A great camera in a unique package
by Rick Smith (June, 2000)
The list of features for this camera is impressive. Here are some of the more important ones in comparison to the Sony Mavica MVC-FD7 that I personally own.
Great pictures - This is the most important feature and it gives crisp clear pictures with rich color.
Good battery life - The included NiMh battery is about the size of an AA battery. Toshiba must pack a lot of energy into this small container, since the PDR-M5 runs on only this single battery. If you intend to do lots of shooting in a single day, I would recommend getting a second battery. It comes in handy when power is running low in the evening and you are ready to take some exciting nighttime shots.
Automatic off feature - While this doesn't sound like much, this feature keeps you from accidentally leaving the unit on and gives you peace of mind knowing that you will never burn up your battery when you pack it into your bag and leave it on. I use a camera bag around my neck so I "drop" the cameras in when I move to the next location. With automatic power off feature, I know I won't waste much battery power, even if I forgot to turn the camera off. You can set this to be a 1, 2 or 3 minute time-out. There have been times that I have left my Sony Mavica on for several hours in playback mode and had to switch batteries sooner.
Lightweight - While this camera may look larger and bulkier than other digicams - it isn't. It is extremely light - weighs under 13 ounces.
Popup flash - While many people may like an integrated flash or even an automatic pop-up flash, I like this one just the way it is. If I turn the flash on and don't pop the flash up mechanically, the flash is off. If I pop it up, then the flash will go work. Sounds simple, where's the payoff? By being able to pop the flash up or push it down, I can also tell the status of the flash without having to look for the "little icon" on the display when I compose the picture. If I am using the viewfinder, I can pop the flash up and know it will fire, without having to interrupt my picture taking process. This is much easier than turning on the flash on or off using a little button. The flash fires right away and doesn't take any time to build the charge back up. No 6 second wait for the charge to build up (like my Sony MVC-FD7).
Multiple resolutions/quality - With 3 different qualities at 2 different resolutions - 800x600 and 1600x1200 the PDR-M5 gives you great control over the stored image size and the number of images per memory card. In the best mode, I can put about 33 pictures on a 32 megabyte SmartMedia card. In the lowest resolution, lowest quality mode I can store nearly 500!
Zoomed picture playback - Toshiba has added the ability to zoom into a picture while you are viewing a picture. I didn't realize that this camera had this feature initially. Once I found it, it is truly helpful to determine good pictures from bad as you take them. Since the image being viewed is vastly larger than the sub-megapixel display on the camera, Toshiba cleverly created this "playback zoom" which helps you examine the image quality, by magnifying a portion of the image. An even smaller thumbnail is displayed with a "guidebox" so you know where you are in the full picture, while you are panning and scrolling.
There are 3 different zoom levels to view a picture at - normal, about 6X (2.5 times wider and taller) and 25X (5 times wider and taller). This is a very handy feature because it helps you verify the focus and clarity of the picture. If you or the object moved, you can easily take another picture, right then, instead of having to return in the future or perform digital darkroom "gymnastics" to improve the picture. After all, isn't that why we are shooting digitally - so we can take the picture and KNOW right away what the results are going to look like.
Video file output - This is a handy feature that most digicams don't have. This camera is capable of taking clips from 30 seconds (best res/lowest compression) to 2 minutes (lowest resolution/highest compression). While you may think you don't really need it, once you take a movie, you'll be hooked - I was. The best part is that these movies are clear and crisp.
Good output display - The electronic display is bright and pleasant to look at. It does not suffer from the "jitters" that many digicams have in lower lighting when moving or viewing moving objects. This is in stark contrast to the Kodak DC280, which has extreme flicker. This display is very close to the intense, real time, video display of the Sony Mavica MVC-FD7. The menu text display is also very readable and well sized.
Burst mode - This feature lets you quickly take 4 shots in rapid succession (full resolution) and after they are taken, examine each one and then decide to accept or reject them on an individual basis. This selection process is handy to catch the best photo of the moment. I tend to keep them all and decide later, if they look reasonable. If not, I reject them all and try again.
Multimode - This allows you to quickly take 16 consecutive, rapid fire shots. The result is one sixteenth sized images merged into a single picture in a 4 by 4 matrix. With simple image manipulation, you can turn these images into a GIF animation or take the best one. While this makes the image only 400 pixels wide (using hi-res mode), it can help capture action that would otherwise be lost. The M5 gives you a 16 frame motor drive in under 13 ounces.
Bulb (long) exposure - Few digicams have 1, 2, 4 or 8 second exposure capability making this camera excellent for night photography.
Manual mode - This mode allows manual control of the white balance, overall image brightness and metering area which gives you better control of the camera in certain situations. I tend to use the automatic mode most of the time, and if I notice the shots coming out too dark or light, I compensate when re-shooting the same shot. My goal is to get the shot as good as I can, without having to do any digital darkroom work. I have found that checking your work after you take the picture, and re-shooting if necessary, is easier than having to adjust the picture later with digital darkroom software.
Easy to understand controls - A single turn knob changes modes between Setup, Download, Playback, Off, Take picture and Take picture manually.
Digital clock - Yes, that's right, this digicam displays a digital clock when it is off. While no one may buy the Toshiba PDR-M5 for this feature alone, I have not seen it on any other brand of camera and I did make great use of it since I don't wear a watch. This feature also helps keep you from taking pictures with the wrong time stamp which is confusing when you examine the pictures days or weeks later.
© 2000 Rick Smith All rights reserved.