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Arthur’s Final Look At
The 4MP Toshiba PDR-M81

The new 4MP Toshiba PDR-M81 M81 may look unassuming on the outside, but like a wallflower at a dance, hidden attributes begin emerge once you go for a spin.

Silver, black, and charcoal color combinations seem to be de rigueur for today's digicams and the PDR-M81 is no exception. Brick-solid, it features a Canon 35mm to 98mm (equiv) f-2.8 zoom lens that glides smoothly out to the accompaniment of a musical tune when the Power switch next to the shutter release is pressed; not exactly subtle, but it can be turned off. Unfortunately, "artsy" backgrounds over which menus are superimposed can't be; they make the screens look cluttered. A simple background would have sufficed.

The top deck of the PDR-M81 has the obligatory Mode dial­ Setup, Computer Connection, Playback, Record, Manual Record, and Movies, in that order, which makes it easy to shoot and review without going through Off­ a quirky characteristic of some Toshiba digicams. To the left of the dial are three buttons-­ one for the Self-Timer function, another to change Image Quality (compression) settings, and a third to set the Flash mode.

Although the resolution settings are done in the menus, it's handy to be able to change compression on-the-fly with the Image Quality button in case you start to run out of space on your memory card. As you go through the three possibilities (which equate to 1:5, 1:7.5, and 1:15), the number of images available for each shows clearly on the adjacent top-deck LCD. It's a nice, simple solution without having to do a menu dive; it's also best to leave resolution at its highest setting and vary compression rather than use lower resolutions if you need more space.

The back of the camera is extremely clean; an optical viewfinder at the top left (no diopter adjustment, unfortunately), a zoom rocker at the top right, and down the middle a four-way Function switch that lets you navigate through the menu settings. In Manual mode it serves to set distance and also lens and shutter speeds. Below the Function rocker you'll find four buttons that control Menu access, Focus (Auto, Macro, 3',10' or Infinity), Erasing images, and Folder creation for organizing photos. Finally, a Display/Info toggle button under the 1.5" LCD monitor allows you to see a data overlay, display images cleanly without the overlay, or kill the display entirely– useful for conserving battery power.

One side of the PDR-M81 has a locking memory card compartment for its spring-loaded SmartMedia card; you remove it by pressing it in a bit further and it smoothly pops out. The opposite side features a playback speaker for movies, and two terminals­ one for an optional external power pack and the other, a Video Out/USB combination. Finally, the camera also has a small microphone on the front and a locking in-line battery compartment along the bottom with an easy-to-read polarity diagram.

Although it has now been proven that Lemmings don't follow each other blindly over a cliff, it has not yet been determined if the same holds true for digicam manufacturers. Like almost every other camera in its class, the PDR-M81 has a movie mode– though I've yet to meet anyone who's ever used it. Well, perhaps they have once, just to show it to friends and family but then, like an old soldier, this feature just seems to fade away. Toshiba would have done better to scrap movies in favor of a viewfinder that could be eyesight-corrected, two strap eyelets instead of one, and a way to attach auxiliary lenses and filters.

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