Home Events On Parade: Independence Day through a Leica lens

On Parade: Independence Day through a Leica lens

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Last month I covered the early morning preparations for the July 4th parade held annually in Coronado, California, as participants stationed in nearby streets prepared for the start of the event. Horses were groomed, chrome-work polished, and bunting arranged neatly. The organising team checked off the one hundred and ten parade entrants on their clipboards and arranged them in the correct order, all ready for a precise ten o’clock start.

In this second instalment, my aim is to present a flavour of the parade itself. Of necessity, my coverage is highly abbreviated given that participants stream along the Orange Avenue parade route for a good two hours.

As a photography team member, one of over two hundred volunteers supporting the event, my patch was a specific two-block section of the road; I was encouraged to capture the essence of this celebratory occasion, photographing both passing extravaganzas and captivated crowds.

Strategic Manoeuvres

I used a Leica SL2 equipped with the Vario-Elmarit 24-70mm f/2.8 lens — both purchased used in the preceding months. Although carrying several other lenses in my bag, I found this combo ideal for the occasion, allowing me to frame multiple shots of parade floats or bands as they approached as well as snap close-ups when vehicles and people passed in front of me.

It was a warm sunny morning with crystal clear skies, ensuring chromework gleamed and colourful costumes stood out. But, it also meant deep shadows and bright highlights, requiring some tweaking during post-processing in Lightroom. To my eye, the camera and lens did a superb job. On my 27” Apple Cinema monitor, people, cars, and animals seem to leap from the screen in incredible detail and vivid colour — not quite competing with those recently published deep space photographs from the James Webb Space Telescope, but for earth-bound images, not too shabby.

I tried to position myself with the sun at my back, albeit in some shade where possible. Still, for sake of variety, I also took some shots into the sun from a sitting position at the edge of the road and while walking along my assigned section of the route, photographing spectators. I hope you enjoy the show and gain a sense of what it was like to be there in person.

Big Kahuna

Reflecting the significant military participation in the parade, this year’s Grand Marshall was Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, Commander of the Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Sitting astride the folded roof of a splendid vintage Lincoln convertible in shining forest green livery, he really looked the part.

Later in the morning, another Navy big shot cruised along the street: a small shoreline patrol boat on a towing carriage. Ideally, the Navy would have featured one of their big boats, such as the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, currently docked in San Diego Bay. However, width limitations on Orange Avenue definitely constrained their options. Even this puppy appeared enormous in these unfamiliar surroundings.

Equine antics

Here comes the mounted US Border Patrol team highlighted in the previous article while they waited patiently for the parade to begin. Now riding in formation, they enjoy the applause of the crowd as they take a well-earned break from patrolling the outer reaches of the US-Mexico border, some 20 miles south of Coronado.

The next group to appear were the Escondido Mounted Posse – the city of Escondido lying in the northeast of San Diego County. Strolling along behind the team, visible on the right-hand edge of the photograph, is a fellow with the delightful job of scooping up horse droppings found along the way and depositing them in his wheeled can. Clearly, I made the right move volunteering for the photography team rather than the poop scooping team.

In addition to the mounted ensembles above, we were treated to a number of horse-drawn carriages making their way along the parade route. The first of these employed a two-horse team featured in the earlier article who were kind enough to let me grab a close-up photo. Here they are in action, pulling a carriage full of ladies in Victorian attire. I hadn’t realised that people had already begun wearing sunglasses back in those days.

The second carriage is even more impressive, with two pairs of shire horses hauling a wagon owned by the Temecula Carriage Company. I suspect that in the good old days, the wagon would be hauling barrels of beer from the brewery to the bar, but today the team tackled a less demanding load.

Motor Cars on Main Street

Next, we progress from horses to horsepower. I have written previously on Macfilos about the place of automobiles in US culture. No surprise then to see cars of every shape, size, colour and age driving along the route. Many came as groups united by a common theme, for example, vintage models of a particular brand, such as the San Diego MG Club above.

They also came as singletons, conveying a local dignitary or celebrity, such as Miss California.

Here are a few more that caught my eye: a fleet of 1950s Thunderbirds, a bright orange Buick, a troop of 4-wheeled off-road quad-cycles, and an assortment of miniature clown cars.

This Model-T Ford deserves special mention as the granddaddy of American automobiles. It is, of course, black, with leather straps holding down the bonnet, bug-eye headlamps, and narrow tyres on wire wheels rolling along the asphalt. What a beauty!

I was delighted to see a humble garbage truck included in the patriotic fun; it would soon be making a return visit at the conclusion of the parade (see below).

