Epson R-D1 – Digital Rangefinder Camera Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1999.00

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.

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