DCRP Review: Toshiba PDR-M61
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Monday, June 18, 2001
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 19, 2001

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The increase in the number of midrange zoom digital cameras isn't that surprising. As newer, fancier cameras are introduced at the high end, some of last years technology trickles down to these midrange cameras. The Toshiba PDR-M61 is one such camera. It has a 2.3 Megapixel CCD, 3X optical zoom, USB, and easy automatic operation -- for under $400. Is the PDR-M61 your best choice for a midrange camera? Read on to find out...

What's in the Box?

The PDR-M65 has a decent bundle included with the camera. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 2.3 Mpixel Toshiba PDR-M61 camera
  • 8MB SmartMedia card
  • 4 AA alkaline batteries (non-rechargeable)
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ImageExpert software, full manual, and drivers
  • 16 page Quick Start Guide plus 109 page full manual (PDF format on CD)

I'll get the negatives out of the way now. First, a big thumbs down to Toshiba for putting the user manual on CD. The "quick start guide" only has 4 pages of actual photo-taking information, so you'll most likely have to crack open the real manual at some point. I don't think users should be left with the burden of printing out a 100+ page manual. Of course, that's just my opinion. The quality of the manual itself is fine -- about average I'd say.

Another thumbs down for not including rechargeable batteries. The alkaline AA's in the box go quickly, and end up polluting landfills. You'll want to get your own NiMH rechargeables as soon as possible.

Aside from that, you've got everything you need: a decent-sized SmartMedia card, shoulder strap, and the necessary cables and software.

As far as accessories go, you can get a number of third party filters and lenses for this model, but you'll need to buy an adapter first. This page should point you to these products.

Look and Feel

The PDR-M61 is what I'd call a "midsize" camera. It's about the same size as the Sony S75/S85, for example. It's made mostly of plastic, though it doesn't feel cheap. The camera can be operated with one hand, though I preferred two. The dimensions of the camera are 4.76 x 2.95 x 2.4 inches (W x H x D) and it weighs 305 grams empty. Let's take a tour of the PDR-M61 now, shall we?

On the front of the camera, there's nothing surprising here. The 3X optical zoom lens (F3.2) has a focal range of 8.3 - 23.3mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 114mm. The lens has a built-in cover, so no lens cap is needed.

The flash has an effective range of 1.3 ft – 10 ft.

Now onto the back of the camera, which is quite similar to previous Toshiba cameras.

I found the 1.8" LCD difficult to see, even inside with the brightness cranked up. The display is fluid, but it's just hard to see. Nose smudges won't be a problem for those who use their right eye with the optical viewfinder.

Speaking of which, the optical viewfinder is good-sized, though the lens barrel obstructs the view somewhat. There is no diopter correction for those of us with glasses.

Just below the LCD is the DC in port, where the optional AC adapter is plugged in.

To the right of the LCD you'll find the following:

  • Four-way switch (for menus)
  • Menu
  • Display (toggles LCD on/off, as well as what's shown on it)
  • Delete Photo
  • Macro Mode

At the far right, you can see the zoom controls.

Moving on to the top of the camera...

Up here you'll find the LCD info display, buttons for flash, quality, and self-timer, the mode wheel, and the shutter release button.

One feature I miss from other Toshiba cameras is the backlit LCD info display. I guess they had to cut a few things out to get the M61 down to a decent price, though.

The mode wheel has the following options:

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

I'll cover these more in detail in the next section.

I don't care for the shutter release button on the M61... it doesn't have enough "play" as you push it down, so it's hard to tell when it's halfway or fully pressed.

Here's one side of the PDR-M61, and there's nothing to see. So on to the other side...

... where you'll find the SmartMedia slot, as well as the USB port. The SmartMedia slot is spring-loaded, and strangely, the camera beeps when a card is inserted or removed.

Finally, the bottom of the camera. Down here you'll find a plastic tripod mount, and a battery compartment with an unusual method of opening.

