Field Report: 35mm and Wider Lenses for the Epson R-D1
By: Sean Reid
It has often been remarked that one of the prime markets for Epson's R-D1 digital rangefinder camera is the group of photographers throughout the world who already own many rangefinder lenses in Leica M and thread mounts. In addition to these potential owners, there are also people buying the R-D1 who do not currently own rangefinder cameras or lenses. That latter group needs to choose lenses for the camera and many in the former group will need to expand their lens kits to include some new wider lenses. Due to the 1.53X magnification (compared to 35mm film) effect of the R-D1's APS-C sized, sensor, all lenses have a narrower effective field of view on the Epson than they would have on full-frame 35mm cameras. So, while a 28mm lens is a moderate wide-angle on film, it's really more like a short normal (42mm effective FOV) lens on the R-D1. Photographers using most of the current digital SLRs are used to this effect.
In this review, I look at eleven lenses from Leica and Cosina Voigtlander that fall within the focal length range traditionally defined as wide-angle and super-wide-angle. In this case that's 12mm (18mm effective FOV on the R-D1) to 35mm (53mm effective FOV on the R-D1). Leica's reputation as a camera and lens maker needs little introduction; for several decades they have been widely known for producing some of the best cameras and lenses in the world. Cosina Voigtlander may not be as well known to some. The original Voigtlander was a German company that began making optical instruments in 1756 and then cameras and lenses in 1840. It was taken over by Zeiss Ikon in 1956 and by the 1970s was only producing lenses (for Zeiss bodies). The German manufacturer Rollei bought the Voigtlander brand in 1974 and Voigtlander itself was shut down the following year. The name was sold to a German company called Ringfoto and then, in the 1990s, the Japanese camera manufacturer Cosina licensed the Voigtlander name from them. In 1999, Cosina made the bold and highly unusual move to introduce a brand new series of LTM (Leica thread mount) rangefinder bodies and lenses. The cameras have earned a reputation for being very useable and much less expensive alternatives to the Leica M rangefinders. The lenses have earned a reputation for having unusually high optical and build quality despite their very reasonable prices.
Leica USA was kind enough to lend me three of their three widest current lenses: the Elmarit-M 21/2.8 Aspherical, Summicron-M 28/2.0 Aspherical and Summicron-M 35/2.0 Aspherical. Some lens experts believe that the current aspherical M lenses are the best lenses Leica has ever produced and among the best that any company has ever produced.
I first met a man named Stephen Gandy when I was looking for an adapter to mount Zeiss lenses on Canon EOS digital bodies. Gandy is an American Voigtlander distributor and rangefinder enthusiast that many regard as the leading Voigtlander expert in North America. His company, CameraQuest, sells Voigtlander cameras and lenses as well as rare and unusual lens adapters for all kinds of cameras (rangefinder and SLR) and other interesting photographic equipment. His site is not only rich with information about Voigtlander but also filled with articles and tips about the history and use of all kinds of cameras. I highly recommend looking it up and doing some reading. The site also includes pictures of all the current Voigtlander lenses. From his own stock, Mr. Gandy very generously loaned me a wide range of Voigtlander lenses for this test: 12/5.6 Aspherical, 15/4.5 Aspherical Heliar, 21/4 Color-Skopar, 25/4 Snapshot-Skopar, 28/3.5 Color-Skopar, 28/1.9 Ultron Aspherical, 35/2.5 Color Skopar "C" and 35/1.7 Ultron Aspherical.
This review is specifically focused on the performance of these lenses when used on the Epson R-D1. I should be sure to say early on that I am not a lens expert, just an experienced photographer, and this test will not include such technical details as MTF ratings, etc. I did not test the lenses on any film camera body and it is important that I stress that the results discussed here do not necessarily apply to any given lens when it is used on a film camera. All of the lenses here were designed for rangefinder film camera bodies and not for the particular requirements of the R-D1. That's important to note because the interaction of rangefinder lenses and digital sensors places demands upon the lenses that they were not originally designed to address. I explain and discuss some of those demands in more detail in the sections below. Early reports from R-D1 owners have discussed vignetting of various degrees appearing when certain wide-angle lenses are used on the R-D1. For reasons that will become clearer in the sections below, tests of vignetting on the R-D1, for each lens, were a key focus of this review. In addition, of course, I looked at other performance qualities such as perceived color rendering, resolution, contrast and distortion. Again, I am not a professional lens tester and the results described here come from my fairly simple but carefully conducted tests of the lenses both under controlled circumstances and under the decidedly uncontrolled conditions of my non-commercial photography work. I made pictures ranging from ISO 200 in color, while using a tripod, to handheld work made in existing indoor light at ISO 1600 and sometimes push-processed to ISO 3200 during RAW conversion.
I encounter the latter conditions frequently on a long-term project I'm working on in Massachusetts. Under those existing-light conditions I've usually worked with my Canon 10D and the excellent Zeiss Distagon 28/2.8 (my favorite lens for that camera). My Canon 1Ds has too loud a shutter for the conditions of that work. In looking over recent pictures from the project that were made with the R-D1 and Voigtlander 21/4, 25/4, 28/3.5 and 35/2.5 lenses, I noted that all of the R-D1/Voigtlander pictures looked much better to me than those made with the 10D and Zeiss 28. They didn't look just a little better; they looked significantly better. They are sharper, have much better black & white tonality and have a kind of presence I can't easily describe in words or show in a 72 ppi JPEG. The experience of looking at those pictures underscored a general impression I've been forming while testing this set of lenses. And that is that there isn't a bad lens in this group. Some are better than others, some vignette more or less on the R-D1, but every single one of the lenses I tested for this article is very good. That's quite remarkable when one considers that the least expensive lens in this group is also one of the best: the $229.00 Voigtlander 35/2.5 Color Skopar "C".
As an aside, I'll note that the R-D1 files have been standing up well to "push processing" during RAW conversion. The Canon can shoot at ISO 3200 but the files made at that speed look ugly to my eye and no amount of filtering can get them to look acceptable to me. I worked with both cameras at ISO 1600 and then pushed the ISO, for some of the files, in RAW conversion, to anywhere between about 2400 and 3200 ISO. The Epson files held up better to that abuse, probably because their noise is mostly in the luminance channel and not in the chrominance channels (PhotoRAW creates an RGB file even for black & white conversions).
