DSLR to Rangefinder - a new user's experience (long)
There's no such thing as the universally perfect camera. I have an idea of the perfect camera and lens(es) for me and my photography style, but there is no such thing as the universally perfect camera.
I was closer to my ideal than ever with my current setup of Canon 350D with a 15mm 2.8 fisheye and a 50mm 1.4. I have owned various other cameras before:- a Pentax *istD, a Canon 20D and a Nikon D200 with a whole host of lenses. In the time that I've had with those various cameras, I have come to realize that photography is not quite a transparent expression of daily life, but rather a combination of what catches the photographer's eye and the peculiarities of the tools he uses. For me at least, the Epson R-D1s is the most peculiar tool yet.
At first, I set out to recreate my current DSLR setup in rangefinder form citing that if I could recreate the results of the setup in a smaller, lighter package, then I would have taken another step towards the perfect setup for me. So, I have a CV 21mm f/4 and a CV 40mm f/1.4. Unfortunately, I had to lose the fisheye and 21mm was the widest and fastest I could get at reasonable cost. I had never used a rangefinder before and I actually bought the Epson sight unseen.
Week 1, I hated it. I have pretty bad eyesight and using the rangefinder is quite a strain on my eyes. For the first few days, I didn't use the 21mm's external viewfinder and I soon realized I wasn't capable of consistently visualizing where 21mm would fall. My own fault of course, but I missed seeing the meter reading all the time! Being severely glasses-bound, I found I couldn't see the 28mm framelines either. The 40mm was very awkward to grip when focusing. The ISO adjustment method is not well thought out either. You have to lift the shutter speed dial slightly and turn, which by itself is a great idea, but because the ring of the dial is ridged vertically, your fingers will naturally slip off it. Then there's the usual rangefinder shortcoming of parallax error. I miss my trusty pop-up flash. The battery is pathetically short-lived.
However, I was determined not to be put off so quickly. I knew that my SLR experiences had shaped my expectations to a certain extent. Furthermore, the people who like rangefinders and produce real, actual, wonderful photos that deserve to be seen by the world, swear unwavering fealty to them. I think Sean Reid is partly to blame. I knew I was missing the point somewhere.
Week 2, the first positive thing that struck me was the responsiveness. I don't really care for adjusting shutter speed and ISO on that dial. I don't like that aperture is knocked out of place by a hair's touch but focussing is like trying to rotate a barrel full of oil with teflon gloves. I don't even like cocking the shutter. Mine creaks! What I do like, is that when I hit that little button (that needs to grow a bit taller please) the picture is taken instantly. It's probably an immeasurable difference compared with an DSLR, but I can still feel it and it connects me to reality like nothing else.
Other pluses started to become apparent. The lenses are sharp and well built despite their ergonomic idiosyncrasies. The files themselves are good quality. High ISO noise while not class-leading is acceptable up to ISO 800 and beacuse the noise is tends to be grainy rather than splotchy, it responds very well to noise removal programs. There is significant vignetting but for me, that has been a plus rather than a minus.
Right now, using the camera still feels like I'm using a toy camera because I can't accurately visualise the final image. The meter is center weighted rather than spot making the whole process guesswork. I like the vignetting but it really isn't a feature of the "technically perfect" image. There is viewfinder error. These are all features of the rangefinder experience and I'm glad I took the time to find them out first hand. As I become more accustomed and experienced with the camera, I will eventually be able to use it as effectively as I use a DSLR.
It is impossible for me to pass a reviewer-like judgement on the camera for consumption by DSLR users. It's simply too subjective. The experience is too different. I found the appeal and I will hang onto it but I believe for some people, it is frankly too much of a pain in the ass.
p.s. I know that there is an accessory available to screw into the shutter release to raise its height slightly. I am buying one ASAP.