The Epson R-D1 2022…16 Year Review!

Good morning you awesome war torn camera geeks! Today we take a look at what time has proven to be one of the most unique and enduring digital cameras ever produced, the Epson R-D1.

INTRODUCTION

The Epson R-D1 is a digital rangefinder camera introduced by Epson in 2004. It is the world’s first digital rangefinder camera.

The R-D1 sports a 6.1 megapixel, APS-C sensor with a 1.5x crop factor. The camera has a Leica M mount. The body was built by Cosina and is based on the Voigtlander Bessa R series of film cameras.

My Experiences With The R-D1

I bought my R-D1 in 2006. Before that, I had been using a Voigtlander Bessa R3a. While I loved that camera, it was also the first camera that I learned to repair in some way.

Specifically, the rangefinder was way off on my copy and while inquiring with repair shops about getting the rangefinder fixed, I decided to try and adjust the rangefinder myself. Credit should be given to all the great tutorials I found in the photo forums. Remember, YouTube was not around in 2005-2006.

Sadly I sold the R3a shortly thereafter to fund something else. Looking back now, I should have kept it, not only because I was really proud of how well I adjusted the rangefinder but also because the camera now commands twice the price on the used camera market.

Anyway on the the R-D1! When it was introduced in 2004, I remember that the introduction took the camera world by surprise primarily because almost no one saw it coming. Everyone expected that Leica, the company synonymous with the rangefinder camera, would be the first to come out with a digital rangefinder. As history has played out, Epson did it first and Leica came in second with the M8 in 2006. The R-D1 will always be remembered for beating Leica to the punch!

Funny enough, when I had the Bessa R3a film camera, I thought it was a great camera but not something special like the Leica M bodies I had handled. Now even though the R-D1 is based on the earlier Cosina built Bessa cameras, the R3a is close enough to make this comparison. And what I can say is while the Bessa R series film bodies did not feel particularly special, somehow in the digital form of the R-D1, it feels extraordinary!

Perhaps this is because it actually feels like a film body with a digital sensor in it, which in essence is really what it is especially considering the R-D1 was introduced in 2004. At that time, some camera companies were still producing digital cameras built around or inspired by their film counterparts as opposed to later on in the decade when they started building digital cameras as pure digital cameras.

I got my R-D1 as part of a trade plus cash deal. I responded to an ad in photo.net one of the internet’s first photography sites. The seller had an R-D1 listed in excellent condition and I offered a trade with my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS which was my first L lens.

I can’t remember exactly but I think the total value of the deal was close to $1600. The R-D1’s introductory price in 2004 was $2999. Thank goodness prices dropped sharply by the time I got my R-D1 in 2006.

As with many of the cameras I have bought over the years, the R-D1 was a camera I lusted for but never seriously thought I would ever acquire due to its high price tag. But somehow, some way I got the camera.

Also, contrary to several comments people have left me on YouTube, I didn’t actively seek out many of the cameras I’m reviewing now because they were legendary. Most of the cameras I have reviewed were the hot cameras of their day when I bought them, just like the R-D1. But in the case of the Epson, it should have been easy to predict this camera would be a future Camera Legend as it is the world’s first digital rangefinder.

YouTube Video

For a much more dynamic experience here’s my 16 year in depth review video!

Epson R-D1 Key Features & Issues

While there are many things that make the R-D1 so appealing I would identify three key features as the most alluring. The analog dials, the film winder/shutter cocking mechanism and the large, bright 1:1 life size viewfinder.

The analog dials were made by Seiko, Epson’s parent company and they’re not just there to look pretty, they serve a purpose.

The large hand is the “shots remaining” indicator. It goes from 0 to 500. Please remember the R-D1 and R-D1s can only take 2gb SD cards. The R-D1x can take 32gb. Otherwise they are all the same cameras.

The “R-H-N” indicator on the right is for RAW, High and Normal image quality selection.

The area on the left that starts with an “A” and has symbols below is the white balance indicator.

The main issue I have seen on the R-D1 is the loose, peeling, or missing rubber grips. While it may not look pretty, it is purely cosmetic.

