View Full Version : Michael Reichman's R-D1 Review

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 04:34
Michael just published a second opinion review of the R-D1 at:

His conclusion? A good camera but not for him.



04-11-2005, 05:16
The review seems pretty fair but a bit on the thin side -- he goes into considerably more depth when writing about DSLR's like the *ist D, Fuji S3, etc., especially when he discusses image quality.

I mention this because oddly enough, it's the digital imaging side of the R-D1 that really won me over (that and Leica optics, of course). Just this weekend I shot an event using the R-D1 side-by-side with the 20D with ISO 1600 on both, and the R-D1 files held up much better under some tortured RAW conversion (due to tricky lighting) than the 20D files did (both converted via RSE). And last month I batch converted some high-ISO RAW files with the R-D1, 20D, and a friend's D70 files (all using ACR) shot side-by-side at the same event, and of the three, the D70 lagged noticably behind the other two's fairly similar noise performance. This was especially striking to me since supposedly the R-D1 and the D70 used the same Sony CCD.

Michael's gripes were mostly about usability (accessory finders needed for wider than 42mm FOV, manual wind lever, etc) and are certainly understandable. However, since he shoots almost entirely in digital, I would have pegged him to recognize how well Epson handled the image processing. Ultimately, it seemed like it came down to the "not a Leica" factor since he specifically mentioned at the end that the Digital M is probably what he's really looking for instead -- a sentiment shared by many other Leica shooters on PN, the LUG, and elsewhere. It seems like a shame to me, since the R-D1 (just like the VC Bessa) is a perfectly good and useful camera in its own right -- digital or not, rangefinder or not. I probably needed to have owned an M myself to understand where the others are coming from. :D

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 05:29
Hi Bob,

Michael didn't go into more depth because I had already covered most of that ground. Two things about where Michael is coming from, IMO.

1. He wears glasses and likes WA lenses. For both those reasons, a .72 finder would likely suit him better.

2. He may be finding that he's not quite as into rangefinders as he once was. I think the current AF Canon DSLRs really work well for him and they've come to feel natural for him. That really is personal preference issue.

Horses for course mostly,


J. Borger
04-11-2005, 06:20
I do not see any relevance in a review like the one Michael Reichman puts up .............. there is hardly any info in the article ..... . and nothing new for sure.
Besides he is writing towards a highly irrelevant endconclusion .......... who cares if M. Reichman personaly likes or dislikes a rangefinder ??
There is nothing wrong preferring a DSLR ....... but it is irrelevant as part of a review.
He also makes me wonder how a digital Leica could change his general attitude towards rangefinders in the digital age....??


04-11-2005, 06:27
2. He may be finding that he's not quite as into rangefinders as he once was. I think the current AF Canon DSLRs really work well for him and they've come to feel natural for him.

That was my take on his review. If I had to summarize it in one sentence, that sentence would be "I'm not really a rangefinder guy anymore."

Having switched to digital, he hadn't really had a chance to find that out until he tried an R-D 1. Most of his specific criticisms of the actual camera seem either irrelevant or nitpicky -- like test-driving a Porsche Boxster S and basing your entire impression on the fact that your hair got messed up, the whole soccer team won't fit, and it won't tow your boat. Those observations may be true, but they're not useful. What it really comes down to is, "This just isn't my kind of car."

As to the Leica-forum people who are dissing the R-D 1 compared to what they hope the putative Leica Digital M will be... well, it's easy to imagine the perfect camera. And I'm sure it will be great WHEN and IF it appears. In the meantime, promises don't get me any pictures!

Jim Watts
04-11-2005, 06:34
I think its pretty fair. He makes his personal preferences clear. The only point I really disagree on is 1600 iso noise levels in comparison to the Canon 20D. I have a 20D and "technically" the Canon maybe lower but my subjective experience (from prints) is that the nature of the noise is more like film grain, less "digital" and more acceptable. Also if you need to pull the shadows up further there is no tendancy to "noise banding" as on the 20D.

All these reviews are interesting and as usual probably tell as more about the reviewers than the camera. There will be another review in next months (May no. 46) Black & White Photography, one of the better U.K. mags. which often features pictures and articles from rangefinder users, so it might prove interesting.

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 07:02

I agree with you on the noise issue. I also shoot primarily in B&W with the R-D1 and the B&W RAW conversions at ISO 1600 look much better to me than the color RAW conversions at the same ISO. The files can pushed harder than my 10D files could. I haven't used a 20D because by the time it came out I was already moving away from SLRs (except the 1Ds for certain work).



04-11-2005, 07:03
One thing MR didn't complain about with moving to digital RF - now I have to remember to take off the lens cap!

