The viewfinder is the most important part of a rangefinder camera, so it’s odd that this one has no dioptric correction. This means that if you need glasses, you’ll have to wear them in order to be able to focus the camera, but it also has no rubber cushion, so you risk scratching your glasses lenses. In the viewfinder there is an etched outline indicating where the edges of the frame lie and a selector switch to choose between 28, 35 and 50mm frame sizes.
The camera I was lent for testing came with a very nice 35mm Voigtlander lens, a fairly standard focal length for this type of camera, which according to the handy chart on the flip side of the monitor, equates to 53mm. However I found that the coverage of the lens was slightly less than the 28mm setting on the viewfinder. I’ve heard rangefinder camera enthusiasts talk about how great it is being able to see outside the edges of the frame, but the 28mm lines are right at the edges of the viewfinder where it is quite difficult to see both sides at the same time. I found the viewfinder to be very awkward and unpleasant to use, and made accurate framing and composition impossible. I also scratched my glasses.
Instead of an LCD display or information overlay on the monitor, the R-D1 has a circular window in the top with four analogue dials. Their meaning is not at all obvious, but a quick look at the manual reveals that they indicate battery level, number of shots remaining, white balance setting and quality level. It’s very cute, but I think that Epson’s claim that it’s a quicker and more natural way of presenting information is stretching it a bit. I’ve never heard of anyone having trouble reading an LCD display. LCD’s are also usually backlit, these dials are not.
Other controls are equally obscure. There are five buttons next to the monitor labelled with incomprehensible non-standard hieroglyphs, and the strange little circular menu is also labelled with symbols.
Of course all of these quirks could be forgiven if only the R-D1 offered superior image quality to make up for them, but sadly it does not. There is an excellent technical reason why this is the case, one so obvious that I’m amazed that it wasn’t picked up at the design stage.