Toshiba PDR-M81 Review
By Movable Type Admin
Steve's ConclusionThe PDR-M81 is Toshiba's entry into the 4-megapixel class of digicams. I'm happy to report that the build quality is similar to the PDR- M70 and not like the PDR-M6x series which is all lightweight plastic. The M81 delivers sharp and colorful 2400 x 1600 finished JPEG images. There's no doubt that it employs a Canon 2.8x optical zoom, it says so right on the lens. When powered up the lens extends and is ready to take the first picture in about 4 seconds.
Shooting in "Full" size mode, the camera processes and stores an image in less than five seconds but it can snap another picture before the last one is completely processed. This makes the shot-to-shot cycle time about 3 seconds or less. These times are with the flash disabled and in single shot mode. Switching to Sequence mode is even faster. The PDR-M81 will let you shoot up to three frames (in Full size) at a rate of about 1 frame per second. You then get an onscreen display indicating the 3 frames that are buffered in memory and can selectively view, store or delete any or all of them. New on the M81 is AE Bracketing, the camera will take a sequence of shots and vary the exposure slightly between them, this assures that at least one of them is as close to "perfect" as possible.
The PDR-M81 is powered by four standard AA size batteries which is a trend with all the recent Toshiba cameras. They used to employ proprietary lithium rechargeable batteries in all their cameras but most consumers prefer to be able to use "off the shelf" types of batteries. I highly recommend the use of high-capacity NiMH batteries which are now plentiful and affordably priced. Two sets of batteries and a rapid charger can be had for around $50 and will give you plenty of power for even the longest day of picture taking.
The physical size and weight of the PDR-M81 lets it be carried in your hand or by the neck strap all day without fatigue. It isn't what I'd call a pocket-size camera but it is far from being "big" in comparison to other digicams. The placement of the mode dial, shutter release and LCD displays are all very ergonomic, the zoom lens control is right where it should be and is easily actuated by your thumb. One of the things that I liked about the PDR-M70 was its illuminated data display, unfortunately Toshiba is now using a non-illuminated display. The image size/quality, flash mode and selftimer can be set with the buttons next to the data display, they do not require the use of the color LCD or menu system. You can also change the recording mode without using the menus via the mode dial.
Using the shutter priority or aperture priority mode requires the color LCD and as such it can be a challenge if you're outdoors in the bright sunlight. The manual mode options are easily changed with onscreen prompts and do not require complex or confusing menus. I haven't yet seen a color LCD that is 100% useable in the sunlight and the PDR-M81's is no exception. In all other lighting conditions the LCD is more than ample.
Besides taking excellent still images the PDR-M81 can record full motion video with sound. The capture rate is 15 frames per second at 320 x 240 resolution and movie clips of up to three minutes (in lower quality) can be processed in the internal buffer. Some cameras store their video as QuickTime (MOV) format movies, the Toshiba creates standard Windows AVI movies. The digital zoom must be used in movie mode, like other digicams that have microphones for sound recording, the motorized optical zoom noise would be picked up too.
The shutter lag (time between pressing shutter and actually capturing the picture) is somewhat variable. If you do the usual half-press of the shutter and wait for the green focus light it will average about 1.25 seconds. However if you just aim the camera and fully press the shutter it snaps the picture in a little less than a second. I did this many times and it never seemed to misfocus unless the subject lacked the necessary contrast for accurate autofocus in the first place.
I think the PDR-M81 will do well in the rapidly expanding four megapixel camera battle. It has plenty of features, lots of speed and better than average image quality. Size and weight considered, it's the kind of camera that you don't mind taking along on all-day outings. In automatic mode it is very easy to operate and qualifies as a "no brainer" point-n-shoot that anyone should be able to use. It physically resembles a compact 35mm film camera so those that are new to the digital world will immediately feel comfortable with it. For those users that like playing with knobs and dials, there's plenty of manual camera features to stimulate your creative side.
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