Red, white and Blue

The crowds along the parade route range from casual onlookers just enjoying the show through to highly organised groups with colour-coordinated outfits and elaborate brunch spreads. Many wear items in red, white and blue, echoing the colours of the star-spangled banner. The diversity of permutations for combining those three colours tastefully in a cool but comfortable outfit is apparently limitless.

These feet were made for walking

The parade moves at human walking speed, even though the horses and cars could move much more swiftly. As a result, spectators have plenty of time to take in the spectacle, and the pedestrian elements of the procession can proceed at a leisurely pace, enjoying the attention as they pass each section of the crowd.

The lineup is quite diverse: as a man of the people, the local mayor strolls along wearing an inverted baseball cap to protect his scalp from the sun; a family member carries a placard depicting a local hero, Tom Rice, who made a parachute landing on Omaha beach on D-day, and who recently turned one hundred years of age; star troopers scan the crowd, looking for the Mandolorian; an overgrown Robin reconnoitres the route, in advance of Batman; and a flag-waving Captain America greets his adoring fans along the roadside.

One of the most impressive displays was a giant American flag, held aloft by countless volunteers, proceeding sedately along the route, stirring hearts and providing shade to kids who snuck in below the billowing canvas.

These feet were made for marching

Without a doubt, my favourite elements of the parade were musicians — marching or being driven along the street. The Naval Band Southwest, pictured at the start of this article, took first prize. It was fun seeing my ‘selfie tuba’ pass by, along with the ceremonial bass drum that had been sitting patiently at the roadside an hour before.

A Scottish bagpipe band, complete with kilts and sporrans, is an annual crowd favourite. It is clearly thirsty work keeping that pig’s bladder inflated; a brief hiatus in the march whilst traffic lights briefly halt the parade affords an opportunity for some hydration. I wonder where he stows that bottle of water when not in use?

Some bands, such as the Brass Animals, were informal, whereas the Chula Vista High School Honour Core and Marching Band were beautifully regimented.

High school marching bands can be found in many countries. Still, in my limited experience, those in the United States often perform at an outstanding level — probably reflecting the country’s distinctive jazz heritage and commitment to excellence in this field. This band was preceded by a flag twirling Honour Corp, the entire ensemble delivering the complete package of patriotism, spectacle, presence and mobile open-air concert.

It would be asking a bit much of a marching ukulele player to project sufficient volume to reach the crowd, let alone read their music from a scrap of paper taped to their instrument. So, we can cut the Coronado Ukulele Club some slack for being driven along in an open-top vehicle, employing electric amplification. Even viewed as a 1.2 Mb JPEG, the lens (at 48mm, f/5.6, 1/400) has clearly captured the details of hair, wrinkles and muscular contours on the player’s arm.

This final photo of official parade participants is of a whirling, twirling dance troupe, bringing colour, energy and motion to the scene. I was stationed towards the start of the parade route, so the dancers were undoubtedly full of beans; I suspect that these gals were just as energetic at the tail end of the route as they were here.

And now, the end is near…

Not all the vehicles joining the parade make it to the end of the route. Here is a van propelled not by horses or horsepower but manpower. Having broken down in the middle of the route, passengers and volunteers rally round to push the vehicle to a convenient spot at the side of the road.

As soon as the final float passes, the crowd begins to spill onto the road, and cyclists seize their final opportunity to wander along the middle of the carriageway without having to share it with cars. An enterprising ‘sandwich board’ man, just visible in the shot above, strolls along the route, urging the remnants of the crowd to repent of their sins.

Before commencing his self-authorised parade, here he is, presumably calling up to HQ for instructions…

At lightning speed, the clean-up crew swings into action while the parade is still underway along the route. Garbage bins are emptied, small amounts of street litter are gathered, and horse poop residues are washed away — an incredibly impressive example of organisation!

Through the Leica lens

I am aware of the considerable speculation, even within the pages of Macfilos, regarding the manufacturer of the Leica 24-70mm f/2.8 Vario-Elmarit-SL zoom I used to take these photos, as well as the widely held belief that the lens is actually a Sigma Art 24-70mm f/2.8 in a Leica body. I weighed this possibility carefully when considering which lens to purchase.

I am comfortable buying used camera gear, so when I found a pre-owned Leica version available at a significant discount, greatly reducing the price difference between brand-new Sigma and Leica versions, I decided to go the Leica route. Had the Leica option not existed or used options not been available, I would have gone for the Sigma without a quibble. I own two L-mount Sigma lenses, including the 14-24mm f/2.8 Art model, and know from personal experience that they are outstanding. Having decided in favour of Leica, I am very happy with the results.

