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Epson R-D1 Preview (w/ info on the R-D1s)

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

The Epson R-D1 was announced at the PMA 2004 in March, surprising many by being the first Leica M-mount digital camera. Cosina's president, Mr. Kobayashi, had previously said that he had no intention of producing a digital Voigtlander Bessa, so most of us had not expected something like this.

Instead, Mr. Kobayashi lent the guts of the Bessa R2 (with automatic-exposure) to Epson, which attached a CCD sensor, rear LCD, and a very cool looking analog information gauge to the top and called it the Epson R-D1. Update: In March of 2006, Epson released a minor update of the R-D1 called the R-D1s. Most people agree that this is a very minor change to the camera, thus I have not modified many of my comments here. The major changes between the R-D1 and R-D1s are in the firmware:

As far as I can tell, there are no physical mechanical, optical, or sensor changes with the R-D1s.

Background History: Epson had previously sold a couple of mediocre point-and-shoot digital cameras in Japan, but nothing that could really show off the performance of its high-end ink-jet printers, which are rapidly becoming standard equipment for digital photography. Epson wanted a high-end digital camera in its stable, something that would establish it in the industry. Kobayashi-san wanted to maintain his vow to keep the Voigtlander series analog. It was a match made in heaven.

The R-D1 and R-D1s are hybrid cameras. The shutter and rangefinder mechanisms are mostly analog. The shutter is electronically timed but you have to wind it yourself, which is why they have wind levers. The rangefinder is straight from the Bessa R2, which despite its short baselength, is renowned for its clarity and contrast. The viewfinder magnification is 1.0x which allows you to keep both eyes open, like the old Canon P rangefinder. The framelines are corrected for the R-D1's 1.6x digital sensor crop.

The R-D1 was a sensation because it used the standard Leica M bayonet mount. Leica had previously said that a digital M would be impossible because the rangefinder lenses (M and M39 screw mount) short back focus was not suitable for digital sensors, which do not handle oblique light rays well. How Epson cleared this hurdle is unknown. The 1.6x sensor crop means only central light rays are used, and perhaps they also use microlenses over the sensors. Or, perhaps photographers will be cautioned to avoid lenses that don't use a retrofocus design, such as the Zeiss Biogon.

The R-D1 was released officially only in Japan and that only a limited number were produced. It went on sale on August 1st 2002 and a quick check of prices in the Tokyo area showed it originally selling between ¥260,000-¥290,000 (roughly US$2360-$2670). A recent check in May 2006 showed it was being cleared out for around ¥179,000 (US$1656) in preparation for the R-D1s.

The R-D1s went on sale in March of 2006. The price is lower, with street prices approximately ¥250,000. This gives hopes that it will retail less than $2000 if it is sold in the USA.


First Impressions

My impression from the pre-production and production models that I've used are that it appears to be very solidly made. It is much heavier than the Bessa R2 and about as hefty as a Leica M camera. It is quite thick and very solid. The core body shell is made of die-cast aluminum with cast magnesium top and bottom.

The camera takes a SD Digital Card, these are now available in sizes up to 2 gigabytes, although they're still a little bit more expensive than Compact Flash. I tried to overflow the camera buffer by taking a quick succession of shots in a row, but it didn't seem possible with my thumb dexterity. This shows that the R-D1 has a good buffer, good enough for almost all rangefinder use.

The viewfinder is very bright and large. It has a magnification of 1.0x which means (like the Canon P) that you can have both eyes open when shooting. This caues the framelines to "float" in your field of view. This is very nice. The rangefinder patch is not nearly as bright and contrasty as a Leica M, which is the gold standard. You have to keep your eye aligned on the patch much more than on an M.

Eye relief is OK for the 35mm and 50mm framelines. However, people with glasses will experience problems with the 28mm framelines because they are on the edge of the frame (much like on the 0.72x Leica M6/M7). As the 28mm is the full-frame equivalent of 44mm and the widest built-in frameline, this is disappointing. People without glasses could most probably use the entire finder for wider-angle lenses, guesstimating from the sides, but it will be impossible for people who wear glasses.

The 50mm frameline appears quite small until you remember that it is the equivalent of 80mm in full-frame. What's more, because of parallax when you are focusing objects close to you, the 50mm frameline drifts considerably to the bottom and the right. This is a bit disconcerting as you expect it to be near the middle until, again, you remember that it's an 80mm equivalent.

One thing that annoyed me is that the wind lever (necessary because the shutter mechanism is mechanical) has a very short throw. The standback position is 30° and the charge position is 90° which means the throw is only 60°. For someone used to mechanical cameras, this is much too short. For someone who has never wound a camera, I'm sure they wouldn't mind. The throw itself is relatively smooth.

