DCRP Review: Toshiba PDR-M700
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 31, 2003
Last Updated: September 3, 2003

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As a big fan of ultra zoom cameras, I was thrilled to see Toshiba enter this market. Their 2 Megapixel PDR-M500 ($350), and 3.2 Megapixel PDR-M700 ($450) are designed to give Olympus a run for the money. Both cameras have a Canon 10X zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, and full manual controls. I'll be looking at the M700 in this review.

The 10X zoom field is getting crowded -- and that's great news for everyone. Since I've only used the Olympus Ultra Zoom models, I can't compare the M700 against anything else. How well does it do? Find out now.

What's in the Box?

The Toshiba PDR-M700 has an above average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 effective Mpixel Toshiba PDR-M700 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • Four alkaline AA batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Wireless remote control
  • Lens adapter ring
  • Camera case
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ACDSee software and drivers
  • 119 page camera manual plus software manual (both printed)

Toshiba includes a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card with the M700. It's enough to get started with, but you'll probably want a larger one right away. Unlike most other cameras that use SD, Toshiba does not support MultiMediaCards (MMC) in this camera.

In the battery department, you're on your own. You get four alkaline batteries inside the box, which will quickly run out of juice. I recommend buying two or more sets of NiMH rechargeables and a fast charger. Toshiba estimates that you can take 180 photos, or spending 180 minutes in playback mode, using the included alkaline batteries. I'd expect similar (or better) numbers when using rechargeables.


Always a nice touch: the included remote control

Toshiba throws in three nice bonus items with the camera. The first is a soft case, which is a great way to protect the camera when not in use. The second item is a conversion lens adapter, which can be used for attaching filters (52 mm) or add-on lenses (more on them below). Item number three is a wireless remote control, shown above. It can be used in record and playback mode.

The M700 includes a big plastic lens cap that fits securely over the lens. Toshiba also includes a tether so you don't drop it off a cliff, as I once did a few years ago.

I don't have a whole lot of information regarding accessories for the M700, but here's what I do knew. You can use add-on lenses and filters, all of which are made by third parties such as Tiffen. You cannot add an external flash. An AC adapter, camera bags, and memory cards are also available.

The PDR-M700 includes the popular (and capable) ACDSee software. This software, as well as the camera are compatible with Mac OS X and Windows XP.

The camera manual is one huge book with three languages (English, French, Spanish). The quality of the manual is about average, meaning not great.

Look and Feel

The PDR-M700 is a mid-sized, all-plastic camera. It doesn't feel nearly as solid as the two recent Ultra Zoom models from Olympus -- especially the C-750. The camera is easy to hold, with plenty of room for both of your hands. The important controls are well-placed, and easy to reach.

The official dimensions of the M700 are 4.3 x 2.7 x 2.6 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs 300 grams empty. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the Olympus C-740UZ are 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.7 and 295 grams, respectively. So they're pretty close.

Let's begin our tour of the PDR-M700 now!

If you excuse the pun, the biggest feature on the PDR-M700 is its 10X optical zoom lens. This F2.8-3.1 lens is made by Canon, as is often the case with Toshiba cameras. The focal range of the lens is 5.7 - 57 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 370 mm. The lens barrel is threaded, and you can use the included lens adapter to attach filters and add-on lenses.

Directly above the lens is the M700's pop-up flash. The flash has a working range of approximately 0.5 - 4.4 m. An external flash is not supported on this camera.

Right below the flash (under the Toshiba logo) is a multi-colored LED, which is displayed in various situations. It flashes when the camera is turned on or off, when a self-timer shot is being taken, when the camera locks focus, and more. You can choose which of the six available colors is shown for each of these situations, or you can turn it off if it bothers you.

To the upper-right of the lens is the microphone. On the opposite side, you'll find the flash and remote control sensors.

There's no AF illuminator on this camera, unfortunately. Then again, none of the Olympus models have one either.

