Toshiba PDR-M5 digital camera
(Review first posted 3 November, 1999)
||2.14 megapixel sensor, 1600 x 1200 image resolution|
||3x optical zoom lens|
||Unique movie-capture capability!|
||Exceptional low-light performance|
||Exceptional shot-to-shot speed, without "buffering"|
EZ Print Link Design
Readers have requested free-formatted versions of our reviews (without the graphical accouterments of our page design), to make printing easier. We are accommodating this request with special copies of each review, formatted to allow the text flow to be dictated by the browser window. Click here for a print-optimized page.
Toshiba is one of the truly huge players in the world of computers and electronics. When they moved into the digital camera business a little over a year ago, they brought to bear the full force of their engineering and systems-integration talent, the effects of which are only now being fully seen. At the high end of their line, they previously repackaged units designed by other companies under the Toshiba logo, with only minor firmware variations. With the 2 megapixel PDR-M4 though, they stepped out with a camera that WAS entirely "Toshiba inside" (with the sole exception of the CCD itself). In the process, they incorporated some truly impressive processing power, producing the fastest consumer-level digicam on the planet. (A mere 2 seconds from shot to shot at full resolution, all day long or until your memory card fills up!) Other camera attributes are very strong as well, making a strong entry into the 2 megapixel arena. Now, the PDR-M5 builds upon that same platform, adding a 3x optical zoom lens, more camera-like styling, and a very slick "movie" mode that lets you capture minutes-long (depending on the size of your memory card) silent movies that can be played on essentially any computer, emailed, etc. Here's the story of the PDR-M5:
We enjoyed working with the PDR-M5. It's a pleasant camera that's not too complicated for the average consumer, yet not too simplified for more sophisticated users. You get a nice sprinkling of control options without too much hassle, and a clean user interface. The PDR-M5 is relatively compact and lightweight, although not as thin as the earlier PDR-M4 model. In fact, the M5 looks nothing like the M4: Although the lens telescopes out when the camera is turned on, even in the retracted condition the lens assembly protrudes somewhat, requiring a protective lens cap when the camera's not in use. But Toshiba has eased the lens cap hassle somewhat by thoughtfully providing a small strap that ties onto the camera itself.
The large battery compartment makes a convenient hand grip and even features a rubber finger rest on the front to prevent any slipping. Aesthetically, we liked the addition of the pop-up flash and its single-shot operation method that makes working with external strobes more feasible. All the buttons and controls are well placed and we liked the layout of the bottom of the camera, which allows you to remove batteries and SmartMedia while mounted to a tripod(!) We were also happy to see the dioptric adjustment control on the optical viewfinder, which makes life a little easier for eyeglass wearers. Our only ergonomic complaint was over the rubber I/O jack cover, which is difficult to get back into place correctly after use.
We found the optical viewfinder to be a little 'loose,' showing about 75 percent of the actual image in wide angle mode and about 72.5 percent at the telephoto end. The LCD viewfinder was pretty accurate, showing about 90 percent of the final image at both wide angle and telephoto ends.
The 3x optical zoom 7.4 to 22mm lens, equivalent to a 40 to 120mm lens on a standard 35mm camera, offers aperture ranges from F/3.5-5.0 and F/7.6-11. (The variation is a function of zoom setting, the smaller apertures in each range corresponding to the telephoto lens setting.) Focal range extends from approximately 35 inches (90 cm) to infinity for standard mode and from around 12 to 35 inches (25 to 90 cm) in macro mode. We found the autofocus mechanism a bit noisy, which could compromise some candid shooting conditions. The zoom mechanism seems pretty accurate and controllable, not being constrained to a limited number of positions as some are. It did tend to suffer from some "overshoot" when setting it though, a quirk overcome through practice.
We experienced very good exposure control on the PDR-M5. Automatic capture mode is pretty standard, with the camera making all the major exposure decisions. Manual capture mode gives you more control over exposure compensation (+/-1.5 EV in 11 steps), white balance (Auto, Outdoors, Blue Fluorescent, Red Fluorescent and Incandescent), aperture (F/3.5 and F/7.6) and AE/AF lock (top, bottom, left, right and center). In both capture modes, you have control over the flash (Auto, Red-Eye, Forced, Suppressed and Slow Synchro), access to the Bulb, Burst and Multi exposure settings and the Self-Timer and Macro functions. There's also a 2x digital zoom feature, although we recommend taking advantage of the optical zoom for the best quality.
