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Epson R-D1 digital rangefinder

Released in Q3 2004, the Epson R-D1 caused a lot of excitement when it became available. 6MP digital; works with M lenses and was not a DSLR! On hearing the news many fell to their knees and proclaimed: "Hallelujah! The Day Of Digital Rangefinder Salvation Has Come!"

Well, hardly. Amid the excitement many overlooked the 1.53x cropping factor. Epson had dealt with the "non-telecentric / corner fringing" issue by simply chopping 5-millimetres off the image borders. Even then there was still WA vignetting (see discussion below.)

Why have a film-wind lever on an all-digital camera? To cock the shutter by hand and thus cut down on battery usage. An obvious disadvantage however is that it excludes shooting rapid "motordrive" sequences. OTOH the analogue dials and simple mechanical controls do look kinda cool.

R-D1s 2006 upgrade

In 2006 Epson released a new version of the camera, the "R-D1s". Basically it was identical to the R-D1, with only the firmware different and the price more realistic (€ 2000 Euro vs. € 3000 Euro for the original R-D1).

<epsonrd1.co.uk/facts.html>

Thankfully existing R-D1 owners could easily upgrade their firmware to the R-D1s standard — for free! See the following link:

<esupport.epson-europe.com/RD1s/Registration…>

Service and Repair difficulties

If the shutter on your Epson RD-1 dies and the camera is out of warranty… tough. Chances are it will have to be shipped back to Japan to be (maybe) repaired by Epson Japan. See the Nov 2006 discussion at <Rangefinderforum.com: #32209>.

According to the above link, because Epson (USA) refuse to supply parts to third-party repairers, the only thing people like DAG can do is adjust the rangefinder alignment (!)

The good news is that in February 2008 Rich Culter sent me a note that repairs can still be done by Epson, for six years after the camera purchase date. See the page on his website at:

<richcutler.co.uk/r-d1/r-d1_14.htm>

Rangefinder accuracy

The body appears to be based on the Bessa R2, so it inherits its loud shutter and short rangefinder base. Originally I thought this would kill the camera's ability to accurately focus wide-aperture lenses (eg. the Noctilux), but in July 2004 Steve Weersing pointed out that the RD-1's rangefinder would, in practice, be actually much more accurate than that of the R2:

[…] because of the 1.53x cropping factor, the rangefinder in the Epson R-D1 has additional [1.0x] magnification to compensate. This makes its effective rangefinder base length about 1.5x that of the Bessa R2. It is sort of like using a magnifier on an M viewfinder to increase focusing accuracy.
 
The R-D1 should thus have significantly better focusing accuracy than does the Bessa R2.
 
You can see that the R-D1 is noticeably taller than the Bessa R2, and much of the additional height is occupied by the larger rangefinder window on the front.

Cropping Factor issues

Setting aside issues that the R-D1 appears to be limited edition (ten thousand copies only) and expensive ($US 3000) — the main killer is the 1.53x cropping factor.

Because the sensor is 23.7 x 15.6 mm, you only capture the central portion of a standard 36 x 24mm film frame. Which means your 50mm lens has its angle of view reduced to that of a 75mm, while a 24mm lens becomes a 36mm (and so on). The effect is similar to mounting your M lenses onto a half-frame camera body — same focal-length and lens-to-film distance, just a smaller, cropped final image.

Whilst this is a boon to tele shooters, it is less than wonderful for wide-angle (especially ultra WA) users.

You could of course kludge a work-around by using either the Voigtländer ASPH 12mm ƒ5.6 or 15mm ƒ4.5 ASPH Heliar (yielding 18mm and 23mm effective focal lengths respectively), but both are slow, add more expense, and don't address the issue of not being able to use your existing M lenses at their actual focal length.

Epson RD-1 user review

In September 2004, Hong Kong based Howard Cummer had a chance to try out one of the first RD-1's sold to the public. Here is an edited summary of his remarks (you can read them in full at <Photo.net: #009ezS>):

[…] [Battery life] is indicated from full to empty by the dial at the bottom of the display. When the dial gets to 1/3 full you are just about out of gas. In Hong Kong there are no spare batteries available yet — so when the battery needs recharging — you stop shooting for about three hours. Battery life is impressive though — about 250x high-rez JPEGS on a single charge with lots of playback.
 