All of the lenses in this test look and feel much better built than typical consumer SLR lenses. Many of them are also extremely compact, as the dimensions information below will demonstrate. They have a wonderful mechanical feel to them that is very refreshing to me after several years of working with well-performing but lightly-built plastic Canon primes such as the 24/2.8, 35/2.0 and 50/1.8 Mk1. (In all fairness, most of the Canon L lenses are very well built but they are generally much larger and heavier than the rangefinder lenses in this test.) The Leica lenses have the best overall build quality and feel of this bunch but the Voigtlanders aren’t far behind. In fact, the aperture rings on some of the Voigtlanders feel more solid and precise than those on the Leicas. The Leicas’ focus damping is buttery smooth; the best of any lens I’ve tested or used.
This is also a very good-looking set of lenses, beautiful form following function as it does for, say, the gas tank of a T120 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. The smaller Voigtlanders in black are probably the best looking of all. A good lens needn’t look good but it’s an added pleasure for the photographer when it does. Leica sent their lenses with plastic caps designed to fit on the lens hoods. The Voigtlanders all use the more traditional, solid and beautiful metal caps with felt liners. In fact, after using these traditional style lenses I didn’t ever want to feel a plastic lens in my hands again.
All of the lenses in this test focused accurately on the R-D1.
The R-D1's 1:1 finder includes parallax-correcting framelines for 28, 35 and 50mm lenses. For shorter or longer lenses, one needs to frame using an external finder. This creates a challenge because the R-D1's field of view angles don't quite match those of traditional external finders such as those meant for 21mm, 24mm/25mm and 28mm lenses. Fortunately, Voigtlander makes special "D" series external finders that show the FOV for the 12, 15, 21 and 25mm lenses when used on the R-D1. Mr. Gandy was kind enough to loan me the 12, 15 and 21mm "D" finders to test with the lenses. The 25mm finder is apparently in short supply and he was unable to locate one for me. As I found with the 28mm and 35mm Voigtlander finders I tested in my Leica Digilux 2 review, these finders are very sharp and bright with clearly visible framelines. The 12mm finder shows some barrel distortion, the 15mm finder a little less and the 21mm finder barely any at all. Reportedly, Voigtlander is making only one limited production run of these finders for now so they may be hard to find. As with Epson's production of the R-D1, though, I would hope that Voigtlander will choose to make more of the D finders if the market demand is there for them. Epson should certainly make more than 10,000 copies of this camera if they can sell them and Voigtlander should make more external finders to go with those bodies. The finders sell for $175.00 each at CameraQuest. The Voigtlander 12/5.6 Aspherical, 15/4.5 Aspherical Heliar, 21/4 Color-Skopar and 25/4 Snapshot-Skopar lenses all come with a external finders (for a 35mm film camera). I think it would make sense for Voigtlander to offer a digital option for each of these packages: the 12/5.6 lens and a 12mm "D" finder, etc.
Consider the traditional combination of a lens, a camera and silver halide film. The lens casts an image circle that must at some point fade into black. The edges of this circle are soft; the transition from light to dark, called the penumbra or light fall-off, is gradual. On a small-format camera, under ideal circumstances, the edges of the film frame fall within the center of this circle and thus are unaffected by the light fall-off. Optical vignetting occurs when the image circle being cast on the film frame is not quite large enough to avoid its penumbra overlapping the corners of the frame. A tilt-shift lens on a small format camera needs to cast a sufficiently large image circle that one can change the location of the film frame within that circle. In other words, the image circle cast is so large that one can move the frame up and down or side to side within it. Large format lenses on view cameras must behave the same way; they must cast a large image circle so as to allow room for the frame (in the case of large format, the edges of the sheet film holder) to move within the circle as much as possible without coming into the area of penumbra.
For an excellent technical discussion of these issues, I strong suggest the reader leave this article momentarily before reading further and read Paul Van Walree’s excellent discussion of vignetting at http://www.vanwalree.com/optics/vignetting.html.
Vignetting varies in degree, of course, from lens to lens but is particularly pronounced in most rangefinder lens designs. One of the reasons rangefinder lenses are so compact when mounted is that they usually are “symmetrical” in design, many of their optical elements are located inboard of the lens mount – close to the film plane. This kind of lens design could not work for an SLR because it would interfere with the movement of the mirror. The exit pupil of a typical rangefinder lens is much closer to the film plane than the exit pupil of a typical SLR lens. This means that the light rays near the outside of the image circle (cast by a typical rangefinder lens) strike the film at a much more acute angle than the same rays cast by an SLR lens. SLR lenses generally cast light on the film in a more rectangular (telecentric) way. For reasons that Van Walree has explained well in the article linked above, this design leads to more drastic light fall off at the outside of the image circle. In other words, most rangefinder lenses are more susceptible to vignetting than their SLR counterparts. But they also show much less wide-angle distortion than many SLR lenses because of their symmetrical design.
Now consider the sensor in a digital camera. A frame of film, if being held properly by the camera, has a flat and smooth surface. A digital sensor has micro lenses located over the pixels and these micro lenses sit in very shallow wells. Since an SLR lens tends to cast light on a sensor telecentrically, the light rays tend to hit the micro lenses square on. Since rangefinder lenses tend to cast light in a less rectangular way, much less light will fall on the pixels at the corners of the sensor. The more acute the angle of the light ray being cast on the sensor, the more likely it is to have light fall-off. Digital sensors also have infrared and antialiasing filters located in front of these micro lenses. The more acute the angle of the light rays being cast on these filters, the more light is potentially lost to refraction.
The challenges inherent in combining traditional rangefinder lenses with digital sensors form the basis for Leica’s contention, in the past, that they could not produce a digital M camera (using then-existing technology) that would perform to their standards. They now are planning to release just such a camera in 2006 and it will be very interesting to see what engineering they've used to address this issue.
Vignetting occurs when less light reaches the corners of a film frame or sensor than the center. As discussed above, this is related to various issues including the size of a given lens’ image circle relative to the size of the capture medium. As I mentioned in the first section of this review, Epson R-D1 owners have reported noticeable vignetting with the R-D1 and certain wide-angle lenses. In order to evaluate the amount of vignetting created on the R-D1 sensor by a given lens, one has to consider the effects of both focus distance and aperture setting. As Van Walree discusses in the article linked above, as a lens is focused at shorter and shorter distances, both its FOV and the size of its imaging circle increase. In other words, optical vignetting is most pronounced when a lens is focused at infinity.