Using the Toshiba PDR-M61

Record Mode

The camera starts up in less than 4 seconds, and the LCD is turned on by default. The camera takes about 1.5 seconds to lock focus, which is worse than average. Depressing the shutter release fully results in a picture with no noticeable delay. While composing a picture, the LCD locks up or becomes choppy. There's about a 2 second delay before you can take another shot.

Record Mode (manual mode)

The zoom controls were sluggish, and quite jumpy at times.

Toshiba has a unique way of letting users select the resolution (Full or Half) and quality ("stars") of their photos, as the following chart explains:

Image Size Image Quality Mode # photos on 8MB card
1792 x 1200
*** 7
** 14
* 29
896 x 600
*** 29
** 58
* 112

The PDR-M61 is a point-and-shoot camera, and therefore it doesn't have a whole lot of menu choices. Here they are:

  • Rec. Mode (1 Shot, Multi, Bulb) - more below
  • Preview (on/off) - whether or not to show the image after it has been taken
  • ISO (100, 200, 400, Black & White [what is this doing here?])
  • Bulb Mode (1 sec, 2 sec) - for longer exposures
  • Self-timer (2 sec, 10 sec)
  • LCD brightness

In addition, there are two other choices that are outside of the menu system, only available in "manual" mode:

  • White balance (auto, sunlight, fluorescent [3 choices], tungsten)
  • Exposure compensation (-1.5EV to +1.5EV in 0.3EV increments)

Multi-shot mode

The "multi" record mode isn't continuous shooting. Rather, it takes 16 shots in a row and puts them into one collage. The Nikon Coolpix has this feature as well.

The PDR-M61 did a decent job with our macro test. It's a bit dark (that's what exposure compensation is for), but the colors are correct and the detail is good.

Unfortunately, the news is not good when it comes to the nightshot test. While the colors are a bit off (white balance tinkering could've probably fixed this), the big problem is that it's too dark -- not enough light was let in. I find this to be a common problem with point-and-shoot cameras, and the M61's relatively "slow" lens doesn't help.

Overall, I'd rank the photo quality of the PDR-M61 as just "fair". One thing I couldn't help but notice in many shots in the gallery was the color of the sky. It was always unnatural, more purple than blue. Other photos had a bit of a reddish look as well. Again, check out the gallery for many samples.

Playback Mode

The PDR-M61's playback mode is pretty basic. You've got slideshows, image protection, 9 thumbnail mode, and zoom and scroll. There is no DPOF printing, which was surprising, since almost no cameras omit this (probably under-used) featured.

Other features include the ability to resize and/or change the quality of your photos.

The zoom and scroll feature is decent, but you can only zoom in once (2X). The scrolling speed has always been excellent on Toshiba cameras, and that continues on the M61.

There isn't much information you can get about your photos, but again, this is a point-and-shoot camera. The photo above shows you all the camera is willing to tell you.

It takes the M61 about 3 seconds to move between photos in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

The 2 Megapixel, 3X zoom camera market is pretty crowded, with all the major manufacturers selling cameras in this space. Unfortunately, the Toshiba PDR-M61 falls at the back of the pack in my eyes. The photo quality was sub-par, camera operation was sluggish, and it was pretty light on features compared to the competition. My advice is to consider one of the cameras listed below instead -- your money can be better spent on another camera.

What I liked:

  • Well-placed controls
  • Fast playback mode
  • Availability of lenses/filters

What I didn't care for:

  • Below average picture quality
  • Sluggish operation
  • Optical viewfinder partially blocked by lens barrel
  • No movie mode
  • LCD display too dark; brightness correction doesn't help.
  • No video out

Some other cameras to consider while shopping include the Canon PowerShot A20 and PowerShot S300 Digital ELPH, Fuji's FinePix 2400 Zoom, Kodak's DC4800 (if you can find one), Nikon's Coolpix 775, Olympus' D-490Z, D-510Z, and C-2040Z, and Sony's DSC-P50.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the PDR-M61, 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?

Be sure to read Steve's Digicams review of the PDR-M61.

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


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