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I'm curious about an unusual feature of the Epson R-D1: Despite it being digital, it requires manually winding a lever to cock the shutter. I have been looking but couldn't find any other cameras like that. Are there any other cameras with that "feature"?

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    Glenn Quagmire may have the arm to do 14 fps with a lever advance, but the rest of us need that done automatically. – Hueco Jun 24 '18 at 18:33
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Are there any other cameras with that "feature"?

To answer that definitively, one would need to survey every digital camera model ever made.

I'd be very surprised if there were any others, unless the same camera Epson sold as the R-D1 was rebranded and sold by someone else.

Here's why.

The R-D1/R-D1s/R-D1x were an attempt to give the user an experience while taking digital images that imitated, as closely as possible, the "feel" of using a classic film rangefinder camera. Even the settings for things such as white balance, shutter speed, resolution/compression, and shots remaining were displayed on analog dials with hands that moved like a quartz watch. Epson's parent company was Seiko, the huge Japanese watchmaker. Seiko made the precision servos that moved the indicators on the dials with what was more or less existing quartz watch technology.

The entire concept seemed driven by a marketing department that might have thought they saw an overlap between their existing customer base for their "luxury" analog watches, several decades after the mass consumer watch market had went quartz and then fully digital,¹ and those photographers who had stubbornly held onto the rangefinder style of film camera long after most had since moved on to SLRs. This idea is supported by the fact that the R-D1 used Leica M-mount lenses or earlier Leica screw-mount lenses with an adapter. The camera was assembled by Cosina, a Japanese company that had been manufacturing cameras and lenses on spec for German camera companies for years. They were hoping existing owners of Leica lenses would decide to go digital with a camera that could use those lenses.

¹ Ironically, Seiko apparently didn't see that even their analog, quartz, and digital watch market was about to be swallowed almost totally up by the smartphone revolution that also eventually killed the compact consumer camera.

The concept really never caught on, though. By 2004 when the R-D1 was introduced, it had been 40 years since TTL viewfinders on SLRs had displaced rangefinders for most 135 format (35mm) shooters. Those who were still left using rangefinders in 2004 were probably as equally devoted to film as they were to rangefinders. If not film, then at least they wanted to stay with Leica, who offered their first consumer digital camera a couple of years later in 2006.²

² The earlier Leica S1 Pro was a 25MP (HUGE for the time) scan back camera with a 36x36mm imaging area offered in 1996. Only about 160 were ever made, most of which were sold to museums, archives, and research facilities that were digitizing art or historical documents. The succeeding S1 Highspeed and S1 Alpha sold in similar numbers.

Most film photographers who were willing to go digital seemed more than willing to trade the analog interface of old film cameras for the enhanced capabilities and plethora of options that menu based digital cameras offered. After all, beginning in the mid-1980s many 35mm film shooters had been using electronic film cameras that, in addition to doing digitally controlled automated film exposure, had electronic shutters that didn't have a mechanical spring that needed to be cocked while at the same time they did have built-in winders that advanced the film. With the introduction of autofocus by the end of the 1980s, 35mm photographers had begun in earnest to be accustomed to the expanded flexibility and configuration choices such menu based cameras gave them. By 2004 when the R-D1 came out, many shooters hadn't had to move a cocking lever on a 35mm film camera for around 15 years!

That's not to say that there isn't a "retro" niche in digital photography. Some of the "retro" cameras that have been introduced have been 'hits', others have been 'misses'. But most of the 'hits' have combined both the look and feel of the mechanical analog cameras of the film age with the best image quality and enhanced flexibility of concurrent menu-based digital cameras without sacrificing the handling speed allowed by using a camera that has an electronically driven shutter, rather than a spring-driven mechanical shutter cocked by either an electric motor or a human pushing a lever.

  • So basically the idea is luxury= things for old money. As you imply, where Seiko missed the mark was assuming that people wanted an object that was as difficult to use as the old ways when what they really wanted was an object that worked as well as a modern device but looked and felt like the old ways. Although its only been mildly successful to the moment, I bet the Nikon Df goes down as a cult classic for doing this right. One could also argue that nearly every Leica digital (which has made some folks rich) is "retro-chic" Though neither the Nikon nor Leica retained a vestigial moving part. – PhotoScientist Jun 25 '18 at 13:33
  • @PhotoScientist Seems like just bad timing. The same camera offered today with an optional Leica/Sony mount would probably happily find its way to the bottom of a hipster's messenger bag. Even more so if it came standard with the old collapsible 50mm. – Hueco Jun 25 '18 at 14:51
  • I think the Dƒ is a limited demand product and probably always will be. The successful "retro" cameras I'm thinking of are more like the Fuji X-series or some of the Oly OMD EM series cameras. – Michael C Jun 25 '18 at 16:36
  • I suppose the interesting point here is to look at how little difference there is between the most modern DSLRs and their retro counterparts (original or neo-.) Even some phones are now made to mimic the ergonomics of 1940's rangefinders. Compared to the change in form factor of phones, computers, reading devices, and even chairs in that time period. It's really remarkable that this one camera stands out as the only one where being "retro" is so much as single lever while for any other it is simply stylistic. I guess the moral is Oskar Barnack just got it right the first time around. – PhotoScientist Jun 25 '18 at 17:01
  • Nah. No one wants a lever. They don't really want true retro, either. They want what they (who weren't there) think retro looks like. – Michael C Jun 25 '18 at 17:04

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