I tested a sample of R-D1 lenses for vignetting (at all major apertures) when focused at distances of three feet, five feet, ten feet and infinity. The detailed results would be too cumbersome to discuss in detail here but generally the lenses showed slightly less vignetting (if any) when focused at three feet than when focused at infinity. As we would expect, this difference was most visible when a lens was set to its maximum aperture and less visible as the aperture size was decreased. In order to show or more or less average vignetting performance for each lens, I did the final vignetting tests for all of the lenses at a focus distance of ten feet. It's important to note again that the lenses tested below were all designed for 35mm rangefinder film cameras and not for the R-D1. Lenses that vignette on the R-D1 may work beautifully on film cameras.
Test Notes: All lenses were tested with their manufacturer-provided hoods. General observations about image quality from each lens are discussed by focal length groups after the section of vignetting test results.
Size and weight are as per manufacturers specs.
Focus accuracy was tested at distances of three, five and ten feet.
Voigtlander “Street Prices” reflect the selling prices at CameraQuest as of the time of this writing.
Leica “Street Prices” reflect a survey of reputable online dealers' prices as of the date of this writing.
Vignetting: Vignetting was tested at all major apertures at a focus distance of ten feet. Vignetting corrections were then made using the vignetting correction tool in Epson’s PhotoRAW program (discussed in Part One of this review) which has a variable intensity setting that uses a scale of –20 to +20. It's important to note that the number zero is a middle setting on that scale, not an indication of zero correction. Sliding the level to the right of zero lightens the corners of the picture: sliding it to the left lightens the center of the picture. The stronger the vignetting, the greater the intensity setting one needs to use in order to correct it. In the lens tests below, I’ve noted the intensity setting used to correct vignetting on each lens at its maximum aperture and at F/8.
The vignetting test pictures below were made by photographing an open snowy field lit by a dull grey sky. Tone in the subject was very uniform and these test pictures are all set so that the center tone averages to Zone V or 50% K in Photoshop. In general, vignetting is much more visible in these snowy field pictures than it is in normal pictures that have tonal variation throughout the frame. In other words, in most normal photography, vignetting will not be nearly as visible as it appears in these tests. All of the pictures reproduced in this review were captured in RAW format and converted in PhotoRAW using the gray point eyedropper to set overall color balance. Note: The Leica 28mm lens arrived a week later than the other lenses and so had to be tested separately for vignetting. I used a different snowy field but the same lighting conditions.
Voigtlander 12/5.6 Aspherical (Effective FOV on R-D1: 18mm)
Street Price: $595.00 including hood and 12mm finder (for film cameras)
Size and weight: 1.5" long by 2" diameter, 3.2 oz.
Construction and Feel: Solidly made, focus action feels smooth and precise. Crinkle-finish lens hood seems rugged and is quite attractive. Aperture ring has half-stop detents.
Focus accuracy: NA, not rangefinder-coupled, focus click stops at 1.5, and 3 feet
Vignetting: In the snowy field test pictures, vignetting is quite noticeable even when this lens is stopped down. With more common and less uniform subjects, however, the vignetting is much less noticeable. To use this lens on the R-D1, a photographer would need to either accept some mild vignetting as part of the look of the picture or manually remove it in PhotoRAW, especially with pictures made at larger apertures. The vignetting from this lens is noticeable enough, with common subjects, that many photographers will likely want to correct it.
Voigtlander 15/4.5 Aspherical Heliar (Effective FOV on R-D1: 23mm)
Street Price: $345.00 including hood and 15mm finder (for film cameras)
Size and weight: 1.2" long by 1.9" diameter, 3.68 oz
Construction and Feel: Excellent build and feel overall, focus action nearly as smooth as the Leica lenses. Knurled focusing ring is very narrow (because the lens is so short) but it’s surprisingly easy to reach and use quickly. Aperture ring has half-stop detents.
Focus accuracy: NA, not rangefinder-coupled
Vignetting: In the snowy field test pictures, vignetting is significant even when this lens is stopped down. With more common and less uniform subjects the vignetting is less noticeable but still quite obvious. To use this lens on the R-D1, a photographer would need to either accept moderate vignetting as part of the look of the picture or manually remove it in PhotoRAW, especially with pictures made at larger apertures. The vignetting from this lens is noticeable enough, with common subjects, that many photographers will likely want to correct it. The lens vignettes more strongly than the 12/5.6.
Leica Elmarit-M 21/2.8 Aspherical (Effective FOV on R-D1: 32mm)
Street Price: $2495.00 including hood, leather case and three-year “passport warranty”*
Size and weight: 1.7" long by 2.2" diameter, 10.56 oz.
Construction and Feel: Superb build quality; focusing ring smooth and well damped; aperture ring has half-stop detents.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: Some vignetting wide open but this lessens significantly by F/5.6 and is minimal from then on. Very good vignetting performance overall for a 21mm lens on the R-D1. Many photographers will not likely not feel the need to correct the small amount of vignetting from this lens for pictures made at F/5.6 and smaller apertures.
Voigtlander 21/4 Color-Skopar (Effective FOV on R-D1: 32mm)
Street Price: $335.00 including hood and 21mm finder (for film cameras)
Size and weight: 1.1" long by 1.9" diameter, 3.84 oz.
Construction and Feel: Very compact but solid, focus lever is easy to reach and use; focus action is a little stiff on this example but might soften up a bit with use. Aperture ring is precise and has detents for half-stops.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: In the snowy field test pictures, vignetting is quite noticeable even when this lens is stopped down. With more common and less uniform subjects, the vignetting is less but is still quite noticeable even at F/8. To use this lens on the R-D1, a photographer would need to either accept some mild vignetting as part of the look of the picture or manually remove it in PhotoRAW, especially with pictures made at larger apertures. The vignetting from this lens is noticeable enough, with common subjects, that many photographers will likely want to correct it. That would be my tendency. The Leica 21 is a noticeably better lens in this respect.
Voigtlander 25/4 Snapshot-Skopar (Effective FOV on R-D1: 38mm)
Street Price: $259.00 including hood and 25mm finder (for film cameras)
Size and weight: 1.2" long by 1.9" diameter, 3.2 oz.
Construction and Feel: Similar body to 21/4. Focus ring action is very light, not really damped, doesn’t feel as refined as some of the more expensive lenses. Aperture ring has half-stop detents.
Focus accuracy: NA, not rangefinder-coupled, focus click stops at 3.5, 5 and 10 feet
Vignetting: In the snowy field test pictures, vignetting is quite noticeable even when this lens is stopped down. With more common and less uniform subjects, the vignetting is less but still quite noticeable even at F/8. To use this lens on the R-D1, a photographer would need to either accept some mild vignetting as part of the look of the picture or manually remove it in PhotoRAW, especially with pictures made at larger apertures. The vignetting from this lens is strong enough, with many subjects, that many photographers will likely want to correct it.