On my copy, the rear LCD has begun to fail after sixteen years and the rangefinder has had to be fixed twice for going out of alignment. I sent it to Steve’s Camera out in California, a well known shop that fixes the rangefinder on the R-D1. I’m not sure if he’s still fixing them but here’s his contact if you want to investigate:

Steve’s Camera Service Center (310) 397-0072

Please check my YouTube video for a visual accounting of these issues as well as the R-D1’s most alluring features.

YouTube Video

Sample Pics

The photos below represent a small fraction of the images I have taken during my sixteen years with the R-D1 but hopefully they will give you an idea of the images the camera is capable of producing.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE R-D1, R-D1s, AND R-D1x

Epson produced a couple of upgrades to the R-D1. The R-D1s included a JPEG + Raw mode and a quick view function. The original R-D1 could be upgraded to have these features via firmware update.

Is It For You?

As cool as the Epson R-D1 is, recommending it as a good buy is harder than you might imagine. Why? Well, the reason is because of what I call the “Nikon D100 Dilemma.”

What is the Nikon D100 Dilemma?

The Nikon D100 Dilemma

What does the Epson R-D1 have in common with the Nikon D100? I know you hardcore camera geeks know this! But for those who don’t, these two cameras share the same 6.1mp Sony CCD sensor. The sensor is also found on the original Pentax *ist D and maybe other cameras? It apparently is not the same sensor as the D70 of 2004.

The Nikon D100 is a digital slr that was introduced in 2002. The 6.1mp APS-C sensor in this camera was considered very good in its day, but was arguably surpassed by the 6mp sensor in the Nikon D70.

So if the Epson R-D1 has the same sensor as the D100 what then is the problem?

Well, whether it’s a “problem” or not is up to you but the main quandary here is that the Nikon D100 can be found any day of the week with prices trending @ $25-50 USD. The Epson on the other hand is trending @ $1600-2500 depending on condition and on the model (R-D1, R-D1s, R-D1x).

Although as a bonafide hardcore camera geek, I would pick up another R-D1 if mine were ever to break and I had extra money laying around, but even for this camera geek who knows the specs and knows the risks, the price difference between these two cameras with the same sensor is hard to ignore.

The R-D1 is unique in everything else in comparison to the D100 except at its heart which is the sensor.

So What’s The Fuss About The R-D1?

The thing that makes the Epson R-D1 so compelling even now in 2022 is the user experience.

The Seiko made analog dials are pretty and they serve a purpose (check out the video for specifics). The analog winder serves to cock the shutter. The 1:1 viewfinder is large and glorious and sort of makes up for the R-D1’s short rangefinder base. The ability to use Leica M mount lenses from Leica, Voigtlander, and other manufacturers is topping on the cake.

All these factors add up to the most film-like experience one can get from a digital camera! And I’m saying this from the perspective of someone who grew up on film and has used digital cameras since the dawn of digital. Even today, with all the great digital cameras out there, no other digital camera gives such a unique film like experience when using it.

My Nikon DF may look retro but I will admit before doing a review that it does not really feel like a film camera to me the way the R-D1 does.

Note, I didn’t say the images from the R-D1 were inherently film like. Sure you can get film like images out of its 6.1mp CCD sensor but it would be disingenuous of me to hype it up and make it more than what it is. If it was the most film like sensor then everyone would be saying the Nikon D100 or the Pentax *ist D produces “incredible film like images” but no one says that about those two cameras.

The R-D1 can make film like images, but it’s more likely the result of the post processing skill of the user and the lenses used, rather than the sensor which is not unique to the Epson.

Is The Epson R-D1 Worth It In 2022?

Whenever someone reviews an older camera, especially on YouTube, the “in” question is “Is It Worth It?”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for at least 90-95 percent of the people shooting digital cameras today, the answer would be NO.

A 6mp digital rangefinder from 2004 with a 2002 era sensor with no modern amenities such as live view, focus peaking, or 4k video is hard to recommend, especially when it will cost you nearly $2000.