I hope you enjoyed this digest of the parade, viewed through a Leica lens. I aim to use my SL2 and Vario-Elmarit 24-70mm/f/2.8 rig to tackle many future events of this kind. You never know — the results might even make their way into the pages of Macfilos in due course.

Read the first of this two-part series on Independence Day 2022

Read more articles written by the author


16 COMMENTS

  1. I suspect this article is by Keith James. Has he changed his pen name to Mike Evans? You may remove my comment after correcting who the article is by.🤣

    • Thank you for your eagle eyes, Brian. I’ll leave these comments visible because it’s an opportunity to explain why this sometimes happens. I’m the default author for all articles (I suppose there has to be one) and I have to remember to change to the actual author’s name. Occasionally, and this is one such time, I forget to do it. Even Keith didn’t notice when he read the proof! But thanks for spotting this so quickly before it gets too much exposure.

      Mike

  2. I finally got to read and enjoy your entertaining and comprehensive article on my large screen desktop computer. The images are a visual feast – the colors are natural and the rendering is gorgeous.

    I recently purchased the Leica 24-70/2.8 to see if it was an adequate zoom for me. I found it to be more than adequate – it is truly superb. It balances much better on my SL2-S than the magnificent Leica 24-90/2.8-4. I do not get arm fatigue with the 24-70 as I quickly did with the 24-90. Hence, my 24-90 has found a stronger owner. I do not know if Leica did any enhancements or if they only enhanced the exterior of the lens. What I do appreciate is that this spectacular lens would not exist if it was a pure Leica design. My joy of photography has been enhanced by this lens. However, no zoom replaces the sensational rendering of my Leica SL 50/1.4 which has replaced my amazing SL 50/2 as the rendering of the 50/1.4 was significantly more breathtaking wide open. It also helps minimize the shock of switching to a zoom. I love the 24-70 for events and travel.

    • I haven’t yet found a direct back-to-back review of the Leica and Sigma “versions” of the 24-70 and I am very keen to see what differences there might be. It would be interesting if you could lay hands on the Sigma at some stage and run some comparisons.

      • Hi Mike, I may do it as I have churned through a lot of glass and cameras for the past 5 years for a variety of reasons including; few competent online reviews, severe health issues resulting from being rear ended at high speed by a distracted driver – still going through cognitive and physical therapies including balance, impulsive behaviour, low tolerance but Canadians unfortunately cannot carry a gun 😂, living in an isolated area where camera stores do not exist, and I am an obsessed engineer that pursues perfection in-spite of medication for nutty people.

        I will be writing an article on the myth of the SL 50mm/2 being an f/1.4 lens. I purchased the Leica 50/1.4 after I still owned the Glorious APO SL 50/2 but the 50/1.4 captured my artistic heart wide open. A costly revelation, but the results are what matter to me, especially in the final chapter of my life. Every morning, I wake up realizing I am no longer an invincible teenager and appreciate the fresh day to be creative- I want the best tool that I can afford that expresses my vision. Sometimes, I am surprised that is Voigtlander, Panasonic, Sigma… price is not always the right choice.

        I also currently own the Leica SL 90mm/2 and the Sigma 105/1.4 and cannot decide whether one needs a new home. I may write a article on these but I prefer capturing fleeting moments. I will write an article comparing the Leica SL 50/1.4, Leica APO 50/2, and voigtlander 50/1 wide open with various background distances which is quite revealing. However, I do not think Leica will let me into future events as they have been milking the BS that their APO SL f/2 glass is the same as f/1.4 glass using a theoretical drawing comparing a decades old ancient lens to a current lens. Do they realize that they have competition that has upped their lens design such as Voigtlander? Anyway, having used many current competitor lenses, I was disappointed with the so-called f/1.4 equivalent bokeh of my APO SL50/2 and finally ordered a SL 50/1.4 and was amazed at the difference. It was obvious in the viewfinder, that is amazing, when I did comparison shots. Leica, your lenses in general are amazing, but please sell what you have which is amazing instead of vapour. This cost me significant money to achieve truth and my artistic bliss. I wish reviewer would not repeat vendor dreams without personal experience. If you want an f/1.4 lens for bokeh, no matter the manufacturer, buy a f/1.4 lens. Lens manufacture moves on with computer aided design making 10 year old glass not comparable to current glass in many areas. Leica excels at state of the art lens design, but do not compare ancient designs to current designs- seriously. Why not compare a car today to 30 years ago in power ourput to displacement? What a joke? However, despite the personal financial cost, I know the truth and am happy because my images are better for it as an artist. I do not hate Leica for the misinformation. as everyone does it. I am irritated though, because reviews repeat it without challenging it. C’est lla vie. Send money to …..for real advice, but Mike probably deleted the contact information or banned me. 🤣

    • FWIW, it is very well possible that none of the SL zooms are actually designed by Leica. There are patents out there that point to Panasonic for the 90-280mm and to Konica Minolta for the 16-35mm. Not sure about the 24-90mm but more than 3 stops of OIS is normally not a feature Leica is renowned for either. I believe it was the same way in the past for the R system.

