By Larry Loh
When the PDR-T10 was first introduced, the concept of a touch screen that allowed Toshiba to do away with multiple buttons and controls was a simple yet effective one that drew much attention. However, the lack of any optical zoom and manual features for greater control severely hampered any user creativity, which is a major setback for a digital camera.
More Than A Mere Upgrade
Building on the touch-screen novelty factor, Toshiba has unveiled a 2-megapixel successor to the PDR-T10. The T20 is much more than just a superficial upgrade. While the T10 used a fixed focal length for its lens, the T20 offers a 2x optical zoom lens. Admittedly, this is still a very limited range, but it does offer the user some flexibility to zoom in on a subject. Manual camera controls such as exposure compensation, white balance (auto and manual) and TTL metering have also been included, which allude to the fact that Toshibas R&D folks are paying attention to user feedback.
In terms of form factor and design, the T20 has undergone a radical change, too. The slim, flat profile with interchangeable face plates has been dropped for a sleek, new design complete with sliding lens cover. This is a more contemporary shape which bears some similarity to Canon's S30/S40 and Sonys DSC-U10/U20. Consumer-level users will also appreciate the T20's new preset scene mode options for handling challenging photographic situations, such as night view, landscape, sports and portrait.
User-Friendly Controls And Functions
The T20 relies on an unusual touch-screen navigation system to access every feature except the optical zoom. Only four buttons reside on the sleek, narrow camera: An on/off switch, a shutter button, a zoom toggle, and a quick-review button. For the rest of the camera's functions, the selection is made by touching the onscreen menus, or using the small plastic stylus that attaches to the end of a neck strap. The camera lacks an electronic/optical viewfinder, so the LCD monitor is used for shooting.
This new method of control does takes a bit of time to get familiar with, but once mastered the functions are relatively simple and straightforward. However, its almost certain that when shooting out in the field, the stylus will be dropped in favor of just tapping on the touch screen with a finger--its easier and less troublesome in the long run. One thing lacking is some protection for the sensitive (and expensive to replace) touch screen, which is entirely exposed to the elements and prone to scratches and dings from rough handling. One suggestion is to improvise using PDA protector sheets.
While the PDR-T20 lacks video and audio recording capabilities, users get in return a unique paint palette that allows simple drawing and writing on low-resolution copies of your images. This feature does come with some novelty draw, but ultimately it will still be relegated to the entertainment of younger set. The interface for this feature is also awkward to use, and doesnt offer anything that cant be done in a basic image-editing program on the computer.
Middling Image Quality
The PDR-T20 has a 2-megapixel CCD sensor that captures images up to 1600 x 1200 pixels in size. The camera comes equipped with a 2x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-76mm lens) plus a 2x digital zoom mode (which is not recommended for use, as it results in a loss of image quality), resulting in 4x total zooming capabilities. The focusing range in normal mode is about 50cm to infinity and in Macro mode from about 10cm (infinity in wide angle) or about 27cm (infinity in telephoto).
In terms of image quality, the results tested were not fantastic but acceptable for a consumer-level model. There was a slight tendency to under-compensate for exposure, resulting in somewhat overexposed shots. The color gamut was above average, producing color prints that were bright and relatively accurate. Noise was also satisfactory at all ISO settings (four ISO sensitivity levels--ISO 100, 200 or 400). The PDR-T20 had little problem coping with outdoor shoots, although the LCD monitor was a little hard to use in bright daylight, which is fairly typical of most color LCD screens. For indoor shots, the limited flash range would be ineffective unless the subject is closer than 2m.
Batteries And Storage
Toshibas decision to switch from the T10's two AA batteries to a proprietary rechargeable Lithium-ion battery is more a setback than an improvement. Instead of the easily available AA-sized batteries, the use of the proprietary battery pack means less portability. Battery life was also mediocre--the camera's rechargeable battery lasted about 300 shots before running out.
All in all, the PDR-T20 is a firm contender in the 2-megapixel, 2x optical zoom range. With its portable size and weight, this is the kind of camera most people wont mind carrying around everywhere. In automatic mode it's very easy to operate and qualifies as a point-and-shoot digicam that anyone can use successfully. The touch-screen LCD and controls will also be a big draw, especially for those who seek novelty and uniqueness in their cameras.