In a 2022 world where gas prices are sky high, with inflation, with a war in Ukraine, with people starving, etc, etc, where the same money could get you a used Leica M8 or M9 or add a little more and get an M240 or a Sony A9 or Nikon Z7 it’s damn hard to recommend the R-D1 to the general photo enthusiasts.

If it had a unique sensor, that would sway me towards a recommendation.

However, the R-D1 was never about the sensor alone. What makes it unique is the user experience.

If you are a true HARDCORE camera geek who knows the risks and are willing to take it and you know a little something about the R-D1 or if you are an old school film fanatic shooting digital then I can heartily recommend the camera!

In my opinion it is a unique camera and one of the most fun digital cameras, if not the most fun digital camera in my collection.

Bottom Line

The Epson R-D1 was an anomaly when it came out. In 2004, no one ever expected Epson, a company known for printers and scanners, to come out with a digital rangefinder. They beat Leica to it. Today, it’s still an anomaly. In my opinion it is one of the greatest digital cameras ever made yet most of the general public and even some photo enthusiasts don’t know it, thus making it one of the greatest cult cameras ever.

But there’s are reasons why it commands high prices on the used market. Many many photographers and camera collectors love this camera! Its uniqueness sets it apart.

Even now, nearly twenty years after its introduction, I feel it’s still the most film like experience one can get from a digital camera.

The Epson R-D1 is a digital Camera Legend that, while having a good but not unique sensor, offers the user a unique experience in the digital camera world.

The experience, the fun factor makes me want to shoot it. That is something that can’t be said for so many of the digital cameras I have used.

And if a camera inspires you to shoot, then it’s a good camera in my book. But the Epson R-D1 is not just good, it’s great!

Since Epson never came out with another R-D series camera, the R-D1 will always be unique as the world’s first digital rangefinder sporting the Epson name and for some people that may be a good enough reason to get it.

How To Scan Film Using Your Phone & Tablet Plus Low Budget Phone Scanning vs Low Budget Flatbed Scan

Just like many of you, I scan my film as a labor of love. It started as something I enjoyed to something that became more like work. Just natural when you have time constraints due to family and job. It can be time consuming but when the results are good, they’re definitely worth it. And sometimes when I get a really good scan I’m reminded of just good film can still be in terms of resolution and detail.

However those of us familiar with using a flatbed scanner for scanning negatives know that sometimes it really can take a lot of time going through even one roll of film if you want or need to make the necessary corrections to get the best out of the images.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with “alternative” scanning methods, primarily as a way of saving time. I’ve tried all the things people try, from DSLR to Mirrorless to Phone camera.

ContaxBuddha

“Big Buddha” 2005. Contax G1, 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon. The image was “scanned” with an Olympus E-1 and 90mm f/2 Zuiko Macro lens via adapter.

Above is an early attempt at “alternative” scanning. The original photo was taken with a Contax G1, and 28mm f/2.8 Biogon taken on Fuji Velvia film in 2005. I “scanned” this image in 2005 using an Olympus E-1 5mp camera with 90mm f/2 Zuiko Macro lens via adapter. The vibrancy and detail were amazing but setting up the tripod and getting the light right was somewhat cumbersome so I didn’t use this method much.

It’s funny that back in 2005, DSLR “scanning” didn’t really catch on but it’s very popular today, especially with today’s high resolution cameras. But in my opinion, 5mp was perfectly acceptable and I made a nice 8×10 print from the above photo!

CLZoeP

“Time Out” 2009. Leica CL, 40mm f/2 Leitz Summicron. Also “scanned” using the Olympus E-1 5mp and 90mm f/2 Zuiko Macro Lens.

Recently I tried a low budget scanning method using my iPad as a light box and using my iPhone to “scan” the images. You can find a few tutorials on YouTube on how to do this. It seems everyone does it a little differently.

Here’s what I did:

1) Use white background on iPad as a lightbox.

2) Use one roll of tape as a spacer so the film is not too close to the iPad. Too close and the brightness of the iPad or tablet may wash out details or show its pixels.

3) Put film on top of the first tape roll. I use the negative holder from my Epson scanner to keep the film flat. If you don’t have a holder you should find another way of keeping the film flat. Thin glass might help.