Voigtlander 28/3.5 Color-Skopar (Effective FOV on R-D1: 42mm)
Street Price: $289.00 including hood
Size and weight: 1.01" long by 1.95" diameter, 5.75 oz.
Construction and Feel: Focus ring feels weighty and fairly smooth. Aperture ring has unusual shape that makes it easy to grasp and turn; also has half-stop detents.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: In the snowy field test pictures, vignetting is quite noticeable even when this lens is stopped down. With more common and less uniform subjects, the vignetting is less but still quite noticeable even at F/8. To use this lens on the R-D1, a photographer would need to either accept some mild vignetting as part of the look of the picture or manually remove it in PhotoRAW, especially with pictures made at larger apertures. The vignetting from this lens is strong enough, with many subjects, that many photographers will likely want to correct it. That would be my tendency. The Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron is a significantly better lens in this respect.
Leica Summicron-M 28/2.0 Aspherical (Effective FOV on R-D1: 42mm)
Street Price: $2495.00 including hood, soft-case and three-year “passport warranty”*
Size and weight: 1.6" " long by 2.1" diameter, 9.6 oz.
Construction and Feel: Superb build quality overall, focusing ring smooth and well damped, aperture ring has half-stop settings and a fairly good feel. The focus lever on the three Leica lenses combined with their focus damping made them my favorites lenses to work with. They feel great in the hands.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: The lens shows very minimal vignetting, no more than the slight amount seen in pictures from very good lenses on film SLRs. Correcting the small amount of vignetting from this lens (at F/2.8 and smaller apertures) is certainly not necessary. Note: The Leica 28mm lens arrived a week later than the other lenses and so had to be tested separately for vignetting. I used a different snowy field but the same overcast lighting conditions. The slight blotches seen in the vignetting samples for this lens are simply characteristics of the subject.
Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron Aspherical (Effective FOV on R-D1: 42mm)
Street Price: $449.00 including hood
Size and weight: 2.5" long by 2.2" diameter, 9.28 oz.
Construction and Feel: Lens hood partly blocks rangefinder view in lower right corner. Excellent build and feel overall, focus action nearly as smooth as the Leica lenses. Aperture ring has half-stop detents and a very solid mechanical feel.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: Moderate vignetting, no more than the slight amount seen in pictures from very good lenses on film SLRs. Correcting the small amount of vignetting from this lens for pictures made at F/2.8 or smaller isn't necessary at all.
Voigtlander 35/2.5 Color Skopar "C" (Effective FOV on R-D1: 53mm)
Street Price: $229.00 including hood
Size and weight: 1.2" long by 2.1" diameter, 4.64 oz.
Construction and Feel: Well constructed, focusing ring was a bit stiff. This might be specific to the example I tested. Aperture ring felt solid and precise.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: Moderate vignetting, no more than the slight amount seen in pictures from very good lenses on film SLRs. Correcting the small amount of vignetting from this lens for pictures made at F/4 or smaller apertures isn’t necessary at all.
Leica Summicron-M 35/2.0 Aspherical (Effective FOV on R-D1: 53mm)
Street Price: $1795.00 including hood, soft-case and three-year “passport warranty”*
Size and weight: 1.4" long by 2.0" diameter, 12.8 oz.
Construction and Feel: Superb build quality overall, focusing ring smooth and well damped, aperture ring has half-stop settings and a fairly good feel. The focus lever on the three Leica lenses combined with their focus damping made them my favorites lenses to work with. They feel great in the hands.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: The lens shows very minimal vignetting, no more than the slight amount seen in pictures from very good lenses on film SLRs. Correcting the small amount of vignetting from this lens (even when used wide open) is certainly not necessary.
Voigtlander 35/1.7 Ultron Aspherical (Effective FOV on R-D1: 53mm)
Street Price: $399.00 including hood
Size and weight: 1.8" long by 2.2" diameter, 7.04 oz.
Construction and Feel: Lens hood partly blocks rangefinder view in lower right corner. Excellent build and feel overall, focus action nearly as smooth as the Leica lenses. Aperture ring has half-stop detents.
Focus accuracy: accurate
Vignetting: Moderate vignetting, no more than the slight amount seen in pictures from very good lenses on film SLRs. Correcting the small amount of vignetting from this lens for pictures made at F/2.8 or smaller apertures isn't necessary at all.
Clearly, the vignetting correction feature in PhotoRAW works very well but of course it has its limits. How much vignetting correction can one apply before the increased noise in the picture's corners becomes a problem? The answer to that question depends on many, many factors. Files that are underexposed and/or made at higher ISO levels will naturally show noise more readily because very dark tones are being made into much lighter tones (the signal to noise ratio, so to speak, is low). If the vignetting is strong enough, the camera will have recorded little detail in the dark corners so that while the vignetting correction may lighten the tone in those areas, that lightened tone may not show much detail. As such, it can start to look like a murky artifact rather than part of the picture. So there are limits to what one can do with the program. Epson should add an eyedropper densitometer tool to PhotoRAW so that vignetting correction can be done by actual measurement of the values at the corners and center of the picture. Otherwise, the adjustments need to be made by eye. A major weakness of PhotoRAW is that one cannot specify parameter settings when batch processing a folder of RAW files. When batch processing, the program automatically uses the settings set in the camera at the time of exposure. So vignetting correction needs to be done on a picture-by-picture basis, and that can get tedious. It would be much better to be able to apply a specific vignetting setting to a whole folder of pictures that were all made by the same lens at similar apertures. Vignetting intensity settings can be saved and loaded, however, so that one can name and save preferred settings for, say, the Voigtlander 21/4 at F/8, etc.
Not surprisingly, given their prices, the Leica lenses are the top performers in this group but many of the Voigtlanders are not far behind. All three Summicrons, both Voigtlander Ultrons and the Voigtlander 35/2.5 C all turn in very good vignetting performances when mounted on the R-D1 and that is an important factor given the particular challenges of rangefinder lenses used with digital sensors.
Looking at the Tested Lenses by Focal Length
35mm: The Leica 35/2.0 Summicron-M is sharper than the Voigtlander 35/1.7 Ultron and has more contrast (both to the eye and according to the histograms for each). The Leica has a more pronounced sense of three-dimensionality and less rectilinear distortion (the top of a cylindrical salt shaker stays round rather than becoming an oval, for example). To my eye, the Leica seems to be resolving finer detail than the Ultron; fine text appearing in pictures is more readable with the former. Color handling is very similar with the Leica showing a touch more saturation.
