DCRP Review: Sony MVC-CD300 CD Mavica
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001
Last Updated: Saturday, February 16, 2002

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Back when I reviewed Sony's first CD Mavica, the CD1000, I complained that it introduced the one thing I considered forbidden in digital photography: consumables. The CD1000 used write-once 3" CD-R discs, which you'd have to keep buying as you filled each 156MB disc.

Thankfully, the engineers at Sony created a new CD Mavica -- the MVC-CD300 -- which not only reads the original CD-R discs, but new 3" CD-RW discs as well. Now, you can keep the CD's for archival purposes, or erase them and start over, just like other digital cameras can.

Another big difference between the CD300 ($999) (and it's 2.1 Megapixel sibling, the CD200, $799) and the CD1000 (also $999) is the lens: here it's 3X, as opposed to 10X. The CD300 is essentially a DSC-S75 with the CD-RW mechanism, a larger LCD, and no optical viewfinder.

Read on to find out if the CD300 is as good as that S75...

What's in the Box?

The Sony MVC-CD300 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Sony MVC-CD300 camera
  • One 3" CD-RW disc
  • One 3" CD-R disc
  • 3" CD adapter (for CD-ROM drives that don't support it)
  • NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring MGI PhotoSuite and drivers
  • 107 page manual

Sony really has the bundle thing down. You get two discs in the box, one CD-R, another CD-RW, which can store over 300MB of data! Now if we could get the other manufacturers to start throwing 256MB cards in the box, then I'll be happy!

If your CD-ROM drive can't hold those 3" CDs, Sony includes a ring adapter which will help.

The CD300 with back door open showing CD-RW disc and battery

The price of the blank CD media makes the CD Mavica the value leader when it comes to price per megabyte. A blank CD-R disc can be had for under $5, and 5 packs cost about $20. You'll pay more for the privilege of CD-RW discs: about $10 for one disc, and $30 for a 3 pack. (Your mileage may vary on this pricing.)

The finalization process

The new CD-RW discs work a bit differently than the CD-R discs. On both types, you must initialize the discs before you can first use them, and finalize them before your PC will read them. Both processes require you to put the camera down on a flat surface, and avoid vibration. On the CD-RW discs, you can unfinalize discs, which recovers the 13MB of space that finalization adds. Of course, if you want to put the disc back in the computer, you'll have to put that 13MB right back.

A note about Mac compatibility: you cannot use the USB connection between the CD300 and the Mac. Although the Mac sees the camera, the CD will not mount. This is apparently a Mac issue with CD-R/RW compatibility rather than a Sony issue. The only way to get photos onto your Mac is to finalize the disc and put it in your CD-ROM drive. Sony does include Adaptec's UDF File Format extension to read those finalized discs.

The NP-FM50 InfoLITHIUM battery (seen on Sony camcorders as well) will last between 75-120 minutes, depending on LCD usage (not that you have much of a choice). It takes 150 minutes to fully charge. One nice thing about the InfoLITHIUM batteries is that they tell you roughly how much time is remaining before the battery dies.

Sony includes an AC adapter which doubles as a battery charger -- you just plug it into the camera body for both functions.

They also include a lens cap and strap, always appreciated.

The DSAC-MVC clip-on viewfinder

Sony has quite a few accessories available for the CD200/300, including filters/lenses, carrying cases, remote control tripods, and my personal favorite - the clip on "optical" viewfinder. The DSAC-MVC (about $80) clips onto that huge LCD and voila -- you have an electronic viewfinder complete with diopter correction.

I can't say I'm a big fan of Sony's manuals for VCRs, stereos, or digital camcorders -- they're confusing.

Look and Feel

The CD300 is a large, somewhat bulky camera that won't be going into a pocket anytime soon. It's not nearly as big as the CD1000 of course, since it doesn't have the huge lens. The body is almost exclusively plastic -- I suppose metal would've made it even heavier.

The dimensions of the CD300 are 3.75 x 5.75 x 3.63 inches, and it weighs 650 g fully loaded. The CD200 is a bit smaller and lighter. Since the CD300 is so large, it's easy to hold. For the same reason, it's a two-handed camera. Let's take a tour of the CD300 now, shall we?

Here's the front of the camera, with the flash popped up. The F2.0 "Carl Zeiss" lens should look familiar -- it's on many Sony cameras, and apparently on some other cameras as well. It has a focal range of 7-21mm, which is equivalent to 34-102mm.

Just above-right of the lens is an AF illuminator, for focusing in low light situations.

The flash pops out of the top of the camera when needed, and has a working range of 0.3 m - 3.0 m.