The other "big" feature on the M700 is the large 2.5" LCD display. While I appreciate its size, I don't care for the low resolution. It has only 117,600 pixels. If that sounds like a lot, consider that the 1.5" LCD on the Canon PowerShot S400 has 118,000 pixels. Images on the LCD were choppy at times, unfortunately. The screen was plenty bright, and you can adjust the brightness in the menu.

Directly above the LCD is the camera's electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The resolution of the viewfinder is not known, but it wasn't spectacular. Advantages of the EVF include the ability to see exactly what the CCD is seeing (no parallax error), as well as all the menus and exposure info. Downsides include extra strain on the batteries, and difficult viewing in low light situations.

The two buttons to the right of the EVF are for:

  • Self-timer (10 or 2 sec) + remote control {record mode} / Picture info {playback mode}
  • Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced on, flash off, slow sync)

Continuing to the right, we find the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just 2.25 seconds.

To the right of that large LCD, we find three buttons, plus the four-way controller. The buttons are for:

  • Menu
  • Delete photo
  • Display (toggles between LCD and EVF)

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, as well as exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments).

On the top of the PDR-M700, we find the speaker, power button, mode wheel, and shutter release button.

The mode wheel has the following options:

  • Movie mode
  • Manual record
  • Auto record - most settings locked up
  • Playback mode
  • PC connect (for transferring photos over USB)
  • Setup

I'll get to most of those later in the review. Let's continue with our tour now.

On this side of the camera, we find the I/O ports, plus the flash release button (top-center). The I/O ports are kept under a very flimsy plastic door, though it opens wide enough such that it won't snap off.

The I/O ports include:

  • Microphone - wow, a very unique feature that allows you to hook up an external microphone
  • USB (called digital here)
  • A/V
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)

The only thing to see here is the M700's Secure Digital memory card slot. It supports SD cards as large as 512MB. Do remember that MMC cards are not supported.

The plastic door covering this slot is also quite flimsy.

The included 16MB SD card is shown.

Finally, here is the bottom of the M700. You can see the battery compartment, which holds four AA-sized batteries, as well as a metal (I think) tripod mount. The tripod mount is neither centered, nor inline with the lens.

Using the Toshiba PDR-M700

Record Mode

It takes just about 5 seconds for the PDR-M700 to slowly extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.

Press the shutter release button halfway, and the camera locks focus in under a second -- about average. Expect some difficulty focusing in low light. This is when an AF illuminator comes in handy.

In terms of shutter lag, there isn't much to speak of. Toshiba did a good job in reducing this annoyance. It's barely noticeable.


The M700 has a live histogram in record mode

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent. You can take another shot in about a second, assuming you turn the post-shot review off. If you leave that feature on, just half-press the shutter release to take another photo.

The M700 uses Toshiba's familiar "star system" for photo quality. Image quality ranges from one to three stars, with three being the highest quality. There are more resolutions available than on older Toshiba models -- a good thing. Here are the available image resolution/quality options:

Size Quality # photos on
included 16MB card
3M
2048 x 1536
*** 12
** 18
* 36
2M
1600 x 1200
*** 15
** 22
* 45

1.2M
1280 x 960

*** 25
** 37
* 75
0.8M
1024 x 768
*** 37
** 56
* 112
0.3M
640 x 480
*** 75
** 112
* 225

There is no TIFF or RAW mode on the M700. Do note that the Olympus models support TIFF.

Photos on the PDR-M700 use the following naming convention: PDR_####.JPG, where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained even as you erase or replace memory cards.

The menus on the M700 are the most attractive, dynamic, and easy-to-use system I've seen in a long time. The folks at Toshiba really did a great job with them.

