berkshire

Feeling Gravity's Pull.

Ok. Sunday. A day for lounging around, mowing the lawn and slamming in the lamb.

Or, if you live near Cookham like we do, it's also the opportunity to watch some insane locals take part in the Gravity Grand Prix - basically, a build-your-own kart time trail down a steep-ish hill in which one attempts to not die horribly in front of ones neighbours.

Run since 2007, the Grand Prix is driven only by gravity (huh) meaning a quick push and that's it. This means some karts with a little more, shall we say, 'engineering' get much better times down the course. For instance, the low profile handmade by yer actual Jaguar cars team did a significantly better time than the two naked blokes in a trolley surrounded by some cardboard.

It figures.

Still, none of this really matters as most of the fun is watching to see if anyone comes a cropper around the chicane (they did) and if any carts break halfway down (they do). Awards are given for fastest time obviously, but they're also handed out for Best Novelty Kart as well so everyone can be a winner.

It was our second year watching the Grand Prix and it seemed busier this time around. I also noted the appearance of a Costa van and a National Trust tent amongst the bar and the bbq indicating it's becoming a 'thing' on the circuit. Hope it doesn't spoil it.

My favourite kart this year was the John Player Special one (memories of the 70's and 80's Lotus cars I guess) but special mention to the little VW van you'll see in the pictures below, not least because post-race some idiot local kids nicked and trashed it. This is why we're not allowed to have nice things...

So, the perennial fun day out for all the family (including plenty of dogs for some reason) with thousands of quid being raised for Thames Valley Air Ambulance and other local causes at the same time.

Check out some of the karts below and let me know your favourite...


Tech corner:

It was all about a quick telephoto - step forward Batis 85!

Life begins at 40 - The Voigtlander 40mm f1.2 mid term test.

As anyone who's been reading this blog (all two of you..) on a semi-casual basis will know, I've been slowly slipping my toes into the world of manual focus lenses.

Firstly, it was a fun Olympus 50mm f1.8 with a converter, then I roadtested a lovely 35/50mm combo from Zeiss which were really nice too, but to be blunt I still needed something 'extra' - a lens to fit into my already pretty cracking Sony and Zeiss Batis AF line up that nothing else would.

Well, it finally arrived in the form of the Voigtlander 40mm f1.2. I'd been eyeing this one for a while being interested in both the in-between focal length - a bit less wide than the 35mm standard and nudging towards the supposed 50mm sweet spot - plus the really wide aperture which can see in the dark like a rabbit on turbo carrots.

What really pushed me over the edge was the excellent review by Chad Wadsworth which basically made me do the photography equivalent of the Fry 'Take my money!' meme.

So, late May - after a back order wait - it arrived. Initial signs weren't great as Voigtländer have some work to do with the rather cheapo packaging, but once inside I knew I had something with a bit of class. Unlike a lot of the usual suspects nowadays, the 40mm is weighty without being heavy and has no truck with your cheapo plastics - this is one piece of quality metal.

The Voigtlander 40mm f1.2

The Voigtlander 40mm f1.2

Now usually I'd get a lens on the Sony, get snapping and pop an early review up touts suite, but something about the 40mm told me to wait and get to know it. Glad I did, because in the couple of months since it's arrival i've been learning how to use it properly - e.g learn my distances, find the sweetspots, forget about the focusing and the get 'in the moment'

Because this isn't just your usual lens. As pointed out elsewhere, whilst the headline is the light gobbling f1.2 aperture, I haven't really used that setting too much apart from when light was low or at night - i've been mostly living between 1.4 and 3.4. To comment on the f1.2 in normal light - well, you get that dreamy look everyone goes mad for but you have to be bang on with your focusing at that aperture in normal conditions.

But no, the real star here is the 'analogue' nature of the output. An example of this was when switching between this lens and my Sony 55mm f1.8. Now, the Sony's a great lens no doubt, but it's super sharp - like sushi chef sharp - and while that's awesome, it's a very 'digital' look and the Voigtländer wins for creamy, old school vibes as a counter point - which means I can get two different looks at different focal lengths.

Analogue vibes.

Analogue vibes.

Now, when I say 'review' at the top of this post, what i'm really meaning is 'what real photos look like in the real world' - there's load of reviewers out there who do clever things and check for levels of chromatic aberration etc but my angle and acid test is very much - 'is this a great lens for everyday use and does it take a photograph that I love that I couldn't take with another lens?'

And the answer is simply, yes. Because after a bedding in period where i've run the 40mm through heatwave sunshine in the Loire to a chilly night on Exmouth beach front i'm now getting images back that look amazing, anologue and most importantly - real.

I'm not going to use it for sports, or when I need a long lens at a gig or an event, but for getting proper almost cinematic quality output it's the closest to the 'Leica look' that i'll ever be able to afford - it's probably best for your lifestyle and travel photography types although at a push it might do the business at a wedding gig.

I've also grown to love the 40mm length very quickly, and i'm now of the mind that this is the nearest you get to what your eye 'sees' over and above the much touted 50mm and somehow it just gets it 'right' - and when you do a bit of research you find that in film world Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Francis Ford Coppola would probably agree.

Issues? Not many. Throw is a little long and i get oddly annoyed at the lens cap not pinging into place easily, but these are minor quibbles.

A lens you can give a fig about.

