Toshiba’s flagship PDR-M81 digital camera combines 4-megapixel clarity with a Canon optical zoom lens and a full complement of features. If you’re looking for a high-performance camera at an affordable price, the M81 is a great choice.
In its default mode, the camera is as easy to use as any point-and-shoot, but for photographers who want more creative control, the camera offers numerous advanced settings, including aperture- and shutter-priority modes, shutter speeds as slow as 15 seconds, a multimode flash, adjustable white balance, exposure compensation, and macro (for objects as little as four inches from the lens). Shots can be captured in black and white, sepia, vivid color, or standard color.
For power, the camera uses four AA batteries or an optional AC adapter. The big benefit to using standard AA batteries instead of a custom proprietary battery is that AA batteries are available virtually everywhere in the world, so missing a once-in-a-lifetime shot due to dead batteries won’t be an issue. The downside is that a digital camera will kill a set of alkaline batteries extremely quickly, especially if you’re using the camera’s LCD display. If you’re an occasional photographer, you can get by with high-power disposables, but if you plan to take more than a handful of photos a month, a set of rechargeable batteries (scroll up to our Accessories section) is a virtual necessity.
To compose your image, either look through the traditional viewfinder or use the 1.5-inch color LCD display on the back of the camera. Pictures are stored on SmartMedia cards in the industry-standard JPEG format. Images can be stored at three resolutions (2,400 x 1,600; 1,200 x 800; 720 x 480) and at three levels of compression. The PDR-M81 does not offer uncompressed TIFF or RAW recording, a feature found on some other 4-megapixel cameras. The included 8 MB card holds seven images at the camera’s default setting or five images in the highest-quality (least compressed) setting. The card is reusable, but if you’re hoping to take more photos before returning to your computer to transfer the images, you’ll want a larger SmartMedia card.
Canon provides Toshiba with the 2.8x optical zoom lens. In 35mm camera terms, the lens zooms from 35mm to 98mm, and the aperture varies from f2.9 to f8.0. In addition to the 2.8x optical zoom, the camera includes an additional 2.2x digital zoom. This feature merely crops the edges off your picture and blows up the remaining image, enlarging your picture at the expense of image quality. Most photo-editing software will let you do the same thing to your picture once you’ve transferred it to your home computer, so it’s a camera feature that’s not often used.
Movie mode captures movie clips at resolutions of 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 pixels. This feature won’t replace your camcorder, but it’s perfect for when you just want to capture a quick movie and e-mail it to a friend or relative.
A video-out feature makes it easy to show your pictures in big-screen glory. Just connect your camera to your TV with the included cable to give a virtual slide show to friends or family. If you think your photos look impressive on a 17-inch computer monitor, just wait until you see them on a 27-inch TV screen.
Shutter lag–the delay between the time you press the button and the moment the camera actually captures the photo–is a problem with most digital cameras, and the M81 is no exception. The camera can take up to a second to snap your picture after pressing the button, which can be an unacceptably long time, especially if you’re trying to take a picture of a quick-moving subject. Most of this delay can be eliminated by prefocusing–composing your shot, then pressing the shutter button halfway down to allow the camera to adjust the focus and metering. When you press the button the rest of the way down, the shutter will snap almost instantly.
The PDR-M81 comes with Image Expert software, an 8 MB SmartMedia card, video and USB cables, shoulder strap, camera case, lens cap, and four AA alkaline batteries. The camera is covered by a one-year warranty.
- 4-megapixel sensor captures filmlike detail in your photos
- Advanced features like shutter- and aperture-priority for more advanced photographers
- No connection for external flash
- No uncompressed (TIFF) mode
- Included alkaline batteries are only a short-term solution