nationaltrust

Don't panic Mr Mainwaring!

This is not 'stop press' news: I'm no fan of the over romanticising of the past. And this is especially true when it comes to the period covering the World War Two period.

Harking back to a hypothetical bygone era when people were dying by the thousand and acting like it's some sort of jolly theme park is not something that sits too well with me.

Keep calm and don't carry on.

However, putting slightly curmudgeonly moral issues aside and sticking them in a Jerry can inside an Anderson shelter, I shuffled off with the family to Hughenden Manor in Wycombe to take in their 'living history weekend'.

Now, thankfully Hughenden has plenty of actually non- rose tinted WW2 history being the centre of a secret mapmaking operation during the war.

But also - rather thankfully - my concerns about it being a bit of a theme parky sort of the day really didn't come to fruition as it was actually pretty tastefully done. From beautiful vintage cars to painstakingly put together military re-enactments to a thunderous Spitfire flypast, even this old cynic got vaguely in the mood.

Quite aside from all the 1940's stuff, Hughenden Manor is really worth a visit to find out more about it's most famous occupant Benjamin Disraeli - and this part of its history is - in usual National Trust style - fantastically told throughout the building.

The family (including visiting Grandpa who really can just about remember the war) seemed to have a jolly time, especially when the dressing up box was found, and if nothing else i had plenty of opportunity for an interesting shot or two (hundred) as it felt not unlike being on a movie set for the day.

So there you go. Cynicism put aside, it was a really well put together day with minimal romanticism and plenty of heart, although one wonders what decade the NT could do next - surely a 90's weekend with dodgy Vauxhall Corsa's on show, a re-enactment of the Poll Tax riots and a set from Toploader?

Ugh. Maybe not...


Tech corner:
Usually people capturing stuff so the Zeiss 85mm was out to play along with the old dependable Sony 35mm f1.4 for indoor shots.

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.

Four go mad in Devon.

When you've got a family, how do you fill those half-term hours? 

If you're lucky you might have a bundle of cash to fly off somewhere posh, but we have a just-as-good alternative to that - dear old Devon where we can very luckily hitch our horses with my welcoming father in law.

Being based just outside of Exeter that allows us to hang out at a multitude of exciting places, and this time in four days we packed 'em in.

Down in the dark at Kents Cavern.

Day One featured a trip down to Torquay, to visit Kents Cavern which bills itself as a Step into the Stone Age. Well, it's certainly pretty interesting and the guide was super - kept the little 'uns entertained and informed - and even though it's pretty dark down there I managed to squeeze off a few shots in probably the lowest lit venue I'd ever had to work with - like it was pitch black at times.

Back above ground, we hit the beach for the first time in 2018 at Meadfoot, which whilst a bit chilly still allowed for some tea and ice cream action, and due to the lovely light ensured I got some nice sun-down images. Nobody got soaked too which is always a bonus.

Topsham.

On Day Two, we dropped in on friends in Topsham with its ever lovely windy streets, Dutch style merchant houses and views of the River Exe. Can also recommend 'The Cafe' for lunch. 

So, to Day Three and we really maxed out with an early start to Killerton House - a lovely 18th century National Trust place which is currently running a really nicely arranged through-the-house exhibition on the Suffragette movement called 'Votes for Women' - which while well laid out, thought-provoking and interesting, also allowed the usual family 'dress-up' routine which is always a photography fave.

Gorge Walkers.

From there we soldiered on to Lydford Gorge - another NT place but with a spectacular 30-meter waterfall at the bottom of a medium walk down. Well, it seemed 'medium' until we had to walk up again. Worth it, but I'm not sure my knees are in 100% agreement. They hate me now.

We had planned to do a bit of Tor visitation, but with the light fading we had a cuppa in Tavistock and turned our thoughts to going to Sidmouth for a quick sea view the following day instead.

And visit we did, however Sidders was not giving us the blue skies of previous days - less blue and more white fog with a swirling dark sea and a keen cold wind. Didn't seem to stop somebody getting co-opted into some nonny nonny Morris dancing on the seafront, however. Those shots will be corkers for any eventual wedding slideshow I need to put together...

So four days, lots of photos and plenty done. I think I might need another holiday soon though - when's Easter?


Tech Corner:
All the usual subjects, although the 85mm Batis stayed mostly in the bag this time out.