But the exciting and fun feature is the ability to make short movies! (Without sound, of course.) Depending on the available SmartMedia space, the PDR-M5 allows you to record short movies and play them back. Excellent for those times when a simple still just won't capture everything, and a fairly unique feature among digicams. (Also, the movie file format is standard AVI, not MPEG, so most recent-vintage computers will be able to play them back easily.) We were surprised how much fun this feature was: We're not at all the sorts to haul out the camcorder, but the ability to grab short movies with the digicam and email them to friends and relatives is definitely entertaining!
We were glad to see the return of the Bulb exposure mode that we first saw in the PDR-M4, which actually takes two pictures when you release the shutter. The first is your subject and the second exposure catches the back of the shutter, which the camera then subtracts from the first image of the subject. This second 'dark calibration' shot eliminates the usual 'stuck pixel' problems you see in most digital camera time exposures as well as a good deal of the noise usually encountered with very long exposure times.
About the only shortcoming we saw with the PDR-M5 was battery consumption. While it runs about the same as most two megapixel digicams when using the LCD, we found the consumption higher than other digicams when the PDR-M5's LCD display was turned off. The unit we received included a second battery in the box (a nice touch), but we later heard that this was special promotional packaging, and the standard unit will ship with a single battery. - We highly recommend purchasing a second as backup for longer excursions.
Thank you, Toshiba, for the inclusion of a USB cable! (Now iMac users don't have to purchase an additional adapter.) Other manufacturers have been very slow to adopt this interface type. An accompanying CD includes Image Expert for downloading and correcting your images, a USB driver and QuickTime for playing back movies. You can also connect to your television set with the included cable, where you can view and even compose images as the TV acts like an extension of the LCD monitor.
With its 3x optical zoom, manageable exposure control and movie capability, the PDR-M5 is an excellent camera for tooling around and capturing life's more capricious moments. It has a nice combination of technical sophistication and user friendly interfaces.
The silver, all plastic body of the PDR-M5 makes it a relatively portable unit, weighing in at approximately 11.3 oz (320g) without the battery, accessories and SmartMedia. It's not the slimmest, trimmest of the digicams, but is somewhat compact at 5.1 x 3.1 x 2.76 inches (130 x 78 x 70mm). It could conceivably fit into a large coat pocket or a medium sized purse. And the accompanying neck strap gives you another carrying option. An advantage of the bulk is that its contoured grip fits very comfortably into your hand, and a single-handed grip feels very secure.
The front of the camera is pretty basic, with the lens taking up the majority of the space. When the mode dial is placed on either of the capture modes, the lens extends from its compartment, retracting again when the camera is turned. The optical viewfinder window, flash control sensor and self-timer lamp are also up front. As noted, the battery compartment makes a nice hand grip with its soft rubber finger rest.
The back of the camera is where all the action is. The optical viewfinder is deep-set in a black, plastic casing which also houses the status display panel. A soft blue-green light illuminates the status display when any of the buttons are pushed, great when shooting in dark conditions. A dioptric adjustment sliding switch for the optical viewfinder and all the camera controls are on the back panel as well as the LCD monitor. The mode dial slants down from the top, just beside the optical zoom controls. More than most cameras, the control layout makes it feasible to operate the PDR-M5 with one hand.
The SmartMedia slot lives on the side of the camera beneath the mode dial, with an intricately shaped door that matches the smooth contours of the camera body when it snaps shut. It also has a sliding lock that pops it open.
On the opposite side of the camera are the video, DC and digital jacks, protected by a soft rubber cover that we found a little difficult to re-seat when closing. It's a nice idea, because it provides a reasonably weather tight seal, but it suffers in the implementation as you can spend a fair bit of time trying to get it back in properly.
The top of the camera holds the pop-up flash and shutter button. There are also two strap attachments for the neck and lens cap straps.
We greatly appreciated the design of the bottom of the camera as the positioning of the battery compartment and tripod mount gives you the freedom to change batteries while mounted to the tripod. The tripod mount is quite nice, despite its plastic construction, and the camera has a good, flat bottom. Together with the central location of the tripod socket, this produces a very stable tripod mount. Also, the design is such that you can remove both the SmartMedia card and the battery without disturbing your tripod setup. Very nice for studio work!
The PDR-M5 offers both an optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor to aid in image composition. Set into a large plastic mount, we found the real image optical viewfinder to be rather 'loose,' one of the least accurate we've tested. It actually shows 75 percent of the final image area at the wide angle setting and 72.5 percent at the telephoto end. This means that the camera captures quite a bit more image than what you can see in the viewfinder. The view is biased toward the bottom of the frame, resulting in images that are off-center by about 10 percent toward the top of the subject. The rather high eyepoint of the viewfinder helps eyeglass wearers, but does remain somewhat sensitive to lateral eye position, making centering a little problematic. The dioptric correction for the optical viewfinder is a nice bonus for eyeglass wearers that many manufacturers neglect.