The real surprise here is the Voigtlander 35/2.5, which is slightly sharper on center than the 35/1.7 on the R-D1. The difference is not huge but it's evident when looking at files at 100%. On the other hand, the 35/1.7is sharper in the corners than the 35/2.5 and it shows less vignetting. The 35/2.5 has a bit more contrast than the 35/1.7, both to the eye and according to the histograms for each. While neither Voigtlander lens quite matches the three-dimensional sense created by the Leica, the 35/2.5 actually comes closer to this than the 35/1.7 likely due to its slightly higher contrast. Color handling is very similar for both of the Voigtlanders, which is to say, excellent. Rectilinear distortion is slightly better controlled on the 35/1.7.
For the sake of comparison, I also tested my old Canon 35/2.8 at the same time as the other three 35mm lenses. This lens, of course, has a very different look from the other three tested because its overall contrast is much lower than the more modern lenses. Its histogram has a very different shape from that of, for example, the Voigtlander 35/2.5, and its tonality is warmer overall. Interestingly, the shape of the Canon 35's histogram (for the test pictures reproduced here) is more similar to that of the Leica 35 than it is to that of either of the Voigtlanders and the Canon's color rendering is very similar to that of the Leica. On center, it is as sharp as the Voigtlander 35/2.5 but the Voigtlander is much sharper in the corners at F/2.8. The corner sharpness difference between the two lenses largely disappears at F/8. The Canon, however, shows almost no vignetting at any aperture, likely because its rear-most element barely projects inside the lens mount.
The Leica has the best overall performance in this group; files from it are strikingly beautiful. The lens' very strong contrast does pose a challenge for the R-D1, however, because the lens can easily deliver a broader dynamic range to the sensor than the camera can handle. The result, of course, is that either the highlights blow out or, if one reduces exposure to hold the highlights, shadow detail is lost. Using the Canon 35/2.8, Leica 35/2, Voigtlander 35/1.7 and Voigtlander 35/2.5, I did a set of comparison test pictures of a scene illuminated only by constant artificial light which was so contrasty that none of the four 35mm lenses were able to hold full detail at both ends of the tonal scale. Exposures for all of the lenses were identical at 1/8 second at F/8 at ISO 200. The files were captured in RAW and processed at default settings in PhotoRaw into 16-bit TIFFs. In terms of overall handling of this contrast range, the low contrast Canon 35/2.8, not surprisingly, held the best range of tonal detail from shadows to highlights. The Leica 35/2 lost significantly more detail in the highlights than the other three 35mm lenses.
Amount of Detail held in Extreme Shadows
Amount of Detail held in Extreme Highlights
|1. Canon 35/2.8||1. Voigtlander 35/2.5|
|2. Leica 35/2||2. Canon 35/2.8|
|3. Voigtlander 35/1.7||3. Voigtlander 35/1.7|
|4. Voigtlander 35/2.5||4. Leica 35/2|
In practice, this means that one needs to watch the R-D1 histogram a little more closely when using the Leica 35/2.0 Summicron-M. In contrasty light, the only way to bring detail into highlights that would otherwise be overexposed is to reduce exposure but then of course that sacrifices shadow detail. The R-D1's dynamic range is not lacking, per se, as it is comparable to many other 6MP cameras with APS-C size sensors. It's just possible to exceed the dynamic range limits of the camera just as one can with film.
One wouldn't go wrong buying any of these three lenses. The $1795.00 Leica 35/2.0 is the best lens of the three but it is amazing how close both of the Voigtlander lenses come to its performance; especially stopped-down. The Leica clearly shows less distortion and less vignetting but neither of these qualities is particularly pronounced with the Voigtlanders. If you can afford it, the Leica 35/2.0's quality is most certainly not wasted on the R-D1. Otherwise I think both the Voigtlander 35/2.5 and the Voigtlander 35/1.9 are excellent alternatives. The slightly lower contrast of the 35/1.9 is also, to my eye, well matched to the R-D1 sensor and nicely suited to black & white photography. Of course the Voigtlander 35/1.9 and Leica 35/2.0 are a little faster than the Voigtlander 35/2.5, but not by much.
28mm: The Leica 28/2.0 Summicron-M is sharper than the Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron, especially at the left and right edges and in the corners. The Leica's apparent resolution seems higher and it has slightly higher contrast. That said, the Voigtlander 28/1.9 comes close to the Leica's performance for about one-fifth the price and the amount of vignetting it shows on the R-D1 is similar to that of the Summicron. The differences between the Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron and the Voigtlander 28/3.5 are similar to the differences between the two 21mm lenses tested (see below). Both of the Voigtlander 28s are sharp at the center but the 1.9 Ultron remains sharp out to the corners and shows significantly less vignetting in the corners. Even at F/8 the differences between the two lenses are very clear. Both lenses have very good color rendition, the 28/3.5 has slightly higher contrast than the 28/1.9. In fact, the overall contrast of the Voigtlander 28/3.5 is similar to that of the Leica 28/2.0. On other hand, the lower contrast of the Voigtlander 1.9 Ultron is well suited to the dynamic range of the R-D1 and the combination of that lens with the Epson yields gorgeous black and white files. In fact the 28/1.9 Ultron was probably my favorite lens of the tested group for B&W work.
The 1.9 Ultron only costs $160.00 more than the Voigtlander 28/3.5. In my view, it's money well spent for better edge and corner performance as well as a stop-and-a-half faster maximum aperture. It makes one wonder what a Voigtlander 21/2.8 Ultron might be like... maybe we'll find out some day. The primary advantage of the 28/3.5 is that it is very light and compact but its vignetting on the R-D1 is much more noticeable than is that of the 28/1.9. The 28/1.9's chief disadvantage is that with its lens hood mounted, it blocks a little of the lower right corner of the 28mm frame lines. The solution, if one could be found, would be a Leica-style lens shade that has a "window" in the upper left corner. Otherwise, the Voigtlander 28/1.9 is the better of the two Voigtlander 28s on the R-D1 and an excellent lens overall.
Using all three 28mm lenses, I did a set of comparison test pictures of a contrasty scene using the same procedures described in the 35mm lens section above. In terms of overall handling of this contrast range, the Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron held the widest range of tonal detail from shadows to highlights. The Leica 28/2.0 lost more detail in the highlights than the Voigtlander 28mm lenses but the difference was not as significant as it was for the Leica 35/2.0 in the 35mm lens comparison.