The photos that I've seen in magazines and dealer samples are all excellent. Corner focus is spot-on. There is some signs of very minor chromatic aberration and staircasing, but these digital artifacts may be corrected in the production samples. In any case, the photos I've seen are just as good as the ones from my Canon 10D. If only the R-D1 didn't cost twice as much as the 10D... For the difference in price (10D=$1300; R-D1=$2600), I could get another 10D, an EOS->Leica R lens adapter, and a nice stable of 'R' Leica lenses.



Interesting quirks

The R-D1 has an odd assortment of analog dials on the top. The designers wanted to keep it as classic-looking as possible so instead of little LCD widgets showing the shots-remaining, image quality, white balance mode, and so forth, these are all shown on analog gauges. What significance this will have for the R-D1's ruggedness is yet unknown.

Also in line with the aim to keep the R-D1 looking like a classic rangefinder, the LCD can rotate 180 degrees to face inwards. This protects the screen. The back of the display even has a small oval ISO-reminder dial a'la Leica, except that for the R-D1 the dial is really a small conversion table between 35mm focal lengths and the APS-C size sensor.

The "rewind knob" on the left hand side of the camera is the jog dial for reviewing images. To review, hit the 'monitor' button and use the jog dial to rotate to go back and forth. To see various statistics (histogram, EXIF info, etc.), pull it up and rotate it.


Frameline Selector

One of the things I enjoy the most about the Leicas is that the frameline selector falls right where your left index finger would be when gripping the camera. This allows you to quickly preview other lens choices. The R-D1 follows the Voiglander R1/R2 in having the frame selector on the top plate. It is also only manually switchable, not automatic as in the Leica. There are only three framelines available: 28, 35, and 50mm.


Leica Digital M?

Leica Camera previously said that a digital M was impossible due to the non-retrofocus design of wide-angle RF lenses. After Epson announced the R-D1, Leica then said that they were working on a digital M and that we could expect it sometime before the next millenium. We're all holding our breath and hoping that something will come out of Papa Leica before we're all dead and gone.



Technical Details

Camera Name
Bessa R2 R-D1 R-D1s Digital M Leica M7
Voigtlander Cosina Epson
Leica Camera
Place of Manufacture
Japan Japan
Date of Manufacture
2002~ 2004~ 2006~ 2006 est. 2002~
Focusing System
Coupled rangefinder
.68x magnification factor
36mm base length
24.28 effective baselength
Parallax compensation 35/50/75/90 selectable framelines
Coupled rangefinder
1.0x magnification factor
38.2mm base length
38.2 effective baselength
Parallax compensation 28/35/50 manually selectable framelines


Coupled rangefinder
.72x magnification factor
69.25mm base length
49.86 effective baselength
Parallax compensation
35-135, 50-75, 28-90mm. selectable framelines

Lens Mount
Leica M bayonet mount compatible
Vertical metal focal plane
Electronically timed
1 sec - 1/2000 sec + B & X (1/125sec)

Horizontal cloth focal plane
4 sec - 1/1000 sec (manual)
32 sec - 1/1000 sec (auto)
+ B & X (1/50sec)

Metering System
TTL manual
EV 1~19
TTL manual and AE
EV 1~19

TTL manual and AE
EV -2~20

External hot shoe
PC cable connector on left side
1/125 sec X flash sync
External hot shoe
PC cable connector on left side
1/125 sec X flash sync
External hot shoe
PC cable connector on rear
1/50 sec X flash sync
SCA and HSS (M7 only) flash AE
Film/Sensor type

Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ISO 25-3200

23.7mm x 15.6 APS-C size sensor (1.6x crop factor)

6.1 million pixels
CCD-RAW: 3008x2000 pixels
ISO: 200, 400, 800, 1600

SD Memory Card

Type 135 film (35mm standard)
ISO 25-5000 (DX)
ISO 6-25000 (manual)
Battery type
2 x 1.5V SR44  Lithium-ion EPALB-1

2 x 3V DL 1/3N
4 x 1.5V SR44

Dimensions and weight
135.5 x 81 x 33.5mm
142.0 x 88.5 x 39.5mm
590g w/o battery

138 x 79.5 x 38 mm

Retail price
~$500 new ~JPY300,000 retail ~JPY250,000 retail  

~$2495 new






About Epson & Cosina Voigtlander

Epson... blah blah...


On the Net

Japanese Pages:

Leica LSM to M Mount Adaptors

  • Stephen Gandy sells all 3 adaptors (28-90; 35-135; 50-75) for $100 as well as rear M caps for 3 for $40

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