Camera Reviews, Photography

Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

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Although I love film, I don’t hate megapixels. I shoot digital all the time. I just don’t collect digital cameras like I do film cameras. But when my parents found this 2001 Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 at a rummage sale for a few dollars, they thought of me and bought it.

Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

It seems hard to believe now, but consumer digital photography was still pretty new in 2001. Cameras had only recently passed the one-megapixel barrier, giving them enough resolution for a decent 4×6 print. Many early digital cameras had unusual form factors compared to conventional 35mm cameras – they looked weird, like this tall and wide Mavica.

This Mavica’s specs are probably competitive with other digital cameras of the time. It features an f/2.8 lens that zooms digitally from 39-117mm (equivalent). Its 1.3-megapixel sensor offers a maximum resolution of 1,280 x 960 pixels. It focuses and sets exposure automatically. There’s no viewfinder, but you can frame and review your shots on the 2.5-inch screen on the back. There’s a built-in flash and a few exposure and focus modes.

Amusingly, this Mavica writes photos onto 3.25-inch floppy disks. At maximum resolution, only a handful of photos fit onto a single floppy. Sony sold a floppy-shaped adapter that let you use Sony’s Memory Sticks, but my camera is not so equipped. Fortunately, a bunch of floppies came with the camera. I had to buy a USB-powered floppy drive to read them on my computer, though. Yes, you can buy such a thing.

Another not-so-amusing feature of this Mavica is its proprietary battery, because my yard-sale find came with no charger. Unbelievably, this Mavica can be plugged into the wall, and that’s how I used it. The eight-foot range that gave me would normally be a non-starter, but given that my goal was to satisfy curiosity rather than to create art, I made it work. Here, then, are some photos of things I could reach within that radius of my living room’s south wall. First up, the Native American wedding vase that sits on my coffee table, taken in available light on a sunny afternoon. The detail, sharpness, and color fidelity are all pretty good.

Native American wedding vase

When your subject is mostly one color, this Mavica tends to tint the whole photo toward it. This photo has a brown caste. It also displays the lens’s inherent barrel distortion.

Framed

This photo of my car’s nose has a blue caste. I took this from my front stoop, and zoomed in to the max. There’s noticeable pixelation in the image, which you can best see along the door seam at full resolution.

Matrix wheel

At the lens’s wide end, however, the camera registers good detail. The Mavica offers no macro mode, but it let me get pretty close anyway.

Brick in the door jamb

And just for grins, here’s a portrait of sorts that my son took of me in my parents’ home shortly after they gave me the camera.

Selfie

See a few more photos from the FD87 in my Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87 gallery.

This Sony Mavica is little more than an amusing footnote in digital photography’s history. Given its bulky body, its low image resolution, and its floppy-disk image storage, curiosity is the only good reason for using this camera. But it produces usable images, which was kind of a big deal in 2001 when digital photography was just starting to gain its legs.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection.

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20 thoughts on “Sony FD Mavica MDC-FD87

  1. The Mavica was my 1st digital camera and I used it professionally to copy reference images for books and exhibits. Mine had a macro feature and I remember shooting slides on a light box. Just 3 or 4 photos per disk.

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    • And I’m sure it was wonderful at the time – making possible much easier image management. I’m sure you have much more sophisticated equipment today!

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      • Yes, I’ve finally bought my first full sensor, 35mm digital SLR (Nikon D600)…and the learning curve is so much higher than my beloved first camera, the Pentax K1000. I need to take a class to understand all of the bells and whistles!

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  2. Even if not a film camera, it is a true collector’s item. I have never seen a digital camera that used a floppy. How awkward.

    That vase would totally fit the decor in my office. Beautiful piece.

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  3. I too never knew that there was a digital camera that used floppies. I suppose that if people do ever collect digital cameras that it would be a good candidate.

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  4. Christopher Smith says:

    I remember the first digital camera I ever used was a Canon ION RC-360 in 1992 that to used floppy disks for storage I think the biggest image was 640×480 the company I worked for bought it to produce images for brochures. I think I have a amature photography magazine from the early
    80’s that has an article about the first prototype Sony Mavica digital camera.

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  5. Tom Grey says:

    Jim
    I’m sure you know that you can get small inverters that plug into car lighter to give you 110 volts AC. would allow you to stand outside your car with your 8 foot power cord.

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    • True. Heck, one of my cars has an AC plug built into the dash! It is incredibly handy. I’d be willing to lobby that it be Federal law that every car come so equipped!

