DCRP Review: Toshiba PDR-M71
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2001
Last Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2001

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Toshiba's PDR-M71 is a midrange, 3.2 Megapixel camera, based on their PDR-M81 (see our review). Like that camera, the M71 features a 2.8X Canon zoom lens, movie mode with sound, manual controls, and more. At $499, it's also very competitively priced. How well does it work? You'll have to read the review to find out!

(As with several recent camera reviews, since this camera is almost identical to the M81, I will be reusing much of the content for that review. Don't worry, it will be updated where needed and the conclusions and tests are all new.)

What's in the Box?

The PDR-M71 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.0 (effective) Mpixel Toshiba PDR-M71 camera
  • 8MB SmartMedia card
  • 4 AA alkaline batteries
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Camera case
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ImageExpert and drivers
  • 134 page manual (printed)

I'll get the negatives out of the way up front. First, Toshiba includes an incredibly skimpy 8MB SmartMedia card with the camera. It was unforgivable on the 4MP PDR-M81 and is disappointing on this camera too.

Secondly, they don't include rechargeable batteries, so you'll want to pick up a NiMH charger and a few sets of batteries. They'll last a lot longer than throwaway alkaline batteries and are better for the environment. At least they're not using the proprietary batteries like they used to.

Now the good news. It's not often when they throw a case in the box with a camera these days, so I was pleased to see a soft case in the box.

The PDR-M71 has a rather unique lens cap, though it's hard to tell from the above photo. It's more like a "lens plug", and it's got a tether so it won't get lost. If you turn on the camera with the cap on, it will give you a warning.

While the M71's lens isn't threaded, Toshiba will make available in November a lens adapter which uses the tripod mount. This will let you use 37mm attachments. You can also buy a step-up ring which will let you use 43mm attachments as well.

The manual included with the camera is about average for a digicam, meaning that it's confusing and poorly laid out. Half the manual is English, while the other is French (I hate it when they do that). There's also a separate manual for the ImageExpert software as well.

Look and Feel

The PDR-M71 is a rather odd-looking camera that I found to be easy to hold and use. I'm not a big fan of the "textured plastic" that is found on the grip and backside of the camera. The body does seem solid though and should be able to survive out "in the wild". The controls are all in the right places and you can use it with one hand as well.

The dimensions of the M81 are 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs 240 grams empty. The camera isn't large in any sense, but I wouldn't call it pocket-size either.

Let's take a 360 degree tour of the PDR-M71 now.

Here's the front of the camera. The F2.9 lens is manufactured by Canon, and is the same as on the PDR-M81. The focal range of the lens is 7.25 - 20.3 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 98 mm. The lens is not threaded.

In the top right of the above photo you can see the microphone.

Over towards the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.8 - 3.0 meters. Flash strength is not adjustable via the menu.

Now onto the back of the camera. You can probably see the cheesy (in my opinion) textured plastic here.

The 1.5" LCD display is smaller than average, but is bright and fluid. You can adjust the brightness via the menu system, if you'd like.

Towards the top-left of the photo is the optical viewfinder. While it lacks diopter correction (for those of us with glasses), it is large. There are crosshairs in the center of the viewfinder, as well. Those of you who use your right eye to look through it won't smudge the LCD with your nose either.

The button below the LCD (Disp/i) is used for toggling what information is shown on the LCD.

Over to the right of the LCD are:

  • Four-way switch (for menus)
  • Menu
  • Focus (AF/Macro/1m/3m/Infinity)
  • Folder (create)
  • Delete

Finally, at the top right is the zoom control. I wish the button had a little more "play" to it. The zoom is not variable speed, and it's a bit slow moving as well.

Here's the top of the PDR-M81, where you can see the LCD info display, some buttons, the mode wheel, and the shutter release button.

The LCD info display shows things such as battery strength, size/quality setting, flash setting, and shots remaining. It does not show shutter speed or aperture, like some other displays do. One feature I miss from the PDR-M70 (see our review) is the backlit display. It's a handy feature that too few cameras have.

The buttons to the right of the info display include:

  • Self-timer (2 or 10 sec)
  • Size/Quality
  • Flash

One thing I don't like about the size/quality button on the M71/M81 is that instead of scrolling through all the choices, it only has three that you set up in the menus. I suppose for everyday usage this is fine, but I preferred the old way myself.

Further towards the right is the mode wheel, which has the following choices:

  • Setup
  • PC Connect
  • Playback
  • Auto Record
  • Manual Record
  • Movie

I'll have more on these later in the review.

Here is one side of the M71. You can see the speaker, power port (left), and USB/AV port (right). There is no serial support available on this camera.

Here is the other side of the M71, with the included 8MB SmartMedia card shown. The card is easy to insert and remove from the spring-loaded slot. The door that covers the slot seems strong as well.

Finally, here is the bottom of the PDR-M71. Here you'll find the battery compartment as well as a plastic tripod mount. The battery compartment holds 4 AA-sized batteries, and is lockable.

Using the Toshiba PDR-M71

Record Mode

When you power up the PDR-M71, a "fanfare" sound plays, and the lens extends. You'll have to wait just over 4 seconds before you can start taking pictures. Pressing the shutter release button halfway results in locked focus in about one second.

There isn't as much shutter lag on the M71 as there was on the M81. The camera locks focus quickly, and takes the picture after a short, yet noticeable delay.

I recommend turning off the sound on the camera, though. When you take a picture, the camera will produce an artificial "shutter sound", which gives you the impression that it took the photo. However, due to the lag, it hasn't yet (listen and you'll hear the real shutter a few moments later).

