I've owned the Leica SL2 for a number of months now and I'll admit that because of the pandemic and the inability to do the volume of work I've done in years past my learning curve with the SL2 has been longer, slower and less immersive than I expected. Part of my hesitation is that old puritanical concern about "using the camera up" on stuff that isn't important. And by "important" my subconscious really means, "doesn't generate income." But I think I'm over that now. I've been warming up to the camera more and more lately, and taking it with me everywhere. It was in the car this morning while I was swimming. I grabbed it after practice and made some photographs of the pool. I keep it with me most of the time.
After a late breakfast and some light office work I grabbed the camera and the Sigma Art 24-70mm and headed over to see what the social scene looked like at the South Congress Ave. area. I wanted to get there well before noon because the most "photogenic" side of the street; the one with the most shops, old architecture and restaurants, faces east.
It was impossible to park on S. Congress Ave. proper. Everyone from everywhere had already arrived. Parking is by permit on the streets just to the east and west of the main drag so I drove in three or four blocks to the west and found a spot in front of an old church.
My usual routine for carrying gear is extremely minimal. I limit myself for all personal work to bringing along a lone camera and only one lens per excursion. I think that the more you carry and the more options you have at hand the more you question your choices. Your attention quickly gets divided between "right gear" and "subject" and a decision-making paralysis intrudes into what should be a smoother process. For me, today, the camera of choice was the Leica SL2 and the lens was the 24 to 70mm f2.8 Art lens. Added to that is an extra battery, contained in a small plastic bag, stuck in my left pants pocket. That's it. If you are afraid of running out of card space I would say that it's past time for you to invest in a set of memory cards with a lot more storage space. I have two V90 SD cards, which are each 128 GBs, loaded into the card slots of the camera. If I'm making photos for myself I'm using the cards sequentially. Fill up one and go on to the next. No redundant back-up here because the chances of me suing myself are minimal if I happen to lose a file while out shooting...
Happily, it's a lot easier to photograph when you are just one person in a big and ever moving crowd. I find that a guy with a camera and a hat, who is over 50 years old, is largely considered a harmless eccentric. A "Boomer" hobbyist holdover. And with a large and fluid crowd out on the streets and sidewalks it stands out so much less if you adapt the technique of finding a background you like and planting yourself, with the camera obvious and up to your eye, as if patiently waiting for people to pass by so you can make the shot, while all the while the shot is continuously evolving and is, of course, the people passing by.
When I'm working in full sun I find working with the SL2 can be optimized by shooting only raw files. They are chock full of dynamic range and I know I can shoot a bit dark, not burn out highlights and then bring up the shadows after the fact in post. I set the camera to Auto-ISO and set the range from ISO 50 to ISO 6400. I raise the minimum shutter speed in Auto-ISO to 1/250th and let the camera keep track of exposure. I am always ready to step in to dial in some exposure compensation if I feel it's needed but at the same time I have much faith in the accuracy of this camera's metering system.
I'm using the camera's AF system in a zone orientation. There is a series of boxes within a zone and the camera chooses the right box or boxes for me. I don't work this way in low light but in bright light it works well. I always use S-AF and have little-to-no use for C-AF. I can work quickly and with a certain amount of confidence this way and I generally keep track of exactly where the focusing is taking place within the frame.
Knowing that I was going to shoot raw and also that I would be working in unchangingly daylight I set the white balance to 5200 K and left it there. If I use AWB I find that the day's files vary too much in terms of color consistency and I spend a lot of time in post processing corralling the color back to a neutral or pleasing setting. Each frame becomes a custom project. Unhappily.
So, I walk down the street with the camera set and the lens zoomed to 35mm or 50mm and I look for static backgrounds and dynamic groups of people. I set myself off to one side and frame how I'd like the background to work. Then I stand still and use my peripheral vision to keep track of groups of people as they approach the frame. I keep the camera up to my eye and wait and usually the people ignore me and continue on without a second, or even first, look. Occasionally someone will graciously stop and wait for me to take my "shot." I oblige by firing the shutter, smiling and then looking down at my camera's rear screen. Then I re-engage into the process and try again. Eventually, hopefully, I get what I wanted all along. But I'm quick to let go of pre-conceived notions of what my frame "must" look like and try as much as I can to just go with the flow of the moment.
Instead of trying to get "the perfect shot" and then move on I like to stay at the scene and in the moment shooting frame after frame as the people come together and then break apart. I like to watch for different gestures and different "poses" as people talk to each other, queue up for coffee and generally present themselves to the world out in the great theater of the public.
I shot a lot this morning and worked through the files after a late lunch. Instead of considering the images below as some sort of gallery or final presentation, I've included, in some cases, a series of exposures to show what I mean by "waiting for things to change in the scene." Like a contact sheet this might better show how I like to build shots and wait for luck. I hope you'll view them with that in mind.
My takeaway from carefully processing the huge raw files from the SL2 is that its ability to render and deliver detail is amazing, and state of the art. The colors are wonderful and the files are malleable and rugged. Pushing shadow and highlight sliders all over the place in post does nothing to "break" the files and that's wonderful for people who need to process a lot of files in a short amount of time. Direct sun and uncompressed raw files seem to have been made for each other!
I'm using the Sigma lens in such an optimized way that I'd be embarrassed if any one of the images wasn't sharp enough, or possessed of sufficient nano-acuity. I spent my several hours at the location working at f5.6 to f8.0 and at ISOs like 50, 100 and 200. Done in this way the SL2+Art lens is overwhelmingly competent and delivers better results than I even expected. I hope you have fun looking through this work. It's a tiny fraction, numerically, of what I shot today but it's very representative of the work I did in general. Thanks goodness I warmed up with a good swim....
bawdy murals at the Italian restaurant, Vespaio.
lining up 50 deep for coffee? I guess so....