We found the 1.8 inch amorphous silicon, 122,320 pixel TFT LCD finder to be reasonably accurate, showing about 90 percent of the final image at both wide angle and telephoto focal lengths. The view in the LCD is slightly off-center vertically, a condition exacerbated by an outer bezel on the LCD display that crops it top and bottom. For exact framing, we found ourselves peering up under the silkscreened border on the Plexiglas bezel to try to see the very top of the LCD display itself. This approach is somewhat limited though, because the furthest reaches of the LCD end up at a pretty extreme viewing angle, causing the display to largely gray out when viewed that way. We're really a bit baffled on this one from a design standpoint. (We can't understand why the silkscreening on the Plexiglas display cover wasn't simply kept further back from the edges of the LCD frame.) The LCD monitor is easily disabled by hitting the Display button (once for the information to disappear, twice for the image to disappear and a third time brings back both).
In Playback mode, the playback zoom mode works especially nicely, with smooth scrolling around the image and a little position indicator in the lower right hand corner to tell you where you are in the image. This is by far the best, most intuitive implementation of "zoomed" playback we've seen to date.
The PDR-M5 offers a 3x optical zoom, 7.4 to 22mm lens, the equivalent of a 40 to 120mm lens on a standard 35mm camera. Aperture ranges from F/3.5-5.0 and F/7.6-11 and the focal range extends from approximately 35 inches (90 cm) to infinity for standard mode and from around 12 to 35 inches (25 to 90 cm) in macro mode. (The variation is a function of zoom setting, the smaller apertures in each range corresponding to the telephoto lens setting.)
The PDR-M5 has a rather noisy autofocus mechanism, making a sort of rattling noise as it focuses. Although we didn't comment on it in the earlier review, it is somewhat reminiscent of the lens on the PDR-M3 in this respect. This isn't an issue in most shooting conditions, but could blow your cover if you're trying to shoot candids. The zoom mechanism seems pretty accurate and controllable, not being constrained to a limited number of positions as some are. It did tend to suffer from some "overshoot" when setting it though, a quirk overcome through practice. (If you're trying for precise framing, the trick is to get close to your desired focal length, and then "nudge" the lens to the right setting by pressing the zoom control very briefly.)
We found optical distortion to be about average, with the lens showing 0.9 percent barrel distortion at wide angle and 0.65 percent at telephoto setting. Chromatic aberration is almost non-existent, but there is a noticeable lens flare at the edges of the frame in the blue channel only. Some might confuse this with chromatic aberration, but strictly speaking, it isn't, although the effect is much the same. (Chromatic aberration is visible as a bluish fringe on dark objects at the edges of the frame in the resolution test images).
While Toshiba hasn't advertised the feature, the PDR-M5 is equipped to accept auxiliary lenses, by virtue of a largish set of body threads at the base of the lens. These are very large diameter external threads, which we view as being a little bit of good news/bad news. The good news is that there will undoubtedly be macro, telephoto and wide angle adapters available for the camera and the large thread diameter should make for a pretty sturdy mounting. The bad news is that because the threads are external (that is, exposed to the outside world), they could be prone to damage if the camera is bumped against anything. Then again, any bump hard enough to damage the threads is also likely to cause problems for the rest of the camera as. Also, the large lens cap grips these threads when it's in place, thus protecting both the lens and the threads.
The PDR-M5 has good exposure control. In both auto and manual capture mode, you have the option of Standard (ISO 100), +1 (ISO 200), +2 (ISO 400) and Black & White, giving you a variety of exposure options both for lower light settings, or for increasing shutter speeds for action shooting. The shutter speed is automatically controlled from 1/2 to 1/1,000 seconds but manually controlled under the Bulb setting from one to eight seconds. Combined with the previously-mentioned lens apertures, these specifications should translate into a usable lighting range of 3.5EV to 22 EV, using our previous terminology, or 0.1 to 32,000 foot-candles (1 to 350,000 lux).
In our own tests, we found the PDR-M5 very functional down to about EV 6, or more properly, 0.5 foot-candles or 5.5 lux. It even managed marginal exposures down to EV 5 (0.25 foot-candles, 2.8 lux). At the 0.25 foot-candle level, however, images showed a strong color shift to magenta. This is really dark though! - At 0.25 foot-candles, we're literally having a hard time finding our way around the studio, and usually turn the room lights on, rather than risk stumbling into things! For comparison, a well-lit night street scene is generally about 1 foot-candle overall, about two full EV units (f-stops for us old-timers) brighter. - This camera will do a *very* good job capturing images of typical night scenes populated by people. (If the people can see, the PDR-M5 should be able to see them.)