David Kieltyka
04-11-2005, 07:51
I don't think it's fair to criticize Michael R. for stating his preferences. He's never claimed to be objective except maybe when doing lens tests with the DxO software. All of his reviews are based on his particular likes & dislikes. I think Jim (jlw) has it right: he's just not into RF shooting any more. And the issue with the R-D1 and wide lenses is real. It doesn't bother me since my taste these days is for a "normal" to slightly long field-of-view. The R-D1 just happens to mesh perfectly with this. But for other people I can see the issue being a show-stopper.


Huck Finn
04-11-2005, 07:53
Hmmm . . . Looks like a Zeiss lens mounted on the RD-1 in the picture at the top of the article (a courtesy photo from Epson).

04-11-2005, 07:57
Personally I find Reichman very much an acquired taste - neither his writing nor his photography does much for me - but I think he is spot on with most of the observations he makes about the RD-1. I don't share his taste for wider lenses so I don't have a problem with the 1:1 finder (in fact, much prefer it to the 0.72 on my Leica Ms) but I do agree with him on the other usability issues - especially, the slow image review on the rear LCD and the non-sticky settings on both the camera and in the Mac software. I would even go further and say that the analogue dials are a mistake and much inferior functionally to a simple digital LCD on the top plate. I also think he is rather kind about the build quality of the RD-1. For me, the build quality is only really adequate for a digital camera in this price range (though I have to confess to being a bit fussy in this regard) and is one of the things I think Epson need to address if they are going to take the camera forward to compete against a future digital M product from Leica. Don't get me wrong, I'm very glad I took the plunge with the RD-1 back in November - it has surpassed all expectations I had of it - but I think it's a mistake to not acknowledge that the camera has a number of weaknesses that I wish Epson had been able to avoid.

MP Guy
04-11-2005, 08:54
which brings this up. What is the status of a digital M ?

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 09:03
Leica is still planning to release the digital M in 2006.


04-11-2005, 09:19
And I'm planning to marry Heidi Klum (http://www.km02.com/hklum/) in June.

The interesting question is... will it really happen?

04-11-2005, 09:44
... the issue with the R-D1 and wide lenses is real. It doesn't bother me since my taste these days is for a "normal" to slightly long field-of-view. The R-D1 just happens to mesh perfectly with this. But for other people I can see the issue being a show-stopper.

Yes this is the main point IMHO.
I'm perfectly happy with a mere 28/40/50mm combo on the R-D1 but it's not the case for everyone obviously.


Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 10:05

There's no way you could get an appropriate wedding together. There's so much you need to arrange and she may not even know about this wedding yet. It's mid-April already... Clearly you're not only dreaming about rangefinder accessories.

I'm afraid that Leica may have slightly better odds. They play their cards pretty close to their chest as well.



04-11-2005, 10:13
I didn't say I could do it, I just said I'm planning it!

And I'm sure Leica's plans are farther along and much better developed (and more realistic) than mine. But they could still face a lot of mis-steps on the way to the altar.

If they can do as good a job at being second as Epson did at being first, I'm sure there will be a lot of happy digital campers in Leica-land... but probably at least as many kvetchers as well!

Sean Reid
04-11-2005, 10:18
You did realize I was joking, right?




04-11-2005, 10:54
Well, yeah :-P (and of course so was I) but behind all that there's still a message about the gap between what people hope for and what they can actually get.

I think one of the curses of the Internet Age is that it's so easy for aspirations to outpace reality that whenever Leica gets around to delivering their camera, and whatever it's like when it gets here, it's still going to be a disappointment to some people, and those people are likely to be very vocal about how disappointed they are. (On the other hand, there will be people who will be delighted just because it has the magic L-word on it, even if it's slightly underdone and crappy, so I suppose you could say it's a wash.)

Just makes me glad I'm not in the camera business!

04-11-2005, 11:24
Re: the noise issue,

I just tried Sean's advice about the shadow and hightlight points in PhotoRaw, and it's pretty amazing what you can do.

However, I shot the street backlit at sunset at ISO 400, and found using RSE you can get the same results using the shadow and hightlight sliders, and the difference in detail and noise was astounding. Where the shadows are lightened (worst case for noise) the ER files are gritty and lack detail, whereas the RSE file looks like a 20D - smooth and sharp.

Attached are the files, compressed so the effect isn't quite as dramatic, but check out the television arials.

Shot on the CV 21mm at f8. The one on the left is EPR, the one on the right is RSE


David Kieltyka
04-11-2005, 14:04
RSE is great. I'm using it for the majority of my R-D1 photos. Among other things it does a good job of mapping out hot pixels. :) I still prefer PhotoRAW's b&w conversions, though. I wish RSE had Sunny, Cloudy, Incandescent, etc. color balance presets too. I like to use them in other apps, like PhotoRAW, as jumping off points.


04-11-2005, 14:24
David - good point about the b/w - I also like the PhotoRAW jobs. The noise turns into great grain!