4) Put other roll of tape on top of the film and position the image you want to scan. This might require some moving around as most of the cameras on our phones are not placed in the center of the phone itself. The tape roll also acts as support to keep the phone steady.

5) Tap the image on your phone to focus and take a few shots to ensure that at least one is sharp

5) Import into editing program on your phone.

Below is a step by step photo show and comparison. The original image was taken with a Mamiya AF-D and 80mm f/2.8 Mamiya AF lens on Tri-X 400 in 2016! Yet another camera I’ve used but never profiled. It was a great camera system if you need to know!

My flatbed scanner is a now very old Epson V500. I reckon it must be at least eight or nine years old!

My low budget iPad/iPhone scanner! See details in the article on how to do it.

A closer view of a possible Medium Format scan.

An image scanned using the iPad/iPhone method then opened in the Adobe Photoshop Express app.

The final image using the iPad/iPhone scanner. The negative needs to be inverted to reveal the positive image. I then processed the image using the sliders and controls in PS Express.

A close up of the above image. This might be fine for a lot of people, and certainly for a quick preview. But as you’ll see below, it’s no comparison to a flatbed scanner.

Same image scanned using an Epson V500 Flatbed Scanner.

Close up of the Epson V500 scan. Note the details in the fabric of the ski hat, the eyes, the teeth. There’s really no comparison!

WHY DO THIS?

Why use your phone to scan you might ask? I can think of a few reasons but probably most important is that it’s incredibly faster. If you just want to get an idea if the image is worth scanning on your flatbed scanner this will do it. It takes literally seconds to scan using the phone camera vs minutes using the flatbed. If you’re pressed for time this adds up!

Also using this method and a photo editing app such as Adobe’s Photoshop Express or Lightroom, you can do it all on your phone and not need to turn on your computer.

CONCLUSIONS?

Well, based on my initial testing the iPhone scans are surprisingly usable as a quick preview. Heck some might even be able to use these scans for posting to social media etc.

However, as expected, the scans from a “real” scanner such as my old Epson V500 are still infinity better. I’ve included crops from both the phone scan and the Epson for you to see.

Check for details in the fabric of the ski hat, and in the face and teeth. There’s no comparison really! But if you want to see images in a pinch, this works!

Now some of you might say, oh well, an optical scanner is even better than the flatbed and yes, I agree cause I had that covered too! Had an optical scanner in 2003 or 2004 and the scans were superior to the flatbed. To this day, I regrettably sold it but the flatbed is a good compromise. For the record, I’ve never used a drum scan so I leave it up to YOU to tell me about it! 🙂

Next step is for me to do a comparison with the Epson flatbed scanner vs using a modern high resolution DSLR or Mirrorless with a macro lens. This should be closer!

Till next time happy Sunday good peeps!

“Happy Sunday!” 2016. Mamiya AF-D, 80mm f/2.8 AF, Tri-X in D76. Zayda doesn’t want to be left out! She wishes everyone a happy Sunday morning good peeps! 🙂

Time Machine Part I: Portraits Then & Now

photo

From left, Zoe in 2008 vs Zay in 2016.

For your Throwback Thursday, we take a ride in the Time Machine.

First we go back to 2008. At the time I was smitten by the Leica 50mm f/2 Summar, an old Leica ltm mount lens. I had just gotten it off ebay for under $100. The glass was advertised as having some light haze, but otherwise ok.

When I received it, I was not expecting much as the Summar is known to be a “soft” lens in the Leica lineage. I know Leicaphiles are a passionate bunch and I can hear some say, “Oh no, my Summar is not soft, it is very sharp!”

Hey, I am not debating you. When I say the Summar is “soft” I say that in relative terms. It may be sharper than other lenses of that era or it may be sharp stopped down, but that’s not the point. In general use, wide open or shot near a strong light source, the lens does not have modern coatings/corrections that would prevent abberations from showing up. And as a Leica fan myself, I actually like the fact that it’s a “soft” lens.

But the fact that it was a near seventy year old lens at the time I got it, I had realistic expectations. However, when I tried it on my Epson R-D1, I was awestruck by the beauty of the images it provided.

