Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2004/09/29

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Subject: [Leica] Epson R - D1 User impressions
From: cummer at (Howard Cummer)
Date: Wed Sep 29 00:31:38 2004

I have had my Epson R ? D 1 now for five days and would like to report 
on the good and the bad so far.

First the good- the camera handles very much like a film camera. It is 
very sturdy ? heft a Leica M and heft the R D 1 and the feel is very 
much the same. It is a solid piece of equipment. The controls are an 
interesting amalgam of the old and the new and have been thoughtfully 
designed with the traditional film camera / Leica user in mind. For 
example, to change the ISO setting you just lift the shutter speed dial 
and turn it to show the ISO speed that you want  (from 200 ? 1600) in 
the cutout on the speed dial. Like a camera from the 1970?s. The RD 1 
has AE which is set on the shutter speed dial and exposure compensation 
+/- 2 stops is accomplished by turning the speed dial up or down from 
the AE setting. No buttons to push ? no menus to scroll through. The 
other adjustments that can be made without resorting to the menu 
include selecting JPEG (high or normal) or RAW, and the setting of the 
white balance. The on / off switch is under the wind lever and is stiff 
to turn so it won?t get knocked off accidentally. The shutter cocking 
advance lever has a short throw and is very easy to use. It is also 
very easy to forget to wind and I have missed some photo opportunities 
because the shutter wasn?t cocked. The needle dials in the roundel next 
to the shutter speed dial are easy to read and informative about what 
white balance is in use, how many pictures are left on the SD memory 
card and what type of image format is recording. Battery life is also 
indicated ? from full to empty by the dial at the bottom of the 
display. The needle indication isn?t linear ? 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 250 H resolution 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. 
Long time Luggers will recall that I am obsessed with accurate range 
finding but in this case it really is out ? not enough to reduce 
focusing accuracy appreciably in the near focus ? but enough that TV 
towers several miles away do not line up coincidently and they should. 
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. It looks like it will be the only game in town 
for M users for a year or two and in that time I expect Epson will sell 
a train load of them.

Howard (in Hong Kong)

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