Sony’s Floppy Disc Digital Camera — The Sony Mavica
The height of digital convenience in the year 1998
How do you get a picture off a digital camera? Removable media? In the year 2000, that might have looked like a floppy disc. Sony at the fore-front of convenience rolled out a line of consumer-ready, floppy-disc cameras on their Mavica range of cameras from the years 1997–2001.
That’s where I first got introduced to my first digital camera. A time when the convenience, quality and price balanced out and made the competition between digital and analogue cameras interesting.
Why still use an old camera like the Mavica?
DSLR technology is incredibly affordable. Buying an amazing digital camera has become extremely easy and the quality of amateur photography is amazing.
That’s why I still enjoy using the Sony Mavica, especially when photographing retro equipment. There’s a particular kind of aesthetic this camera captures that takes me right back to the year 2000. It isn’t pretty. The flash is harsh, the colours are washed out and the contrast is strong. Paired with a cheap lens and low pixel resolution, the images look subjectively bad. But they’re incredibly accurate to their time period. This is what convenience looked like in the late 90's.
Why floppy discs?
Floppy Discs were cheap. Certainly a lot cheaper than flash storage in the late 90’s and early 00’s. CD technology was coming in fast, and the Mavica line had a CD-version succeeding their floppy disc cameras. But new technology pushes prices higher and carrying around a portable CD burner isn’t as convenient as it sounds.
Floppy Discs were cheap and most computers had floppy drives for transferring files easily. At a time when storage was at a premium price and digital cameras were competing for market share, the floppy disc made sense.
The Sony Mavica supported both JPEG and MP4 recording onto the Floppy Disc media. With the FD-90 (my featured camera), you could snap up to 5 JPEG images at a resolution of 1472x1104 as well as record MPEG video for up to 15 seconds at 320x240.
Sony also released a floppy disc adapter that allowed you to plug a memory stick into your Mavica. Even though launched in late 1998, the Sony Memory Sticks started at 4mb and went right up to 256mb.
Memory Sticks weren’t cheap but they did mark Sony’s entry into the Solid State Flash Drive. Sony supported their Memory Stick’s through their Cybershot line in the late 90’s and onwards, and have grown their Cybershot line to incorporate entry-level and semi-professional cameras. In a lot of ways, the Cybershot line took over the market Mavica was aimed at as storage became cheaper and connectivity became easier between cameras and computers.
Where did the Sony Mavica start?
The first Sony Mavica cameras released in the 80’s were technically analogue cameras that could record still video frames. The original Sony Mavica Prototype from 1981 is regarded as the first of these still video cameras. Recording onto Mavipak Disc Media, or VF (Video Floppies). These still video cameras could record 50 frames of video. Once you started filming, you were required to view the frames back through a television.
Sony released their first, market-ready still video camera, the Mavica MVC-A7AF in 1987. Sony kept this iteration of the line alive until 1992, after transitioning to an industry standard Hi-VF media that could record in higher resolutions. After their latest camera, the ProMavica MVC-7000, Sony stopped producing Hi-VF Mavica cameras and waited until 1997–98 to finally release their range of floppy disc digital cameras.
Using this old technology
The Sony Mavica is a fun camera to use. The physical size and process of inserting the floppy discs and listening to that writing mechanism feels incredibly out of touch with the convenience and speed of a modern digital camera. Like most of this technology, it sat within a very specific period of time where consumers were looking for digital solutions. Sony provided that with their Mavica.
As a photography tool, the camera still works well, and it’s primary use is for capturing staged photos of retro technology. Personally, the camera captures an incredibly nostalgic aesthetic, growing up with the rise of digital photography, but it’s a funny look at where the technology was heading. With the ability to record movies and photos in ‘email’ quality, so we could share our images instantly via the web.