Trip Report on Using the Epson R-D1 Digital Rangefinder in Paris
As a fairly seasoned photographer, my experience has progressed from a teenager being introduced to photography by my father and using a Zeiss Ikon fold-out 2-1/4 camera, shooting and developing B&W, through various 35mm systems to finally using a pair of Nikon F5s. Early in 1999, I tried an early Kodak digital, the DCS260, and was amazed and thrilled at the spontaneity and immediacy of it. I quickly stepped up to the Canon G1 and then bit the bullet and bought the Nikon D1. It wasn’t long before I had sold all my film bodies and acquired a companion D100 for the D1 and abandoned film (for good, I thought).
From the D1, I moved to the D1X and then, somehow got interested in the Leica M series cameras. This obsession grew to the point where I sold all the Nikon gear and bought an M7, a used M6TTL and a stable of used Leica glass (finally including the Noctilux). I shot a friend’s wedding (all B&W) using this setup and although I was very happy with the results, I was appalled at the cost of processing and printing. (I don’t do wet work, nor do I want to, thank you very much.) Also, I found I missed the instant gratification of the digital.
So eventually, all the Leica gear was traded in on a Canon system (two 10D bodies and lots of glass). Not having any legacy equipment issues, I thought I’d take the opportunity to switch brands, but I just couldn’t bond with the Canon… buttons seemed to be in the wrong places and the lenses felt cheap compared to the Nikons I had used. The Canon gear went back (within the 2 week trial period) and I went back to Nikon, with the D2H body this time. At the same time, I picked up a couple of CV Bessa R2s and a couple of CV lenses.
I did a couple of Far East trips with setup, and although I was pleased with the resulting images, I couldn’t shake the great feel of the Leica gear: its size and quality. When I started to look at the market again, I remembered the Epson and did as much research as I could on it. (Many thanks go to Sean Reid; your initial review was a huge factor in my switching to the R-D1.)
In February of 2005, I purchased an R-D1 from B&H and started to use it with the few CV lenses that I had from the Bessas. Like many other converts, I was blown away with the image quality. Interestingly, the camera purportedly uses the same sensor as the Nikon D100 (which I had owned), but the image quality at high ISOs is far and away superior. The combination of the fast CV lenses and the high ISO capabilities of the R-D1 have make it the best camera I have ever used.
My wife, Marcelle, and I had been planning a trip back to Europe for a couple of years, and this time we elected to spend an entire three weeks in Paris. We did some research and found that the cost effective way to stay was to rent an apartment there rather than stay in B&Bs or hotels like we had done on our previous trip.
, they’re absolutely wonderful people to deal with and the apartments are incredible.)
Our last trip had been much too arduous for me from the perspective of equipment. I had toted a Nikon D1X, a 14mm f2.8, a 17-35mm f2.8, a 50mm f1.4, an 80-200mm f2.8 and the 80-400mm VR lens, along with a Gitzo 1228 CF tripod with the Kirk BH-1 ball head. Along with this went all the miscellaneous gear such as filters, SB-80 flash, batteries, chargers etc. It was all packed into the Lowepro Rover AW II backpack. Naturally, this went everywhere with me, 24/7 and I can tell you that I got pretty fatigued carrying and watching it every second.
This trip, I went with the following equipment:
2 X Epson R-D1 bodies
CV 12mm f5.6 Heliar with the special 12mm R-D1 viewfinder
CV 21mm f4 with CV 35mm viewfinder
CV 28mm f1.9 Ultron
CV 35mm f1.7 Ultron (never used once)
CV 50mm f1.5 Nokton
Leica 90mm f2.8 Elmarit-M with Leica 135mm viewfinder
In support, I had eight batteries (6 Epsons and 2 B&H), a Manfrotto table top tripod that I have a custom extension cylinder that I can insert between the tripod base and the ball head. (This allows me use it with the R-D1 body at right angles to the plane of the tripod base.) Finally, I have a small (4”X4”), home-made beanbag that I find absolutely invaluable for doing interiors of low-light places.
All of this gear fits into a fairly small leather shoulder bag (not a camera bag) that I bought and put some of my Lowepro Velcro dividers into.
I use the Sandisk Extreme III SD cards, and took six 1 GHz cards with me. For download, I took my (very small) Sony Viao TR2AP laptop and then backed up everything also to my Image Tank portable HDD. I never needed more than two cards a day per body, so I didn’t bother to take the Image Tank with me while shooting. I found that a never used more than three batteries per body, and generally two for a full day and evening of shooting.
File management-wise, I had created three subdirectories, one for each camera (we also took my wife’s Nikon CP8800) and dumped the files into the appropriate directories each night. This helped to eliminate the potential problem of identical file names with the two R-D1s.
For everyday shooting, I took the two bodies (each fitted with an Upstrap www.upstrap.com
) with a lens mounted on both bodies and then a small, nylon belt pouch into which I could fit an additional three lenses, the extra batteries and the extra cards. What a difference this made to the level of comfort I felt compared to the heavy, bulky DSLR equipment!
As discussed above, I traveled lightly, and to a certain degree, unobtrusively. I say to a degree because I wore the two bodies around my neck rather than over my shoulders where they might have been less noticeable. This was a conscious decision to preclude someone grabbing the cameras easily as they brushed part, something that can and does happen. When I contrast this to the attention that the D1X or D2H with an 80-200 f2.8 lens attracted, there is simply no comparison.
