I own a couple of Leica cameras, including an M8. Before I purchased the M8, however, I seriously considered getting an Epson R-D1 as a digital rangefinder. I figured, since it is a 1.5x crop factor sensor, it will give me more reach. Furthermore, it had many loyal users singing its praises. And finally, it was half the price of a used M8. Now, while I had owned a Voigtlander Bessa R3M (which has essentially the same form factor as the Epson), and didn’t really take to it, it was cheap, and certainly an attractive option as a result. As a bonus, it uses a manual winder to cock the shutter, just like a film camera. That sounded great to me, since I have always enjoyed the analogue experience, and disliked any sort of automation. On this trip back to Singapore, I got the opportunity to rent the Epson from Camera Rental Centre around Clark Quay. As a side note, I rented an M8 here a year ago and those couple of days of using the camera really helped me decide to get it for myself.
So how did I find the camera? To begin with, when I first got it I couldn’t really understand how to operate it. Here’s a picture of the top plate:
On the top plate, there’s what I’d call a “multi-dial” that I figured, after some effort, shows the number of shots left, the file format, the battery life and the white balance setting.
First off, there’s no way anyone could have figured out what the dial means without some brain-racking (see the caption). Framelines are manually selected (not as elegant as the Leica M bodies, but certainly more practical, especially if you’d like to use LTM-M adapters). The symbols for the white balance are non-standard and confusing (by the way, that needle is offset by half a symbol). The frame counter is a nice touch, since it uses what I can assume is a logarithmic scale to solve the problem of putting many, many more than the 36/40-frame dial typically found on film cameras. Very smart! The battery life gauge looks almost like an automobile fuel gauge, which is rather quaint. I think R-N-H refers to RAW, normal- and high-quality JPEGs, respectively (since changing this value causes the frame counter to change position). A word about the selection wheel: It is concealed, perhaps a bit too cleverly, in the position where the rewind knob is normally situated (i.e. on the far left of the camera top). It took me a long time to figure out how to make selections on the menus!
Now, to the one thing that I care about most – no, not the image quality (it will always pale in comparison to the M8) – the ergonomics. How did I like the manual advance that I so looked-forward to? In a few words, it SUCKS! And, I really hate the camera. I have probably not disliked any camera as much as this one (except perhaps the Olympus PEN FT). To be honest, I am surprised that I dislike it as much as I do. In fact, I disliked it so much I wanted to return it one day early (except they wouldn’t give me a refund, so I decided to keep it around for another day). It turns out that the film advance is pretty annoying when you don’t actually have film in that darn thing – is seems so superfluous. I have missed a few shots because the camera was not wound. The camera also does not have a half-press stop – you know, the increase in resistance when you half-press a shutter button? So to wake the camera up you will fully press the shutter (and sometimes the camera isn’t sleeping, so doing that causes the shutter to be uncocked). The image quality is so-so, but I just can’t get into this camera. The fold-away LCD is nice, but since I have unlimited shots, I am always tempted to look at it. In the end, I was surprised that even including the missed shots, I only took 17 pictures with the camera after a whole day.
In the end, I am glad I rented it instead of purchasing it blindly – I was actually thinking about picking one up. This little expense has saved me a lot of grief! For all its flaws, the M8 is a far superior camera, and I’ll stick to it for a bit more!