Why I bought the Epson R-D1

Well, I’ve recently bought a used Epson R-D1 rangefinder camera. In the ever advancing world of digital photography, this new (old) toy is ancient history. It was first announced in March 2004. Now that was 7 years ago as of this post.

Seven years is an eternity in digital photography. I understand that it uses the same sensor as the Nikon D100 or Nikon D70. Anybody still remembers those? I had a D70 before and it was a really nice camera for its time (but viewfinder was too small though).

Why the R-D1?

Well I have been using Nikon SLRs and DSLRs since I have started shooting. I thought that they were the greatest, bestest, ultimatest cameras ever made. I do enjoy using them. Currently I have another outdated camera, the D200, and an assortment of lenses.

Like many people, I thought that the greatest outfit to own should include the latest full frame DSLR including the latest trinity lenses and maybe a 50mm f1.4 to complete the collection (must have a 50mm right? Nikon brochures often show a 50mm lens attached to their camera after all). All the zooms are necessary because we want to frame each shot the way we want it instantaneously and we want the nice bokeh from those expensive long lenses. With all these mega expensive super lenses and with superb AF (and not the mention the oh so wonderful high ISO performance from the latest DSLRs), we will be able to shoot great photos. Well, that’s what I thought and thought that’s what I wanted.

The turning point came with a humble Nikon 35mm f2 lens.

Remember poor me cannot afford a D700? So I buy outdated used equipment like the D200, which is a DX format camera. One day, I had the strangest idea that I should get a lens with a 50mm FOV and a bit of low light ability. So the 35mm f2 was the obvious choice. The DX 35mm f1.8 is good too, but I want to use the 35mm on an FX camera if I ever buy the D700 (probably after the D900 comes out…ha).

My second hand D200 with 35mm f2 lens

Well, lo and behold. This little lens is great and I never thought that I would love the 50mm FOV! Small, light and sharp, it became my favourite lens (who would have thought?). At f2, it is usable with a bit of sharpening in Photoshop. I also realised that I get less attention from people around me. That is a GOOD thing.

I think people in their environments are the most interesting things to photograph and being unnoticed is a good thing. Also, I don’t cover events so fast zooms are not necessary. After shooting for a while, I realised that all I need are 2 lenses – the 24mm f2.8 and the 35mm f2 (for a 35mm and 50mm FOV respectively). The 24mm isn’t really “fast”, but beggars cannot be choosers.

Then I realised that for the kind of shooting I like to do, maybe a Leica rangdefinder is the answer….until I saw the prices. S$10K for an M9 and S$7K for a 50mm Summilux? Ok….maybe not.

However, a little research revealed that the Epson R-D1 is also a digital rangefinder with an M mount and its not priced exorbitantly like a Leica. It was also the 1st digital rangefinder ever commercially made (collector item maybe?). Aha…maybe this was it.

Mechanical Illusion

Poor man's M9 and Summilux

When I first saw the R-D1, I thought…”wow…this looks like a totally mechanical camera…very cool!”. It even has a shutter cocking lever. By flipping the screen inwards towards the camera, it could pass off as a Bessa R2/R3/R4 or some old camera to the casual observer. Very nice!

There’s even a very nice clock like dial on the top plate that shows: 1) White Balance, 2) Battery Status, 3) Image Settings, and 4) Number of shots remaining on your memory card. No LCD screen on the top panel completes the illusion.

Purchase

As the camera has been discontinued, I was not able to buy it new (nor could I afford it at the new price anyway), I had to look around for a used one. Ebay is one option, but I couldn’t find one that was priced right or one that I was comfortable buying.

In the end, I bought one locally. It was relatively clean, had a nice half case, extra batteries and everything in the box. Also the owner said that the rangefinder was aligned. Yeah right…I only discovered that it was out of alignment 1 month later when I got my 1st M mount lens. More about that in subsequent posts.

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