The back of the camera is where most of the action is on the CD300.

The 2.5" LCD is huge compared to most digicams, and it's bright and fluid. Just above the LCD is a "photocell" window which makes the LCD brighter outside (by letting in sunlight). You can even turn off the LCD backlight (using the button below the LCD) and let the sun do all the work. The problem with this is that you don't get to see any info on the LCD besides the image.

Above the LCD are buttons for:

  • Manual Focus
  • Exposure compensation
  • Spot Metering
  • AE Lock

Between those buttons is a light showing flash status, which doubles as a battery charge indicator when the AC adapter is plugged in.

To the right of the LCD you'll find the zoom controls, four-way switch, Menu button, and the DC-in port (for the AC adapter).

The four-way switch is not only used for menu navigation -- it also has several other functions, including:

  • Quick review (shows last photo taken)
  • Flash setting
  • Macro mode
  • Self-timer

At the far right (next to the ring for the strap) you can see a dial/button, which is used for changing settings in manual mode. I really like the layout of the controls on the camera -- all the common functions are easy to get to.

On the top of the camera, you'll find the mode wheel, shutter release button, microphone, and a shoe for an external flash.

The flash shoe is "cold" and uses a proprietary flash sync port that you'll see on the side of the camera in a second. You can use Sony's HVL-F1000 flash ($120) for sure -- I'm not sure if any others are compatible.

The mode wheel (which has the power switch below it) has a very "notchy" feeling (that's a good thing) and has the following options:

  • Setup
  • Scene Mode
  • Full Manual
  • Aperture Priority
  • Shutter Priority
  • Auto Record
  • Playback
  • Movie Mode

Some further explanation on these:

  • Scene Mode: Choose between Twilight, Portrait, and Landscape. The camera picks the best settings for these situations. I don't like how you have go to to the Setup Mode to change this though.
  • Aperture Priority: You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The choices range from F2 - F8 and will vary a bit depending on the focal range used.
  • Shutter Priority: exactly the opposite, you choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a number of speeds ranging from 8 sec - 1/1000 sec.
  • Full Manual: You choose both the shutter speed and aperture. The values available are the same as above.

Now moving onto one side of the CD300. You can see the eject lever for the CD-R mechanism, as well as the accessory (for external flash), USB, and A/V ports. The A/V and USB ports are kept under a sturdy plastic cover.

On the other side of the camera, there's nothing to see.

Finally, the bottom of the camera. There's a metal tripod mount, as well as the battery compartment.

Using the Sony MVC-CD300

Record Mode

The CD300 starts up with much fanfare, and takes about 4 seconds to "boot up" before you can start taking pictures. The LCD is on by default, as you might expect on a camera without an optical viewfinder. Auto-focus speeds are a bit sluggish, taking about a second to lock focus. There's very little delay when you press the shutter release down fully before the photo is recorded. Shot-to-shot speed varies -- it's about 2 seconds if you haven't yet taken a picture, but once it's writing photos to the disc, it can be longer. Writing a TIFF file to the CD will lock up the CD300 for a whopping 50 seconds.

Get used to using the LCD, it's all you've got. Here's all the info shown on it during recording.

There are many resolution and quality choices available on the CD300, as the chart below explains:

Resolution File format # photos on CD
Fine Standard
2048 x 1536 JPEG 81 147
TIFF 11 12
2048 (3:2 ratio) JPEG 81 147
TIFF 13 14
1600 x 1200 JPEG 132 237
1280 x 960 JPEG 197 349
640 x 480 JPEG 663 1300

There are a few other options for sizes, as you'll see below in our menu description:

The CD300's menu system is pretty simple, since most functions are accessible via buttons rather than buried in the menu somewhere. Let's take a look at the various menu items and what they do:

  • White Balance (One-push, Auto, Indoor, Outdoor)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Image Size (2048 x 1536, 2048 (3:2), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
  • Photo Quality (Fine, Standard)
  • Rec Mode (TIFF, Text, Voice, E-Mail, Bracketing, Burst3, Normal) -- more on this below
  • Flash Level (High, Normal, Low)
  • Photo Effects (Solarize, Black & White Sepia, Negative Art, Off) - you can see a few of these in the gallery
  • Sharpness (-2 to +2)

The "one-push" white balance mode is indeed a manual WB mode. Shoot a piece of white paper or whatever you want to be white, and you'll be able to get accurate color in almost any lighting.

Here's more details on those Rec Mode choices:

  • TIFF: uncompressed large image
  • Text: records a GIF in black & white
  • Voice: Records an audio file along with a still image
  • E-mail: Records a 320 x 240 image in addition to the recorded image
  • Bracketing: Records three images continuously with exposure compensation values shifted (at interval selected in setup menu).
  • Burst3: Records three images continuously at 0.6 sec interval

Setup Menu

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

  • Disc Tool (Finalize, Format, Initialize, Unfinalize)
  • Scene Mode Selection (twilight, landscape, portrait)
  • Moving Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion) - explained later
  • Digital Zoom (on/off)
  • Bracket Step (0.3, 0.7, 1.0EV increments)
  • Red-eye reduction (on/off)
  • AF illuminator (on/off)
  • File numbering (series, reset)
  • Conversion lens (on/off)
  • LCD brightness
  • USB Connect (PTP, Normal) - PTP is some new format that I don't think is supported by any OS.

Now onto a few photo tests!

The MVC-CD300 performed admirably in our macro test, especially with the One Push manual white balance. It had some trouble with my crazy lighting in Auto and Indoor modes, but this one came out fine. You can shoot as close as 4 cm (1.625") at full wide-angle in macro mode.

The nightshot test turned out very well. There's no "artificial stars" in the sky, the colors of the building's lights are correct, and it's nice and sharp. Well done! (For those of you playing along at home: the SF skyline isn't nearly as lit up as it once way, due to the power crisis. Take a look at the Transamerica Pyramid towards the right... it didn't use to be so dark.)

I was very pleased with the photo quality of the CD300 -- it was excellent. Don't take my word for it - check out the CD300 photo gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

Sony's movie modes is one of the best out there: the video and audio quality is very good (especially in HQ mode) and it records sound too. The only downside is that you cannot use the zoom (optical or digital) during filming.

There are three size choices available in movie mode:

Movie Size Movie Length
320 (HQ) 15 sec
320 x 240 1 min
160 x 112 4 min

Here's a sample movie:

Click to play movie (2.6MB, 7 secs, MPEG format)

There is also a feature called ClipMotion which will take 10 images and put them into an animated GIF for you. You can do some stop motion animation with this I guess.

Playback Mode

The CD300's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found on most cameras. Those include slideshows, DPOF print marking, protection, thumbnail mode, and "zoom & scroll".

These advanced features include:

  • Resize- change an image's size
  • Rotate
  • Trim - when zoomed into an image, you can crop the image down to the selected area. You choose the resolution of the new image (the old one is kept). The only thing to remember here is that if you take a small area of an image and then blow it up, you'll lose image quality.

This list is a bit smaller than on Sony's Memory Stick cameras -- there's no copy or divide (movie) functionality.

The CD300 moves between images a bit slowly (due to disc access) in playback mode, and it shows a low res version before a high res one replaces it. It takes about 2 seconds to show an image in low res mode, and another 2 before it's in high res mode.

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've liked a delete button on the camera body, rather than having to invoke the menu every time I want to remove a photo.

Speaking of deleting-- one big difference between CD-R and CD-RW discs (as you might expect) is the ability to truly delete photos. On the CD-R disc, you can "delete" them, but you don't get the space back. On the CD-RW, the opposite is true.

How Does it Compare?

I will say up front that I've never been sold on floppy or CD-based storage for digital cameras. While the CD format is a vast improvement over the floppy format, I still prefer flash memory for it's much greater read/write speeds. Again, this is my preference, and many people disagree with me (just look at the sales numbers for the Sony Mavica).

With that out of the way, I'd say the the Sony MVC-CD300 is an excellent choice for those who want the convenience of the CD format. The pictures were great, it's got every feature under the sun, an attractive bundle, and the best value storage format out there. And the addition of CD-RW support eliminates the issue of consumables that I brought up in the CD1000 review. It gets two thumbs up from this reviewer!

What I liked:

  • CD-R/RW format very inexpensive per megabyte
  • Excellent photo quality
  • Full manual controls and a host of other nice features
  • Great bundle
  • Ability to turn off LCD backlight to save power
  • Supports lots of optional accessories

What I didn't care for:

  • No zoom in movie mode
  • A bit bulky
  • Some Mac compatibility issues (that are apparently Apple's fault)
  • No optical viewfinder

Sony is the only manufacturer of CD-based digital cameras, so also check out the MVC-CD200 and MVC-CD1000. Do note that the CD1000 does not support CD-RW discs. There are a host of other 3.3 Megapixel cameras that you can find in our Reviews & Info database.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the CD300 and its 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? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the CD300. If that's not enough, Imaging Resource has one too! Both of these reviews were of pre-production cameras. Our CD300 test unit was a shipping model.

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


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