Review: Sony Mavica MVC-CD500
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 12, 2003
May 12, 2003
those who want the convenience of floppy storage, but with more
capacity, Sony offers their CD Mavica line. Instead of a measly
1.4MB floppy, the CD Mavicas can store 156MB of photos and videos
on a single 8 cm disc.
are two 2003 CD Mavicas: the smaller, 3.2 Megapixel MVC-CD350 ($499), and the top-of-the-line 5 Megapixel MVC-CD500 ($699)
reviewed here. The CD500 has all of the features of Sony's high-end
including Hologram AF, MPEGMovie VX, full manual controls, and
a Carl Zeiss lens.
CD Mavicas are the only camera of their type in existence. How
well does the CD500 perform? Find out now...
and since the CD500 is so similar to its predecessor (the CD400),
I will be reusing sections of that review here.
in the Box?
MVC-CD500 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
5.0 (effective) Mpixel Mavica MVC-CD500 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)
doesn't give you as many free CD-R's as on last years models.
With the CD500, you get one CD-R and one CD-RW disc. That's equivalent
to 312MB of storage in the box, which is most impressive. What's
the difference between those two types of disc?
discs are write-once discs -- there's no deleting photos (well,
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 10 packs of CD-R media
you'll probably want to do, however, is use CD-RW discs instead.
Here, you can reuse the discs, actually delete pictures, and
save money at the same time. The CD-RW discs will cost you more
(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
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, it will work in your computer, assuming you
are running Windows. 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).
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
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
CD Mavicas are not Mac friendly cameras. 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 OS X users can still
connect the camera via USB and download photos that way, but only
by using iPhoto or Image Capture (the camera does not mont on the
desktop). The camera uses the PTP standard (rather than Mass Storage)
for USB transfer.
let's talk about batteries. The CD500 uses the powerful
(8.5 Wh) M-series InfoLithium battery. The good news
is that its rechargeable, lasts for a decent amount of time (about
110 minutes per charge), and that it tells you exactly how much
have left (in minutes). The bad news is the same with all proprietary
batteries: they are expensive ($60), and you cannot just stuff
in a regular battery to get you through the day. Sony includes
an AC adapter which charges the battery while it's
in the camera. That takes 2.5 hours.
CD500 supports a wide-angle lens attachment as well as 52 mm filters
(neutral density and polarizing). But first, you'll need to
buy the VAD-S70 conversion lens adapter ($35). If you want to
use an external flash, the CD500 supports the Sony
third-party flashes as well. If you want a remote shutter release,
Sony sells a wired remote control for $50.
old CD400 with DSAC-MVC clip-on viewfinder
is another useful accessory: a clip-on viewfinder ($70). Since
CD Mavicas only have LCDs, some folks will definitely
can look through the optical viewfinder (which is just showing
you the LCD), or flip that door down and view the LCD directly.
buyers may also want to check out Sony's CD Mavica Starter Kit
($99). It includes a spare battery, 3 CD-RW discs, and a carrying
included Pixela ImageMixer 1.5 software is decent, but is no
substitute for Photoshop Elements. You can view and organize
as you can see above.
can also do basic editing, like adjusting color, brightness and
contrast, and redeye. The Windows version of ImageMixer can also
be used to produce a Video CD (VCD).
is not Mac OS X native -- you have to run it in classic mode.
there, you're kind of stuck in it until you quit,
because Pixela chose not to follow Apple's interface guidelines
(this seems fairly common with these kinds of products).
manual included with the P8 is decent, but still has that "VCR
manual" feel typical of Sony consumer electronics.
the CD350 lost some bulk compared to the CD250, the CD500 shares
the same body as the CD400. It's a stylish camera, but it's also
quite large (gotta fit that CD-RW drive in there somewhere).
This is a camera which travels best around your neck or in a
black body is a nice mix of metal and high-grade plastic. It feels
very solid, and is easy to hold, thanks to a big grip for your
right hand. The official dimensions of the CD500 are 5.5 x 3.9
x 4.1 inches (W x H x D), and it weighs a hefty 606 grams with
CD, battery, and lens cap installed.
