”Remember, remember the fifth of November”. And not because of gunpowder, treason and plot. But because an explosive Leica Akademie workshop took place, which was attended by winners of a Pocket-lint competition for the chance to get their hands on the latest Leica SL full-frame mirrorless camera under expert instruction.
The workshop, led by Leica Akademie tutor, Robin Sinha, was based around photographing the Regent Street Motor Show in London. The show, which has been running for 120 years, sees the capital's iconic street shut to traffic, to make room for traffic of a whole other kind: vintage cars aplenty are on display, as are their owners, adorned with attire of the era.
It's the perfect place to go shooting street photography, without feeling too exposed yourself. So many eye-catching subjects make it easier to sleuth around and find those perfect decisive moments.
With Leica SL in hand, complete with 24-90mm f/2.8-4 lens to be able to zoom in on the action as needed, our four attendee photographers - Nick Board, Peter Ramsay, Siraj Yusuf, and Nicholas Redhead - went exploring solo for a couple of hours in the brisk cold to see just what they could achieve with the camera.
First, a little foresight about what the Leica SL is all about. As a brand new Leica system, revealed in 2015, the SL was the world's first full-frame mirrorless camera to market, showing the German company's progressive view towards new technologies.
Among those is the EyeRes viewfinder, a 4.4-million dot electronic viewfinder that is higher-resolution than anything else you'll find on the market today. It's about as close to a traditional optical viewfinder as you can get, plus it brings the benefit of various electronic overlays and details during shooting - if you want them.
Shooting in among a sea of spectators on Regent Street posed a challenge, but also as an opportunity. The various bodies became useful for framing, say for obscuring part of the frame to highlight the intended subject, and with eyes pressed to finders the world feels shut away, out of sight.
Not that it's all about the viewfinder. The SL's autofocus system can be commanded by simply pressing a finger on the camera's rear touchscreen, or by using the rear toggle control to manually position it. Pair that with an autofocus system with 529 spot positions and the world, as they say, is your oyster.
And make no bones about it: the SL is super-quick to snap subjects into focus, whether in single autofocus for still subjects, or continuous autofocus for moving ones - which is handy when people are so prone to moving or suddenly spotting that they're being photographed.
Burst shooting became another useful tool. The SL is capable of shooting at up to 11 frames per second - yep, eleven - at its full 24-megapixel resolution, which is on par with the pro cameras that you'll see used at the Olympics. Snapping a subject on repeat in this way will glean those in-between moments and give more options to source the one that's the pick of the bunch. It'll make a bit more noise whilst doing so, too, but as cameras go the SL's shutter is subdued in the best possible way.
And when let loose, the most interesting thing to come from the workshop was the way the four different photographers saw their surroundings. Some went fully abstract, using depth and colour to create painterly-like images. Nicholas Redhead's example is a great one.
Others went more traditional, waiting patiently and hunting out those special moments - be it the suggestive signage next to some passers by implying its own story, or simply catching a reflective moment. Peter Ramsay's photograph of gentleman with two balloons fixed in a moment of thought is one such example - a quiet moment extracted from the madness.
Or if (like this particular author) the cars and people became a little bit too much, then sticking the SL into monochrome and snapping a trio of dogs patiently waiting for their owner was too good an opportunity to miss. Good lads.
It was an exciting, educational and social Akademie Workshop. And very fitting that Leica, a company whose cameras are synonymous with street photography the world over, can demonstrate that even its latest, most technological kit is also up to the job, not just the manual focus style of the famous M-series.
If all that sounds like your cup of tea then Leica is running a complimentary Leica SL Taster on 7 December 2016, plus many other workshops run year-round from its Mayfair base.
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