Don’t mention the war
It’s just three weeks since I decided to mention COVID-19 on Macfilos for the first time. I felt then that I should acknowledge the virus and then carry on writing about photography as usual. Looking back, though, this was a vain hope because the dreadful virus has since then come to dominate all our lives. Most of us, wherever we are in the world, are in lockdown and there is no exit strategy that sounds at all plausible. The result has been that almost every article since March 16 mentions the Coronavirus in one way or another.
Exercising the person
I’m now fixed into a routine which, of course, centres around the home (where else is there these days?). I’m lucky to have Macfilos to tend; if it were otherwise I feel sure I would have already become a little stir crazy. Fortunately, too, I can get out for exercise (officially, just once a day). This consists mostly of walking, be-masked, bothered and bewildered, around the locality which, as it happens, is quite countrified considering that we are just six miles from Piccadilly Circus in Central London.
I have the River Thames nearby and I can also walk around the extensive and imposing grounds of Chiswick House. In these days of social distancing, we have to find our pleasures near to home. Yesterday I look out the Leica SL2 and Sigma’s 35mm f/1.4 DG Art lens — “the Sigilux” — on a quest for some quiet architectural photography.
Over the years I’ve been trying to get an uncluttered frontal view of the third Earl of Burlington’s elegant classical villa which was based on inspiration from his “grand tours” of Italy in the early 18th century. It is one of the foremost examples in Britain of the architectural style of Andrea Palladio and his English follower, Inigo Jones.
Thanks to the virus and general lockdown, the house and gardens are almost deserted and, for the first time in many years, I was able to grab a shot of Chiswick House without the crowds and, quite often, film crews which are usually milling around. This is one for the stock shots file; there won’t be many opportunities like this.
Exercising the camera
How many Leica owners have remembered to exercise their film cameras during this enforced home alone interlude? I know full well that it’s a good idea to regularly dial-up every available speed and release the shutter, thus keeping the mechanism lubricated and in good condition. Otherwise, things can easily gum up, possibly requiring a service next time you want to shoot a roll. But usually, it’s a task I put off and put off until I’m shamed into it.
Lockdown is the perfect opportunity to stop procrastinating and get down to work. I have a few bodies, ranging from 1929 through to the Naughties, and I’ve been spending a pleasant hour or two giving all of them a good workout. It’s therapeutic, just like basket weaving, and it takes the mind off what’s happening outside your front door.
Au revoir, Bièvres
It was predictable, but I was saddened to receive confirmation this week from the organisers of the annual Bièvres photo fair that this year’s event in early June has been cancelled. This follows wholesale cancellation of earlier photographic fairs and exhibitions, including Photokina in Cologne and the Photography Show in Birmingham. Nothing else in the past eighty years had caused so many plans to be thrown to the wind.
Over the past five or six years, Bièvres has been a regular fixture in my calendar and I have enjoyed travelling with the team from Red Dot Cameras. All we can now hope for is that we are back to normal in time to enjoy the Spring events of 2021.
Exercising the mind
With markets fast disappearing down the plug hole, camera manufacturers are putting their minds to keeping us occupied. This week Leica has launched the Stay Home With Leica program. Organised by the Leica Akademie, the series includes Instagram Live interviews with renowned photographers, virtual meet-ups hosted by our Leica stores, and weekly Instagram photo challenges designed to nurture your passion for photography.
Nikon School Online is offering free streaming of its video tutorials during the Coronavirus upset.
The English patent
Last week we heard the surprising news that there is a new M-mount lens manufacturer operating from “middle England”. Skyllaney Opto-Mechanics has a very professional web-site with a wealth of obviously expert information on M-Mount lenses.
In addition to the new-lens venture, Skyllaney offers servicing and repair on Leica, Voigtländer and Zeiss M-mount lens at prices ranging from £140 to £145. I have written to make contact but haven’t yet had a reply. in particular, I am keen to know where precisely in “middle England” they are based.
By rights, it ought to be Meriden in Warwickshire, where Triumph Motorcycles were made, right in the middle of England. That’s official. I can see no address on the website and the quoted telephone is a Tesco Mobile cellular number, thus impossible to pin it down to a location.
I will do more on this development when I hear from them. In the meantime, have a look at the comprehensive website. If you have any clues or background, I would be interested to hear.
Our cable broadband, which is rated at a now-modest 350Mbps, has been a bit flakey since the lockdown began. It stands to reason that with so many people working from home, and so many young people unable to go out and socialise, the networks could soon come under increasing pressure. What worries me, in particular, is that the response and repair service in the event of physical outages could soon be stretched to the limit. Repair engineers will be in much demand and many could well be off work.
Last week I decided to get in early with a belt-and-braces operation. It manifests itself in the form of a cellular modem which is capable of feeding unlimited internet to the home wifi network. The Vodafone Gigacube receives both 5G and 4G signals, although 5G is extremely patchy hereabouts.
Most times it’s connected to 4G and is producing a download speed which compares favourably with most telephone-line-based broadband services such as those from British Telecom. So far it fluctuates between 40 and 65Mbps which is more than adequate for streaming and work on the website. In fact, at some times of the day, it is running faster than the cable network.
While this is probably the broadband equivalent of panic-buying toilet rolls, at least I have the comfort of knowing that there will be some sort of service if the cable network goes down for a day or so — something which has happened occasionally in the past during much more auspicious times. I fear that it is more likely to happen now.
It could be that cellular broadband is the future, freeing us from the need for physical connections and the costs that go with all that infrastructure.
I’m looking forward to an improved 5G service in my area. The green 5G light flickers encouragingly several times a day, but I realise this is a very borderline case. Perhaps next year, in time for Apple’s 5G phone, there will be a nearer mast and a stronger signal. Then, I’m told, my new unlimited cellular broadband service could shoot up towards a speed of 1Gbps. Something to look forward to in better days.