CD500 uses the now familiar F2.0-F2.5 Carl Zeiss lens that's
on several other high-end Sony cameras. The focal range of the
lens is 7 - 21 mm, which is equivalent to 34 - 102 mm. The lens,
mentioned, is threaded, though you'll need a conversion adapter
to use any filters (52 mm).
up, you can see the popup flash, which has a working range of 0.5
- 5.0 m. You can also use an external flash -- I'll get to
that in a minute.
the upper-left of the lens is the laser for Sony's exclusive
Hologram AF laser focusing system.
camera projects the laser grid shown above onto the subject,
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
either. This system is a step above the typical AF-assist lamp.
only other item on the front is the self-timer lamp, which is
located to the lower-left of the laser.
is the back of the CD500. The main event here is the huge 2.5"
LCD screen, which is the only way to shoot and review pictures,
since there is no optical viewfinder. The LCD's quality
is excellent -- it's big, bright, and fluid. The smoothness starts
to wane when you are using a slower shutter speed, with the ISO
not set to Auto.
the other Mavica cameras, you can turn off the backlight and
let the sun do the
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
shoot outdoors in bright light. This is typical of all digicam
just this one.
the LCD are five buttons:
/ LCD backlight (on/off) - toggles the info shown on LCD, and
then the LCD backlight
- lock the exposure until photo is taken or button is pressed
(focus point, focus preset) - more below
compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV in 1/3EV increments)
size / Delete photo
the focus button once brings up a new feature on Sony cameras
manual focus point selection. Using the jog dial (seen at the
far right of the above photo), you can scroll through five focus
points (top/bottom/left/right/center), and the camera will focus
on the one you've chosen. Press the button again and you're in
(again, using the jog dial) between 0.1 m - 15 m, or choose infinite
with our tour now: on the right side of the LCD you'll find
zoom controls, the four-way switch, and the menu button. The zoom
controls are well-placed, and move the lens smoothly and quietly
from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.3 seconds. The four-way
switch is used for menu navigation, plus changing these settings:
- Flash setting (Auto, forced flash, slow synchro, no flash)
- Quick review - quickly shows the last photo taken
the lower right of the menu button is the CD500's speaker. I
mentioned the jog dial (which can also be pressed inward, like
a button) on the far right.
the top of the camera. The CD400 introduced the hot shoe to
the Mavica line, and the CD500 continues the tradition. You can
use the Sony HVL-F1000 or upcoming HVL-F32X flashes), or your
own third-party flash. Note that you'll probably have to manually
choose the settings on a non-Sony flash. Just in front of the
hot shoe is the popup flash, which pops up automatically.
to the right, you can see the microphone, mode wheel, and shutter
mode wheel (which has the power switch below it) has a nice "notchy"
feeling, and has the following options:
- camera picks the
best settings for these situations. The CD500 has several new scenes compared
to the CD400.
Manual - you choose both the shutter speed and aperture. The
values available are the same as below.
Priority - you pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate
shutter speed. The choices range from F2 - F8 and will vary
bit depending on the focal range used.
Priority - 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.
Mode - point-and-shoot, with access to all settings
Record - very point-and-shoot, settings locked up
up there should be self-explanatory, but I want to cover one
feature found in program mode: program shift. This allows you
to scroll through several aperture/shutter speed combinations
by using the jog dial. So if you want a slower shutter speed
to reduce camera shake, or a higher F-value to increase depth-of-field,
here's an easy way to do it.
continue, looking at the sides of the camera.
this side, you'll find most of the I/O ports, as well as the
for the CD-R/RW drive's door.
I/O ports are stored under a plastic cover (opened here). They
are (top to bottom):
port (for HVL-F1000 flash and wired remote control)
(2.0 or 1.1)
the other side, the only thing you'll find is the port for the
adapter (which is included with the camera). As you can see, there's
a plastic cover over it.
here is the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find the metal
tripod mount (inline with the lens) as well as the battery compartment.
