Sony's MVC-CD350 is aimed at point-and-shooters who like the idea of capturing images to 8cm mini CDs. The camera has a decent feature set, including 3-megapixel resolution and a 3X zoom, and takes good pictures with relative ease. But it also has a crowd of svelte competitors, and despite being about 20 percent smaller than previous CD Mavicas, the CD350 is a lumpy-looking load to carry. If you want instant CD archiving, however, that might be a price you're willing to pay. Like earlier CD Mavicas, the CD350 is basically a camera built around a CD drive. Consequently, it's homely, as big as many SLRs, and on the heavy side at 1 pound, 3 ounces with a battery and media installed. But the gray, two-tone plastic body feels solid and well built overall, and we were able to grip it securely and comfortably. Small-handed folks, on the other hand, may find the camera cumbersome.
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|On the camera top, near the power button and the shutter release, is the simple mode dial. It provides access to fully automatic, program, scene, and video modes; setup menus; and image playback.||The zoom toggle falls under your right thumb.|
Controls cluster on opposite sides of the camera, convenient to either one hand or the other. The four-way switch on the left governs the menus, which spring from the bottom of the LCD in typical Sony fashion. Their logic and labeling are perfectly adequate, and they operate quickly. However, we were disappointed at having to use the menus to reach exposure compensation, since it doesn't have a dedicated button, and red-eye reduction is activated in the setup menu instead of via the flash-setting button. Another design flaw is in the battery compartment's door; it's surprisingly hard to open.
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|The four-way controller, located in the camera back's lower-left corner, lets you navigate the LCD menus, select a flash setting, switch to Macro mode, and quickly review the last image you shot.||With the three buttons below the LCD, you can activate the menu system, turn the screen on and off, delete images, and choose a picture-quality setting.|
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The CD350 accepts mini CD-R/RW media.
The CD350 doesn't provide manual or semimanual exposure control, but seven scene modes supplement the options for full and programmed automation. You can also apply exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV. For white balance, you get an automatic setting and five presets, but regrettably, there is no custom selection. The four available light-sensitivity choices are auto, ISO 100, ISO 200, and ISO 400.
The CD350 can capture JPEG or TIFF stills at any of five resolutions. Two JPEG-compression levels are available. It's notable that TIFF mode stores your image in both TIFF and JPEG. E-mail mode operates on the same principle, saving a 320x240-pixel copy of your shot along with a JPEG file at the selected resolution. The unusually capable movie mode can record 640x480 MPEG video with sound; clip length is determined by your media's capacity.
The camera saves photos and video to 8cm rewritable CD-RWs or write-once CD-Rs. One of the latter can cost as little as 70 cents and store more than 150 full-resolution images. In theory, you can pop a mini CD into the CD-ROM drive of any Windows PC and view or transfer your pictures. However, some older drives don't support the format, so make sure your hardware is compatible before you purchase the CD350. Mini CDs are incompatible with Macs, but Mac OS X lets you download files via USB. Capturing shots to CD-R instantly archives them on nonvolatile media--particularly useful for business users and those who don't have another way of storing these "digital negatives."
Among the CD350's other notable features are a spot meter; flash-exposure compensation; voice captioning; manual focus at selectable distances; and adjustable image-quality parameters such as sharpening, color saturation, and contrast. There's also a burst mode that can record 16 low-resolution shots in as little as one second; they're saved in one image file that resembles a contact sheet. And an abridged continuous-drive mode snaps 2 full-resolution frames in one second.
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The proprietary InfoLithium battery gave us 465 shots on a single charge--a good showing. The LCD's battery meter shows how many minutes remain, too, instead of just a vague little icon.
On the upside, the big 2.5-inch LCD is sharp and shows 100 percent of the actual image. The screen also works well in bright outdoor light. That's fortunate because there's no optical or electronic viewfinder. If you prefer using an eyepiece, you can purchase Sony's eye-level viewer attachment. The lens zooms silently, smoothly, and precisely. The flash's 8-foot maximum range is somewhat subpar, but its 3-second recycle time is excellent. We were generally pleased with our CD350 test shots. Sharpness and detail, though not the best we've seen from a 3-megapixel camera, were quite good. Most of our exposures, using both the flash and ambient light, were accurate. Colors were also fairly true and nicely vivid without being oversaturated. There was a bit of noise in photos taken at ISO 100, but it was moderate. Predictably, the noise was severe at ISO 400. We noted little purple fringing or other artifacts.
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|Noise is low at ISO 100 (left), and the level rises to moderate at ISO 200 (center). At ISO 400, things get ugly (right).|
The camera had a modest tendency to blow out highlights, but we partly counteracted the problem by turning down the default contrast setting. Flash pictures occasionally came out with reddish skin tones, especially when our subjects had fair complexions.
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|Using the automatic white balance under tungsten lighting gave our pictures an unpleasant yellowish cast (left). The Incandescent white-balance preset produced much better results (right).|