A lens you can give a fig about.

So, it's with a mixture of happiness and relief that i give the Voigtländer 40mm f1.2 a big old thumbs up. Below are a selection of shots taken over the last few months at home and away to give you an idea of the sort of real life images you'll get out of the camera. There's obviously been a certain amount of post production magic attached, but to be honest the more i've got to use the lens the less post work i've done on the images coming out of it - much less than other lenses.

The only thing left to say about the Voigtländer is that when picking my lenses for a session out and about now it's the first in my camera bag, and to extend that pun for no other purposes than finding a title, it really does mean that life begins at 40.

 

Berkshire and beyond.

Various shots taken around Cookham, Wargrave and some more from Dorney Court, Ham House and Greys Court.

The Loire.

Shots taken in the Loire including Chambord, Blois and Clos Luce.

London.

Shots taken in Paddington, Kensington and Soho.

Devon.

Shots taken Sidmouth, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and A La Ronde National Trust.

 


Final note - I paid for the Voitglander out of my own hard earned and i'm not affliated in any way.

A typically British beer garden - Pub in the Park 2018.

All told, last weekend was pretty 'Best of British'.

Now, that's in danger of becoming a dirty word at the moment (stop that, Ed.) but with the sun shining down on a slightly bonkers Royal Wedding - complete with top draw US pastor and Wembley looking resplendent for the FA Cup Final it was all very pleasant on Saturday. 

For me, this just set the stage for Sunday. If you've not been living under a rock for the last few years you'll have heard of Tom Kerridge, a top-drawer UK chef who whilst not dishing out the dinners has a sideline in BBC TV shows and cooking books. When he's not doing all that guff, he runs several eating holes around Berkshire way including the Michelin stared gaff, 'The Hand and Flowers'

Phew. 

But there's more! Every year, he throws a mini-festival in Marlow called 'Pub in the Park' which is loosely described as 'a mix of gourmet food, cracking music and lush vibes'. Well, camera and  AAA Press Pass in hand, we drove the 10 min journey to Marlow to check if it ticked those boxes.

First thing to note is that PITP is split into afternoon and evening sessions (so they can clean up and restock the food tents, and presumably some people can have a tea and a ciggy).

The afternoon session is really laid back. Full of kids, but for those worried, not in an annoying way. There were tonnes of stalls with yer actual artisan fare from fudge to gin which Mrs. W wasn't short on sampling. 

Photography wise, work was brisk - it being a captive market for people, it suited my particular street style down to a tee and I got loads of shots of people enjoying those very real 'lush vibes'.

The proper food available is pretty much fantastic. It's all grouped around staff and chefs from particular local-ish top drawer restaurants including The Hand and Flowers. One dish in particular - a pulled pork affair in a taco - had us umming and arrive for ages. Nom nom indeed.

Tom Kerridge himself did an excellent and amusing talk, during which I managed to get in close for some action shots. Some bacon got stuck to a grill at one point, so I hope I didn't put him off. If that's the case Tom, my apologies. 

The big man himself.

So, what else is there? Well, there's the music. During the afternoon slot, there were various acts pitched into the burning sunshine. Among others were Exeter based duo Sound of the Sirens whose folky stompers and banter got everyone going, plus 80's ledge Roland Gift who reeled out the hits for the 'older' members of the crowd, although the youngsters seemed to be enjoying it too.

AFTERNOON SESSION SHOTS.

After a brief but enjoyable half time pint in The Chequers, we headed back onto site for the evening session. Less kids about, but we noticed a more 'poshed up' vibe for the evening. 

Naturally, the evening session seems to be a bit more about the music, but perhaps as we'd done the stalls we naturally found ourselves around the main stage area. Unlike the afternoon shoot, the evening 'pit' area was a lot more crowded with VIP's, so I couldn't get as close as I'd like (and I didn't want to upend anyone's tea!) but none the less I got loads of shots of the two headliners. 

Suddenly she sees.

We've seen KT Tunstall before and she's a really enjoyable live act - even more so when she's using the guitar as percussion and looping it without a full band to be seen (and yes, she was doing that before Ed Sheeran...). She did a pitch-perfect 30 mins and left the crowd plenty of time to get to the IPA tent before the main act. 

Jumping for 'Joy'. That's a song based gag. Right there.

Now, I'm not actually much of a Will Young fan. He doesn't appear much in any musical Venn diagram I might have, however I was pleasantly surprised. Firstly, he's got far more hits than I remember and secondly, he's a real proper bouncing up and down full-on performer with a great voice. Plus, he had a fantastic band, some of which I recognised from the The Voice house band. 

An hour whizzed by and the crowd lapped it up. Along with the lovely food and drink, music, talks etc they'd been doing that all day. 

So, did Pub in the Park live up to expectations? Oh yes. Sure, it's easy to be snarky about the general vibe and perhaps middle-class nature of it all if you're a bit cool for school, but ignore that and what remains is a lovely small-scale celebration of national food, drink and cooking with added tunes in a beautiful setting. 

And that my friends, is a real reason to be proud to be British.

EVENING SESSION SHOTS.

Tech Corner:
Travelled light, but mostly the Batis 85mm and the Sony 55. 


Many thanks to Stevie-Jayne Mather and the rest of the SwitchedOn PR team for press pass assistance.