Shot-to-shot speed is decent on the PDR-M71. You'll wait about 3 seconds between shots at the highest quality setting.

There are many quality settings on the M71, but as I mentioned, you have to choose 3 of them to assign to the quality button on the top of the camera. There camera uses "stars" as a measure of quality. The more stars, the less JPEG compression, and higher quality photos.

The chart below explains:

Size Quality File Size # photos on 8MB card
(included)
# photos on 64MB card
(for reference)
Full
2048 x 1536
*** 1.2 MB 6 53
** 800 KB 9 79
* 400 KB 19 159
Half
1024 x 768
*** 300 KB 27 221
** 200 KB 41 332
* 100 KB 82 665
Small
640 x 480
*** 200 KB 41 332
** 100 KB 62 499
* 60 KB 124 998

There wasn't a TIFF mode available on the M81, nor is there one on this camera.

Now let's take a look at menu options. The follow options are available in Auto or Manual mode:

  • Preview (on/off) - shows image after it's taken
  • Color (Standard, vivid, monochrome, sepia)
  • ISO (Normal, 2X, 4X) - equivalent to 100, 200, 400
  • Sharpness (normal, soft, hard)
  • Contrast (normal, strong, soft)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - 2X digital zoom; will reduce image quality if used.
  • LCD brightness

The setup menu (use the mode wheel to get there) has some other common options that aren't worth mentioning here.

In Auto Record, there will only be a few controls. That includes the above menu items, flash, quality, and focus. You can adjust exposure compensation (-2.0EV to +2.0EV, 0.5EV increments) by using the left/right buttons. In addition, there is a "scene mode" accessible via an overlay-style menu that lets you choose from the following:

  • Auto
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Action
  • Night Scene
  • 16-multishot - 16 continuous frames (7.5 frames/sec) put into one collage

If you want more manual controls, then turn the mode wheel to Manual Record. Here you'll won't get the scene mode, but you'll get this other stuff instead:

  • Exposure (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual)
  • White Balance (Auto, Sunlight, Cloudy, Fluorescent [x 2], tungsten, manual)
  • Metering (Multi, Spot)
  • Drive (1 shot, burst, automatic exposure bracketing)

The AE bracketing feature doesn't let you choose the settings to use: instead it uses -0.5EV, 0EV, and +0.5EV. Burst mode will take up to 3 shots, at a 0.8 sec interval.

Aperture priority mode will let you choose the aperture, while the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The range of values is F2.9 - F8.0. If you set the aperture to F2.9, the shutter speed is limited to 1/750 sec.

Shutter priority mode is just the opposite: you choose the shutter speed, the M71 picks the aperture. Shutter speed ranges from 1/1000 - 15 sec. If you choose 1/1000 sec, the aperture will be limited to between F3.4 and F8.

In full manual mode, you pick both the shutter speed and aperture.


Quite a busy screen in Manual Record mode!

Another feature in manual mode is a histogram shown on the LCD. This is a pretty uncommon feature that most people probably won't pay attention to, but it's nice to have.

The camera did a good job with both the color and detail in our macro test. You can get as close as 10cm (at full wide-angle) in macro mode on the M71.

The M81 did a pretty good job with the night shot test as well. There isn't too much noise, and the buildings are sharp and recognizable.

One thing to note is that I did not have the "green image" problem that I did with the M81. See the review for more on what that was about.

The photo quality on the PDR-M71 was good, with accurate color, and minimal chromatic aberrations. Take a look at the gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The PDR-M71 has a pretty good movie mode. You can choose between Full (320 x 240) and Half (160 x 120) sizes, and the three "star" qualities in each. Depending on the size and quality chosen, you can record anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes of video, with sound. That's pretty close to as good as I've seen on a digital camera.

You cannot use the optical zoom during filming, since the sound of the lens moving would be picked up by the microphone.

Here's an unexciting sample movie:


Click to play movie (1.5MB, AVI format)

Playback Mode

Toshiba continues to have one of the best playback modes out there, and now it's even flashier.

Basic features are all here on the PDR-M71. That includes slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature now has a "zoom window" effect that's pretty cool. You can zoom in two or four times into your photo, and then move around them in real-time. This is still the best implementation of this feature out there, in my opinion.

Some of the advanced features include the ability to resize and change the quality of your photo. This will replace the current photo on the card, so be warned! You can also copy photos from one SmartMedia card to another.

If you want to get lots more info about your photo, the M71 delivers, as you can see above.

How Does it Compare?

While I didn't think that the PDR-M81 was competitive with the other 4 Megapixel cameras out there, I don't feel the same way about the M71. For just $499, the M71 represents a great value. You get a 3 Megapixel camera with an almost 3X zoom lens, full manual controls, movie mode, and good picture quality. On the downside, you don't get TIFF mode, and the bundle could be a lot better. But for those looking for a midrange camera with lots of bells and whistles, the Toshiba PDR-M71 is one not to miss.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Good amount of manual controls
  • Great value
  • Can use external lenses and filters (if you buy the adapter, that is)
  • Very good playback mode

What I didn't care for:

  • No TIFF mode
  • Slow startup times; a bit of shutter lag
  • Bundle includes alkaline batteries and tiny 8MB SmartMedia card

Similar cameras that you might want to consider include the Canon PowerShot S30, Casio QV-3500EX, Kyocera Finecam S3, Nikon Coolpix 885, Olympus C-3020Z, Pentax Optio 330, and the Sony DSC-P5 and DSC-S75.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the PDR-M71 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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

Want a second opinion? How about a third?

Be sure to read Steves Digicams review of the Toshiba PDR-M71. If that's not enough, the Imaging Resource has one too.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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