Review: Toshiba PDR-M81
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, August 13, 2001
Tuesday, October 23, 2001
when I was getting used to reviewing 3 Megapixel cameras, the 4
Megapixel camera invasion has started. Almost all of the big players
in the digicam world have announced 4MP cameras, and the list continues
entry into the field is the PDR-M81
($799), a 4.2MP camera with a 2.8X optical zoom lens, manual controls,
and more. How does it stack up against the competition? Find out
now in our review.
in the Box?
PDR-M81 has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
4.2 Mpixel Toshiba PDR-M81 camera
AA alkaline batteries
featuring ImageExpert and drivers
page manual (printed)
get the negatives out of the way up front. First, Toshiba includes
an incredibly skimpy 8MB SmartMedia card with the camera. Folks,
this is 4 Megapixel camera and it deserves at least a 16MB card
-- I'd prefer a 32MB one.
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.
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
with lens cap
PDR-M81 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.
the M81'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.
manual included with the camera is about average. There's a separate
manual for the ImageExpert software as well.
PDR-M81 is a unique looking camera that I found to be easy to hold
and use. The body is made of high-grade plastic, that seems like
it could take whatever you throw at it. The controls are all in
the right places and you can use it with one hand as well.
dimensions of the M81 are 4.2 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches (W x H x D) and
it weighs 340 grams empty. The camera does seem heavier that you'd
expect for its size, but it's still pretty light.
take a 360 degree tour of the PDR-M81 now.
the front of the M81. The F2.9 lens is made by Canon. The focal
range of the lens is 7.25 - 20.3 mm, which is equivalent to 35 -
98 mm. The lens is not threaded.
the top right of the photo you can see the microphone.
towards the left is the flash, which has a working range of 0.8
- 3.0 meters. There is a redeye reduction feature available. Flash
strength is not adjustable.
onto the back of the camera. The controls here are quite similar
to Toshiba cameras of yesteryear.
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
the top-left of the photo is the optical viewfinder. While it lacks
diopter correction (for those of us with glasses), it is large.
Those of you who use your right eye to look through it won't smudge
the LCD with your nose either.
button below the LCD (Disp/i) is used for toggling what is shown
on the LCD.
to the right of the LCD are:
switch (for menus)
at the top right is the zoom control. It's well placed and responsive,
though the zoom mechanism itself is a little slow.
the top of the PDR-M81, where you can see the LCD info display,
some buttons, the mode wheel, and the shutter release button.
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
buttons to the right of the info display include:
(2 or 10 sec)
thing I don't like about the size/quality button on the 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.
towards the right is the mode wheel, which has the following choices:
have more on these later in the review.
is one side of the M81. You can see the (large) speaker, power port
(left), and USB/AV port (right). There is no serial support available
on the M81.
is the other side of the M81, 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.
here is the bottom of the PDR-M81. 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.
the Toshiba PDR-M81
is now competing with Sony and Casio for the flashiest camera user
interface. When you power up the camera, a "fanfare" sound
plays, and the lens extends. It will be about five seconds before
you can start taking pictures. Pressing the shutter release button
halfway results in locked focus in about one second. There is noticeable
shutter lag on the M81 -- you'll wait almost a second after you
press the button all the way down before the shot is taken. Also,
I recommend turning off the sound on the camera. When you take the
picture, the M81 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). You can also speed things up by just pressing
the button all the way down (instead of stopping halfway), though
in some situations the photo may be out of focus.
speed is decent on the PDR-M81. You'll wait about 3 seconds between
shots at the highest quality setting.
are many quality settings on the M81, but as I mentioned, you have
to choose 3 of them to assign to the quality button on the top of
the camera. The chart below explains:
photos on 8MB card
photos on 64MB card
2400 x 1600
1200 x 800
720 x 480
is no TIFF or RAW mode available on the PDR-M81.
let's take a look at menu options. The follow options are available
in Auto or Manual mode:
(on/off) - shows image after it's taken
(Standard, vivid, monochrome, sepia)
(Normal, 2X, 4X) - equivalent to 100, 200, 400
(normal, soft, hard)
(normal, strong, soft)
zoom (on/off) - 2X digital zoom; will reduce image quality if
setup menu (use the mode wheel to get there) has some other common
options that aren't worth mentioning here.
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:
shot - 16 continuous frames (7.5 frames/sec) put into one collage
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:
(Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Full Manual)
Balance (Auto, Sunlight, Cloudy, Fluorescent [x 2], tungsten)
(1 shot, burst, automatic exposure bracketing)
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. There is no "manual"
white balance on the PDR-M81.
priority mode will let you choose the aperture, while the camera
picks the appropriate shutter speed. The range of values is F2.9
priority mode is just the opposite: you choose the shutter speed,
the M81 picks the aperture. Shutter speed ranges from 1/1000 - 15
full manual mode, you pick both the shutter speed and aperture.
a busy screen in Manual Record mode!
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.
PDR-M81 did a great job in our macro test, nailing both color accuracy
and detail. You can get as close as 10cm (at full wide-angle) in
macro mode on the M81.
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.
there was one weird problem that occurred with my M81. I'm not sure
if it's just mine or what. The problem that I discovered the night
I took the shot above was that it would record a corrupted image
on long exposures. Taking shots in Program mode came out fine, but
in the manual modes with a 1.5 or 2 second exposures, the M81 would
record an all green image. The preview image on the LCD looked fine
after it was taken, but as soon as you viewed it in playback mode
or on the computer, it was corrupt. I did mention this to Toshiba
and they had not heard of it. I haven't been able to consistently
replicate the problem either.
I was quite pleased with the M81's photo quality. The only thing
I noticed was that it can have a problem with chromatic aberrations
(purple fringing) in some situations. Take a look at the gallery
to see that photo (of the trees) and to see some more photos.
PDR-M81 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
cannot use the optical zoom during filming, since the sound of the
lens moving would be picked up by the microphone.
are recorded in AVI format. Here's a sample movie for you:
to play movie (2.9MB, AVI format)
continues to have one of the best playback modes out there, and
now it's even flashier.
features are covered on the PDR-M81. That includes slide shows,
DPOF print marking, image protection, and zoom and scroll.
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.
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.
more information about your photos? The PDR-M81 has got it, including
Does it Compare?
Toshiba PDR-M81 is a very good camera, that's packed with features
while delivering quality photos as well. I liked the manual controls,
easy of use, playback mode, and quality of the camera body. On the
negative side, I wish it had manual white balance, a TIFF mode,
faster recording speeds, and a larger included SmartMedia card.
Then there's the issue I had with the "green" long exposure
shots. Since I'm not sure if it's just my camera or all of them,
I'm going to not hold it against the M81 at this point.
brings up the question: is the PDR-M81 the best 4 Megapixel camera
for the money? The only other low-priced model I've tried is the
Sony DSC-S85 (see our review),
and I'd have to give it the edge over the PDR-M81 (better lens,
manual white balance, TIFF mode). I wouldn't ignore the PDR-M81
at all - if you're not bothered by my negatives then it might fit
the bill just fine.
good photo quality
amount of manual controls
menus (I'm a sucker for those kind of things)
good playback mode
I didn't care for:
manual white balance or TIFF mode
shutter lag than I'd like
support for external flash
an 8MB SmartMedia card?
consumer 4 Megapixel cameras include the Casio
FinePix 6900 Zoom (not really 4MP, but it produces comparably-sized
C-4040Z, and the Sony
always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out
the PDR-M81 and its competitors before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos
in our photo gallery!
a second opinion?
sure to read Steve's
Digicams review of the Toshiba PDR-M81.
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for
a personal recommendation.