The PDR-M5's low light performance is helped considerably by the dark noise calibration feature we first noted in the PDR-M4. In Bulb exposure mode, the camera actually takes two pictures each time you snap the shutter. The first is a picture of your subject, while the second is a picture of the back of the shutter, which the camera then subtracts from the image of the subject. This second 'dark calibration' shot pretty much eliminates the usual 'stuck pixel' problems you see in most digital camera time exposures as well as a good deal of the noise usually encountered with very long exposure times. The net result is that the PDR-M5 does well with extremely dim lighting. (This is such a slick and seemingly obvious approach that we're surprised someone hasn't implemented it before now. Perhaps one clue as to why it took te PDR-M4 and -M5 to do this is hinted at by their very fast shot-to-shot cycle times: They have much more powerful processing chips in them than are common in digicams, giving them the horsepower to handle the level of processing such dark-current calibration requires.) However, the PDR-M5 isn't completely perfect in this respect. We found that the lowest light shots showed a very pronounced magenta cast and it didn't seem that the camera was actuating its autofocus mechanism at levels of 0.5 foot-candles or below. (The studio images were reasonably focused, but we didn't actually hear the autofocus mechanism operating).
Finally, the camera will refuse to take Bulb exposures in light levels below about 1 foot-candle unless the variable ISO control is boosted to its +2 setting (ISO 400). Overall though, the PDR-M5 probably takes the crown among the current (October, 1999) crop of digicams, when it comes to low light operation!
The PDR-M5's pop-up flash is easily released by sliding the flash release lever on top of the camera. The 'single pop' design of the on-board strobe emits only a single flash in its normal (non red-eye) modes. This is nice in that it makes it more feasible to use the PDR-M5 with external strobes, triggered by a standard 'slave trigger.' (Cameras that emit a pre-flash for metering require special slave units that can trigger off the second, main flash of the strobe, rather than the metering pre-flash.)
You control the flash mode via the Flash button on the back panel, just above the LCD monitor. Five modes are available: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed and Slow Synchro. Auto puts the camera in control of judging light conditions, Red-Eye Reduction emits a pre-flash before firing the full flash, Forced means the flash always fires, Suppressed means it never fires and Slow Synchro combines the flash with slow shutter speeds. (Slow Synchro is perfect for night or backlit subjects, as it lets more of the ambient light into the picture, brightening backgrounds, and giving a more natural appearance.)
The PDR-M5 does feature a 2x digital zoom function in addition to the 3x optical zoom. Just press the up or down arrows on the rocker toggle button to activate it in either capture mode. Note that the image size is fixed at 800 x 600 pixels - Like all digital zooms, the one on the PDR-M5 gains magnification by trading away resolution, cropping into the central portion of the CCD's image. This mode will be very useful for lower-resolution images destined for the web or other electronic display, but the results will be less usable for printing.
You can access the PDR-M5's macro function by pressing the Macro button on the back panel (marked with the standard flower symbol). In this mode, the camera can focus on subjects from 12 to 35 inches (25 to 90 cm) and the LCD monitor automatically turns on. Forced and Suppressed are the only flash modes available with macro photography. (There's really no need for red-eye, unless you're photographing leprechauns, and slow-synchro is also not likely to be needed.)
The PDR-M5's self-timer function (accessed via the Self-Timer button) gives you an option of either two or 10 seconds before firing the shutter. Depending on the amount of time selected, the self-timer LED (on the front of the camera) lights red and then flashes as the shutter release nears. If the LCD monitor is on, a countdown will be displayed. The timer can also be used in conjunction with the Movie exposure setting, so you can get in on that action too. Besides allowing time to get yourself into the picture, we've always found self-timer mode very useful for reducing camera shake with the camera mounted on a tripod. On the PDR-M5, because Macro is an entirely separate mode (selected by a separate button), you can use self-timer in conjunction with the Macro setting, avoiding jiggling your tripod or copy stand when making macro photos.
This mode lets you take continuous photographs at a maximum of 0.25 second intervals. Depending on the photographic conditions, you can take up to four 1600 x 1200 pixel images or up to 16 800 x 600 images continuously. The images aren't immediately stored to the SmartMedia. Instead, once you've completed shooting, the camera lets you review the images and select which ones to save. (Golf/tennis swing analysis, anyone')
This exposure mode opens and closes the shutter 16 times at approximately 0.25 second intervals and saves the images as a single 1600 x 1200 image. Note that the flash is not available in Multi exposure mode and photographs cannot be taken at Half size (800 x 600), although you can select from any of the three image-quality (compression) settings. As in Burst mode, the photography conditions determine the timing intervals between exposures. The neat thing with "multi" images is that they'll play back as little mini-movies on the PDR-M5's LCD screen in playback mode. To activate this "mini movie" playback, just get the frame containing the small 16-up images in it, and hit the telephoto end of the Zoom control. This normally activates zoomed playback, but on Multi-mode images, it'll play back the 16-frame sequence in real time, at full size on the LCD screen.
The PDR-M5's Bulb exposure mode is great for taking very long exposures in dark situations. You can choose from one, two, four and eight second exposure times, controlled through the settings menu. As we mentioned earlier, the camera actually takes two pictures each time you snap the shutter in the Bulb exposure mode. The first captures the subject, and the second takes a picture with the shutter closed. Since the image should be completely black when the shutter is closed, the camera assumes that anything it "sees" there is noise, which then subtracts from the image of the subject. This greatly reduces image noise and "stuck" pixels.
A fun feature of the PDR-M5 is the ability to make small movies of a few seconds duration (without sound, of course). As soon as you set this option, the maximum record time for your chosen image size and quality level appears on the status display. If the 8MB card provided with the PDR-M5 is empty, you'll be able to record movies anywhere from 30 to 120 seconds in length, depending on the size and quality level you choose. The operation is simple. Just press the shutter button to start recording, and press it again to stop. The movies playback pretty seamlessly in Playback mode and they can be downloaded as standard AVI files to your computer for playback there. The same image-quality button that selects high or low resolution and low, medium, or high quality in still photography mode has the same effect on captured movies. The only difference is that a "large" movie is only 320x240 pixels in size, while a "small" movie is 160x120. Large-size movies play back on the PDR-M5's LCD screen full-frame (completely filling the LCD), while small-size ones display in a cropped window.
To start recording a movie, we found you need to hold down the shutter button long enough for the lens to autofocus. Once the movie is recording, the available-time indicator turns red and starts decrementing, showing the time left. When you switch to playback mode, a movie file appears as a thumbnail-sized images of its first frame. NOTE that movies are stored in a separate "movies" folder on the memory card! When you have "Movie" selected in the record setup menu, you'll automatically end up viewing the contents of the "Movie" folder on the SmartMedia card. When you're set to any other capture mode though, you'll see the contents of the default folder instead. This stumped us at first, making us think we'd lost our movie files when we switched back to "Still" recording mode. The "Folder" option in the Playback mode setup menu lets you switch between memory card folders at any time, regardless of the current record-mode settings.
To play back a movie, use the rocker toggle control to position the animated green/white border over the thumbnail for the movie you want to view. Press the center of the rocker to view it full screen. The up-arrow starts the movie playing, while the down-arrow stops it. The right and left arrows let you step forward and back a frame at a time, or play normally if they're held down.
Overall, we were surprised by the new dimension motion added to our enjoyment of the camera. While it certainly won't turn you into a cinematographer, the PDR-M5's mini-movies are a great addition to the digital picture-taking experience. We particularly appreciated the standard AVI file format, which made the resulting movies readily viewable on either Macs or PCs. We've reviewed cameras in the past that had "movie" capabilities, but they generally were much more limited in the length of the movies they could record. Definitely a fun feature!
The PDR-M5 gives you five options for white balance: Auto, Outdoors, Blue Fluorescent, Red Fluorescent and Incandescent. These are only selectable in Manual capture mode. (Auto capture mode always uses auto white balance.)
Exposure Compensation (EV)
In Manual capture mode, the PDR-M5 gives you 11 EV increments to adjust the exposure from +1.5 to -1.5. For special situations such as spotlit subjects or copying printed text, the manual provides some guidelines for adjusting the EV value. (This is a bit wider range than other Toshiba cameras we've tested, which generally only went down to -0.9EV in the downward direction. - A welcome enhancement.)
AF / AE Area
Finally, the PDR-M5 gives you some options for shifting the AE and AF evaluation target area in Manual capture mode. With the default at center, you can move the target up, down, to the right and to the left. This is really helpful for off center subjects, and absolutely unique among all the digicams we've tested to date (October, 1999).
Shutter Lag / Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time allows the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it. (Using an electronic timebase, digital counter, and a pressure-switch trigger on the camera's shutter button.)
Shutter lag time with full auto focus ranges from 0.9 - 1.2 seconds, a bit slower than much of the field, while shutter lag with prefocus (half press of shutter button before the actual exposure itself) is 0.3 seconds, about average. The PDR-M5 (like the PDR-M4 before it) is very fast shot-to-shot, thanks to an exceptionally fast processor chip. Our measured shot-to-shot cycle times varied somewhat, depending on how hard the autofocus system was having to work, but was in the range of 1.5 - 3.0 seconds, and frequently 2.0 seconds or under. This is very impressive! Cycle times were not measurably affected by image resolution, as we obtained virtually identical numbers for full res/maximum quality as for half res/minimum quality. In Burst and Multi exposure modes, the camera grabbed successive frames at a rate of four frames per second, while the Movie mode produced a frame rate of roughly 11 frames per second.
From a "cold start" (camera turned off), it takes about 5.6 seconds to take the first picture. Switching from record to playback takes about 2.5 seconds, while the change from playback to the first picture about 2.2 seconds.
The PDR-M5 has a pretty uncomplicated user interface, with all the controls clearly labeled and well placed. One handed operation is a bit of a stretch but could conceivably be done. Menus are well navigable and laid out sensibly, so there's no guesswork. Let's look at each button individually:
Located on the top right of the camera, very smooth and silver. When halfway pressed, sets focus and/or exposure (depending on capture mode) and fires the shutter when fully pressed.
Located on top of the camera, slanting somewhat towards the back panel. The dial features a notched rubber bezel, giving fingertips a good grip. The dial controls the mode of the camera with these options:
puts camera into Manual capture mode, giving you some exposure control.
puts camera into Automatic capture mode, letting the camera set exposure.
turns the camera off.
allows you to view recorded images.
allows the camera to download images to a computer.
allows you to change the camera's setup options.
Located just beside the Mode Dial, marked with a 'T' for telephoto and 'W' for wide angle. In Manual and Automatic capture modes, controls the optical zoom.
Located directly beneath the status display panel and marked with a black flash symbol. In both Automatic and Manual capture modes, this button controls the flash mode (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced, Suppressed and Slow Synchro).
Image Quality Button
Located just to the left of the Flash button and marked with a "dissolving square" icon. In either capture mode, this button selects between Full (1600 x 1200) and Half (800 x 600) pixel sizes for each quality setting (Fine, Normal and Basic). You cycle through all available resolution/quality settings by pressing the button multiple times.
Located directly to the left of the Quality button and indicated by a black self-timer symbol. In either capture mode, this button activates the self-timer function and cancels it as well.
Dioptric Adjustment Switch
Located directly beneath the optical viewfinder. This adjusts the optical viewfinder to accommodate eyeglass wearers, or others who are either near- or far-sighted.
Rocker Toggle Button
Located to the right of the LCD monitor, this button is marked with four arrows (one in each direction) and the word 'Enter' engraved in the center.
- In Automatic, Manual, Playback and Setup modes, the arrow buttons navigate
through menus and the Enter function confirms menu options.
- In Automatic and Manual capture modes, the up and down arrows control the
2x digital zoom.
- In Playback mode, the right and left buttons scroll through recorded images.
Located beneath the rocker toggle button and marked with the word 'Menu.'
- In Automatic, Manual and Playback modes, accesses and dismisses the settings menu.
Located to the right of the Menu button and marked 'Disp.'
- In Automatic and Manual capture modes, controls the LCD monitor display
(hit once eliminates the information display, hit twice eliminates the image
and a third time recalls both).
- In Playback mode, displays the pixel size, date and time of the image on
Located underneath the Menu button and marked with a black flower symbol.
- In Automatic and Manual capture modes, activates or cancels the Macro exposure mode.
Located beside the Macro button and marked with a black trash can symbol.
- In Automatic and Manual capture modes, gives you the option of deleting
the last image captured.
- In Playback mode, erases the currently displayed image. If held down for two seconds, gives the option to erase one image, all or to format the SmartMedia.
Flash Release Button
Located on top of the camera, right beside the pop-up flash. This releases the flash from its compartment.
Camera Modes and Menus
Manual Capture Mode
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the red camera symbol accented by a red 'M.' This mode gives you control over the exposure settings. Pressing the Menu button in this mode gives you the following options:
- Record Mode: selects between One Shot, Burst, Multi, Bulb and Movie
- Preview: turns image preview on and off.
- ISO: selects ISO variables from Standard (100), +1 (200), +2 (400)
and Black & White.
- Sharpness: selects image sharpness between Normal, Soft and Hard.
- Bulb: sets the Bulb exposure time at one, two, four or eight seconds.
- Self-Timer: sets the self-timer at either two or 10 seconds.
- LCD: sets the LCD brightness.
Automatic Capture Mode
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the lone red camera symbol. This mode puts the camera in control of exposure settings. Hitting the Menu button in this mode pulls up the same record settings menu as in Manual mode.
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the green playback symbol. This mode lets you play back saved images as well as erase them. Here, you can also format the SmartMedia. Pressing the Menu button in this mode brings up the following options:
- Folder: selects the folder to play back.
- Slide: activates the slide show player.
- Protect: write protects individual images.