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  6. Lone Primate says:

    I remember when the idea of floppy disk storage for digital cameras was still floating around… my sense of it at the time was, why bother? Too little, too late. Even in the late 90s I already had a camera that let me put a 16 MB Type II flash card in it; something with about a dozen times the storage of a floppy disk that held somewhere in the neighbourhood of a hundred (pre-megapixel) photos. You put in the one card and took pictures all day. The idea of lugging a pack of floppies around and swapping them out every dozen exposures or so struck me as pre-obsoleted technology. We were already on the verge of computer that didn’t have floppy drives by then; and here we are not a generation later, and you’re having to find a USB-enabled reversed-engineered solution. What a waste of Sony’s investment dollars.

    Still, quite a find. I think if I’d come across it inexpensively enough I too would have felt the urge to buy it, just because it is such a curiosity. Too bad you didn’t get the floppy drive card adapter with it! Now THAT would have been prize piece of kludge. :)

    Tom’s right! You can get AC adapters for your cigarette lighter. Some cars even have a separate port now specifically for that. I’ve had such an adapter in my cars for six or seven years in order to mount cameras and video roads. Now that I have a dash cam that’s no longer necessary, but I still have a three-outlet cord ready if I need to plug in something. The trick is, though, for most modern cars, the car has to be running. Used to be the lighter was always live but now that people use it for other things, you can drain the battery fairly quickly, so a lot of lighters are no longer live unless the car is running and the alternator is doing its thing.

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    • I had one of those AC adapters until recently, when I dug it out of my glove box and tried it and found it dead. It was this enormous thing. I hope newer ones are smaller.

      I might still have around the place an old Minolta Dimage camera that takes one of those compact flash cards. It takes AA batteries but seems to consume two fresh ones after every four to six photographs, so I’ve never felt terribly motivated to use it. But heck, now that I’ve broken the seal on writing about “vintage” digicams maybe I ought to give it a whirl. And what the heck was Minolta thinking with the name “Dimage”?

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      • Lone Primate says:

        Oh, boy, yeah, do I remember what you’re talking about. My DC-40 and DC-50 both took AAs, so I had sets of rechargeables. Frequent swaps. Usually then I was done shooting by the second set. Then came the cameras with the specialized but easily swapped batteries. I think I hit the high water mark around the time I had the S80. I have to say I’ve been rather disappointed in the battery performance of the S100. The capacities of S-series batteries hasn’t kept pace with the demands of the cameras they serve.

        Dimage is a funny choice. I suppose they were aiming at something French-sounding, and thus, “classy” to English-speakers, but they seem to have at the same time overlooked the resemblance to the English words “dim” and “damage”. :) Strange. Or do you suppose “dee-mah-jay” means something in Japanese?

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        • I now have four batteries for my S95: two Canon, two aftermarket. It takes two batteries to get through an average road trip and all four to canvas the Mecum auction.

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  7. Richard Armstrong says:

    Jim, just caught your review of the FD87 I’m about a year late, I’ve been a fan of these Sony Mavica’s since testing a FD7 back in 1998 when they were new, at that time they were one of the most useable Digital camera’s available, the Floppy Disk wasn’t yet obsolete and other forms of suitable storage medium for digital camera’s were in there infancy. For the time they took great pic’s especially in the shorter distance’s. I could never afford one myself but often borrowed them.
    About 4 years ago I picked up an FD7 for pocket money and after reacquainting myself with it and doing some research into the Mavica’s I decided I was going to collect the whole range of them as well as the CD version’s which I have now done, obsessive probably but they are great fun and they all work. Some are huge like the FD95 & FD97 models, I get them out now and then and have a play.
    I there are 18 models that use the Floppy Disk and some of the latter ones have a slot for Sony’s memory stick and a few take the memory stick adapter. Sony also made quite a few accessories for various models such as Tele & WA converter lenses, viewfinder hood, these accessories are much harder to find(like the memory stick adapter)
    The thing about these camera’s is that 90% still seem to work as they should, and if you get one that doesn’t they are so cheap it easy and cheap enough to get another.
    By the way your FD87 does have macro, it focus’s to 1.2″ if I remember correctly.

    I would love to have one of the original Mavica SLR still video camera’s but they are almost impossible to find but I do have the MVC-C1 (1988) and MVC-A10 (1989) still video camera’s that record onto a special 2″ Disk but haven’t managed to make them work.

    Richard

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