Sony's latest creation is a real giant. It's so large that it dwarfs many current camcorders and SLRs and when you take it out of the box it's hard to believe that it's for real.
The fact is that Sony have introduced yet another storage system for digital cameras - and one that is going to appeal to thousands of users that find that other storage cards don't give enough capacity for the average afternoon's shoot.
The Mavica CD1000 is the first digital camera to use CD-R - or recordable compact disc for recording its pictures, movies and sounds. As those with CD burners on their computers will know, this medium allows you to store large amounts of data on very inexpensive discs.
The CDs used by Sony are not the usual 12cm type - they are 8cm in diameter. Yet still they can store up to 156Mb of data. Such capacity for other cameras can cost two or three hundred pounds, on top of the price of the camera - and may well mean having more than one smart card. The Sony discs should cost around a couple of quid each - and Sony give you five with the camera, providing 780Mb of storage.
It all sounds too good to be true - and you therefore wouldn't be surprised to know that there is a catch. You can't rewrite these disks - so when they are full, you have to use a new one. However, it is still a small price to pay for such capacity. In terms of price per Megabyte, the discs are even cheaper than the floppy discs used by other cameras in the Mavica range.
As with Floppy Discs, there is further advantage to CD-R. The discs can slotted into the CD-Rom drives that are found on the majority of modern PCs and Macs. A 12cm adaptor ring is needed with some drives, but this is provided - as is the software that is needed to access the disc. So there's no need to muck around with wires when you want to download pictures. In fact, as the discs are not re-recordable, you can use the disks themselves as your digital archive - rather than bogging down your computer's hard-drive.
There is a USB connectivity too - although the only driver provided is for Windows 98 (Mac users are ignored). The advantage of this route, is that the camera becomes an external drive for your computer - so you can use the 8cm disks for data back-up or for sending large files to friends and colleagues.
Although the camera is very large, it's comfortable to hold. With its high-power lithium ion rechargeable battery and with disc inserted, it weighs just short of a kilogram. However, the chunky grip and wide lens barrel make it easy to grip it firmly.
The 10x zoom lens is wide around the girth for two good reasons. First, it has a constant maximum aperture - allowing you to use its maximum 390mm telephoto lens setting at a wide f/2.8. Most zooms of this nature close down one or two stops over this kind of zoom range. The advantage is not just better flexibility in dull light - the wide aperture comes into its own when using the telephoto on sports fields, ensuring spectators on the other side of the pitch are thrown well out of focus. Secondly, the lenses bulbous growth at the front is explained by the camera's optical image stabilisation system - which in our tests showed that it was possible to handhold the camera at full zoom magnification while just a 1/30sec exposure. While this is not recommended, it proves the wobble-busting device works very well.
The camera has two colour LCD displays - a massive 2.5-inch screen on the back - and for eyelevel viewing, a miniature TV allows you to see exactly what the CCD is seeing. You can have both screens on simultaneously and the larger of the two can be turned off when not needed to conserve battery power.
A wide variety of controls have their own buttons, including those for white balance override, image stabiliser, exposure mode, flash setting and spot meter. The manual focusing system will appeal to purists, as you get a servo-assisted ring around the front of the lens to sharpen the parts of the scene you want to appear clearly.
The rest of the camera's functions are accessed using an on-screen display using a five-way joystick control; you navigate through the options by pushing the control up and down and side to side, and then select the one you want by pressing the stick inwards. It's all pretty straightforward, once you get used to where everything is.
The use of CD-R means that you use the memory slightly differently than with other cameras. For starters, you have to initialise new disks when they are put in the camera, a process that takes just a few seconds, but involves leaving the camera flat on a sturdy surface while it does its stuff. When you want to remove the CD for playing back on a CD-Rom drive you also have to finalise the disk, using a similar procedure (this finalisation is not necessary with USB connection or with CD burners). You can finalise the disc at any point - but you effectively use up 13.5Mb of space every time you do this; so it is best to avoid rushing back to your PC with your pictures too often.
Memory management is also redundant with this machine. You can delete shots you have taken - but as you can't re-use the space, there is no real purpose in doing this. However, the 156Mb discs have a huge capacity - recording top-resolution JPEGs, you can fit around 150 shots on each. Even if you use the uncompressed TIFF mode, you can fit 20 images per CD. Those who just want VGA-quality shots, for use in presentations and on web pages, can shoot over a thousand frames before a new CD is needed. Strangely the camera doesn't tell you how much space the disk has left - it just tells you how many images you have taken. A neat extra facility is the e-mail mode that allows you to shoot at two resolutions simultaneously, one you nominate, and the other at 320x240 for online use.
As in common with other Sony models, the camera also gives you the capability of recording text with your images - and in this case the resulting combination is recorded in the GIF format. There is also the facility for recording and playing back movies and sound in MPEG1 format.
Despite looking like a medium-format SLR, the camera is missing some of the features that you might expect from a model costing over a grand. There is no manual exposure, for instance. You get shutter-priority and aperture-priority, as well as several program modes - but you need to use the exposure lock or compensation controls to override the camera's metering system. It's also a shame that the camera does not have an autofocus system that is designed to handle moving subjects. A continuous, or even predictive, autofocus system that could keep up with moving subjects would be the perfect companion to the monster zoom. The top shutter speed of 1/500sec is also less than you would hope for on a model that is otherwise well-endowed for action photography. Similarly the longest shutter speed is just eight seconds - not long enough for some night scenes and certainly not as useful as having a traditional B-setting.
Make no mistake though, this camera has all the controls that many enthusiasts will need. Furthermore, the pictures that we shot are of a very high standard. Focusing is sharp, and the image stabilisation system works like a dream.
The major attraction of the camera remains the low-cost high-capacity CD-R storage - and as a world first you would expect to pay a premium for such a revolutionary system. Whether such technology is worth 1000, and such a huge camera, however, remains highly debatable.
Wide-aperture 10x zoom
Optical image stabiliser
Convenient CD-R recording
Huge, low-cost, memory capacity
High-capacity rechargeable battery
Test by Chris George