Toshiba PDR-M65

WHAT'S HOT: Toshiba's PDR-M65 is one of the least expensive 3-megapixel cameras we've tested. Nevertheless, it captured some of the sharpest, most detailed images we've seen. When shooting our lovely test mannequin, Gloria, the PDR-M65 captured the transparency of a scarf--something none of the other cameras in our test group could reproduce. A US$100 price drop moves the camera here from our over-$500 chart. It's the first 3-megapixel camera we've found under US$500.

You can shoot for nearly 3 hours, or 259 shots, on one set of four AA batteries with the PDR-M65. The only other camera we've tested that lasts longer is the Nikon Coolpix 995.

WHAT'S NOT: Unfortunately, this camera's color reproduction falls far short. The same test shot that showed off the camera's ability to capture detail revealed a deathly pallor on our mannequin. Colors in many shots looked off by a large margin, though the problem isn't as noticeable in outdoors shots as it is with shots of people.

Aside from its high-megapixel CCD, the PDR-M65 isn't a sophisticated camera. It offers few controls compared with other cameras (even the ones that cost about the same). You can't, for example, set the exposure manually or lock it in (such as when you focus on an object to lock in the focus and exposure values and then shift to another subject). It has no aperture-priority or shutter-priority modes. The camera's manual mode is the same as its automatic mode, except that you can adjust two settings: white balance and exposure compensation value. And for a camera with such high resolution, the included 8MB SmartMedia card is much too small.

The zoom is jerky and slow, and the LCD image shimmers while the lens is moving. When the focus locks on, the image shifts slightly--the focal length moves either in or out, so it's difficult to frame subjects precisely. The LCD panel is hard to see in sunlight (though we've encountered worse), and the lens obscures a small portion of the optical viewfinder when you're using a telephoto length. Unlike many other cameras, the LCD on the PDR-M65 gives you no indication of how far you've zoomed in.

A quick-start guide comprises all the printed documentation; it's barely sufficient to get you going. Toshiba puts a much more extensive PDF manual on the included CD-ROM (and even more information on its Web site), but if you want hard-copy documentation to take with you on trips, you'll have to crank up your printer.

WHAT ELSE: Because the camera offers limited options, its controls are pretty easy to navigate. A dime-size thumbwheel to the right of the LCD lets you scroll up, down, and side-to-side in the menus; hit the center of the wheel to enter a change. Below the wheel, a small trash-can button lets you quickly delete unwanted images just after you've shot them. A tiny monochrome LCD panel on top of the camera shows settings such as quality and the number of shots left. Pushing the zoom control while in playback mode allows you to zoom in on an image you've taken, and you can use the thumbwheel to scroll around the image.

UPSHOT: If you want to print digital shots at large dimensions without dropping wads of cash, consider the PDR-M65. However, you may spend lots of time trying to rescue color-botched shots.

Toshiba PDR-M65

Price $499; URL www.dsc.toshiba.com

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