DCRP Review: Toshiba PDR-M70
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Wednesday, May 31, 2000
Last Updated: Monday, June 18, 2001

 

There are three kinds of cameras out there: those that go for traditional photography features, those that go for gimmicks, and those that have both. The Toshiba PDR-M70 is one of those cameras that has every feature the pro photographer desires, plus some of the more "gimmicky" features that consumers (and certain digital camera website editors) enjoy. Starting with a 3.3 Megapixel CCD, the M70 has both point and shoot ease and full manual control, if desired. But it also has movie mode (with sound), and a unique personal voice recording function. Let's start the review to learn more about this $799 camera.

What's in the Box?

The PDR-M70 has everything you could possibly ask for... well, except for something for the lens cap to hook onto! When you open the box, here's what you'll find:

  • The 3.3 Mpixel Toshiba PDR-M70 camera
  • 16Mb SmartMedia card
  • Rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • AC adapter (hurrah!)
  • Shoulder strap
  • Soft camera case
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • Software including Sierra Imaging's ImageExpert and drivers
  • Manuals for camera and software

First the good news: Toshiba includes not only a rechargeable battery, but also an AC adapter! You just plug the adapter into the wall, and the other end goes right into the camera. Nice!

There is no serial cable included -- in fact, I don't think the camera supports RS-232 connections. So it's USB or nothing!

The manual is quite well done, still a rarity for digital camera manufacturers.

Now, the bad news: One of my favorite things to pick on is lens caps, and Toshiba gives you a big plastic one, with no strap. If you remember the Olympus C-3030Z review, you'll recall how its unrestrained lens cap fell over a fence and down a mountain side, never to be seen again. Too bad Toshiba made the same mistake (though I haven't lost the lens cap yet).

Look and Feel

The PDR-M70 is an attractive silver camera, of average size and weight. It fits fairly well in the hands, though you have to be careful where you place your left hand, so you don't cover up anything important. The body is made of solid-feeling plastic which seems pretty sturdy. Let's take a closer look at this camera now:

Here's the back of the camera. The optical viewfinder is quite large, and features diopter correction for those of us without perfect vision. Unfortunately, nose smudges on the LCD will occur regardless of which eye you use to look into the viewfinder.

The 1.8" LCD is bright and fluid, and usable in all but the brightest sunlight (no surprise there). You can adjust the LCD's brightness from a menu within the camera.

Other buttons of interest on the back include: the four way switch, which is used for navigating menus and changing settings in manual mode. The four silver buttons below that enter the menu, change modes (e.g. single shot to continuous shooting to auto-bracketing), macro mode / photo info and delete.

The zoom controls towards the top right are well placed, and work as you'd expect. The zoom itself is quite smooth.

The next stop is the top of the camera, where you can see one of my favorite features of Toshiba digital cameras: a backlit LCD! When I took it up to the usual nighttime photo spot at Twin Peaks, I realized one thing that nobody has done yet -- backlit buttons! It's nice that the LCD is lit up, but pressing buttons in the dark is still a guessing game!

On the LCD, you'll find the following information: Battery strength, SmartMedia card inserted (??), Flash, Size, Quality, Remaining Photos, Mode.

Toshiba has an easy-to-understand system for resolution and quality. You can choose between two resolutions: Full (2048 x 1536) and Half (1024 x 768), and three qualities: *, **, and ***. The more "stars", the less JPEG compression, hence the higher quality. You can store anywhere from 13 to 39 photos on the included 16Mb card (in Full mode), depending on the quality you've chosen.

The buttons below the LCD change flash, size/quality, and self-timer settings. A big thank you to Toshiba for including both 2 second and 10 second self timers!

To the right of that is the mode wheel, with a few items that may be unfamiliar. Your choices are:

  • Setup
  • PC connect
  • Play
  • Auto record (point-and-shoot)
  • Shutter priority mode (Tv)
  • Aperture priority mode (Av)
  • Movie mode
  • Voice recorder

I'll explain some of these in further detail in the next section. Apparently the term "Tv" comes from Canon's early SLR cameras, and means "Time Value". [Updated 5/31/00]

Right above the mode wheel is the power switch, with the shutter release in the middle. No complaints here - this thing is well designed.