Amount of Detail held in Extreme Shadows
Amount of Detail held in Extreme Highlights
|1. Leica 28/2.0 Summicron-M||1. Voigtlander 28/3.5|
|2. Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron||2. Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron|
|3. Voigtlander 28/3.5||3. Leica 28/2.0 Summicron-M|
The Canon 28/2.8, although ultimately not quite as sharp as the best of the lenses tested here, creates a uniquely beautiful tonality in black & white work. I love the way it draws an image on the sensor - a combination of fairly high resolution with modest contrast (discussed further below). As I mentioned in the first part of this article, describing the exact qualities of a high quality lens is like trying to describe the qualities of a wine. The 72 ppi samples shown in this article are helpful, I hope, but they're a poor substitute for looking at final prints. Looking at final prints is what lead me to this interest in lower contrast lenses for B&W work.
Unfortunately, I had to return the Canon 28/2.8 to its owner before I could test it against the lenses above. (Interesting side anecdote: The Canon lens I borrowed belongs to my friend Ben Lifson, a photographer, writer and critic, who lent me various lenses to try on the R-D1. Once he tried my R-D1, he decided to sell all of his Canon DSLR gear and buy an R-D1 for himself. Unfortunately, that meant that I had to relinquish his lenses.) So I wasn't able to compare the tonality of the Canon 28/2.8 directly with that of the Voigtlander 28/1.9 but I believe the latter comes close to the former in terms of the sort of soft B&W tonal transitions I like so much in the Canon. So as a lens for B&W work, the Voigtlander 28/1.9 is my current favorite among rangefinder lenses currently in production. I suspect, although I don't know for sure, that the Voigtlander 28/1.9 is sharper in the corners (especially at larger apertures) than the Canon 28/2.8. The Canon 28/2.8 shows very little vignetting, even wide-open.
25mm: The Voigtlander 25/4 is a very sharp lens but its lack of rangefinder coupling is a particular weakness on the R-D1 where it gives a 38mm FOV. That's really not wide enough for depth of field to compensate for mistakes in estimated focus distance. The lens, of course, doesn't lose any actual depth of field with the APS-C sized sensor but the 1.5X magnification of the sensor places greater demands on focus accuracy and reduces the circle of confusion tolerances which govern its "acceptable" depth of field. It may work satisfactorily with smaller lens openings and with subjects that are not too close to the camera but for other situations its inability to be rangefinder focused is a handicap. Other photographers may feel differently. Otherwise, its effective color, high contrast, sharpness and vignetting performance is similar to that of the Voigtlander 28/3.5 (both show at least slight vignetting at all apertures). Both the 25/4 (38mm effective FOV on the R-D1) and the 28/3.5 (42mm effective FOV) approximate the classic FOV of a 40mm lens on a 35mm film camera. But the 28mm Voigtlander lenses have rangefinder coupling and their FOV matches one of the frame line settings in the R-D1 finder. Unless one wanted both a 25 and a 28, I'd recommend a 28, with the faster 28 Ultron 1.7 version being an even better performer than the 28/3.5.
21mm: The Leica Elmarit-M 21/2.8 is a better performer overall than the Voigtlander 21/4 on the R-D1. It's sharper at the edges and in the corners as well as having virtually no vignetting from F/5.6 on. Towards the center of the frame the Voigtlander is almost as sharp as the Leica, but as one looks further and further out towards the edges of a file, the Voigtlander becomes softer and darker whereas the Leica maintains its tone and most of its resolution. The Leica has higher contrast which makes its images look crisper but the lower-contrast Voigtlander holds slightly better highlight and shadow detail. If the Voigtlander performed better near the corners (on the R-D1) these two lenses would be more competitive. Since it doesn't, the Leica is the best choice for quality irrespective of price. Of course, the Leica 21 costs $2495.00 and the Voigtlander 21 costs only $335.00. Both handle color well and the Voigtlander's lower contrast may be better for B&W work (see discussion below). One can compensate for the Voigtlander's vignetting in PhotoRAW but no amount of post-processing will bring it close to the Leica's sharpness in the corners. Still, the Voigtlander 21 is a very good lens for the money.
15mm: The Voigtlander 15/4.5 is also a very good lens overall. On center, it's sharper than the 12/5.6 but as one looks further and further out towards the edges of a file, the 15/4.5 becomes softer and moves towards vignetting. The 12/5.6, on the other hand, starts out a little softer at the center but holds its focus and tone better into the edges and corners. Vignetting is stronger and more noticeable on the 15/4.5. Color rendering is good, saturation and contrast are a little higher than the 12/5.6. Resolution seems quite good for the central portion of the frame. Distortion is also well controlled considering what a wide lens this is.
12mm: The Voigtlander 12/5.6 is a very good lens. The vignetting from it on the R-D1 is moderate and distortion is also well controlled considering what a wide lens this is. I would tend to use it only leveled on a tripod but that's the way I usually work with any super-wide lens. The 12/5.6 is fairly sharp overall and, stopped down to F/8, there's surprisingly little loss of sharpness at the edges and corners. This is one of those more moderate contrast lenses that I feel is very well-suited to digital photography generally (as discussed below) and to black & white photography in particular although the lens also renders color beautifully. Its inherent contrast is very well matched to the R-D1's sensor and processing and, as such, the resulting RAW files hold good detail at both ends of the tonal range.
Some Thoughts on Lens Contrast
The modern trend in high-end lenses seems to be towards a higher contrast, "crisper" image. Specifically, these lenses, understandably, seem to be optimized for color work. In color, their higher contrast does indeed serve to create crisp-looking images. The very subtle mid-tones (in music, we might call them quarter tones) that are lost by this contrast are less problematic in color because the distinct colors in a color picture serve to provide a kind of subtle separation by hue, red separates from blue which separates from light blue, etc.. In black & white, though, there is of course no color to do this work and the result of these higher contrast lenses is sometimes an image with less subtle tonal gradation. Try as one might to adjust for this in Photoshop, the result never quite looks like the real thing: a creamy and subtle image made by a lens with high resolution and moderate contrast. This is true, of course, because Photoshop can only work upon the tones that were captured; it can't invent tones that weren't captured. The Voigtlander 35/1.7 has the lowest contrast of three modern 35mm lenses tested, but its contrast is still too high for the kind of black & white files I like to make. Needless to say, some of this is a function of taste. I primarily work with the R-D1 in black & white now and so will be experimenting more and more with lenses from the 1950s (for example) which often have high resolution and moderate contrast. In the first part of this review I mentioned that black & white files from the R-D1 and the Canon 28/2.8 reminded me of Tri-X exposed at ISO 250-320 and developed in D76 1:1. For anyone who may not have seen negatives made that way, I should note that they're quite flat. That is to say, they're full of information across a broad range of tone. From negatives like that, one can make almost any kind of print he or she wants because increasing contrast is a subtractive process.
