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The SONY MAVICA FD7 digital camera


Mavica camera

The model described here is now thoroughly obsolete: modern Sony digital cameras don't use floppy disks (which wouldn't hold even one high-resolution picture). This rather renders this page throughly obsolete as well, but as this was the model used (in 1998) to produce the pictures on this site I have decided to leave it here if only for historical interest.

Digital cameras have developed considerably since the earliest ones, but all but the most expensive still have a some way to go before they can match the quality of a conventional 35mm camera. 3 megapixel cameras can produce extremely good results up to a fairly large print, but a good 35mm camera can using fine grain film can fill a large projection screen with a very clear image. There are a few cameras which produce profesional results, but at professional prices. For amateurs, cameras around £800 can produce very satisfactory results - and the latest top-of-the range inkjet printers are so good that it is sometimes difficult to tell that the results are not a conventional chemical photo print.

The Sony Mavica FD5 and FD7, which were available around 1998 but are now out of production, had a nominal resolution of 640 by 480, but to complicate matters Sony used a video CCD (charge coupled device - the imaging screen) designed for video camcorders. The resultant 625 line picture was converted to 640 by 480, producing a result which was softer than a straightforward 640 by 480 CCD would produce - the effect can be seen on the full-size picture extract on the left.

Moving object

To make matter worse, the 625 lines had an interlaced scan, just like a camcorder - odd lines first, then even lines - producing two interlaced 'fields' which together make the 'frame'. The result is that fast moving objects appeared in different places in the two fields, as with the car on the right; so to get round this the camera offered a 'field' option, whereby only odd lines were scanned, and then doubled - thus reducing the vertical resolution even further. This rather placed it out of court for action photography, although hand-held work was OK in 'frame' if you were careful.

The great advantage at the time lay in its unusual medium. Most digital cameras of the period when the the Mavica FD series were available used a serial lead to download pictures in memory to the computer, so that you had to keep plugging and unplugging leads from the computer (never a good idea): you were also limited to the number of pictures the memory could hold, since it was only a couple of years later that cameras with memory cards became common.

The Mavica, uniquely, used an ordinary floppy disk. This meant that you could take a picture, transfer the disk to the computer, and open the picture in a graphics program, all in a few seconds. Since the disks cost next to nothing there was no limit on the number of pictures you could take (compare the cost of SmartMedia and CompactFlash cards). The FD7 version (there was a simpler FD5) also had at the time by far the best handling of any digital camera under £1,000: it had good autofocus and a 10 to 1 optical zoom.

Slide show

In the absence of a scanner at the time, I found it extremely easy to copy photographic prints, even quite small ones, and I even copied a 35mm transparency simply by holding it in front of the lens and holding the camera up to the sky - it focused perfectly well on the transparency which was only about an inch away! The first picture in the Stratford-on-Avon slide show - right - was done this way, as were the two photos of the church and of the theatre foyer. (As they are an animated GIF they are in only 256 colours, which produces the dotted effect.) Two of the larger pictures in the Stratford Pictures page were done this way, the rest coming from PhotoCD or scanned from black-and-white prints.

So in 1998 on balance I chose the Mavica for its ease of use: the quality was just about OK for web pages - most of the pictures in the earlier pages on this site were copied from books or prints using the Mavica, and then reduced in size considerably before converting to 72dpi at the new size: this minimized the effects of the odd scanning process described above.

In case you would like to assess the quality of the camera's results, I have provided a full-sized unretouched picture on a separate page: image file size is 86k. Note that modern cameras will produce much better results than this.

The floppy disk Mavicas are now out of production. Cameras using SmartMedia or Compact Flash cards - or Sony's proprietary memory stick - can store the larger file sizes, and now that USB connections are more or less standard, can download them in reasonable time to the computer. All this consigns the old Mavicas to history, though Sony continue to use the name for its range of high-quality digital cameras.

For information and very detailed reviews of digital cameras there is an excellent site at www.dpreview.com.

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