Review: Sony Mavica MVC-CD400
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, February 20, 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
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. You can read about the CD250
in a separate review.
CD400 uses CD-R and CD-RW discs, has full manual controls, and even
has the Hologram AF focusing system found on the excellent Cyber-shot
DSC-F707 camera. I'll mention some other new features later in this
in the Box?
MVC-CD400 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
4.0 (effective) Mpixel Mavica MVC-CD400 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.
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 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,
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.
CD400's lens is threaded, though you'll need a step up ring. The
camera uses 52mm attachments and Sony sells a number of lenses and
filters. Sony includes a lens cap (with retaining strip) to protect
that Zeiss lens.
a related note, the CD400 has a real, honest to goodness hot shoe!
You should be able to use most flashes with it!
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 CD400 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 CD400 are 5.5 x 3.75 x 4.13 inches, and it weighs
638 grams (about the same as the Sony F707) with battery and disc
start our tour of the CD400 now.
CD400 uses the now familiar F2.0 Carl Zeiss lens, that's been seen
on many other high-end Sony cameras. The focal range of the lens
is 7 - 21 mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 102 mm. The lens, as I
mentioned, is threaded, though you'll need a conversion ring to
use any filters (52 mm).
up, you can see the popup flash, which has a focal range of 0.5
- 5.0 m. I'll talk more about flashes in a bit.
one other item of note here -- and it's a big one in my opinion.
The MVC-CD400 is only the second camera to use Sony's Hologram AF
laser focusing system!
camera projects the laser grid shown above onto the subject, and
then uses that to focus. As a result, you can focus in the dark!
It's pretty impressive and apparently doesn't harm people's eyes
(if they're the subject) either. The CD250 doesn't have Hologram
AF, but has an AF illuminator to assist in focusing.
is the back of the CD400. The main event here 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.
Since you've only got the LCD to work with, it can be hard to use
outdoors in bright light. This is typical of all digicam LCDs, not
just this one.
the LCD are five buttons:
/ LCD backlight (on/off) - toggles the info shown on LCD, and
then the LCD backlight
(multi-area, center-weighted, spot)
(focus point, manual focus) - more below
compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
lock (on/off) - locks exposure settings
the focus button once brings up a new feature on Sony cameras --
manual focus point selection. Using the thumb wheel (seen at the
far right of the above photo), you can scroll through the various
subjects and the camera will focus on the one you've chosen. Press
the button again and you're in manual focus mode. You can scroll
(again, using the wheel) between 0.1 m - 15 m, or choose infinite
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. 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 CD400's speaker. I already
mentioned the thumb wheel (which can also be pressed like a button)
on the far right.
the top of the camera. One of the other big new features on the
CD400 is Sony's first real hot shoe! On some of the other Sony models,
there's a "cold shoe", which only worked with Sony's proprietary
flash. But the CD400 has a genuine hot shoe, which will work with
most flashes out there! You can still use the Sony HVL-F1000 flash,
if you want (it plugs into the accessory port -- it doesn't use
the hot shoe). Just in front of the hot 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"
feeling (that's a good thing) and has the following options:
further explanation on these (I'll get the rest in the next section):
Mode: Choose between Twilight, Twilight Portrait (flash slow sync),
Landscape, and Pan Focus mode. The camera picks the best settings
for these situations.
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.
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.
Manual: You choose both the shutter speed and aperture. The values
available are the same as above.
continue, with the sides of the camera.
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-CD400
times for the CD400 can really vary. Sometimes it's quick (4 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 CD400 locks focus in about
a second. It may take slightly longer if Hologram AF is used. There
is no noticeable shutter lag when you press the shutter release
has obviously put a lot of buffer memory in the CD400, to alleviate
the slowness associated with the CD-R/RW format. As such, the delay
between shots is minimal -- about a second or so, until the buffer
is full (which takes some work). If you take a TIFF image, the story
is different -- expect the camera to be inoperable for over a minute
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
a look at the image size/quality choices on the CD400:
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:
Balance (Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Manual)
- more below
(Auto, 100, 200, 400)
Size (2272 x 1704, 2272 (3:2), 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x
Quality (Fine, Standard)
Mode (TIFF, Voice, E-Mail, Exposure Bracketing, 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. There's also a manual WB mode
which will let you shoot a piece of white or gray paper -- very
handy in situations where the other WB modes just won't work.
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 with exposure compensation values
shifted (at interval selected in setup menu).
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
step (1EV, 0.7EV, 0.3EV) - for auto bracketing
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.
of photos, let's take a look at our standard tests now to see how
the CD400 fared.
the exception of some purple fringing around the highlights, the
CD400 did a fine job with our night shot. The Slow Shutter NR feature
did a nice job of eliminating the noise that you'd normally get
on long exposures such as this. Since the camera has full control
over the aperture and shutter speed, you can get really creative.
CD400 also produced a sharp image of our macro subject (which is
about 3 inches tall), with accurate color. The minimum focus distance
in macro mode is 4 cm (1.625 inches) at wide-angle, and 20 cm (7.875
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. (Note that this image
was blown up 200% so you can see the details.)
was quite pleased with the photo quality on the CD400. After all,
it is based on their excellent DSC-S85 camera. Images were properly
exposed and the colors look good. Don't take my word for it, though,
look at our photo gallery and make your
own decision about the photo quality. This gallery is a little smaller
than usual due to the large number of cameras I have at the moment.
CD400 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.
only downside is that the zoom lens cannot be used during filming,
but this shouldn't be news, as very few cameras with sound can actually
are saved in MPEG format, as you might guess by the name.
of a stupid movie panning down the street, I actually have a sample
that real people might actually take! This was taken during a triathlon
here in San Francisco. You will see that even a "HQ" movie
mode still isn't that great.
Click to play movie (3.0MB, MPEG format)
view it? Download QuickTime.
MVC-CD400'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 checking 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.
CD400 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?
conclusion about the Sony Mavica MVC-CD400 is very similar to the
floppy-based cameras that I've reviewed. If you're sold on the CD-R/RW
format, then the CD400 is a fabulous camera. It's got excellent
photo quality, full manual controls, a very nice movie mode, a hot
shoe, 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 CD400 (or the less expensive CD250) are great
choices. If you don't care about the CD format, I'd look at some
other 4 Megapixel cameras instead.
format is excellent value
shoe for external flash
AF - the best AF assist system out there
I didn't care for:
optical zoom in movie mode
about durability of CD-RW drive
read/write times, esp. in playback mode
it comes to CD-based cameras, the CD400 and CD250 are the only game
in town. If you're interested in other 4 Megapixel cameras, please
visit our Reviews & Info
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out
the MVC-CD400 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 CD400's yet. 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.