The first digital cameras available to the public were generally expensive, bulky and not terribly well made. In the fast moving world of digital technology things have changed dramatically for the better. The Toshiba PDR-T20 shows just how far things have advanced; it's compact, stylish and offers advanced technological features.
Sensor: 2.01 (effective) megapixel, 1/2.7-inch colour CCD
Image size: 1600x1200 pixels
Lens: 38-76mm 2x zoom lens. f/2.8 (W) / 4 (T)
Focus: AF, macro (10-27cm)
Exposure: Program, Auto.
Monitor: 1.5-inch colour TFT LCD (118000 pixels)
AE Compensation: NA
Flash: Built in auto flash, red-eye reduction.
Video output: NA
Movie recording: NA
Other features: Exif V2.2
Image storage: SD memory card
AC adaptor: Supplied
Software: USB Driver, ACDSee.
Weight: 170g (excluding accessories, battery and SD card)
OS: Windows 98/2000/ME/XP, Mac OS 9.0+
When not in use, the lens is hidden by a shiny metal cover, providing an extra level of protection. When this cover is slid back and the camera switched on, the lens extends out and the flash pops up.
Providing only a modest 38-76mm 2x focal range the lens offers a reasonably fast aperture of f2.8 at full wide angle and f4 at full-zoom.
Flipping the camera over, we can see the most interesting feature, the touch-sensitive LCD. Toshiba have broken away from the usual interface design to create something unique. Held in your hand with the lens cover closed, an observer could be forgiven for mistaking the PDR-T20 for a PDA or a mobile phone.
However a good idea it might seem, some people will just find it too quirky and bothersome. Those who do approve of this system will probably also like the animated graphics and speedy operation. Although a stylus is provided, it's also easy to use fingers instead, but watch out for scratching the screen. A novel feature this system allows is being able to paint directly onto the photo from within the camera, and optionally save the result.
Regardless of whether you like the touch screen or not, the plain fact of the matter is it is hard to see the LCD in strong sunlight. With no alternative optical viewfinder this has the potential to cause considerable frustration.
Combining the aluminium finish with reflective silver and the minimalist control pad makes the PDR-T20 one of the most stylish cameras around. To help keep the camera looking shiny and nice, Toshiba have included a rather ugly green, but soft and protective case.
The build quality of the body is above average for a camera of this class. Due to the aluminium used, it feels tough, yet reasonably weighted and the lozenge-like shape fits into pockets easily. The one major criticism of the body is the absence of a tripod mount.
The battery used is a 3.7V 1035mAh model, which means it has a fair bit of power behind it. Coincidentally the battery seems identical to that used in the other digital compact cameras by Pentax and Fujifilm.
Toshiba quote 120 shots off one battery charge with the flash being used 100%. This is a reasonable figure though unfortunately it didn't perform so well in our testing. It was only thanks to a spare battery that I was able to continue shooting on a day out. It's crucial on a camera such as this, that the battery performance is excellent as lacking any optical viewfinder it's useless without the LCD switched on.
Stored under the same compartment cover as the battery, is the camera's SD card. The card supplied is only 8Mb and allows the storage of 6 photos in the best quality mode.
After pulling back the lens cover, the camera takes around six seconds to extend the lens and be ready to take a shot. Shot to shot times were good, with the camera being ready to take another shot almost immediately. After pre-focusing on the subject, the shutter lag of the shot being taken was minimal for a digital compact at around .1ms. Focusing time indoors were reasonable, with times ranging from 0.9sec to 2.1sec, dependant on lighting. Image playback functions are very fast and you can scroll around the image using your finger on the screen.
The built-in flash pops up as soon as you slide back the lens cover. Typical of many compact digital cameras it is lacking in power. It has a red-eye reduction mode or can be turned off entirely through the camera menu. Although it will be sufficient for some low lighting indoor shots, it can't be totally relied upon to deliver good results.
Through the camera menu there are a limited settings for image quality, with high and standard quality modes for the highest 1600x1200 resolution. It features a range of ISO options to choose from - 100, 200 and 400. There are five preset white-balance settings and an automatic setting.
Noticeably absent features include exposure compensation and shutter and aperture control. This is basically an automatic camera with a limited degree of manual control over image quality.
To help beginners get the best possible photographs from the camera, there are six scene modes which are: Portrait, Portrait + Landscape, Macro, Sports and Portrait + Night scene. There is also a total automatic control option and a Multi-shot option that takes 16 small photographs and saves them as a single image.
Image quality on the PDR-T20 was distinctly average with occasional shots not appearing very sharp and some fine details being lost. Colour rendition is also average, with skin tones appearing pale and colours often appearing under-saturated. The image noise levels are low, however, and even respectable up to ISO 400. There are some image artefacts present, but these shouldn't be noticeable at smaller print sizes.
The in-camera metering generally performs well, though without exposure compensation to rely on, it could prove to be problematic.
The automatic white-balance system worked intelligently, even coping well with some potentially tricky shop display lighting.
The image to the right is a 1:1 ratio crop of the small image to the upper left.
The biggest concerns for this camera in terms of photograph taking are the lack of manual modes. Some more manual controls, especially exposure compensation, would have made an appreciable difference to most photographers. Also, many people will be disappointed to see the absence of a video capture mode, something that is almost standard on compact cameras of this price point.
Although it provides a standout from the crowd appearance and handling, the image quality is only average. Build quality and looks are the main selling points. With the prices of digital cameras constantly being forced down by new models, this Toshiba is no longer as competitive as it was at launch, so there are better buys to be had.
In summary the main positive points of the Toshiba PDR-T20 are:
Love it or hate it user interface
Simple to use
Good and stylish build quality
Average image quality
Negative points are:
Lack of manual controls
No video mode
No Exposure compensation
Below average battery-life
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