Here's what's good about the dizzying pace of digital camera development, here in the first year of the 21st century: as the quality has gone up--better optics, near-35mm resolution, more photographer-friendly options--prices have gone down.
Take a look at the price tag on last year's $1399 3-megapixel camera, and you can probably get it now for $899. Here's what's bad: memory capacity and storage haven't kept up the pace. You can get a 64 MB SmartMedia or CompactFlash memory card for just over $100, which can fit about 50 high-quality 3.3-megapixel JPEGs. That may sound cheap and plentiful, but for the avid photographer who normally carries around several rolls of film, the final cost might be a little daunting. There's also the MicroDrive standard, but at $450 to $699 (340 MB to 1 GB) you're looking at more than half the price of a new camera.
's original Digital Mavica cameras
had incredibly inexpensive "film": standard 1.44 MB floppy disks, which could be had for under a dollar. (As I joked at the time, AOL's ubiquitous signup disks meant they were giving away free film everywhere you turned.) The format also meant no special software was required to download images. Happily, they continued the trend with the introduction of the CD Mavica line late last year, which used 156 MB 3" compact discs (enough room for about 150 images), costing about $10 each. I thought it was a great idea, but poorly executed: the MVC-CD1000, despite a gorgeous 10x optical/20x digital zoom, optical and LCD viewfinders, and copious options, was hobbled by long delays between pressing the shutter release and capturing the photo, a storage medium that wasn't renewable, and a mere 2.1-megapixel image--all for a suggested retail price of $1999.
The recently introduced MVC-CD300 is slightly less ambitious, with no optical viewfinder and a modest 6x digital zoom supplanting the Mavica CD1000's huge lens barrel. That brings the camera to roughly the same size and weight as an ordinary (read: film) SLR, one of many nods to traditional photography, such as the option of manual or automatic settings; an optional 3:2 width-to-height ratio at the highest pixel width of 2048; conversion lens compatibility; and a three-photo burst mode.
The selling point of the CD Mavica is, of course, the 156 MB storage space. The basic concept is a good one, not only for the ease of transfer but for storage. Unlike memory cards, moving the files from point A to point B isn't an intrinsic part of the process; you can just label a full CD and stick it on your shelf. The unfortunate flaw in the Mavica CD1000 lies in CD-R's immutability. You can't delete a set of bad photos, or even reclaim the space from a single deleted file. Cheap as recordable CDs are, they simply aren't reusable, like memory cards. Sony have acknowledged this by giving the Mavica CD300 the added ability to read 156 MB CD-RW discs; they're roughly twice the price, but still a steal compared to memory cards. It's also a pleasant surprise that there's no noticeable write time increase; in fact, even the delay after pressing the shutter has been almost eliminated, making the whole picture-taking process more natural.
So where's the catch? The price. At $1799, you'll have to pay a premium for the level of convenience the Mavica CD300 offers. (Although mathematically speaking, the instant you buy your third Mavica CD you've broken even compared to other cameras and memory options.) Professional photographers will no doubt be willing to pay extra for a camera that lets you squeeze 11 uncompressed 2048x1536 TIFFs onto one $20 "roll", and frequent travelers will likely be tempted by a camera that fits the equivalent of 4 36-exposure film rolls onto a medium that is not only less fragile but costs about the same as film. But if you just want a camera with plenty of manual options that will keep your inner shutterbug content, you may still find happiness in other, less expensive high-resolution digicams.