My workflow consisted of shooting RAW exclusively, with the white balance set to Auto, and using the AE mode only. The ISO set to 200 almost always, the exception being low light/late night scenes where I wanted to use handheld only. In cases such as this, I had no qualms in pushing the ISO up to 1600. Where I could use either the beanbag or the table top tripod, I always kept the ISO to 200, with the beanbag being used 90% of the time over the tripod. I didn’t even take a flash… it was all available light.
Depending on the subject, I might set the cameras to show B&W as I found this best for pictures of sculpture or in the cemeteries to concentrate on the contrast ratio of the images. For most all-around shooting, I kept it to set to color but only chimped occasionally to check for frame coverage (especially when using the 90mm lens).
For the most part, I took advantage of hyperfocal focusing to speed getting the shots, and since we had good, sunny bright weather for the majority of the trip, I could use this to great benefit.
Having two bodies with different focal lengths was planned to maximize ease of use and shooting speed. I’ve already described the lenses I took, but here’s how I eventually found the actual choices to run for actual usage:
1. Walk around lenses for general street photography:
CV 21mm and 90mm Elmarit-M
These lenses suited my shooting style for general wide angle and detail capture.
2. Lenses used in and around cathedrals, large buildings etc:
CV 12mm and 90mm Elmarit-M
The 12mm is indispensable for this type of photography. The vast spaces of the cathedral interiors or large buildings such as the Louvre demands a lens that can give a sense of grandeur and the 90mm could pick out details well.
3. Lenses used in museums for paintings, sculptures and close ups:
CV 28mm Ultron and CV 50mm Nokton
These light-sucking lenses were marvelous for handheld shots in the (sometimes) low light environs of the museums. These were also used for late evening street, café and restaurant shots where they could be shot wide open to give a sharp image against an OOF background.
4. General observation as to lenses used most often:
CV 21mm and 90mm Elmarit-M
Having the two bodies was invaluable, even though we had lots of time during our trip for me to spend time on subjects (other than “decisive moment” images). The sheer joy of using the camera was only enhanced by having two and not having to change lenses to get the best focal length for the scene as it unfolded.
Another good reason for not changing lenses is, of course, the risk of getting dust etc. On the sensor, and indeed this did happen to me from time to time.
One niggle I found on this trip was the oft-reported rangefinder misalignment of the R-D1s. Both bodies (I called them “the twins”, Henri and Robert, after HCB and Doisneau) exhibited a noticeable focus misalignment on the horizontal axi s which, especially with the longer lenses, was a real pain in the butt. Both cameras (one more pronounced than the other) also exhibit canted horizontal framelines, with a carefully framed picture eventually ending up out of whack (low) on the left side.
I had toyed with the idea of trying to adjust them myself, but the combination of lack of proper tools and a fear of ending up with bodies that might be even worse than what I was already coping with dissuaded me. Now that I’m home, I’ll send them to DAG and get them fully tuned up.
One strange thing I found, however, is that when I did a (full) format of the cards after I had off-loaded them, that the newer body takes noticeably longer (probably twice as long) to format the card than my original! There seems neither rhyme nor reason to this, and it occurs with the same card under identical conditions. (I was shooting Sandisk Extreme III 1 GHz cards.)
Finally, I noticed that I got more dust on the sensor than I had expected. Perhaps this was simply wishful thinking on my part, but I’d expected this to be less a problem than it was. My daily ritual fast became one of taking my (ear syringe) blower to each camera every morning before venturing out.
The 90mm caused me more grief than any of the other lenses mostly because the area that it covered was not portrayed accurately by the 135mm viewfinder I had bought. Even with the VF adjusted for different distances, I was not able to really count on it for framing and on tight shots had to resort to chimping to make sure I’d got things within the frame. As might be expected, the 90mm also proved the most difficult to focus accurately, especially at full open aperture. It’s really a damned shame Epson didn’t put 75 and 90mm framelines into the R-D1.
There were a couple of times when the cameras seemed inoperative and I wondered what the hell the matter was until I realized that I had failed to cock the shutter! This can be a nuisance, especially after a few glasses of excellent French wine.
At this point, I have yet to process more than a few pictures and have only viewed them (full screen) on my Sony 23-inch flat screen monitor using the CS2 Bridge slide show function. My initial impression is that I am really, really happy with the results. Of course there are some OOF shots, and I’ll have to do corrections for the frameline misalignment, but the quality is there, inherent in the images. I can’t wait to get to the processing of the images to get some final proofs.
Shooting with the cameras was a joy. They are unobtrusive, quiet (no matter what anyone tells you to the contrary), quick to use (especially with hyperfocal focusing) and the quality of the optics available for them, whether it’s Leica or CV is outstanding, delivering rich, saturated, contrasty and noise-free images.
Below you’ll see some attached pictures that we processed for a daily email journal we sent to our friends.
A superb sculpture at the Musee dOrsay called “The Spinner”. Probably this was shot using the 28mm Ultron then processed in CS for a Quadtone.
Girl with Pearl Earring:
Stunning sidewalk art of Vermeer’s famous painting shot with the 50mm Nokton.
Les Girls au Bicyclette:
I caught these two out of the corner of my eye and set my R-D1 with the 21mm lens to 1/30th of a second and panned with them. I loved the red berets!
A shot of the Louvre from inside through architect I.M. Pei’s famous glass pyramid, using the 12mm Heliar.
Seine at Night:
Another night shot of the Seine with the Left Bank on the left showing the Concierge. This was also shot with the 21mm using the beanbag for support.