases.

The real downer here is the floppy support - you can only store four photos for disc, and it's very slow reading and writing the disc. The optional FlashPath Memory Stick adapter will certainly take care of the capacity problem, but not the speed problem. And with the camera selling for $1000, shouldn't they just give you the FlashPath adapter in the box?

What I liked:

  • Well-designed; very good user experience
  • Absolutely amazing optical zoom
  • Good photos most of the time
  • Big, bright LCD display
  • Good battery; included charger and AC adapter
  • Good manual controls
  • SteadyShot helps a lot when zoomed way in

What I think needs work:

  • Too expensive
  • Floppy method means no capacity, slow access speeds; FlashPath adapter only makes access speeds worse.
  • Big and heavy
  • I'd prefer a real optical viewfinder
  • Floppy-based camera useless to owners of modern Macs

If you want a camera with floppy support, you only have one choice: Sony Mavica. The MVC-FD95 is very good at what it does, though the limitations of the floppy are apparent. The upcoming CD1000 model ($1399) will burn photos onto a 3" CD-ROM disc, which means increased capacity (though I'm not sure about speed). If you've got $1000 to burn (plus more for the FlashPath adapter, which I'd recommend), and must have a floppy drive, then this is the camera for you. If you want a good 2 Megapixel camera and don't care about the floppy, you can do better for a lot less. There are many other Mavica models -- most recently, the MVC-FD85 and MVC-FD90, that you might want to consider as well.

As always, we recommend heading to your local reseller to try the camera 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?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the Sony MVC-FD95!

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

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