Epson R-D1 Rangefinder Blends Retro Styling with Digital Performance

The photography industry was once at a junction. Power users and ‘prosumers’ were content with their digital SLR cameras – bulky pieces of machinery that delivered power and quality, but almost always at the expense of simplicity and convenience. Lugging a full-size SLR camera around wasn’t an option for travel photographers and casual photography enthusiasts, leaving many to abandon the search for a high-quality camera altogether.

On the other end of the scale were the casual photographers, valuing convenience and simplicity above the exceptional quality possible with a dSLR camera kit. They’ve never quite been catered for, until now.

Epson’s new compact manual camera, the Rangefinder R-D1, bridges the gap between portability and immense photographic power. Housed in a body that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1970s décor catalogue and loaded with impressive digital features, the R-D1 is an interesting blend of digital technology and beautiful classic camera design.

While the R-D1 officially launched in 2005, it’s the recent 2009 facelift edition that’s worth looking for. Alongside the enhanced styling is a 6MP sensor and Leica standard zoom lens. A 2.5 inch LCD is installed in the camera’s rear side, giving photographers plenty of space to examine their work despite the camera body’s miniscule size.

That ‘miniscule’ sizing is relative, however, and when compared to the smallest cameras on the market today it’s unlikely that the R-D1 will walk away victorious. Ultra-casual users and those more concerned about portability than sheer quality are still best off looking at compact point-and-shoot cameras, as the R-D1’s frame, despite being slender, simply doesn’t match the competition.

Its shooting quality is also unlikely to impress those used to high-end dSLR cameras and professional equipment. Thanks to the smaller lens and slightly less thorough internal construction, the R-D1 isn’t likely to replace a 1D in the professional photographer’s kit bag. When paired with a decent lens the R-D1 provided impressive quality, but nothing on the level of today’s leading professional camera bodies.

But to us, it simply doesn’t matter. The R-D1 is an experiment in strategic compromise, and it’s one that’s paid off rather nicely. Priced below its competition from Leica and other manufacturers, the Epson R-D1 is one of the most impressive and powerful compact cameras on the market. Images are crisp and sharp, low-light photography is clear and free of image grit, and the entirely manual controls give photographers an incredible level of control.

So if you like your cameras simple, slick, and small enough to fit inside your pocket, the Epson R-D1 Rangefinder isn’t the ideal choice. Its body is compact yet not too compact; its lens slightly exposed and inconvenient, and its design far from glamorous.

Similarly, if you’re interested in photographic quality at the expense of everything else, the R-D1 isn’t a good choice. It won’t beat a high-end dSLR when it comes to quality, and its unlikely to appear in a wedding photographer’s toolkit.

But if you like your cameras to be beautiful, sharp, and incredibly controllable, the R-D1 is one of the finest models out there. Jet-setters, frequent travellers, and photography enthusiasts all agree – the Rangefinder R-D1 is a true piece of technological art.

Mozbot Team