Sure, if you’re not careful, the lens can flare and produce a soft veil of haze around your subjects, but if some care is taken with regards to your light source, it can produce images that I would say had that distinct but undefinable Leica “glow.”

Since that time, I have come to rely on a 50mm f/2 Summicron as my go to lens for Leica. However, I will pop the Summar every now and then for portraits.

Flash-Forward to eight years later, 2016…

The photo of Zay was taken with…an iPhone 6s Plus! The baby smiles instinctively, unaware of any camera, regardless of brand or type, and even unaware of the Gerber baby food all over her mouth 🙂

While I will admit that the iPhone 6s is perfectly capable of much better images than this one, nonetheless, I will stand by what I’ve told people for a long time. If you want to make nice portraits, and you want to do it cheap, all you need is a good 6mp camera and a 50mm lens. It doesn’t have to be a rangefinder like the R-D1. Just get a Nikon D70 or Canon Rebel and a 50mm f/1.8 and you will have a very fine portrait machine.

So what have we learned in eight years? Well, for one, the phone cameras today are amazingly capable. In 2008, I don’t think I’d rely on my first generation iPhone for anything but snaps. Heck even today, I just use my 6s for snaps, but I do know if I needed better than snaps I can do it with this phone. But my main use of the iPhone today is to take HD videos for my own records.

So many wonderful things you can do with today’s phone cameras! However, the one thing they can’t do well, due to the laws of optics, is they can’t produce a lot of good bokeh, simply due to the smaller sensors inside. However, it seems the new iPhone 7 aims to change this by “creating” Bokeh in their “Portrait” mode. I’ve seen some samples and some look great, some so-so. I’m not sure though if I really like the concept of fake bokeh. Not that it wouldn’t be useful to some, but for me I think that once you have fake bokeh as a norm, what’s next? Fake backgrounds? Fake locations? You get my drift? Soon the whole photo will become fake and what’s the point then?

Anyway back to the topic at hand, I’ve also learned that I still love my old school gear such as the R-D1, which today would be considered “Classic Digital” and of course a Camera Legend.

I’m fascinated with time, time travel, “Time Machine” and anything else having to do with our perceptions of time, so look out for more “Time Machine” installments.

I’ve also learned that two babies can definitely be very different from each other! Sure we all know that as kids grow up, they become their own people with unique personalities. What I didn’t think of was that even at the baby stage, my two girls are as different as night and day, but at the same time, beautiful and similarly sweet.

Have a great Thursday folks, the week is almost over. If you’ve gotten something for your tax returns, maybe time for some new toys 🙂

Photo Of The Day: “Classic Junker”

RD1CarPic

I shot this a couple of weeks ago. I was driving to see some friends when I spotted this “classic” junker underneath some spring blossoms. The contrast of the old car and the color of the buds struck my eyes. Right away, I said HO! I have to get some shots! 🙂

I actually had to turn the car around to come back and take the shot. I’m not so good on cars, but it looked to me like a Ford? If any of you out there can identify it, please do so! I did not come out of my car to take this shot. I respect people and did not want anyone freaking out! I know I probably would be disturbed if I saw someone coming up and taking shots of my car. But this is a vintage old car and it stands out in today’s world, so if I were the owner, I would probably have to expect it.

I shot this with my trusty and old Epson R-D1 and 40mm f/2 Summicron-M. I got this camera in 2006 and if you had told me then that ten years later I’d still be shooting with it, I’d probably say you were crazy! For one, I didn’t think I’d hold on to it for this long. Secondly, I didn’t think it would last this long. But I still have it, and it’s been surprisingly reliable.

I guess I’m still one of those crazy guys (and there’s lots of us out there) who still carries a camera with them everywhere, even when a good cell phone camera will do. I don’t know, I guess I’m still old school.

The Epson R-D1 is the world’s first digital rangefinder camera. It was introduced in 2004. Somehow, Epson beat Leica (well known as THE rangefinder icon) to the punch with this digital body which was made by Cosina and based on their own line of Voigtlander Bessa rangefinder film cameras.

