Toshiba PDR-T20 Review

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Toshiba PDR-T20

Steve's Conclusion

The PDR-T20 is Toshiba's 2.0-megapixel touch-screen entry into the digicam market. It has an all-glass, 2x optical zoom lens with up to 2x digital zoom and a 'metallic' looking brushed chrome case. A definite improvement over the May, 2002 release of the fixed focal length (no zoom) PDR-T10. This camera is a very "pocketable" automatic point-n-shoot. Introductory pricing is $399 as of August, 2002.

When powered up the lens can't extend unless the front lens cover is slid open. When powered up with the lens closed it goes into play mode. If the power switch was integrated into the cover it would automatically turn on in record mode. This would make it more convenient to catch that quick candid moment. It takes about 10 seconds to be ready to capture the first shot. Shooting in "High Quality" mode, the camera captures, processes and stores an image in less than 4 seconds which is about half the time of the PDR-T10. The shot-to-shot cycle time is about 3 seconds. The total shutter lag (time from pressing shutter to actually capturing) is less than two seconds. Where most of these times are a little better than average, if you do the usual half-press of the shutter and wait for the green focus light, then shoot, it decreases the lag time to almost nothing which is very impressive. These times are with the flash enabled so they include flash cycle time where applicable. When powered down, the lens retracts back into the body and you slide the protective cover over it.

This is one of those compact digicams that uses a 'wimpy' proprietary battery and doesn't allows you the flexibility of using any type of "off the shelf" batteries. The T-10 was a smaller camera and took AA's, I'd have to say Toshiba stumbled a little in going to the expensive proprietary battery here. It also helped to drive up the cost of this unit by including the rechargeable battery and charger making this one of the more expensive 2.0 MP 2x zoom digicams today, if the MSRP of $399 holds as a street price.

The physical size and weight of the PDR-T20 allows it to be carried in your hand or by the strap all day without fatigue. It's what I'd call a pocket / purse size camera. The placement of controls on the LCD touch screen display are less than ergonomic, and the 4-way navigation control is one of the least user friendly I've ever used. It takes a fingernail to control its 4-way motion and I usually ended up pressing it in, not moving it sideways. Other than the zoom, there isn't a lot of need to change anything once it's set up so it wasn't insurmountable. Just point and shoot.

There is no shutter priority, aperture priority or manual modes. You can set one of seven scene modes to be more creative or just put it in Auto which yields more than satisfactory results. After all, the pictures are what this is all about and I was impressed. The PDR-T20 uses the color LCD as the viewfinder, there is no optical viewfinder 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-T20's is no exception. The brightness control is accessed in the record or play menu and lets you adjust the LCD for sun viewing. I found this just over drove the brightness on the LCD and washed it out some. Without a doubt the only really successfully way I found to shoot in bright sun was by cupping the left hand around the LCD and using the right hand to shoot the exposure as shown on the Features & Menus page. In all other lighting conditions and playback 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-T20 has much higher than expected consistency in these things. Far surpassing the recently reviewed Toshiba PDR-3310 which is considerably more expensive ($100 more). The overall color saturation and metering function were very good for the level of camera this is. A source of annoyance I did find was its lack of a tripod socket. Though this is a small camera, it is always handy to use a small table top mini-pod for self timer pictures of the family but not without a tripod socket.

Indoor flash has some serious limitations. The range is barely 2 meters (about 7 feet) if any zoom is used at all. The best family candids are almost always shot zoomed-in to catch a subject and not the entire family room. The PDR-T20 is a bigger camera than the PDR-T10, there is more space to put in a bigger flash capacitor, so why not significantly more flash output? Instead, Toshiba rates the flash output at ISO 200 which makes it look better on a spec sheet. I was happy with the flash pictures if I stayed within seven feet.

The PDR-T20 could do well against other two megapixel 2x zoom digicams because of its picture quality. If the street pricing gets under the $399 MSRP mark it could then be true competition. Size, weight and photo quality 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, it's always with you. In automatic mode it's very easy to operate and qualifies as a point-n-shoot digicam that anyone can use successfully.

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