This digital camera captures still shots and video

This digital camera captures still shots and video

Features such as easy downloading and long-lasting battery help make up for images' lack of clarity

By Carlos A. Soto

GCN Staff

The name makes it sound like a weapon or a division of the British secret service, but the PDR-M5 is really a digital camera.

And while the name doesn't make clear what this Toshiba America Inc. product is, the PDR-M5's photos aren't always clear, either.

The Toshiba PDR-M5 digital camera looks like a film camera, but its images aren't as clear as those of its film counterparts.

Though the camera has some nice features'including the ability to capture brief video clips'during my tests the PDR-M5 often produced photos that lacked crispness.

Like its predecessor, the PDR-M4, the M5 uses a Universal Serial Bus interface to connect to a PC. The easy-to-install software complements the USB's trouble-free connection to a computer, making it simple to download digital images. The M5 also inherited the M4's 1.8-inch LCD screen and takes 2.14 million-square-pixel pictures.

Unfortunately, also like its predecessor, the M5 sometimes turns out blurry images even when there is good lighting and the subject is stationary.

Despite the occasional fuzziness, there's still plenty to like in the upgraded camera.

What caught my attention was the M5's ability to record short video segments in the Audio Video Interleave format. Under AVI, video and audio data are recorded as successive bits and stored as a single file with an .avi extension. The camera records only video, not sound; it doesn't have a microphone.

If the video images are captured at a full resolution of 320 by 240 dots per inch, the camera can record up to 30 seconds of footage. At a half resolution of 160 by 120 dpi, the M5 can record for 2 minutes.

The difference in clarity between video mode and still shots is hardly noticeable.

The ability to record video segments distinguishes this camera from its predecessors and from other digital cameras in the $800 price range.

The M5 is fully automatic but can be switched to a manual mode for more options and flexibility. In the manual mode, a user can tweak the exposure and aperture settings, for instance.

There are three other modes:

Box Score''''''''''''''''


Digital camera

Toshiba America Inc.; Irvine, Calif.;

tel. 949-583-3000

Price: $800

+ Records short videos in AVI format

+ USB interface downloads images well

+ Lithium-ion battery lasts long and recharges quickly

' Big and bulky

' Images not clear enough

Real-life requirements:

Windows 9x, NT 4.0 or Mac OS, USB or parallel port, CD-ROM

•'The Burst mode lets a user take up to 20 pictures continuously at four pictures per second. The first four pictures are at full resolution and the rest are at half resolution. Full one-shot resolution is 1,600 by 1,200 dpi. Half resolution cuts back to 800 by 600 dpi.

The neat thing about the Burst option is that it doesn't put the images directly into memory. You can view them independently and choose those you want to keep or erase.

•'In the Multi mode, a user can take 16 consecutive shots and save the images as one shot. It works well for taking pictures of moving objects.

•'The Bulb mode automatically increases the exposure when shooting in low light without a flash.

The M5 comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which holds up under heavy use and recharges quickly'within two hours even if the battery is completely kaput.

Toshiba said the camera could take approximately 160 pictures with the LCD screen on or 240 with it off before recharging. I took pictures and recorded short movies all day before I needed to recharge the camera's battery.

The M5 doesn't come with a case, and the lens cap is an option, which is surprising for a camera at this price. If you buy the M5, buy the cap.

The body of the M5 goes against the modern design trend of smaller and lighter. The 5.1- by 3.1- by 2.8-inch size is bulky, but the camera feels sturdy. And, at 12.3 ounces, it is awkward to carry but easier to grip and shoot with than some trimmer digital cameras.

In the end, the camera's abilities, such as recording short videos and ease of use, more than make up for its flaws'even at $800.

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