Now that the category of the digital rangefinder has been established by Epson, I think that perhaps lens manufacturers should at least reconsider the advantages of making some high-resolution, moderate-contrast lenses for digital rangefinders (and SLRs as well, but that's off the point here). Digital cameras, as a rule, are very unforgiving of overexposure and its affect on highlights. RAW files from good digital cameras have a little latitude in this respect, but not much. Unlike film, there's no way to reduce density in the highlights by cutting back development time. If highlight detail gets clipped in a RAW file, it's gone forever. Consider a lens like the superb Leica Summicron-M 35/2.0 Aspherical - used for digital capture on the R-D1, it requires that one keep a close eye on the histogram. One must monitor exposure carefully when working with it in contrasty light and always be sure that's there's some headroom in the highlight levels. The dynamic range of the Summicron-M 35/2.0 can easily exceed that of the R-D1 in contrasty light. That may often mean that exposure needs to be reduced by anywhere from 1/3 to 1 full stop (below that which would be needed for a lower-contrast lens) in order to protect those highlights. That reduction, of course, has a detrimental affect on the lower tones in the file and pushes the lower shadows to black. In other words, the lens has a tendency to render the contrast range in the subject in such a way that it is sometimes beyond the dynamic range of the camera. In effect, then, it undermines the camera's inherent dynamic range. To be clear, this is not an issue of the R-D1's specific dynamic range per se (which is on par with other cameras using similar size sensors) but rather of a potential mismatch between lens and camera with respect to contrast. Files from lower contrast lenses may sometimes seem less than impressive initially (too flat, not crisp, etc.) but like a good wide-scale negative, they contain a wide breadth of detail at both ends of the tonal scale. For a photographer who has some experience with Photoshop and digital printing, they provide a richer starting point for a final print.
Summary Recommendations for the R-D1
Cost considerations aside, the three Leica lenses here are each the best performers in their focal length classes when all aspects are considered. Their strengths are clearly visible in the R-D1 files. As a group, they show the least vignetting on the R-D1 as well as the least distortion and have the greatest apparent resolution. When I looked closely at the files, I noticed that the Leica lenses tended to excel in two very challenging respects: performance at wider apertures and performance in the corners. There is also a kind of delicacy in the way they draw the image on the sensor which is hard to describe. Overall, they are probably the best lenses I've ever used on any camera. All three of them can be used at all apertures with very little to no need for vignetting correction in PhotoRAW. I recommend all three of them for use on the R-D1.
The Voigtlander 35/2.5 and 35/1.7 come close to the performance of the Leica 35/2.0 Summicron on the R-D1 at a fraction of the cost. Opting for either instead of the Summicron is not a significant compromise and of course the lower contrast of the Voigtlander 35/1.7 can be an advantage on the R-D1. Similarly, the Voigtlander 28/1.9 Ultron comes close to the performance of the Leica 28/2.0 Summicron for about one-fifth the price. Again, it's not too much of a compromise to choose the Voigtlander instead of the Summicron and I recommend both lenses. In the 21mm category, the differences between the Leica and Voigtlander lenses are more pronounced. If one can afford it, the Leica Elmarit-M 21/2.8 is my recommended choice for this focal length on the R-D1 even though the Voigtlander 21/4 is a very good lens. If you plan to buy 21, 28 and 35 mm lenses for the R-D1 and can only splurge on one Leica aspherical lens, make it the Elmarit-M 21/2.8.
The Voigtlander 12/5.6 and Voigtlander 15/4.5 each have their strengths and weaknesses. Both are quite useable on the R-D1 so long as one can either accept some vignetting or correct for it in PhotoRAW. The noticeably lesser vignetting of the 12/5.6 might make it the preferred lens for some R-D1 photographers. These are, however, the only 12mm and 15mm lenses currently available in Leica M or Leica thread mount and they are very good lenses overall. The 12mm is, in fact, the only full-frame lens of its focal length in production in the world (for any mount). Carl Zeiss has announced a 15mm rangefinder lens for it's upcoming Zeiss Ikon rangefinder camera but that lens is not available for sale as of the date of this review. To quote from a Zeiss press release: "Four lenses – 50mm Planar f/2 ZM, 35mm Biogon f/2 ZM, 28mm Biogon f/2.8 ZM and 25mm Biogon f/2.8 ZM – will be available after Photokina 2004. The actual camera will be in stores in early 2005 followed by three additional lenses which will round out the line: Biogon 2.8/21 ZM, Distagon 2.8/15 ZM and Sonnar 2/85 ZM. The lenses have already been developed taking into account the special requirements of a foreseeable digital camera and can be used with all common range-finder cameras – both digital and analog."
For those photographers who share my interest in using lower contrast lenses with the R-D1, I recommend experimenting with older lenses from companies such as Leica, Canon and, in some cases, Zeiss. Among contemporary lenses, the slightly lower contrast of the Voigtlander 28mm and 35mm Ultron lenses certainly makes them worth considering. Above all, since this camera can use so many different types of lenses, I encourage serious photographers to experiment with lots of lenses on the R-D1 and draw their own conclusions about what works best for the kind of pictures they like to make. In many cases, it may not be a contemporary lens. There is a vast range of information and opinion about rangefinder lenses available on the web; I think that the best way to sift through it all is by trying as many lenses as possible first-hand and forming one's own impressions.
The R-D1 presents a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, it's one of best and most useable digital cameras ever made. On the other hand, the constraints placed upon it by the interaction of symmetrical lenses and digital sensors give it certain flaws that good DSLRs do not have; namely vignetting with certain lenses. Of course, DSLRs have their own Achilles Heels. While they suffer less from vignetting, they generally show much more distortion (of various kinds) when used with wide-angle lenses. Many architectural photographers, such as myself, are working with the Canon 1Ds for digital capture and our most common discussions have been about what very wide angle lenses (needed for interiors) will perform best on that camera. I've finally settled on using a Zeiss 18/4 with the Canon but even that lens still shows a bit more distortion than I'd like. Of course, the 1Ds has a full-frame sensor but I've seen pronounced wide-angle distortion in many pictures made with the Canon 10D, Nikon D100, etc. So, every camera involves its compromises and does better with some lenses than with others.
