Toshiba PDR-3310 Review

Steve's Digicams

Steve's Conclusion

The PDR-3310 is Toshiba's 3.2-megapixel entry into the mini-digicam market. It has a 3x zoom lens and a stylish and durable titanium case. This camera is designed to be a "pocketable" automatic with some manual control options. Introductory pricing is $499 as of May, 2002.

When powered up the lens extends and it's ready to take the first picture in about 7 seconds. Shooting in "SuperFine" size mode, the camera processes and stores an image in less than 14 seconds but it can snap another picture before the last one is completely processed. This makes the shot-to-shot cycle time about 5 seconds or less. The total shutter lag (time from pressing shutter to actually capturing) is less than two seconds. These times are with the flash disabled and in single shot mode. There is no sequence mode to reduce these generally slower than normal times. If you do the usual half-press of the shutter and wait for the green focus light it will average about 1/2 second which is quicker than most. When powered down the lens is protected by a built-in lens cover.

The PDR-3310 is powered by a small proprietary 3.6v 900mAh battery pack called the PDR- BT9 that will operate the camera for about 100 images, 1/2 flash with the LCD on and, after recharge will operate for 50 minutes in playback. The battery is almost the width and length of the camera, about the size of two sticks of chewing gum stacked up. The problem with a proprietary battery is that you can not use any kind of "off the shelf" battery if it dies on you out in the field. So the wise owner will immediately buy a second battery and keep it charged and ready. Toshiba supplies an external power adapter for charging the battery in the camera. It takes about 5 hours to fully charge a depleted pack which is considerably longer than many of its competitors.

The physical size and weight of the PDR-3310 allows it be carried in your hand or by the wrist strap all day without fatigue. It's what I'd call a shirt pocket / purse size camera but it is a little fatter in comparison to some of other mini-digicams. The placement of the mode lever, shutter release and LCD display are all very ergonomic, the zoom lens control is right where it should be and is easily actuated by your thumb. The image quality, movie mode, and selftimer require the use of the color LCD and the menu system. Once the self timer is set, it stays active until it's turned off. This is very handy when you are attempting to take a series of longer exposures on a tripod or several group shots in a row.

There is no shutter priority mode but you can set a long time exposure (2,4,8 sec's) for night shots and the camera will set the appropriate aperture. Aperture priority mode is limited to only two specific apertures, wide open or stopped down. It requires the color LCD and as such, it can be a challenge if you're outdoors in the bright sunlight. I have yet to see a color LCD that is 100% useable in the sunlight and the PDR-3310's is no exception. The brightness control is accessed by a one step move (pressing the center button of the navigation control) where you can brighten the LCD for sun viewing. In all other lighting conditions the LCD is more than ample.

Well-lit outdoor photography is where this camera excels, but that is where every camera is at its best. An evenly lit distant subject, wide angle lens, stopped down aperture and fast shutter speed is what makes outdoor photos "good." It says nothing about the camera's ability to render sharply focused, close range pictures of people with accurate skin tones and a rich blue sky in the background. That takes a lens that is sharp and a focusing system that accurately adjusts for the subject distance. It also requires a metering system that properly calculates the exposure of an unevenly lit scene and background, an imaging system that white balances accurately and renders true color and contrast. The PDR-3310 lacks consistency in these things. On several occasions with the PDR-3310 on a tripod and using the self-timer to eliminate shake, it confirmed focus yet the motionless subject was soft as were many of the hand held images. The exposure was often too dark on the foreground and the sky looked muddy even when the foreground was a larger part of the scene. Caucasian skin tone was often reproduced too magenta.

Indoor flash has some serious limitations. At full telephoto the flash range is barely 2 meters (about 7 feet) and at wide angle it only reaches 2.5 meters (8 1/4 feet). Today's physics require a larger camera body to house a bigger diameter lens to collect more light or a more powerful flash capacitor and tube to be able to accurately capture more distant objects. Besides taking still images the PDR-3310 can record full motion video without sound. The capture rate is 15 frames per second at 320 x 240 resolution and movie clips of up to 15 seconds can be processed in the internal buffer. Some cameras store their video as QuickTime (MOV) format movies, Toshiba creates standard Windows AVI movies. Like most digicams without audio capability, the zoom is fully functional during movie recording as there is no microphone to pickup the sound of the lens zooming.

It's hard to ignore the similarities between the PDR-3310 and the Kyocera Finecam S4, on the outside only the front panel and all-black body are different. Inside the S4 is a 4 megapixel CCD and a better exposure system, its pictures are more saturated and colorful. Both cameras appear to use exactly the same 3x optical zoom lens and lithium bazttery pack. The PDR-3310 will do well against competing three megapixel mini-digicams because of its aggressive $499 price point. Size, weight and zoom are major considerations in choosing this camera. It's the kind of camera that you don't mind taking along on all-day outings as it's easy to carry in your hand or pocket. In automatic mode it's very easy to operate and qualifies as a point-n-shoot digicam that anyone can use.

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