Today I counted 17 news pieces posted on the internet about Epson’s plans to re-release their Leica-like rangefinder digital camera now to be designated the RD-1X. Why are so many waxing eloquent and so obviously excited about this still 6 MPX digital camera. Now if it had a contemporary 12 MPX sensor chip, that would be something this jaded old reprobate would be jumping up and down about it and at the heels of my editor to be on top of the list to test and review it, if in fact it will ever reach these shores. But so far the news is that it is for the Japanese market and that’s all. That makes some sense as the Japanese market is replete with collectors of classic Leica cameras, and other similar era rangefinder cameras that have the same lens mount. So there may be more of a market there that was not tapped by the first go-around of the RD-1.
Getting all hyped about the Epson RD-1 my thinking has to extend to the possibilities. I tested the Epson RD-1 in the field when first introduced and wrote about it with great enthusiasm that for me was quite real and based on the experience. But even then I wished, what if the sensor had more pixels. So let me take it a bit further beyond what corporate culture these days will probably allow. Also on the scene is another somewhat traditional configuration, the Sigma DP-1-2 with the very excellent Foveon image sensor that has 14 pixel and image quality that matches the optical and mechanical body attributes of the Epson RD-1. So should this be a marriage of obvious convenience and advantage?
My perspective over a long life-time of photography is that the dominance of the SLR camera configuration is not justified as it is only essential to accomplish a rather limited range of subjects and photography requirement, the rest of the time, for most photographs the SLR is actually a compromised solution, too complex and bulky, and lenses that are disadvantaged by too many elements, especially in shorter focal lengths to accommodate the retro-focus necessity an SLR body’s mirror and prism demands.
With digital sensor capture, I believe this SLR compromise is made worse, as the one lens performance attribute, internal image contrast is inferior to any equal quality single-focal length lens for an RF camera. This was the one performance attribute seen in the image files I made with the RD-1 with prime Zeiss lenses. Image quality was advantaged by the fact these lenses create far less internal flare and reproduce an image with much better tone separation and internal contrast, making them appear sharper and more brilliant.
If just true photographic performance ruled along with pragmatic objectivity, a digital rangefinder makes ultimate sense. The one disadvantage of their not being amenable to zoom lenses, I think has already been addressed by a semi-zoom with several discrete focal length settings in one lens. unfortunately reality and truly pragmatic photographic considerations play second-fiddle to marketing strategy and as I intimated, the culture of corporations. I believe photographers are really more imaginative, and would embrace a good, professional quality digital rangefinder like the Epson RD-1 with a 12 MPX sensor, and at a price that is competitive with Canon/Nikon dSLR’s in the pro category.