The M700 has two menu systems: one overlay-style and one traditional. The overlay-style menu (shown above) allows you to change the following:

  • Scene [auto mode only]
    • Auto
    • Portrait
    • Landscape
    • Sports
    • Portrait + landscape
    • Night scene
    • Multi - takes 16 shots in a row at 7.5 frames/sec and puts them into one 3MP image
  • Exposure mode [manual mode only]
    • Program - camera chooses shutter speed and aperture
    • Aperture priority (Av) - you choose aperture, camera chooses appropriate shutter speed. Range is F2.8 - F8.0.
    • Shutter priority (Tv) - you choose shutter speed, camera picks aperture. Shutter speed range is 16 - 1/2000 sec.
    • Full manual (M) - you choose both the shutter speed and aperture. Same ranges as above.
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, daylight fluorescent, neutral white fluorescent, incandescent, preset 1/2) [manual mode only]
  • Metering mode (Center-weighted, spot) [manual mode only]
  • Capture mode [manual mode only]
    • 1 shot (normal)
    • High speed continuous - up to 6 frames with 3 frame/sec
    • Normal continuous - 14 or more frames at 1 frame/sec
    • AE bracketing (3 or 5 frame) - takes 3 or 5 photos in a row, each with a different exposure value (EV). The exposures used are fixed: -0.3, 0, +0.3 and -0.7, -0.3, 0, +0.3, +0.7.
  • Focus (Auto, macro, infinity, 1 or 3 m)

As you can see, the M700 has full manual controls. The focus controls aren't as good as I'd like, but hey, it's better than nothing. The manual white balance feature allows you to shoot a white or gray card, to get perfect white balance in any lighting. You can store 2 different preset white balance settings for later retrieval.

The M700 has pretty nice continuous shooting modes as well. I also appreciate the "action" mode in auto mode, which is great for the point-and-shoot user.

One minor complaint: I don't like how the only way to turn on macro mode is via the overlay menu. I'd much rather have a button on the camera for this.

The "traditional" menu system is used for adjusting the following:

  • ISO (Auto 200, Auto 400, 70, 100, 200, 400) - see below
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using it will lower the photo quality
  • Quality setting (see chart)
  • Create folder
  • Picture
    • Color (Normal, vivid, monochrome, sepia)
    • Contrast (Normal, hard, soft)
    • Sharpness (Normal, hard, soft)
  • Display settings
    • Preview (on/off) - shows image on LCD for two seconds after it is taken
    • Display settings (Auto, on) - auto mode has a simple display, which shows settings for 3 seconds; "on" will always display the overlay (tab) menu.
  • LCD brightness (-5 to +5)

The ISO feature is unique, in that there are two "auto" modes to choose from. Auto 200 will limit the top ISO used to 200, while Auto 400 will top out at 400. Using the Auto 200 is a great way to get brighter images without having too the high noise levels that you'd get at 400.

There is also a setup menu, with basic things like language, date/time, beep, auto power off, etc. This is also where you can program the color of the LED on the front of the camera.

That's enough menu talk for me -- let's move onto our test photos now.

The PDR-M700 did an excellent job with the macro subject. The colors are accurate, and the subject has a very "smooth" look to it. You can get as close as 10 cm to your subject at wide-angle, and 90 cm at telephoto.

As for night shots, I had a heck of a time taking them. First, I took two of them at ISO 100, instead of ISO 70. So I went back to reshoot, and came home with 12 blurry pictures. Why, I don't know -- I had a tripod and the focus locked at infinity. So I went out again another night, and came back with -- you guessed it -- blurry pictures. What was strange was that my telephoto shots came out okay -- but all the wide-angle shots were blurry. I still cannot figure out why... incompetence on my part is a possibility though.

The shot above was my original test shot, mistakenly photographed at ISO 100. There's a considerable amount of noise in the photo, and it's a little soft too (but not totally blurry like my later attempts at the same photo). There's a bit of purple fringing as well.

This shot was taken at the telephoto end, and was the only sharp night shot I took. Noise levels are noticeably lower than the other night shot, though there's more purple fringing. The M700 has a noise reduction system that's active on longer exposures. You can see the fog rolling in as well.

While the redeye shot came out a little blurry (the camera didn't focus well in the dim light), I was thrilled to see no redeye! The pop-up flash definitely helps reduce this annoyance.

The distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle, and a hint of vignetting (dark corners). Vignetting was not a problem in my "real world" test shots.

Overall, the M700's photo quality is good, but not great. Colors were accurate, and exposures were usually right-on. A few shots were underexposed, but exposure compensation took care of that. Purple fringing, a common occurrence on "big zoom" cameras, is visible, but not that bad. Noise levels were higher than I'd like, and things like grass, leaves, and shrubs seem like one continuous green glob. Images were on the soft side as well, though I imagine that cranking up the in-camera sharpening would help resolve that.

Don't just take my word for it, though -- have a look at the photo gallery and decide for yourself. You are welcome to print those photos, as well.

Movie Mode

The PDR-M700 allows you to record 320 x 240 movies, with sound, until the memory card is full.You can choose from three movie quality settings, using the same "star system" as you do for stills. The included 16MB memory can hold roughly 1-2 minutes of video, depending on the quality you selected. Get a 128MB card, and those numbers range from 8 to 16 minutes.

Movies are saved in AVI format.

The M700 is one of those very rare cameras that lets you use the zoom lens during filming. There's usually a reason why you can't do this: the microphone picks up the sound of the lens moving, and it sounds horrible. I recommend setting the zoom ahead of time, and leaving it alone once you start recording.

Here's a sample movie for you:


Click to play movie (2.5MB, AVI format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

Toshiba has always had one of the best playback modes out there, and that's true on the PDR-M700 as well. Fast is the operative word!

The basic features are all here, like slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom in either 2 or 4 times into your image, and then scroll around. The zooming is impressive visually (you have to see it to understand), and the scrolling is super-fast. I do with there were more zoom options than the two available.

The resize feature allows you to quickly make smaller images, suitable for e-mailing. You can choose from 320 x 240 and 160 x 120.

If you like extra info about your photos, then you'll like the M700. Above, you can see what you'll get by pressing that "i" button on the back of the camera. This includes a histogram.

The M700 moves through photos at an average pace, with a 2 second delay between high res images.

How Does it Compare?

Though not a perfect camera, the Toshiba PDR-M700 is an appealing alternative to the Olympus Ultra Zoom models. It offers the same 10X zoom lens and full manual controls, but it has a much larger 2.5" LCD (though the resolution isn't great) and a more impressive user interface. Both Olympus models, especially the C-750UZ, have much better build quality. The M700's photo quality was pretty good, though images were too noisy to be considered "excellent". I'm still a bit puzzled about why so many of my night shots came out blurry... I'm not sure if it's a camera problem or a Jeff problem. I was thrilled to see how well the M700 fared in the redeye test. I wasn't entirely happy with that big LCD, as the resolution was mediocre, and images were choppy at times. An AF-assist lamp would've great helped with low light focusing, which wasn't good on this camera. I do recommend the M700, though you should take a close look at the competition -- and there's more of it than ever before.

If you like the M700 and can live with a 2MP camera, check out the PDR-M500.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality
  • 10X zoom lens
  • No redeye
  • Camera case, remote control included
  • Supports external lenses/filters
  • Full manual controls
  • Excellent user interface
  • Large 2.5" LCD (but low resolution, choppy)
  • Nice continuous shooting modes

What I didn't care for:

  • Images a little noisy
  • Some purple fringing
  • Repeated problems with night shots. Camera or user error?
  • No AF illuminator
  • Poor low light focusing
  • Cheesy plastic body
  • LCD resolution is not great; images can be choppy
  • EVF hard to use in low light

Other Ultra Zoom cameras to consider include the Fuji FinePix S5000, HP Photosmart 850, Nikon Coolpix 5700, Olympus C-740 and C-750 Ultra Zoom, and the Panasonic DMC-FZ1.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the PDR-M700 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Take a look at our photo gallery to see how the M700's pictures turned out.

Want a second opinion?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the PDR-M700.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions about this review. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not write asking for personal recommendations, missing software/manuals, or technical support.

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