Jurassic Tech: Todd O’s Sony Mavica FD71 Circa 1998

This week, our Todd Ogasawara takes us back to 1998 — when he had a floppy based, 10X optical zoom Sony digital camera way far ahead of its time. Check out those pics! Based in Honolulu, Todd’s email is togasawara@aNewDomain.net. Follow him @toddogasawara


The year was 1998. Sony released its 10X optical zoom Sony Mavica FD71 digital camera that summer and it was so way ahead of its time.

Its features included, in addition to the 10x optical zoom, a floppy drive and a 640 x 480 VGA display. These were super rare features in a digital camera back then, especially the 10X zoom.

It seems pricey now, but back then it was a steal with all these cutting edge 1998 features at $699. Totally worth it. I made it my main camera for years.

Even its size was prescient of cameras to come. Check out this photo.


Photo Credit: Todd Ogasawara

Back in 1998, the FD71 was just one of a long line of cameras in Sony’s Mavica  family. And by long, I mean 17 years. The first Mavica was introduced  in 1981.

Now technically, the first Mavica wasn’t a digital camera in the modern sense of the word. It recorded and played back an analog video signal. The FD71 was considered large for a digital camera even in 1998.

You can see from my photos how the 1998 FD71 compares to a 2009 Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3.

Though the FD71 was a fixed-lens camera, notice what looks like a filter on the lens in the two photos above. The FD71 had threads that let it work with any 37mm filter lens. I used to leave a UV filter lens on it all the time to reduce haziness and to provide a bit of protection for the FD71’s lens — for all its perks, it didn’t have a lens cap.



Photo Credit: Todd Ogasawara

The back of the FD71 was not that different from the backs of digital cameras of late. But there were two notable differences: the physical controls to turn off the LCD backlight for power saving and the control for ejecting the disk.

The LCD, as you probably notice from my pics, was a lot smaller than most of us are used to today, too.

Thge side and top-down views will give you a sense of the FD71’s thickness. It was a hefty camera, alright.

One reason for its big dimensions: The FD71 saved its photos to a standard 3.5-inch floppy disk. This feature, along with the then amazing 10x optical zoom, were the reasons I bought the FD71 in the first place.

Why? Well, buying, carrying and potentially losing a CF card were expensive propositions back in 1998. But floppy disks were cheap and easy. I used to carry four or five floppies on me when I traveled and I’d buy more if I needed them.

Using floppies to save digital copies of my photos let me easily import them to any computer that had a floppy disk drive — in 1998, that meant every single PC on the market.

Talk about compatibility.

But then it was over. After a couple of years, the disk drive in the camera went out of alignment. The situation worsened until my PC OS and drives could not read the camera floppies at all. That was sad.

But it was great while it lasted. Here are a few of the photos I took back then on that FD71.


Outdoors in daylight in Denver.


Macro photo


Indoor photo through aquarium glass


Indoors, low light, without zoom


Indoors, low light, 10x optical zoom – that’s Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller in this photo

About the author

Todd Ogasawara

Based in Honolulu, Todd Ogasawara is an IT pro and senior editor focusing on mobile hardware and software for aNewDomain.net. A veteran podcaster and tech journalist, his work has appeared in BYTE, Computer Telephony, Inside Mobile Apps, Microsoft.com, MSN, O'Reilly Media, PC World, Social Times and ThinkMobile. Follow him at @ToddOgasawara. and email him at ToddO@aNewDomain.net

22 Comments

  • I must confess the larger cameras like the Mavica are easier for me to hold as I have large, gangly hands nearly out of proportion with the rest of me. It was a really good camera for its time. I couldn’t help but giggle at the AOL program disk in the drive slot. Two things nearly gone by the wayside.

  • Robert: Glad you got a chuckle out of seeing the AOL floppy disk in one of the photos. I should note that this particular disk is what has actually been sitting in the drive for all these years since I last used the camera. I was a little surprised and amused myself to see it pop out after pressing the eject button.

  • I really loved my Mavica. I can still remember the *sound* it made while writing the photo to the floppy disk drive. People would stair and wonder “what the…” Thanks for bringing back good memories, Todd.

  • The floppy drive in the Mavica always struck me as too weird to consider, but I can see you got great use out of it. And like everyone else I loved the recycled AOL disk.

    • AOL’s free floppies really reduced the storage cost for my FD71. My practice was the retire each floppy after it filled up. The JPEG files were copied off to my PC’s hard drive and a 100MB Zip Drive (a future Jurassic Tech topic 🙂

  • Pre-Jurasic Tech: In 1981, I joined Sony America in New York in Corporate Planning, just after the first Mavica (magnetic video camera) was introduced as a working prototype. One of my jobs, among others, was to take it out, give speeches at industry events, show it to potential users (Time/Life, professional photographers), show it to the press, and analyze how it could be used and what the market potential might be. The 1981 Mavica was analog, not digital, and used a MF (mini floppy) that was the precursor of the disks that are use in many digital cameras today. It soon became evident that the consumer market was not ready for this camera, or rather the camera was not ready for prime time. We eventually marketed it to the professionals. Time magazine used it to send pics from overseas war zones and story sites to their Impact Center in the basement of the Time/Life building. These pictures eventually found their way to their magazines. Crude and tough to do, but the hint of things to come, now thirty years later.

    • Kent: Wow! Thank you for sharing your insider’s view of the first Mavica. If you have the time and inclination, would appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to speak you with for a Jurassic Tech podcast conversation.

    • Kent,

      I had a Mavica camera in the mid 1980s — I don’t recall the model, but it created a standard floppy. Did you know Don Marrow at Sony? I worked with him on a computer there and later at Wordstar.

  • Larry,

    Yes, I knew Don and all his colleagues at Sony in the 80s, although I haven’t seen most of them for years.

    Kent

  • Larry,

    The computer you worked on with Don Marrow was probably the SMC-70, another rare bird from 1981. It was a desktop that came out right after the IBM PC, but it was not DOS compatible. One of my colleagues from Sony who lives in California now still has one. Another oddity by today’s standards was Sony’s first laptop, the Typecorder, that was introduced in 1980. Negroponte claims to have used this machine to create most of the proposals he did for the MIT Media Lab in the early eighties. This is an amazing accomplishment, since you could only view about four or five words at a time on the LCD display and the Typecorder used a micro-cassete audio tape for storage. I had one to play with and demo at Sony, but I never got used to it.

    Kent

  • I have a Mavica camara, I really loved my Mavica, I want to replace flopy system from Movica into Memory card system how can I.

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