18 November 2007

Time for my second post about the Epson R-D1, which I was lucky enough to play with when my colleague Lars bought one recently.

Along the top surface of the camera is what looks like a film-advance lever: the winder you crank to move to the next shot on a film camera. Obviously, there’s no film to advance on the digital camera. But the lever still serves its other traditional purpose: it re-cocks the shutter for another shot.

I’ve marked it in the photograph below.

Initially, I thought this was another of the R-D1’s ersatz “retro” features. After all: there’s no real need for such functionality. Even the Leica M8 abandons the film-advance lever. But once I used the camera, the lever made sense to me.

Firstly: it’s somewhere to rest your thumb. That may sound like a silly thing to say, but if you’ve ever used a rangefinder, or an old SLR with a slim body and no moulded grip, the lever becomes a useful way to counterbalance the body in your hand. It’s nice to have that familiar anchor-point to rest on.

But far more importantly than that: it makes the act of taking a photograph more considered. It brings to mind one of my favourite quotations about photography, from Ansel Adams:

“…the machine-gun approach to photography is flawed… a photograph is not an accident; it is a concept.”

I love that. Photographs are not something that is taken; they’re something that is made. An image is considered, composed, and then captured. And the life of that image ends there. To take another, you must re-cock the shutter, and start again.

And so the shutter-cocking lever makes the very act of making a photograph with the Epson more deliberate. That “ersatz” retro touch is actually fundamental to the way the camera demands to be used. As a result, you end up taking fewer photographs with the Epson – there’s none of the mad “double-tapping” that sometimes becomes habit with a DSLR. It feels more genteel, more refined – and I think the pictures you end up making with it are all the better for that.