"I want one of these," enthused Monika, the art director who works across the hall.
That's when I knew Sony was on to something with its new line of digital cameras. Monika had borrowed the Sony Digital Mavica MVC-FD88 I was reviewing and used it to take a last-minute photo for the magazine she designs. She and other graphic artists who work for our publishing company were impressed by the camera's ease of use and 1.3-million-pixel resolution.
Until recently, digital cameras were handy for capturing small images for onscreen display, but didn't meet the more exacting demands of print publishing. The latest generation of megapixel cameras, with SVGA-equivalent 1280 by 960 resolution, are the first to change that.
There are other megapixel cameras on the market, of course, including three reviewed separately in this issue. But the new Digital Mavica line offers some unique features that set it apart from the me-too pack-features that may be quirks, assets or annoyances depending on your point of view.
Most noticeable is the form factor. Unlike the other cameras reviewed this month, which mimic the size and shape of a standard 35mm compact camera, the Digital Mavica uses a taller and bulkier case. And instead of a small viewfinder, it features a 2.5-inch LCD display on the back of the camera.
Experienced still photographers may find this LCD viewfinder disconcerting. The LCD's refresh rate is a little slow, so when you move the camera, there's a fraction-of-a-second lag before the viewfinder changes. It's odd holding the camera at arm's length-do you hold it up at face level, down at your chest or what? I never quite figured that out. And while the LCD is backlit, you can't see much detail in bright sunlight. You can also use the same screen to review your pictures, though you'd be better off connecting the camera to a video monitor using the included AV cable.
The other distinguishing feature is the storage medium. The other digital cameras reviewed this month use solid-state memory with a combination of internal RAM and removable storage cards. The Digital Mavica, on the other hand, uses the familiar 3.5 inch, PC-compatible floppy disk.
The obvious upside is that it's a snap to transfer pictures to a PC-the files are in JPEG format, compatible with most popular graphics programs. And of course, floppy disks are cheap and readily available-a good thing, because at maximum resolution and image quality, a single disk only holds four to six images. At 640 by 480 resolution and maximum compression, you can get a more acceptable 25 to 40 pictures on a disk, but at a cost of lower picture quality.
You can also annotate your pictures with brief voice memos, and even record brief digital movies in MPEG format-up to 60 seconds in length at 160 by 112 pixels, or 15 seconds at 320 by 240 pixels.
The FD-88 comes with a lithium-ion battery pack and external charger. A full charge is good for up to about 500 still images, according to the manufacturer.
Other features of the FD-88 include an 8X optical/16X Precision Digital Zoom lens, auto focus and pre-programmed special effects, though I'm not sure how often most of us will want to shoot digital pictures in negative mode (sepia, black-and-white and solarize are other available effects). There's also a built-in automatic flash.
The FD-88 carries a list price of $999. Other Digital Mavica models start at $599. For more information contact Sony at www.sony.com or call (800) 222-SONY.