On the left side of the camera, you'll find the port for connecting to your PC or to your television (the same connector, too) as well as the port for plugging in that AC adapter. Above that is a headphone jack, a first for a camera I've reviewed. At the bottom left is a flash sync port for an external flash. After sifting through the manual for a bit, I noticed that the shutter speed is fixed at 1/125 sec when using an external flash... that's weird.

Here's the other side of the camera, where the SmartMedia slot is located. The plastic door seems pretty sturdy, and stays closed. The SmartMedia slot isn't spring-loaded -- you just pull the card right out.

Down at the bottom is the battery slot, tripod mount, and speaker (!). Audio plays a big role on the M70, and the speaker does a good job of projecting the audio, as long as your finger isn't covering it. The tripod mount seems to be plastic.

All in all, a good showing for the PDR-M70 in this department.

Using the Toshiba PDR-M70

The head-to-head review of the Coolpix 990 and C-3030Z raised the bar for DCRP reviews, so I'm going to try to make this section a bit more detailed in our "regular" reviews as well. I'm going to cover six areas in this section: Auto record, manual record, playback, movie mode, voice recording, and menus.

Auto Record Mode

Firing up the camera is a quick process (especially if you remembered to remove the lens cover!), with the M70 all ready to go in about four seconds.

Auto mode is just that, fully automatic. There are a few basic settings you can change, such as size/quality, flash, and macro. There are also several preset modes:

  • Auto
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Action shots
  • Night portraits
  • Continuous shots of moving subjects

The last one of the list is interesting, and reminds me of the 16 shot mode on the Coolpix 950 and 990. The camera will take 36 frames at 0.07 sec intervals, and put them into one full size collage.

When you're taking pictures, you'll appreciate the lack of shutter lag -- the camera is very responsive. In Full/*** mode, there's a delay of three to four seconds before you can take another photo. As I mentioned, the 3X optical zoom is quick as well (there's a 2X digital zoom as well, if you desire).

One annoyance in auto mode is that you cannot adjust white balance settings. For example, in the macro shot below, I had to use aperture priority mode so I could set the white balance to incandescent light. If you need to adjust white balance in auto mode, you're out of luck.


What review would be complete without the Mickey macro shot?

Macro mode is pretty good on the PDR-M70 -- you can get as close as 0.3" or 9cm.

You can change the ISO from 100 to 200 or 400, by hitting the menu button. This seems a bit inconsistent with the overlay menus, especially in manual mode.

Manual Record Mode

The PDR-M70 has a very full-featured manual mode, comparable to the Coolpix 990 and C-3030Z.

Here's a look at what you see on the LCD in shutter priority mode. I happen to have the menu on here (Toshiba uses an overlay system, rather than menus on a separate "page"), with white balance selected. You can also set what area of the field the camera focuses on, and you can choose between auto focus and infinite focus (there is no manual focus on the M70). Most everything on this screen is self-explanatory, with perhaps the exception of the histogram. The histogram, which is the green "graph" in the lower right, is a measure of luminance in the field of view. This feature is normally seen on high end digital cameras, though I don't think the average consumer will pay much attention to it. But it's nice to know it's there.


Traditional night shot from Twin Peaks (1 sec exposure, reduced 50%)

In shutter priority mode, you can choose from speeds as fast as 1/1000 sec to as slow as 8 seconds. Aperture priority has a number of choices between f2.0 and f8.

One nice thing about both all the record modes is that you can quickly jump to the last photo you took by hitting the delete button (see above). You can then delete the photo (or all of them) without jumping to play mode. If you want to browse photos, you'll have to turn the mode wheel to playback mode, of course.

[Added 8/28/00] According to the PDR-M70 FAQ, there is a "hidden" full manual mode, as well as a manual focus mode! By pushing a few buttons, you can set both aperture and shutter speeds! A manual focus feature is there too -- it's all in the FAQ!

Playback mode

Viewing your photos has always been a strong point with Toshiba cameras, and nothing has changed on the M70. All the traditional features are there, like slide shows, protection, thumbnails, and printing. You can also zoom into your photos, and scroll through them in real time. Some other interesting features include the ability to change the quality or size of a photo (in the downward direction only, of course), and to copy images from one SmartMedia card to another.

The M70 also provides a wealth of information about a photo you've taken. You just hit the "i" button (same as macro) and you get...

... lots more information! There's that histogram again.

Something a bit strange with this playback mode is folders. To jump between viewing photos and movies, you have to change folders by hitting the Mode button. I'd prefer it if they were all in the same place, like on the Casio cameras.

Moving between photos is fairly quick in playback mode, as is zooming and scrolling.

Movie mode

It seems to me that lots of people are blowing off movie mode. I, for one, think that video is a nice supplement to still photos. Why take just a still of your child's birthday party, when you can take a short video clip to send the grandparents?

The M70 does a great job at video, and thankfully, audio too! You can record from one to five minutes of AVI video on a single 16Mb card! Just like with still photos, you can choose sizes (Full is 320 x 240, Half is 160 x 120) and quality (stars).

Rather than go on and on about movie mode, just take a look at a movie I made below:


Click to play movie (AVI format, 3Mb)

I'm probably not going to win any awards for cinematography, but you get the idea!

Voice recording

This feature is totally unique to this camera (as far as I know) and is well implemented. Instead of dictating into a mini-tape recorder, you can use your camera instead! Up to one hour of audio can be recorded on the included 16Mb card.

Here's a look at the audio recording screen. You can have as many tracks as you want, and they can be as long as you want (well, until the card fills up). You've got the same controls as your CD or tape player: stop, play, pause, fast forward, and reverse. The speaker volume is also adjustable during playback. There's also a level meter so you can see if you're too loud -- or too quiet. This is definitely a gimmicky feature, but since Toshiba didn't really skimp anywhere else, I don't mind.

Listen to a sample from one of the rollercoaster shows I was watching on Monday night (instead of writing this review) in WAV format.

Menus

I already mentioned that Toshiba uses the overlay style menus for most functions... and the traditional menus for others. Here's a look at two levels of the menus in record mode:

The menus are pretty nice looking, and animated too. Even deleting photos is cool looking. My only issue is why the ISO setting is here, instead of in the overlay menus.

Here's the menu in playback mode, with many of the functions that I described earlier.

No real complaints in this area either.

How Does it Compare?

I got jumped on in the last review for not commenting on photo quality. The truth is, I don't think I'm any better judge of photo quality than anyone else, so I'll leave the final decision up to you. While I'd personally say that the quality is right up there with the other 3.3 Mpixel cameras, many of the photos seemed a little "soft" to me, even in Normal Sharpness mode. That doesn't prevent me from highly recommending this camera, though.

What I liked:

  • Full featured -- movies, audio, manual controls
  • Very well designed with thoughtful touches like backlit LCD
  • Very responsive in all modes
  • External flash support
  • Competitive photo quality
  • Good stuff "in the box"

What needs work:

  • No white balance settings in auto mode
  • No uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Photos seem a bit soft sometimes

The PDR-M70 really keeps up with the competitors, and in some areas (especially the non-photo areas like movies and audio), it's ahead of them. This is a very crowded arena right now, with the likes of the Casio QV-3000EX, Canon PowerShot S20, Nikon Coolpix 990, Olympus C-3030Z, and Sony DSC-S70 as direct competitors. At $799, the PDR-M70 is one of the cheapest cameras of the bunch, and one of the best values. Though I do recommend that you personally try out the M70 and its competitors yourself, I can't think of any good reason not to recommend this camera!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out Steve's Digicams review of the PDR-M70.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.


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