Andrew Revitt

Geneva

27 May 2015

Geneva is a city with many faces. The lake side full of leisure and tourists, the shopping district, the old town, the expo and airport district and the multi faceted residential areas.

Geneva streetlife
Geneva streetlife on flickr

Review: Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket

19 May 2015

| arcteryx.com

My Alpha SL jacket has just had it's 2nd anniversary. The day it arrived I went out for a walk and was treated to a heavy spring shower. This is why I bought it I thought when I arrived back soaked and took this photo.

The Alpha SL is a lightweight, waterproof GORE-TEX® PacLite® jacket, with a helmet compatible Speed Hood® designed as an easily packable emergency storm jacket in an alpine environment. There are many other jackets in this category with a similar specification for less money. I've owned a fair few waterproof jackets and eventually they all leak. Some can be saved with water proof treatment.

Arc'teryx have a handy video on cleaning and waterproofing your (GORE-TEX) jacket. This is one of the reasons I purchased the jacket, that and Arc'teryx reputation for outdoor equipment. There are many, many brands selling clothing for the 'outdoors' but when you look at their core business, not many are as 'hardcore' as Arc'teryx.

Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket

Two years in and used outside of winter, the jacket has no problems with heavy rain and still looks as good as the day I bought it. It's spent a lot of time hiking and biking in the Chamonix valley and beyond. A fair amount of time packed in a backpack. I haven't used the hood with a helmet as it's designed for climbing helmets so no idea what it's like with a bike helmet. The hood has a decent peak and a rear adjuster to fit to your head size. I find this key to any activity in the rain, a badly fitting hood with no peak makes for a very unpleasant outing.

I have the carbon colour with blue ascents. Generally speaking Arc'teryx make one colour products which can make for some rather unimaginative clothing designs. Buying one of the very bright colours may not be a great choice considering how long it will last. Orange is popular this year across outdoor products, but next year maybe not so much. This gray colour makes a change from black and looks smart enough when used in the city. It's not a feature jacket. It has two chest pockets, later versions only have one, pit zips, hood and waist adjusters. That's it. If you are looking for features look elsewhere.

Even though it's packable it has decent thickness required for a truly waterproof jacket. Many packable jackets I've have had been lighter and thinner but unless you are running the UTMB I don't see them as comparable. This is packable for a proper alpine jacket. It doesn't feel packable when you wear it, which I prefer. As mentioned previously I don't like owning multiple products in the same category. I had a very packable Oakley jacket for biking that you could squeeze into a large pocket but 10 mins into a storm at Val d'Isere and it was useless. I had a thicker packable North Face jacket that was fine for a couple of hours of rain but you got cold in it. The Alpha SL has lasted all day rain and is you don't feel the cold as much.

Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket

Downsides? Well I think you have to be really picky to find any. For my body size another couple of cm of length at the front would be good. The back is fine, although perhaps a little short for biking but this isn't what it was primarily designed for. I find the short front means you really channel the water to your lower half. Fine if you have waterproof trousers but not so good with jeans. The arms are a good length for me which is unusual as I have long arms. So I suggest sizing is important.

It's a simple product with a simple mission. It isn't trying to be anything else which is why I bought it and will continue to enjoy it's protection, if not the weather I wear it in.

Aiguille du Midi

12 May 2015

If you only do one thing on a visit to Chamonix France, the Aiguille du Midi trip is the best choice. It's weather dependant of course, there is little point going up if the valley is shrouded in cloud. You can sometimes get an inversion where the Aiguille is above the cloud but more often than not it will also be in the cloud.

So on a clear or partly cloudy day the cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, previously the world's highest cable car and current holder of the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, will take you from Chamonix town at 1035m to 3842m with excellent views of Mt Blanc 4810m, the Chamonix valley and into France, Italy and Switzerland.

Panorama from the Aiguille du Midi

The first cable car is from Chamonix to Plan de l'Aiguille, 2317m and then another to the top. The building also contains an elevator to the summit, viewing platforms, a restaurant, a shop and a glass skywalk called 'Step into the Void', which is a bit of a gimmick and quite often closed.

The viewing platforms are where it's at. That and the Aiguille du Midi Arête where you can exit to the Vallée Blanche at your own risk. Moving from platform to platform gives you unrestricted views of the Mt Blanc range and across the Vallée Blanche. You can admire the skiers and climbers at work in the various couloirs and pitches. An appreciation for climbing and skiing isn't required to enjoy the skill on display.

You may also enjoy some shortness of breath of your own as you climb the various stairs and the extremes of temperature and conditions this high mountain environment offers. Warm clothes and sunglasses are recommended. During the summer season (June-August) and holidays expect lengthy queues. Early mornings are obviously popular and if you have a weather window booking ahead is a good idea. Sometimes you can luck into going straight up but usually a wait of an hour or more can be expected. Expect a trip to last up 2 hours.

Review: Oakley Halifax Backpack

28 April 2015

| oakley.com

The choice of backpacks these days is bewildering. Backpacks for all occassions and activities. Personally I'm not a fan of owning multiple products in the same category and I already own a backpack but as it's been used for outdoor activites, it's not something I want to use for work or travel.