The R-D1 sports a 6.1mp sensor. It is, or is a variation of the very popular Sony sensor found in the Nikon D70/D70s, Pentax *ist D series, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D/5D series and more. It may be digital, but no it’s not like an outdated computer where it’s unusable. It is a very dated sensor, but it was one of the best of its era and it still produces beautiful pictures.

If you look to at the brick wall to the right of the car, you can see very nice and subtle shadow detail transitions. Very smooth, not harsh. This might have more to do with the 40mm Summicron as well, but I have to give the sensor credit too.

So if you don’t have an R-D1, don’t worry. Just get one of the above mentioned cameras cheap and you’ll have pretty much the same sensor. The thing you won’t have is the ability to use Leica M lenses and the wonderful tactile feel of the R-D1, plus its glorious optical viewfinder.

I’ve spoken, written, referenced this camera many many times, though I’ve never done a full or even partial review of it. As I’ve told many people, this camera truly feels and looks like its film camera equivalent (the Bessa R/R2/R3). It’s kind of funny because compared to a Leica, the Bessa film cameras do feel kind of cheap.

Yet, in digital form, it feels better and more substantial than most digital cameras out there! It’s just normal with digital/analog camera comparisons, and I’ve come to accept it. As an example, take the Olympus OM-1 film camera and then hold a OM-D camera next to it. As much as I love the OM-D’s image quality and shooting capabilities, there’s just no comparison. The OM-1 feels solid and hefty, the OM-D feels light and dinky. And the OM-1 was actually one of the lighter film SLR cameras.

The 40mm f/2 Summicron has always been one of my favorite performers. It provides beautiful sharpness and tonal range. The lens is beautifully small, much like a pancake lens. Normally I find the 40mm focal length, especially the pancakes a little boring, but that’s because most pancakes start at f/2.8. The 40mm Summicron gives me an extra stop of light which opens up more possibilities, not only for the low light shots I take, but for the shallow depth of field I need for portraits. On the R-D1 it’s equal to around 60mm which makes it a little longer than a 50mm standard lens.

It was introduced with the Leica CL, which was a collaboration with Minolta in the 1970s. The Summicron is made by Leitz although a Rokkor-M version, made by Minolta in Japan, is also available. Due to this collaboration, there has always been some debate among camera nerds as to whether the lens is really a Minolta or a Leica? All I can say is that it’s a great lens and that’s all I need to know.

As you can see, I’m actually shooting more than I’m writing, which I guess is a good thing in some ways. If this was ten years ago when I was a single man with no family or responsibilities, I’d probably be doing this blog like crazy. These days, I do it when it strikes my fancy, though I really should be doing it more. Ah, sorry for the rambling. Have a good day friends and happy shooting always! 🙂

***IN STOCK ALERT***

I have been notified by my good friends at Adorama that the Nikon D5 and D500 are now in stock!! If you’ve been waiting patiently for these awesome cameras, here’s your chance to grab one before they sell out the first batch. You may find them in the links below. Thanks for supporting Camera Legend and enjoy your new camera, I’d sure love to hear about it!

Nikon D5 (CF Version)

Nikon D5 (XQD Version)

Nikon D500

Nikon D500 with 16-80 f/2.8-4E VR lens

 

 

Photo Of The Day: “That Smile”

SummarZC

My little “Country Bumpkin” in 2008.

This could be considered a “Flashback Friday” post. This is my elder daughter in 2008, just a little more than a year old.

Shot with an Epson R-D1 and a seventy plus year old 50mm f/2 Leica Summar lens. I had just gotten this lens in rough condition on eBay for under $100. I was so enamored that it was giving me these (to me) beautiful soft/sharp images, just what I’d been looking for!

The Epson R-D1 was a 6.1mp camera, the world’s first digital rangefinder, and one of my favorite old school digital cameras ever. I’ve been meaning to do a flashback review of this camera, but this is one of those cameras that I love so much, I would need a lot to time to do it justice. Time I simply don’t have tonight. But I’ll get to it, eventually 🙂

Have a good Friday and a good weekend everybody!

Best, Sam