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Sony's MVC-FD71 Digital Mavica

Sony's MVC-FD71 Digital Mavica

Flexible, easy to use - and with floppies!

Digital cameras are becoming quite commonplace, and it isn't hard to see why. They're easy to use, don't require film purchasing or processing, they give you instant pictures quicker than you can say "Jack Robinson" (or anything else, for that matter), and you can generally correct flaws (via software) that may have inadvertently crept into your shots.

The only real problems we've had with digital camera is that you need a colour printer and good quality paper if you want to make prints (if you don't care about that, of course, this is no problem) and that you generally need a spare serial port for downloading the photos into  your computer.

This serial port question can be a real hassle to digital camera users who may have only one serial port (besides their modem) and whose mouse is plugged into it: you have to unplug your mouse to plug in the camera, and this makes navigating your screen and operating your software very difficult. In fact, we've tried one camera whose software requires a mouse, so we found it impossible to get the pictures into our computer once the mouse was unhooked. We ended up using a video capture card, feeding the signal into the card via a VCR, which was such a pain in the neck that we only tried it once to make sure it was possible, then said "to hell with it" and sent the camera back.

Sony, always an innovator, has come up with a nifty product that addresses this interfacing problem head on - and in a simple and straightforward way. The MVC-FD-71 "digital Mavica" stores its images onto conventional 3.5 inch floppy disks, the same type you use (albeit less and less, thanks to CD-ROM's) on your personal computer. Not only does this mean that downloading photos into your computer is as easy as copying files from a floppy to a hard drive, it also means the number of pictures you can take in a session is limited only by the number of floppies you bring, and the life of the "Mavica's" battery.

For this alone, this camera should go down in history for its thoughtful and consumer-friendly design.

But there's more. Lots more.

The MVC-FD71 is a light and fairly slim unit (it's bigger than some digital cameras, but that isn't necessarily a flaw) whose Sony-developed disk drive (called "Quick Access 2x") works twice as fast as a conventional drive, speeding up the storing and playing back of images. Still, saving an image is slower than with some other cameras: the capture is virtually instantaneous (just press the shutter button fully and "presto!"), but then comes the whirring and chugging of the drive as it compresses and saves the image. But we're only talking about a few seconds here.

You can store up to 40 images on a floppy, thanks to the camera's use of the JPEG compression standard. Most of our images came in at less than 60 kb, which is a pretty good use of space! The pictures are recorded at 640x480 VGA resolution, which isn't the best you can get but which is probably adequate for most uses, especially if you're just going to publish the pics on the Internet.

If you're really concerned about picture quality, you can use "non-compressed mode," which will eat up the floppies (but who cares, they're cheap and portable, right?) but which gives higher resolution images.

And thanks to "Whole disk copy," you can share your pictures right on the spot. All you have to do is select that feature and the camera copies all the images from the floppy disk into a temporary memory; put in a blank disk, and the camera dumps the images back onto it.

View Finding

There's no optical viewfinder with this camera. Instead, Sony has built a little 2.5 inch LCD screen onto the back of the unit, much like Sharp uses on its Viewcam camcorders. This is fine until you're shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, at which time the LCD washes out and becomes very difficult to see. You can adjust its contrast to a certain extent, but we found the LCD almost unwatchable under certain bright conditions. It was probably our only real complaint about this product.

When you can see the LCD, it gives you a very good representation of what you're going to shoot (and you can also play back your pictures - instantly - using the LCD as a monitor), though it feels a bit strange at first not to be sticking your eye into a viewfinder to line up your shots.

Another thing we liked was the 10:1 optical zoom lens, which is operated by a little button on the back of the unit. This zoom is comparable in performance to many camcorders, and offers a nicer selection of shot parameters to give you more flexibility. A focus ring lets you wrestle manual control from the little droid inside the unit, and a macro setting lets you get really, really close to the action.

E-Mail Ready

Need to send images over the Internet? The Mavica's E-mail mode shrinks the size of your file to 320 x 240 resolution for fast Internet downloads. Not a big deal, especially with pictures that already only take up 50K or so, but thoughtful nonetheless.

If you really want to squint, you can use "Index" mode, when the camera's in "PLAYBACK" configuration (just a button click away!), to have six thumbnails displayed on the little LCD at once. And while in "Playback" mode you can view or delete any image, so the shots that don't quite measure up can be dumped immediately, saving disk space and making your eventual editing session easier.

Sony also builds in four special effects that let you change the look and feel of your pictures. The "monotone," "sepia," "Negative Art," and "Solarization" effects work well, but who cares? More useful are six preprogrammed "Auto exposure" modes that set the camera for portraits, beach and snow lighting, and other unusual conditions.

Shuttering to think about it....

The MVC-FD71 also has variable shutter speeds, from 1/60th to 1/4000th of a second, auto/manual exposure and white balance, and there's a built in "intelligent" flash you can use under low light conditions.

The battery is a standard, Sony rechargeable lithium-ion unit the company says is good for up to 950 shots - and a display lets you know how much time you can expect the battery to last.

We had only one other criticism for the "Mavica," and it's one we share with some Sony camcorders: the lens cap is poorly designed and keeps falling off the lens, making it of little value.

These criticisms are minor, however, and didn't detract from your enjoyment of this unit.

In fact, we recommend this unit highly. At about $1000 Cdn, it's pricey compared to some of the competition, but considering what you're getting and the overall quality of this Sony, we don't think it's overpriced.

Manufacturer's Specifications (from Sony)

IMAGING DEVICE: Progressive CCD, 350K pixels (gross)

EXPOSURE: 6 Mode Auto (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Beach & Snow, Sunset & Moon, and Panfocus)

MANUAL EXPOSURE: f/-2.0 to f/+2.0



SHUTTER SPEED: 1/60-1/4000

PICTURE EFFECTS: 4 Pre-programmed (Monotone, Sepia, Negative Art, Solarization)

FLASH: Built-In, Intelligent (Auto/On/Off)

SELF-TIMER: Built-In, 10 sec. On/Off

LENS: Fixed, 4.8, 35mm Conversion (f=40-400mm)


FOCUS: AUTO/MANUAL Focus Ring with 1" Macro Capability


RECORDING MEDIA: 3.5" 2HD Floppy Disc

IMAGE SIZE: 640 x 480 pixels

VIEWFINDER: 2.5" Diagonal, 84k TFT LCD w/ Solar Window


DIMENSIONS (w.h.d) : 5-1/2" x 4" x 2-1/2"

WEIGHT: 1.18 lbs. (w/ NP-F330 Battery)


SUPPLIED ACCESSORIES: NP-F330, BC-V625 Battery Charger, Arc Soft PhotoStudio, Shoulder Strap



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Updated May 13, 2006