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Epson R-D1 - Digital Rangefinder Camera review




Our Score:


Here’s the specification. It’s a six megapixel camera with no autofocus, it only has center-weighted metering and either aperture priority auto or manual exposure. It has none of the usual handy features like auto-bracketing, continuous shooting or a movie mode, and although it has interchangeable lenses they’re incredibly expensive and you don’t even get a through-the-lens viewfinder. And it costs £2,000 just for the body.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I really don’t get the point of the Epson R-D1. It is a digital camera designed to look, feel and operate like an old-fashioned 35mm rangefinder camera, of the type usually associated with names like Leica and Voigtlander, and typically used by the type of photographer who actually has one of those waistcoats with all the pockets.

The first 35mm rangefinder camera was introduced by Leica in 1925. It was a huge success and spawned an entire industry of imitators. However the increasing popularity of the more technically advanced 35mm single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras in the 1960s and 70s led to a decline in their use. 35mm rangefinder cameras still have their fans, and several models are still made, including the Voigtlander-Cosina.Bessa R2S upon which the R-D1 is based.

Rangefinder cameras do have some advantages compared to film SLRs, including smaller size, virtually silent operation and mechanical simplicity. Since they don’t have a reflex mirror in the way, the rear element of the lens can be a lot closer to the film, so it is possible to fit extremely wide-angle lenses, which is something we’ll come back to. On the downside they are slow and fiddly to operate, have none of the useful features found on a modern SLR such as auto-focus or advanced metering, and of course there is the problem of viewfinder parallax at close range.

Although the R-D1 has all of those advantages, it also has all the disadvantages, plus a few special ones of its own.

Despite the fact that as a digital camera it obviously has no film, it nonetheless has a film wind-on lever which has to be cranked before every shot to cock the shutter. On a film rangefinder camera the mechanical shutter means that you can still take a picture with dead batteries, but of course you can’t do that with the R-D1, so why have a mechanical shutter? It also has what would normally be the film rewind knob, but here it takes on the role of a jog dial for menu navigation and scrolling through pictures in replay mode.

Bill Hunt

August 27, 2008, 1:07 pm

Perhaps the most telling comment of this review is "I really don’t get the point of the Epson R-D1". That really comes across.


March 1, 2009, 6:30 am

This product might as well have come out of the minds of the Sirius Corporation's Marketing Department... (for those who haven't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it may suffice to say that the aforementioned company's Complaints Department occupies all the major landmasses of three planets in the Sirius System...)


September 1, 2009, 8:25 pm

Not so stupid. This is a niche camera designed to take 39mm screw Leica rangefinder lenses. These have been made by a huge range of makers from 1934 to date..so there are zillions to chose from. Zeiss and Leica still make brand new 35mm rangefinders in tiny numbers at big prices. Camera is a bit dated now 6Mp won't impress but its a bit cheaper than the $5000 Leica M8.


August 12, 2013, 6:16 pm

It do not take 39mm screw lenses (at least without an adapter) because it has an Leica M bayonet.

Michael Singleton

February 18, 2014, 9:22 pm

Yes, you really have missed the point of this camera, of course there is no point buying this camera now, 10 years after the original release of the RD-1, with how fast digital is evolving, but that is only because of the 6mp limitation. The camera is basically a film camera with a digital back, it has no autofocus, that's because it can mount some of the best lenses ever made which are interchangeable between film and digital cameras, therefore they aren't AF lenses, also if you're used to manual focusing then you'll probably prefer it. You next point out that it doesn't have auto bracketing or continuous shooting or even a movie mode, first of all who the hell wants to take HDR shots? Keep in mind what I said about it being a film camera with a digital back, you didn't have auto bracketing on film cameras, also I don't think your going to use this camera for sports photography, so continuous shooting is pointless, if you using continuous shooting on your digital camera then you aren't valuing your shots. The lenses are incredibly expensive because as I said before, they are some of the best in the world, but they're not all that expensive, you can get a lens for less than £500, which if you know anything about cameras then you will know that is not that expensive. Second to last point now, you stated you don't even get to look through the lens, yes that's because it's a rangefinder, you clearly don't understand the pros of an RF, they're quiet (no mirror), they're quicker to focus than SLR's and in the main easy to frame, granted they're not the best for everything but its not a negative. So basically its a camera for photographers that have come from film, have built up techniques and ways of shooting using film and now want to carry on those techniques using digital with ease, which brings me to my last point, the film advance, if you have ever used a film camera (properly) then you will understand the pleasure of having a film advance, it breaks up shots (this links back to not having continuous shooting and instead valuing ever shot) it makes you think about the shots because you have to advance the lever. So again its giving the film photographer everything they're used to but with a digital camera, the fact you have hated it so much makes me think that you do not understand the reasoning behind the cameras release and therefore you are not equipped to review it, giving it 1 star is a complete joke and shows how biased you have been. Of course this camera most likely won't be appealing to people who have only ever shot digital SLR's and want the same feel with a different camera, but that is not why it was produced. Anyway I know this post is nearly exactly 5 years after the article was published but this review has shown a distinct lack of understanding and a massive bias and therefore can't be trusted, so I thought I would point out why :)

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