It's also important to consider that most people don't spend much time photographing blank walls, cloudless skies, sheets of paper, etc. As a quick walk around with a light meter will tell us, there are few subjects in daily life that have a uniform tone across their surfaces. A certain amount of vignetting has been present in much of film photography since it began. We often don't notice a mild amount of light fall-off because it is hidden among all the other tonal changes in a picture. It mainly becomes an issue when it is pronounced or appears in certain parts of certain kinds of pictures, such as in a cloudless sky in a landscape. To some extent we need to pay some attention to these kinds of technical issues because they can weaken our pictures if they're too pronounced. But it’s also important for us to look at them in perspective and consider how much they really do or would affect our work. To my eye, what is most striking about pictures made with the R-D1 and the lenses above is not the vignetting but rather the sharpness, lack of distortion and rich tonality they show.
Other Notes on the R-D1, BreezeBrowser and Related Topics:
Using the R-D1 With Gloves
Michael Reichman often gets questions about why he's so interested in testing the functionality of cameras when the photographer is wearing gloves. The answer is simple: many of us live in parts of the world where it can get very cold and that doesn't stop us from making pictures, often for hours at a time. As many of our mothers taught us, gloves are good for keeping the hands warm and functioning properly. I've now had many opportunities to use the R-D1 with my usual deerskin gloves and it handles very well with them on. One does, however, need to remove his or her gloves to open the SD card door and change cards but I didn't find that to be much of an inconvenience.
More About Working with ERF files
In part one of this review, I discussed how Epson's PhotoRAW program allows one to use a 16-bit purely B&W workflow if desired. If one captures in RAW mode with the R-D1 set to "monochrome" mode, the thumbnails, previews and conversions in PhotoRAW will all be in Epson's RGB version of B&W (which I quite like). Having gotten used to this workflow, I tried to discover whether or not I could use other software to get a similar workflow with RAW files from the other cameras I use which, right now, are the Canon 1Ds, Canon 10D and Leica Digilux 2. I have yet to find a good all B&W 16-bit RAW workflow for the Digilux 2 files for the Windows platform. Shortly after the first part of this review went online, I received an e-mail from Uwe Steinmuller of "Digital Outback Photo" who had developed a profile that allows one to use a completely B&W 16-bit RGB workflow in Phase One's Capture One DSLR . I then worked with that profile and some settings in C1 to come up with a result that looks, to my eyes, somewhat like that of Kodak Tri-X film. Uwe's method and profile, along with my variations, can be found here. It works fairly well but the PhotoRAW conversion of the R-D1 files is still my favorite way to work in black and white. My biggest frustration with PhotoRAW is that there's a delay (about seven seconds on my reasonably fast Windows computer) when previewing files. This occurs because the ERF files store only the RAW data and a thumbnail JPEG, there's no larger JPEG. In order to provide a preview image, PhotoRAW has to actually convert each file as it goes along. Along with dramatically improving the RAW buffer size on the R-D1, Epson should offer a RAW+JPEG capture option (as is available on many other digital cameras).
The other challenge with the R-D1's ERF files is that the format is so new that there's little software to support it. One of my first tasks after returning from a shoot is to organize my files, assign them to folders, sometimes re-name them, make back-up copies, etc. In fact, I needed to be doing that constantly while working with the ERF files produced for this article. One can use the file browser in Photoshop CS for this task but there are certain operations I do regularly involving moving files and folders, checking folder sizes in MB (for CD archiving), checking histograms, etc. that can be accomplished much more quickly and easily with a program like Chris Breeze's Breezebrowser. I've been using Breezebrowser since 2001 for the files from my various Canon DSLRs. It's a beautifully organized program that lets me do just about everything I need to do for initial editing. Significantly, for people like myself who often deal a lot of files, there are keyboard shortcuts for most commands and this speeds the process of working with the files. For example, "Control + W" toggles the thumbnails and previews between B&W and color; "Control + R" opens a file renaming dialog box, etc. It's been an essential piece of software for me for several years now. As of its next release, due in the last week of December, 2004. Breezebrowser Pro will support the ERF format for browsing thumbnails and organizing files. Breezebrowser does not yet support ERF RAW file conversion but with Photoshop CS and PhotoRAW, there are already good programs available for that purpose. Breezebrowser will display the EXIF data and histogram for each R-D1 RAW file but cannot provide previews larger than the thumbnails because the R-D1 ERF has no imbedded JPEG to work from. I have been using this program with ERF files every day since Chris first provided me with a beta copy to test. In fact, it was a great help to me in getting this article finished.
What's Next For Epson?
There's been much discussion on the web suggesting that the Epson R-D1 is primarily meant to be a demonstration of Epson's creativity, a corporate symbol, etc.. No doubt there's some truth in that assertion but does that mean that there will not be a successor planned for the R-D1? I recently spoke with Epson product manager Philip Amato about what plans, if any, Epson has for a future version of this camera and his reply was quite interesting:
"Epson is committed to the professional photographer. Over the past ten years, Epson has transformed the world of photography by developing industry-leading color ink jet printers, high-performance scanners, and a range of other digital imaging devices and technologies. The Epson R-D1 Rangefinder Digital Camera is a logical extension of Epson's heritage of image capture and photo printing devices where quality and performance have become synonymous. We've made significant investments in the research and development of the camera to combine all that defines classic rangefinder photography with today's advanced digital technology. Given Epson's ongoing pursuit to exceed industry standards for digital imaging technology, performance and quality, it is safe to assume we will continue the development of high end digital image capture devices for the professional photographer."
In essence, Epson does plan to make a successor to the R-D1 at some point in time and they are planning to continue in the professional digital capture market with new products. It should be very interesting to see what they come up with.
Watch this site for a future follow-up article that looks at the design behind the image path of the Epson R-D1; from lens to sensor.
Sean Reid, an American, has been a commercial and fine art photographer for over twenty years. He studied under Stephen Shore and Ben Lifson and met occasionally with Helen Levitt. In the late 1980s he worked as an exhibition printer for Wendy Ewald and other fine art photographers. In 1989, he was awarded an artist-in-residence grant from the Irish Arts Council in Dublin, Ireland. His commercial work is primarily of architecture, weddings and special events. His personal work is primarily of people in public places. Having worked mostly with large format and rangefinder cameras for many years he now works primarily with Canon DSLRs and Epson R-D1s. Many of his newest reviews and other articles can be found at http://www.reidreviews.com