- Resize: changes image size from 1600 x 1200 to 800 x 600.
- Quality: compresses an individual image to half its size (increases
- Copy: copies images from one SmartMedia card to another.
- LCD: adjusts the LCD brightness.
Accessed by turning the mode dial to the black transfer symbol. This mode allows you to connect to a computer and transfer images.
When the mode dial is turned to the Setup position, the settings menu immediately appears on the LCD display with the following options:
- Auto-off: sets the auto-off time at one, two or three minutes.
- Sound: turns camera sound on and off.
- Time: sets the camera date and time.
- Language: sets the menu language to English or Japanese.
- Screen: sets the screen background to white or green.
- Image Number: resets image numbering.
- Default: returns all camera setup options to factory defaults.
Image Storage and Interface
The PDR-M5 utilizes SmartMedia as its image storage medium, a format which can be repeatedly read and written to. An 8MB card comes with the camera, but you can purchase additional cards in 2, 4, 16 and 32 MB sizes. You can also purchase a PC card or floppy disk adapter for quick image transferal.
SmartMedia is easily write protected by placing a write protection sticker over the designated area on the card. Likewise, removing the sticker disables write protection. Remember that these stickers can only be used once and write protection may fail if the sticker gets dirty. To protect individual images, the settings menu in Playback mode gives you an image protect option. Protected images are denoted by a key symbol beneath the image. Protection can be removed through the same process.
The PDR-M5 organizes captured images into storage folders. When the SmartMedia card is formatted, it automatically creates a folder entitled 100TOSHI. Data from photographed still images is recorded to this folder and cannot be changed. Movies are recorded to a separate folder indicated by a movie camera symbol. Once the image number reaches 9999, a new folder (101TOSHI) is automatically created. When there are two or more xxxTOSHI folders, the playback folder default is the folder assigned the largest xxx value. You can change the playback folder through the settings menu in Playback mode.
Reducing image size saves memory and allows you to continue taking more pictures. Half sized images (800 x 600 pixels), images taken in the Multi mode, protected images and images from another camera cannot be resized. While in Playback mode you have the option of selecting which 1600 x 1200 images you want to resize and are given the option to reconsider before executing the command.
Another option for space saving lies in compressing images (images already in Basic quality, images from another camera and protected images cannot be compressed, nor can you compress images on write protected SmartMedia). Compress images in Playback mode, also through the settings menu. The quality setting will be noted under each image by the number of stars (three for Fine, two for Normal, one for Basic).
The PDR-M5 allows you to copy an image from one SmartMedia card to another. The Copy function is also selectable in the Playback menu while in Playback mode. Select the image to copy and press Enter (you can cancel a selection here as well). Repeat the procedure to copy two or more images. If you execute the copy, a Change Card message will appear, allowing you to remove the old SmartMedia card and replace it with a new one. Follow the menu prompts and select OK when finished. Don't remove the SmartMedia card (except when indicated) or turn the camera off during the copying procedure to avoid damaging the card. You'll be prompted to press Enter once copying is complete and can exit the Playback menu by hitting the Menu button.
You can erase images in either Playback or Automatic and Manual photography modes. When in Playback, use the arrow buttons to select the image and hit the Erase button on the back panel. You'll be asked to confirm this decision. Protected images cannot be erased, nor can images on write protected SmartMedia. When in Automatic or Manual photography modes, hit the Erase button and it selects the last image taken. Again, you are asked to confirm this decision.
In addition to erasing individual images with the Erase button, you can also erase an entire folder in either Automatic, Manual or Playback mode. Simply hold down the trash can button for two seconds. The Erase menu appears with the options of erasing one frame or all images or to format the SmartMedia. But even if all the images in a folder are erased, the folder itself cannot be erased unless you format the SmartMedia.
Still Image 8MB Card Capacity, Compression Ratios
|Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity||
Movie Image 8MB Card Capacity, Compression Ratios
|Resolution/Quality vs Image Capacity||
For its computer interface, the PDR-M5 uses the very fast USB (universal serial bus) connection. Like all the USB devices we've tested thus far, connection and software installation was a breeze. The one odd note that we encountered is that it takes the computer an appreciable period of time (about 25-30 seconds) to recognize the camera once it is connected to the USB port and switched to "connect" mode. Once recognized though, it shows up in Windows Explorer as just another disk drive, and you can copy file from it as you would any other disk device. Transfer times are very fast: We clocked a 3.6 megabyte multi-file transfer at only 7 seconds, a data-transfer rate of a bit over 500 Kbytes per second. This is 50 to 100 times faster than we commonly measure for digicams connected via serial ports, a very welcome speed increase indeed!
