Minolta DiMAGE 7i, Sony Mavica a contrast in styles

Sony's Mavica MVC-CD400 records directly onto CD-R and CD-RW minidisks that can be read by most computers' optical drives. It's priced at $899.

Two digital cameras introduced in recent months from Minolta USA Inc. and Sony Electronics Inc. take significantly different approaches to digital image capture and storage. They also provide a nice snapshot of where this fast-moving technology stands at the moment.

Minolta's DiMAGE 7i is a speedier version of the 5-megapixel DiMAGE 7 that debuted last year.
It has an auto-focus system nearly twice as fast as its predecessor and a continuous-advance drive mode that captures up to seven frames per second. New digital tricks and composition features promise better images. The viewfinder and monitor, for example, have a grid for aligning subjects and a histogram that evaluates exposure and contrast before the image is snapped.

[IMGCAP(1)]I found the DiMAGE 7i a challenge to master, with a bewildering number of controls and somewhat nonintuitive terminology. Professionals will likely savor that complexity, and serious amateurs like me might view it as a camera to grow into.

Sony's Mavica MVC-CD400's advantage is its ability to record directly onto 8-centimeter, 156M mini CD-R and CD-RW disks that are readable in most PCs' optical drives, rather than having to transfer image files through a USB cable or card reader.

Sony says many organizations use the cameras more for image archiving than they would cameras that save to erasable memory cards. That's not completely surprising, since CD-R disks can't be erased and rewritten like memory cards, though Sony says you can buy them for around $1 each. The Mavica also works with the slightly more expensive and rewritable CD-RW disks, but even these cost a fraction per megabyte compared to memory cards.

The 4.1-MP Mavica is a great camera, too, and it seems marketed more to amateurs than the DiMAGE. The Mavica's controls are fewer and more intuitive, and I like the way its flash pops up automatically when it senses inadequate light (the flash on the DiMAGE must be popped manually).

The camera lacks an optical viewfinder, though, and is slow to take a picture, unlike the relatively fast DiMAGE. It's noticeably larger than most memory-card digicams'it must make room for the mini-CD, after all'but not awkwardly so.

Consider the Mavica MVC-CD400 if your want fairly high-resolution, point-and-shoot photography with simple, low-cost file transfer and storage.

Contact Minolta at 201-825-4000 and Sony at 888-222-7669.

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