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Toshiba PDR-M81

Toshiba steps into the 4-megapixel arena with a value-priced, full-featured model.

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 08/24/2001

Executive Overview
Neatly housed in an all-plastic body, the PDR-M81 is a significant update to Toshiba's already established digicam line. The PDR-M81 has all the features we enjoyed in the previous PDR-M70, but with a larger, 4.2-megapixel CCD and full manual exposure control. The PDR-M81 is compact at 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches (107 x 71 x 47mm), barely fitting into an average shirt pocket. It's also very lightweight, at only 8.5 ounces (340 grams), and comes with a small carrying case and wrist strap. (We'd actually prefer a bit more "heft" to the camera, as its plastic body gives it a somewhat cheap feel.)

The PDR-M81 offers a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor for composing images, The LCD monitor's detailed information display includes exposure information, camera settings, battery power, and even a small histogram for double checking your exposure. A Canon 2.8x zoom lens is built into the camera, with a focal length extending from 7.25-20.3mm (equivalent to a 35-98mm lens on a 35mm camera). Focus is automatically controlled from 31 inches (80cm) to infinity in normal mode, and from 4 inches to 2.62 feet (10 to 80cm) in Macro mode. Three fixed-focus settings are available via the Focus button (which also accesses the Macro mode), and include one meter, three meters, and infinity settings. A digital zoom function increases the camera's zoom range by 2.2x (just remember that digital zoom generally decreases image quality).

When it comes to exposure, the PDR-M81 provides as much or as little control as you need. In the Automatic record mode, you can choose fully automatic exposure, or select from a handful of Scene exposure modes (Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night, and Multi-Shot). While the Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night modes deal with specific shooting situations, Multi-Shot mode would be useful in any situation where you need to capture fast-changing action, and where speed is more important than resolution. Multi-Shot mode captures a series of 16 small (600 x 400-pixel) images at intervals of approximately 0.13 seconds (7.5 frames per second), which are saved as one 2,400 x 1,600-pixel image (good for creating timelines of moving subjects).

Under the Manual record mode, you have the greatest control over exposure. Here, you can choose from Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes. In Program AE, the camera maintains control over aperture and shutter speed, while the user controls other variables such as ISO, White Balance, etc. In Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, the user controls aperture or shutter speed, while the camera selects the most appropriate corresponding exposure variable. Manual mode gives the user complete control over both. Apertures are adjustable from f/2.9 to f/8, and shutter speeds range from 1/1,000 to 15 seconds.

By default, the camera determines exposure using the Multi metering system, which measures light across the entire frame, but a Spot metering option is also available. Sensitivity is adjustable to ISO equivalents of 100, 200, and 400. You can lighten or darken the exposure by adjusting the exposure compensation from -2 to +2 exposure values (EV) in one-half step increments. White Balance is also manually adjustable, with six settings to match a variety of light sources. The PDR-M81 also provides Color, Contrast, and Sharpness adjustments.

An Autoexposure Bracketing mode captures three images at different exposures (-0.5, 0.0, and -0.5 EV), allowing you to choose the best exposure from the set. In Burst Photography mode, the PDR-M81 captures three images in quick succession (at approximately 0.8-second intervals), from which you can choose which image(s) to keep. (Actual frame rates vary with image size and quality, as well as the amount of image information being recorded and the shutter speed.) For self-portraits, the PDR-M81 offers two- and 10-second Self-Timer modes, controlled by a button on top of the camera. There's also a Movie mode that captures moving images with sound at 320 x 240- or 160 x 120-pixel resolution sizes.

The PDR-M81 saves images in one of three resolutions (2,400 x 1,600-, 1,200 x 800-, and 720 x 480-pixels), with three JPEG compression levels available (Fine, Normal, and Basic). Images are saved to SmartMedia cards, and an 8MB card is included with the camera. A software CD contains USB drivers and interface software for downloading images, and a USB cable connects the camera to a PC or Macintosh computer. An AV cable (NTSC for US and Japanese models, PAL for European models) connects the PDR-M81 to a television set, which can be used for image composition or playback. For power, the PDR-M81 requires four AA alkaline, NiMH, or lithium batteries (four alkaline batteries are supplied with the camera), or the optional AC adapter, which is available as an accessory.

With an updated user interface, larger CCD, and full manual exposure control, we're quite pleased with the new PDR-M81. It's a great digicam for novices who want to learn more by incrementally increasing the amount of user control, and it has enough features to keep more advanced consumers interested.

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