The 1:1 viewfinder is clear and bright, but as a glasses wearer I can't see the outlines of the 28mm framelines at the edge of the finder (like the M6 .072). 35mm and 50mm frame lines are just fine. One problem — the rangefinder in the prototype I handled in July was very slightly out of alignment and so is the rangefinder on this production model. [Here it was] enough that TV towers several miles away do not line up coincidently. I have brought this to Epson's attention and they tell me they will fix it likely by giving me a new camera when one is available. They don't have anyone in Hong Kong to adjust the finder and will have to send the camera back to Tokyo — and I don't fancy being without the camera for an extended period. Rangefinder focusing accuracy is one thing Epson must get nailed down right away — otherwise Leica users like me will drive them crazy.
 
So what about picture quality? I am amazed. ISO 1600 with noise reduction turned on high produces a very moderately grained image much like, maybe better than the Canon 10D. Couple this with a fast lens like a 35 Summilux Asph and you can go into dark places with higher, more useable handheld shutter speeds and produce results that are simply amazing. It is a killer combination! This is where the marriage of Leica lens quality and low noise digital really come together. And it is so nice to be able to open a lens wide open and have bokeh back!!
 
I think that once over the novelty of exercising all my Leica M lens in digital, the RD 1 will become welded to the 35 Summilux Asph for low light work. For daylight work, a versatile combination is the Tri Elmar that lets you cycle quickly through the 28 / 35 / 50 combinations when you are in situations where you want to shoot quickly, but really, when the light is good, the convenience of the Digilux 2 or Panasonic LC 1 with the Leica Vario Summicron has a lot going for it.
 
There is an Epson RAW plugin available with the camera for Photoshop CS and I have installed this but am having some trouble getting it running properly. This is entirely due, I'm sure, to my operator error. If you shoot with the 12mm Heliar or 15mm Heliar the program has a feature where you check the lens focal length and the program eliminates the dark edges of the photograph which are naturally there because of the wide angle nature of these lens. That is very neat!!
 
In sum, I think the R D1 is a keeper — with some minor teething problems — but in the end it is going to provide a very positive experience for Leica M users who want to try digital and not give up their Leica M lenses. [Provided of course they can live with the 1.53x cropping factor! — AZN]
 
Here are a series of 7 photos taken with the RD 1 and various Leica lenses. Please click on the photo for a larger picture and the lens detail will appear below the photo.
 
<photo.net/photodb/folder.tcl?folder_id=434075>

Wide-angle lens vignetting

Howard Cummer again:

[…] I managed to get the Epson RAW plug-in working with my Photoshop CS. One of the interesting features of the plug-in is the ability to click on a list of wide angle lens and the program automatically corrects for vignetting by that lens on the RD 1. This is much easier and faster than correcting for vignetting manually in PS. Please see the following URL for examples. The first picture is corrected and the second is obviously not. Click on the picture for a larger view and photo details.
 
<photo.net/photodb/folder.tcl?folder_id=434937>

Sean Reid (see links below) and Henning Wulff also report heavy wide-angle vignetting when trying out the RD-1 in 2004. You can read Wulff's remarks at <LUG - v28/msg1485228.html>.

In case you were wondering, in Oct 2006 Andy Piper reported the Leica M8 exhibited far less WA vignetting than the RD-1, see <Photo.net: #00IN04> and <Photo.net: #00GyPX>. Furthermore, the corner correction in the M8 is applied in hardware before the RAW file is written, thus requiring much less (if any) post-processing.

BTW aside from using the Epson plug-in, vignetting, barrel distortion and chromatic aberration can be also be corrected using the more powerful PanoramaTools Photoshop plug-ins. See this discussion elsewhere in the FAQ (under the "Software vignetting correction" heading).

Epson RD-1 links

A note about possible broken links

This FAQ has over 900 external links. Over time it is inevitable some of them will break. If you are bothered by this, see this detailed topic elsewhere in the FAQ.

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