The PDR-M5 comes with an NTSC video cable for connecting to a television set. You can view recorded images as well as compose new ones, using the television set as an extension of the LCD monitor. Note that live images will appear less clear than playback images because they are displayed at a lower resolution.
The PDR-M5's power consumption is about typical of most two megapixel digicams when using the LCD, but we found the consumption higher than other digicams when the PDR-M5's LCD display was turned off. If you're on an extended excursion, you'll be able to increase battery life considerably by turning the camera completely off between shots. (Interestingly enough, the power drain of the PDR-M5 is actually noticeably reduced, relative to that of the earlier PDR-M4-Technology marches on!) The PDR-M5 uses a small LiIon rechargeable battery, providing 1100 mAh of capacity at 3.6 volts. As it turns out, this provides less power than you'd think, based on the 1100 mAh rating. (Typical NiMH AA cells provide about 1300 mAh). The problem has to do with the total amount of energy provided, taking into account the lower cell voltage. Total energy in the PDR-M5's battery is 1100 mAh x 3.6 volts, or 3.76 watt-hours.
By contrast, a set of 4 AA NiMH cells packs 1300 mAh x 4.8 volts, or 6.24 watt-hours, roughly 65 percent more. Combined with its moderately high power drain, this translates into a somewhat shorter battery life for the PDR-M5, so we strongly recommend buying a couple of extra batteries to carry along with you. The LiIon rechargeables have an advantage over NiMH cells, in that they don't 'self-discharge.' This means you can keep a couple of them in your camera bag and they won't lose significant charge for fairly long periods of time. (Maybe a month or so'). Our evaluation unit arrived in packaging containing an extra battery, but we've been told this was a special promotional bundle, and the standard will be one battery per camera. We strongly recommend you purchase a second. (A good idea with ANY digicam to have more than one set of batteries, regardless of the type used!)
The PDR-M5's power consumption is as follows:
|Capture Mode, w/LCD||
|Capture Mode, no LCD||
|Half-pressed shutter w/LCD||
|Half-pressed w/o LCD||
|Memory Write (transient)||
|Flash Recharge (transient)||
1750 mA with LCD(!)
The PDR-M5 comes with a serial cable, USB cable, Macintosh adapter and software CD which includes a USB driver, Image Expert and QuickTime. All software is compatible with both Windows 98, 95 and NT 4.0 as well as Macintosh OS 8.1 and higher. The Image Expert software downloads the images from the camera and allows you to perform some minor image corrections (brightness, color, saturation, sharpness, etc.). QuickTime gives you the medium to play back the movies you recorded.
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings: For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the PDR-M5's "pictures" page.
As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed: Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the PDR-M5 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying
Overall, the PDR-M5 is a competent performer, with resolution, color, and tonal range about in the middle of the 2 megapixel field. It's greatest strengths all derive from its unusually powerful processor, which makes possible such features as its incredible 2 second shot-to-shot cycle time, movie recording mode, and its exceptional low-light performance. If your application requires it, any one of these features could be enough to justify the camera all by itself: The cycle time is the fastest of any camera we've tested to date (October, 1999), and isn't limited by buffer memory concerns: You can shoot at that rate until the memory card is full. Likewise, the movie feature is unique among cameras we've tested. Finally, its low-light capability is about the best we've found, with no "stuck pixels" at any exposure time, thanks to Toshiba's clever processing.
The PDR-M5's resolution tested out at 700 line per picture height in the horizontal direction, and ~600-625 lines in the vertical, levels we'd consider "average" for 2 megapixel digicams. The lens shows some barrel distortion at the wide angle end of its setting, decreasing at the telephoto end. Chromatic aberration was essentially non-existent at the telephoto end of the lens range, and there was only slight blue-channel flare at the wide angle end.
The optical viewfinder is rather "loose", showing only 73-75% of the final image area, but the LCD finder is much better, at about 90% of the final area.
The PDR-M5 isnt an extremely complicated camera but its not overly simplified either. Its strongest point is probably its exceptional shot-to-shot speed, which frees you from worrying about whether the camera will be ready for the next shot or not. (This is a seemingly subtle point that makes a huge difference in how "cameralike" a digicam feels.) The combination of a 3x optical zoom lens, good exposure control, and movie capability makes it an excellent choice for vacations, documentary photography, or just plain fun. (Kids really get a kick out of the movie thing. :-) Also, if you're looking for a camera with excellent low-light capture ability, the unique "no bad pixels" technology of the PDR-M5 can't be beat.
Reader Sample Images!
Do you have a PDR-M5 camera? If you'll post an album of your samples on one of the photo-sharing services and email us at email@example.com, we'll list the album here for others to see!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Toshiba PDR-M5, or add comments of your own!