I love RSE's browser, though.

04-11-2005, 14:51
I just tried Sean's advice about the shadow and hightlight points in PhotoRaw, and it's pretty amazing what you can do.

However, I shot the street backlit at sunset at ISO 400, and found using RSE...

...Shot on the CV 21mm at f8. The one on the left is EPR, the one on the right is RSE

I can figure out that EPR is an abbreviation for Epson Photo Raw (I assume this is the Windows-only standalone application.)

But what is RSE?

04-11-2005, 15:01
RawShooter Essentials, a free RAW converter. Here's a writeup. (http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0205/ar0205-2.html)

04-11-2005, 15:17
I thought Michael Reichmannís review which isnít a review was quite fair. I think that he makes it clear where he is coming from, and that puts his thoughts into perspective.

I should indicate where I am coming from. I have never owned a digital SLR. My sole digital experience was with a Nikon 3500 and was not a happy one. The only SLR system I have used has been Olympus OM, which I have used for nearly 30 years. I shoot mostly when I travel, and after that, my main subjects are bands in dimly lit clubs, and some modern dance. My ďkitĒ has generally been a 40mm or 50mm along with either the 85mm F2 or 100 2.8. While many of you may have been waiting for a digital M, all I ever wanted was a digital OM. When I first read about the R D1, I was attracted by its size.

I do have some rangefinder experience with my Mamiya 7 and my XA; but in terms of focusing, I would have described myself as an SLR person.

I have had my R-D1 for one month now. In that time I have shot a few bands, and just got back Thursday from two days in Havana and nine in Els Salvador. I shot a bit of ďdanceĒ at the outdoor Rhumba and at the Tropicana, both in Havana.

Ergonomics: I have been really pleased with the handling of the R-D1, even if the shutter speed dial is where everyone except Olympus put it. I havenít found using the R-D1 to be a ďfunky experience.Ē My Mamiya experience may be a factor here, but I would say that I am more comfortable focusing the R-D1 than the Mamiya 7. Focusing in low light has been a revelation, and has been more accurate for me than with my Olympus. Someone coming from an autofocus SLR system might have a different experience. I donít know.

Framing: I wear thick glasses. I was aware of the 28mm framing issue before I bought the camera. I bought it eyes wide open, which is for me, a position in which I can see slightly better than eyes closed tight. I have been using two Voigtlander lenses, the 35 2.5 pancake II and the 50 Nokton. Framing with the 50mm is wonderful. I actually have been having some trouble with the 35mm lines -- not enough to make me regret my purchase, but problems none the less. For some reason, I do better at night with my framing. I have had trouble with ďarchitecturalĒ lines, using the 35mm frame lines. This is not new for me, but has been worse than with my other cameras. For some reason, I do better in portrait mode. The only (slight) consolation, is that I can see the results quickly, and re shoot, rather than a few weeks and a few thousands of miles later.

Controls: I disagree with Reichmannís comments regarding the ISO dial. As he pointed out in his Canon 300D review, with digital cameras ISO becomes a third and equal partner to F-stop and shutter speed. I think the R-D1 implementation is wonderful. I guess it depends on where you are coming from in terms of readability, but I find its readability no worse than on my OM-4T or the XA. But you donít really have to read it. There are no intermediate settings. Just 200, 400, 800, 1600. The dials clicks nicely, and I find it easy to set by feel.

I like the analogue dials. More than I thought I would. I need to learn more about the white balance settings though. As for the the frame line setting, my experience is differerent from Reichmannís. I have accidentally changed the setting while getting the camera out of my Domke 803.

Wind lever and battery: I put both together, because if the wind lever really helps battery life, than it is a useful if not necessary feature. If not, I could do without it. I have missed some shots. But I agree with Reichmann that the battery life is very disappointing. I was glad to have have bought a third battery the day before my trip. It doesnít help that the included charger only allows you to charge one battery at a time.

I canít comment on digital functions, because I have no point of comparison.

Image Quality: My point of comparison is with film, and I am a fan of low light. Before my conversion, my film of choice was NPZ, shot at 1250 and pushed one stop. Although I have made only a few prints, I have been pleased with the results from the R-D1 at 1600. And I donít miss the scanning and spotting.

I hope this is helpful to anyone thinking of going the R-D1 route.

04-11-2005, 17:31
RawShooter Essentials, a free RAW converter. Here's a writeup. (http://www.naturephotographers.net/articles0205/ar0205-2.html)

Thanks for the clarification. Looks nice :) Windows only :bang:

David Kieltyka
04-11-2005, 20:01
Thanks for the clarification. Looks nice :) Windows only :bang:

Yes, this bites. I've been using PhotoRAW on my PC as well, though, because I find the standalone version more pleasant to use than the plug-in. Sometimes having a dual PC/Mac setup comes in handy. :angel: