After Hours

Introducing the Sony MVC-FD88 digital camera

If you're thinking of buying a digital camera, you may be overwhelmed by the wide range of products available. In this Daily Feature, Troy Thompson takes a look at one of the options: the Sony MVC-FD88 digital camera.


If you’re thinking of purchasing a digital camera, you’ll find many choices available on the market. Depending on the features you want, you can pay as little as $100 for low-end cameras or more than $30,000 for the high-end, professional models. Most home users will choose a camera in the under-$1,000 range. In this Daily Feature, I’ll focus on the Sony MVC-FD88 Digital Mavica camera , which you can find on the Internet for about $750.

Reasons for purchasing a digital camera
The great thing about a digital camera is that there’s no film—at least in the traditional sense. You have a medium on which to store the images, of course, but it’s now digital and reusable. When you take a picture, you can immediately view it to see whether you captured what you wanted. If you don’t like the picture, simply erase it. No longer do you have to spend time and money having the pictures developed. You also don’t have to scan photos when you want to e-mail them.

Keep in mind that a digital camera is not the best choice in every situation. I still use my Nikon when I want a really good photo to put in the picture album, but with the improving quality of color printers, that too may change.
If your only concern about a digital camera is price, you can go to Price Watch to get a list of cameras sorted by price. You can also check out the Digital Camera Resource Page to see a list of cameras, specifications, reviews, and reports from users. If you have a specific brand name in mind, go to the company’s Web site to gather information.
Saving and retrieving your pictures
The big selling point for the MVC-FD88 camera is that your data is saved on a standard 3.5-inch floppy disk. Floppy disks continue to be inexpensive, universally compatible, easy to find, and easy to use. This camera has a special four-speed floppy drive that makes saving and retrieving data very quick. You can take pictures and then copy the data to any PC without special software or cables. This makes using the camera extremely convenient. For example, you can go to an event, take pictures, and then give the disk to a friend.

The downside is that a floppy disk is limited in the amount of information it can hold. Sony has developed another storage medium, called a Memory Stick, which will hold 16 MB of information. It’s smaller than a stick of chewing gum and has ten times the capacity of a standard floppy disk. It would’ve been nice to have the Memory Stick as an option for the MVC-FD88 in conjunction with the floppy disk, but that’s just wishful thinking.

Movies, e-mail transmission, and presentations
The MVC-FD88 allows you to record movies. MPEG Movie Mode lets you capture up to 60 seconds of video and audio. The camera also has automatic timers for 5-, 10-, and 15-second videos. You can use Video Mail Mode to capture 60 seconds of video/audio at 160x112 resolution for fast and easy downloads, or you can use Presentation Mode for 15 seconds of video/audio at 320x240 resolution. Once again, all data is stored on a floppy disk, and you don’t have to load any special capture boards into your computer.

For e-mail transmission, you can record an image and sound together or a still image. E-mail Mode lets you record a 320x240 JPEG file in addition to a selected image size. E-mail Mode files are more suited for e-mail transmission because they contain compressed data.

Voice Memo Mode lets you add up to 5 seconds of narration to still images. This feature is ideal for creating presentations in which the images “speak” for themselves. Presentation Mode allows you to capture images at 320x240 resolution so you can easily go through slides in a presentation without delay. Slide Show Mode will let you create a slide show of your favorite images on a floppy disk and then play back the slide show on your television automatically with a supplied cable.

Zoom capabilities
The MVC-FD88 comes with an 8x Optical/16x Precision Digital Zoom Lens with auto/manual focus ring and Auto Macro capability. The zoom lens doesn’t interfere with the camera’s compact size. Unlike the MVC-FD91, which has a 12x optical zoom that makes the camera large and bulky, you can easily hold the MVC-FD88 with one hand and take photos. You can also get close to your subjects by using the Auto Macro for shots up to four centimeters from your subject.

Auto-exposure and white balance
The auto-exposure and white balance features assure correct exposure of your subjects automatically. White balance adjusts colors to match as close as possible the true colors in your subjects. Manual exposure lets you adjust the exposure as you see fit for complete control of the image quality. There are six pre-programmed auto-exposure modes:
  • Spot Light-Metering Mode—Used for recording subjects when there’s a strong contrast between the subjects and background.
  • Low Lux 1 Mode—Used for making subjects brighter in insufficient light.
  • Low Lux 2 Mode—Used for recording a dark picture more brightly or for making the movement of an object seem livelier.
  • Sunset and Moon Mode—Used for recording subjects in dark environments. This mode will require you to use a tripod to prevent the picture from being blurry.
  • Landscape Mode—Used for taking pictures of distant objects, such as mountains outside a window.
  • Panfocus Mode—Used for changing focus on different subjects quickly.

For the best results, you can manually control exposure with seven different settings (-1.5 to + 1.5 EV).

Other features
Now I’ll list some of the other features of the MVC-FD88:
  • LCD screen—The 2.5-inch LCD screen has backlight and brightness control. The photos you take are displayed on the screen similar to how they’ll appear on your PC.
  • Whole Disk Copy—This feature enables you to copy your pictures right inside the camera. Images saved in the MVC-FD88’s temporary memory can be copied to a new floppy. In addition to image files, you can save and copy Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files.
  • Flash—The built-in intelligent flash has three modes: On, Off, and Auto Adjust. You can also set the flash to automatically turn on in low-light conditions.
  • Picture freeze—After you take a picture, you can continue to hold down the shutter button to keep the picture displayed on the LCD. To play back all pictures on a floppy, you can go to Play Mode and view them individually, in a slide show format, or with the Index feature, which shows up to six pictures on the LCD at a time.
  • Shutter speed—The MVC-FD88 has shutter speeds that range from 1/60 to 1/4000 seconds. This wide range of shutter speeds allows you to capture fast-moving objects and freeze them in motion.
  • Special effects—The MVC-FD88 has four built-in special effects: Negative Image, Sepia, Black and White, and Solarization.

The battery
The MVC-FD88 uses an InfoLithium battery that communicates with the camera to let you know how much time is remaining. A single battery is good for up to 550 consecutive shots (flash off). In terms of minutes, it will last about 90 minutes when fully charged. The camera comes with a battery, but its life is not as long as the battery that comes in the accessory pack (about 150 minutes when fully charged).

Storage medium
This digital camera has outstanding features, but probably the most convenient feature is its storage medium. All images are stored on 1.44-MB floppy disks. The advantage to this is that you can take pictures and immediately view them on any PC. No software or special cords are necessary. The disadvantage is that the space on a floppy disk is quite limited. The camera has several resolution settings, and the number of pictures that will fit on a single disk depends on which resolution settings you choose.

As pictures are stored on the disk, they’re given a number (for example, MVC-001S.jpg). The number is incremented by 1 each time, and the letter before the extension indicates whether the picture was taken in Fine Mode or Standard Mode. With each new disk, the numbering starts over again with 1, unless you set the numbering mode to serial. (Serial mode comes in handy when you need to copy multiple disks to your computer in the same folder. It allows you to avoid having to rename the files on the disk before you copy them; otherwise, you’ll overwrite the existing files.) Each disk also has a file named Mavica.htm, which lists all the images on the disk. You can access this file through your Web browser and view the images in a Web format.

Accessories
These accessories come standard with the camera:
  • BC-V615 battery charger
  • NP-F330 battery
  • ArcSoft PhotoStudio
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens cap
  • A/V cable

The following are accessories that you can order separately (I recommend this package if you don’t mind adding on another $100 or so):
  • NP-F550 InfoLithium battery
  • VCL-ES06 wide angle lenses
  • ACC-MVC Starter Kit
  • NPF550 - rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
  • Lens protector
  • Carrying case

Conclusion
There are many different digital cameras on the market. Some have special features, which add to the price. The Sony MVC-FD88 is a solid camera with some advanced features that make it attractive. All in all, this is a great camera for the money.

Troy Thompson, MCSE+I, has worked in the automation field for 15 years, and he has dealt with a variety of systems, including Wang OIS, Unisys BTOS, UNIX, Windows 3.11, Novell NetWare, Windows NT 3.51, and Windows NT 4.0. He’s worked as an administrator of a Novell and an NT network and as a systems analyst for an IBM mainframe. Currently, Troy is the Information System Security Officer at the Information Management shop at Fort Knox. If you’d like to contact Troy, send him an e-mail.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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