The plastic door over the battery compartment is quite sturdy,
included FM50 battery is shown at right.
the Sony MVC-CD500
with the CD400, the startup times on the CD500 are all over the
map. Sometimes it's quick (less than 4 secs), other times it
can take much longer to
read the CD. Once things
get started, though, the camera is fairly responsive. When you
depress the shutter release button halfway, the CD400 locks focus
a second. It will take a bit longer if the Hologram AF laser is
used. There is no noticeable shutter lag when you press the shutter
A live histogram is shown in record mode.
The yellow aperture/shutter speed on the right can be adjusted
the program shift feature.
with the CD400, Sony has obviously put a lot of buffer memory
into the CD500, 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
is full (which takes some work). If you take a TIFF image, the
story is different -- expect the camera to be inoperable for
nearly 70 seconds
while the image is written on the CD.
here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the CD500.
Sony no longer lists the image size in terms of horizontal x
resolution -- now it's just Megapixels. Have a look:
photos on 156MB CD
(2592 x 1944)
(2592 x 1728)
(2048 x 1536)
(1280 x 960)
(640 x 480)
Now that's what I call storage!
CD500 has a TIFF mode, which is found in the Rec Mode section
of the menu. Be warned, though: the camera will be locked up
over a minute while the image is written to the CD.
file numbering system used by Sony is quite simple. Files are
named DSC0####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is
maintained as you continue to take pictures.
Let's move on to the menu system now.
CD Mavicas use the familiar Sony "overlay-style" menu,
which are easy to use. Note that only the Rec Mode options are
available in Auto Record mode. Here is what you'll find in the
mode (Spot, center-weighted, multi)
Balance (Auto, Preset, Flash, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy,
(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, Sepia, Negative Art, Off)
(High, Normal, Low)
(High, Normal, Low)
(High, Normal, Low)
you can see, the CD500 has manual (preset) white balance. This
allows you to shoot a white or gray card/paper to be used as
giving you perfect white balance every time.
Rec Mode submenu has additional image resolutions. TIFF will
record an uncompressed image at the 5.0MP resolution (with a
long write time). Voice mode will let you record up to 40 seconds
of audio with each picture. E-mail will save a 320 x 240 image,
along with an image at the resolution you've chosen. Exposure
bracketing takes three shots in a row, with the exposure value
shifted for each shot. You can choose the bracketing steps in
the setup menu. Finally, Burst 3 mode will take three shots in
a row, with an interval between shots of 0.5 seconds.
Setup Mode, there are a number of other options available. Here
are the interesting ones:
Image (MPEG Movie, ClipMotion, Multi-Burst) - explained later
Mode (Single, monitor, continuous) - see below
(on/off) - see below
(Day & Time, Date, Off) - whether date/time is printed on
step (±0.3, ±0.7, ±1.0) - for auto bracketing
- Disc Tool (Finalize, format, initialize, uninitialize) - I
discussed these back in the beginning of the review
numbering (series, reset)
- Create/Change Rec. folder - for managing folders on the CD
before write (on/off) - review a picture (and delete
it if necessary) before it's saved to the CD.
(English, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese)
out (NTSC, PAL)
AF mode choices are new features on Sony's 2003 digital cameras.
Single AF is just like you're used to: press the shutter release
halfway and the camera locks focus. Monitor AF (called continuous
on other cameras) lets the camera focus constantly, even without
the shutter release pressed. This helps reduce the time required
to take a picture. Continuous AF (I'd call this one tracking
AF myself) will focus before you press the shutter release button,
and will continue to focus even with it halfway pressed. Confusing
these features are handy. Continuous AF is especially good for
action shots where the subject is moving.
the old days, digital zoom on cameras just enlarged the center
of the image, regardless of the resolution. Quality suffered
as a result. Sony has changed things around with their Smart
Zoom system. The amount of smart zoom that can be used depends
on the chosen resolution.
that you cannot use the Smart Zoom at the highest resolutions
(4.5/5.0M). The Smart Zoom system allows you to take pictures
using digital zoom with much better results than with the previous
of photos, let's take a look at our test photos to see
the CD500 fared.