      • By the way, the APO 90-280 Leica zoom is by far the most spectacular zoom I have ever used – it is truly prime competitive! The performance was sensational from 90mm all the way to 280mm – a rare zoom achievement! I have had various high end f/2.8 70-200 zooms and they were not even close to this amazing zoom for colours, edge to edge sharpness at all focal lengths, bokeh, micro contrast, and so on. At 90mm it blew the 24-90 zoom right out of the water for colour and clarity – without pixel peaking. After I got the lens, I never wanted to use the 24-90 at 90mm if I had the 90-280. However, I needed a high quality Gitzo monopod with a RRS small ball head to make it comfortable use for more than a few minutes. I have recently sold it, reluctantly, as I just can no longer carry it due to some health issues and also due to a my age condition increasing daily.

        • I have several friends who agree wholeheartedly in your assessment of the 90-280. I was tempted, but the weight is just a step too far for me, again because of age. A great pity, but I have enough problems handling the 24-90 in contrast to, say, Panasonic’s (slower but very competent) 24-105.

        • I have never been tempted, I was pretty sure that I was going to find it too heavy and that I was not going to use it sufficiently to justify the price tag, I am sure it is a spectacular lens though, I also have not used the 24-90 in a very long time and should really sell it, the first 3 years it was the only lens I had for the SL and I used it all the time, I am unfortunately very bad in selling things…

          • Unfortunately, I am too good at selling things. Three lenses that I sold during a bout of straying from Leica to “more system options at the time (before L mount group grope) and then repurchasing were: Leica m 28/1.4, Leica m 50/1.4, and the sensational Zeiss zm 35/1.4. My Leica m 50/1.4 has been replaced by the amazing , did I mention amazing, Voigtlander VM 50mm/1.0000 and the gorgeous SL 50/1.4.

            I think it would be a fascinating and stimulating article, especially with comments, if someone gifted with verbal diarrhea skills such as Mike would write an article on favourite cameras and lenses plus regretted sales, plus equipment sold and repurchased. I will plant a seed; My favourite all time cameras were the Nikon FM2, Leica M4P, and Minolta 9 which had the best optical viewfinder I have ever seen and it was built like a hockey puck. Mike, your readership is excited at the prospect of your article. I love creating useful effort for talented people.

          • Two regretted sales: 1) Contax 645. I sold mine, then bought it back for double what I had sold it for, since then the prices have more than doubled again. I think camera companies should seriously start considering film cameras again… 2) SEM 21mm, I sold mine getting into the SL system thinking that an SL 21mm was just around the corner, apparently still not, I probably could have lived without it but saw a good used deal at a local store and bought one again.

          • The Contax 645 was a brilliant camera – I lusted that camera but purchased the Mamiya RZ 67 camera which was brilliant until you snowshoed up a river in frigid weather to capture a magnificent mill picture and the camera did not function! Eek. Should have purchased Hasselblad. Camera was gorgeous until outside studio – the reviews did not mention cold weather issues. I talked to a professional photographer friend that captured portraits of Canadian prime ministers, and he said he used the Mamiya RZ in the studio but only used the Hasselblad outside the studio due to reliability- that
            was my first revelation in life versus reviews. So Buyer Beware. Your personal experience may vary!

    • Hi Brian, many thanks for your feedback. The Leica 24-70mm is indeed a superb lens. I was confident it would be based upon Jono Slack’s review and the images he posted. High quality JPEGs downloaded from Lightroom (unfortunately too big for posting on Macfilos!) look incredible on a large screen. It is hard to imagine needing any additional lenses for event coverage

      It is interesting to hear that you find the Leica SL 50/1.4 so impressive. I have been very happy with my 50mm f/2.0 APO. However, I did see a few shots from a friend using a Fuji 50mm f/1.0 APS-C system, which I have to say, were spectacular. Perhaps there really is something to these fast lenses shot wide open. Cheers! Keith

      • The Fuji 50/1 is a compelling reason to consider Fuji based on images I have seen. It is so wonderful that we have artistic options. thanks

  3. But I thought that was the article you are writing, or isn’t it? As for the verbal diarrhoea, I will draw a veil over that. I prefer to refer to it as knitting wind.

    • I am finishing a different article. I will do the myth of the 50/2 being equivalent to 1.4 next.

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