Excitement in Guildford as 500px Global Photo Walkers dodge the raindrops
500px Global Photo Walk, sponsored by Red Bull. So it must be exciting, right? From Las Vegas to Leipzig, Salzburg to Tokyo, tens of thousands of photographers are tramping the streets today in celebration of the 4th annual walk. Down in the city of Guilford, Surrey, excitement was palpable as organiser Bill Palmer (our Fuji-toting associate editor) led his flock around the ancient burg.
Unlike the famous kiss in the back row of the movies, this one started with persistent drizzle across the road from the old grammar school. The day seemed doomed and owners of waterproof cameras were feeling decidedly smug. Starbucks beckoned.
But the drizzle soon stopped and we made our way down the famous High Street, with its remarkable clock, through the graveyard (one of Bill’s favourite locations for lens testing, as I found out) to the old castle dating back almost to 1066 and once one of the many homes of Edward I.
In the rather exquisite castle gardens lurks the statue to Alice, she of Wonderland. Perpetually peering through here looking glass, she stands yards from the house where Lewis Carroll, her creator, established his six unmarried sisters in 1868. He died in Guildford in 1898.
The Alice influence extends down to the Alice-and-the-rabbits statue in the meadow by the River Wey, where our band of snappers found lots to interest them. From the hydro-electric power station (yes, seriously) to the wildlife on the river, including a gaggle of very enthusiastic and energetic canoeists, this was fertile hunting ground for the lens.
But this is a busy town on a rather damp Saturday morning and the crowds were out in force in the High Street and at the vibrant market in the parallel North Street. Lots of photo opportunities, although I was focused on chronicling the event for posterity.
This morning, almost against my better judgment, I opted for a discreet little outfit in the shape of the masterly Leica SL with its day-to-day lens, the f/2.8-4 24-90mm zoom. How would it perform in a challenging urban environment? Well, at least I was grateful that it is weather resistant because the rain pelted down early in the day. I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the SL since I first tried it a year ago. For a time I resisted, then gave in and added an SL and the 24-90 to my stable. In terms of ergonomics, control layout, handleability and, above all, its superb performance, this is a camera to love.
There’s only one snag — the size and the weight. It is undeniably a heavy camera (970g in its socks and 2,250g with the rather monstrous 24-90 mounted). Often, I confess I have planned to use it only to chicken out at the last moment when I picked up the Billingham and felt the weight. Somehow, the humble little M seemed more appropriate (not to mention a featherweight Fuji or an Olympus).
Today, for the first time, I really didn’t notice that weight. The camera was very comfortable to handle and, despite being decidedly indiscreet, that 24-90 really does perform. Just don't expect to get away without being noticed. I’m reminded, too, that the SL loves M lenses and can arguably handle critical focus optics such as the Noctilux, 50mm Summilux and 75mm Apo-Summicron with more aplomb than can the M camera. With a lightweight M lens on the mount the SL can actually be rather discreet for streettog work.
Jonathan Slack is already well sold on the SL as you can tell from his one-year review which we published on July 26. And I know many other photographers who love this camera. It is definitely growing on me and, after today, I am seriously considering whisking it off to Cologne on Monday morning to record the doings at Photokina.
My second choice for this trip is the Leica M-D, smaller and more compact but not quite as versatile as the SL. I confess, though, auto focus (especially when it is as surefooted and fast as that on the SL) is a bonus in a fast-moving exhibition environment.
Back to Guildford where we couldn’t resist a mass visit to the London Camera Exchange in Tunsgate, the place where Bill gets all his Fuji gear. As he said, “mention my name… You won’t get a discount but I might next time I buy something.”
After that there was nothing for it but a pint at the Three Pigeons up the High Street. As far as I’m concerned these photo events, and the 500px walk is typical, are as much about meeting interesting people as taking pictures. Our moods certainly lifted during the morning, despite the depressing kick-off, and after a sup and a cottage pie at the Pigeons all was very much well with the world. We don’t know about the other 200-odd cities participating in today’s event but Guildford was a star.
Thanks to Bill Palmer (@Lightmancer) for his wonderful historical insights into Guildford and for his expert shepherding of the flock around this fascinating city.
Note that all the Leica SL photographs in this article are out-of-camera jpegs with virtually no tweaking. For once I was too lazy to process the DNGs.