took the night shot a little earlier in the evening than normal
(I was waiting for fireworks to begin). The CD500 did a nice
job with this 1 second exposure, though I'm wondering why the
left side is so blurry, when the rest of the image is fine. The
CD500, like all Sony cameras, employs a slow shutter noise reduction
system, which is why this shot is noise free! With full manual
controls, low light shooting is easy with this camera (just remember
complaints about the macro test shot. Colors are accurate and
the subject is sharp. I suppose I could've cranked up the exposure
compensation another notch, though. You can get as close as 4
cm to the subject with the lens at wide-angle, or 20 cm at telephoto.
CD500 wasn't so hot in the redeye department. In fact it's pretty
nasty, even with the redeye reduction turned on. I was surprised,
because the flash isn't very close to the lens. You can remove
redeye fairly easy in software.
distortion test does a good job of showing the moderate amount
of barrel distortion created by the CD500's lens (at wide-angle).
I don't see any vignetting
(darkened corners) here, which is a good thing.
was very impressed with the CD500's photo quality: it was excellent.
Exposures were good, colors accurate, and images were sharp.
There was a tiny bit of noise, but nothing worth worrying about
in my opinion. Purple fringing was not a problem in my test shots.
Have a look at the gallery and see for yourself!
2003 Sony cameras have the brand new MPEG Movie VX system,
which is one of the best movie modes out there.
can record at VGA resolution (that's 640 x 480), with sound,
until the CD fills up. You can store nearly 6 minutes of VGA
video on one CD, or 90 minutes at the smaller 160 x 120 resolution.
use the zoom lens during filming. The 16 fps frame rate is also
on the slow side.
a VGA-size sample movie for you. It starts off a little dark but
Click to play movie (7.5MB, MPEG format)
view it? Download QuickTime.
are two other movie-like features on the CD500. Multi Burst mode
takes 16 frames in a row, at the interval of your choosing (1/30,
1/15, 1/7.5 sec). The frames are compiled into one 1.2 Megapixel
image. Clip Motion lets you take up to ten shots, and then combine
them into an animated GIF file.
MVC-CD500's playback mode goes beyond the basic features found
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
resolution equal or higher than the original resolution, the resulting
image will not look good!
zoom and scroll mode lets you zoom in as much as 5X, and then
around in it. It's not terribly fast, but it works well enough.
This feature 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.
Deleting a photo is now easier on the CD500. Instead of having
to use the menu, you can now use the button on the back of the
camera. You can delete one, several, or all photos.
A histogram is shown in playback mode
photos in playback mode can be fast or slow, depending on the
situation. The camera appears to cache the photos before and
after the current one, so those load quickly. If you jump ahead
a few photos, expect to wait about five seconds before you see
the high resolution photo. Loading another set of nine thumbnails
takes around nine seconds.
Does it Compare?
you're sold on the CD-R/RW format, then the CD500 is a great
camera. It's got excellent
photo quality, full manual controls, a very nice movie mode, a
hot shoe, and a dirt cheap media format. On the other hand,
got a bulky, fairly slow (in terms in read/write speed), and expensive
digital camera with lots of moving parts. CD-RW drives are a
instruments, so you need to be gentle with them. I have heard from
several owners of earlier CD Mavicas who now have expensive paperweights.
In addition, the camera isn't exactly what I call "Mac
as the CDs cannot be read in your CD-ROM drive and USB only works
in Mac OS X. If you like the convenience of the CD format,
the CD500 (or the less expensive CD350)
choice. If you don't care about the CD format, I'd definitely look
at a "regular" camera that uses memory cards instead.
format is excellent value
shoe for external flash
AF - the best AF assist system out there
I didn't care for:
- Redeye a problem
about durability of CD-RW drive
read/write times, esp. in playback mode
it comes to CD-based cameras, the CD500 and CD350 are the only
in town. If you're interested in other 4/5 Megapixel cameras, please
visit our Reviews & Info
always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try
the MVC-CD500 before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a second opinion?
out the review of the CD500 at Steve's
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.