So I needed a smart, laptop compatible backpack with enough storage for a weekend away. This doesn't narrow the field down much unfortunatley so I scoured brands I am familiar with and a few others. As I was also looking to upgrade my main luggage I wanted something matching. Eastpak have a wide range of matching luggage as do Dakine but neither really had a look I was after. Douchebags is new to the market and has a great new look and some nice features but their large luggage was too big.

oakley Halifax Backpack

So I fell back to an old favourite of Oakley. The Halifax Backpack is classy looking and while there isn't an exact match in large luggage, a roller in the right size was available.

The Halifax is 25L and fits carry on at 48cm x 30cm x 20cm (19" x 12" x 8") and features a heathered herringbone 600D nailhead polyester covering (looks a little like black denim), with a top and base made of a 420D ripstop nylon and tarpaulin panels. The main compartment is 200D polyester-lined with a draw string and buckle closure.

A zip compartment on the side loads a laptop/tablet behind the main bag and there are two zip pockets on the top flap, one soft lined, the other ideal for passports etc. Another zip pocket on the front can also take documents.

Inside the main compartment is just one thin and wide mesh zip pocket on the back. I'm not a fan of pockets in the main compartment for this size of backpack. Some backpacks are seemingly just lots of small or medium pockets or compartments.

In use I found it ideal for weekend or long weekends. The main compartment takes enough clothes for 4 or 5 days, depending on your attire of course. I packed trousers in the laptop sleeve, keeping them flatter. I stowed keys in the top flap pockets and passports and documents in the others. Money inside the main compartments mesh pocket.

I wasn't keen on the off center buckle closure. The main compartment has a drawstring so security is average and the stiff top flap has to be fitted carefully for the buckle fastening to do it's job. Unless the bag is pretty much full, the top flap can tuck around the edges and not sit over the top of the bag correctly. The off center strap doesn't assist in this.

When just doing day trips without a full load the bag doesn't hold its' shape very well and looks less smart. Unless you carried a large load I wouldn't recommend it as a daily carry.

The good points are it looks very smart and functions ideally for travel with a decent load. The top and base panels are hard wearing and you can wash them down should the bag sit in something. It was comfy to wear on a long day from car to bus to plane to train and fitted in the overhead much better than those hard wheeled bags so popular on planes these days.

It's an attractive modern looking backpack that doesn't look out of place in either economy or business class. Plenty of space for a weekend travel, without being compromised by too many compartments or features. Laptop carry works as expected, 15" Macbook Pro fits but with a large load in the main compartment it's a struggle to get in out. 13" Macbook Pro is fine and the extra pocket takes an iPad. The back padding and straps were comfy for all day use in my testing. No compression straps or sternum strap though as this isn't design for active use and I wouldn't recommend it for that.

Ideal for short trips where a wheeled bag doesn't work so well or like me you just prefer a backpack.

Monaco: More than a tax haven

21 April 2015

Monaco
Monaco on Exposure by Julia Revitt

We recently had the pleasure of spending sometime in Monaco, closing our principality bucket list. Rather than attempting to tell the Monaco story here, my partner has a rather fine photo story on Exposure, a site designed to create beautiful photo narratives and worth a look for any photographer.

Monaco has many facets and is not just a tax haven for the rich... I was thinking we’d see a La Ferrari or a Bugatti and perhaps David Coulthard or Roger Moore but I wasn’t expecting wonderful parks, friendly people and affordable lunch spots...

See the full photo story on Exposure.

Disruption and the digital camera

17 April 2015

Many, many words and graphs have been generated on the decline of analog and then digital camera sales. As the film camera eventually lost it's market share to the digital camera, so the digital camera is losing share to the phone. Or is it?

Digital cameras became wildy popular once they became available to everyone, and it's fair to say that compact digital cameras have been losing sales, no doubt due to cameras in phones. But DLSR and mirrorless sales have been steady. As the price of these 'professional' cameras has come down, a lot of people, who perhaps don't actually need one, have bought one.

Everyone these days is a photographer (designer, artist etc) as the price of tools and entry to these industries has became available through digital means. Eventually everyone will become a manufacturer (3d printers) and technology will disrupt most industries. But owning the tools and creating the goods are still far removed.

Taking a photo with your phone and posting it to your favourite network is a given. So why do so many people also buy a DSLR or similar? Mostly they are hoping for a) better quality b) a professional look. Not many go for the very high end unless they are actually doing something more than posting to instagram. As with most industries there will always be a higher level.

For example the other day I needed a product shot. I could have used a phone camera, the final result was used for the web so resolution was not an issue. But the look I was after was not wide angle like most phones provide but shallow depth of field in mixed light with varied contrasts and the result required bokeh. Only quality glass and a 50mm at f2 would do the job. So the phone can provide the engine but it is never likely to provide the lens and of course interchangeable lenses.

This doesn't mean the Pro DSLR and the like are immune. Both Nikon and Canon are slow to add features like Wifi and GPS. Getting a shot from your DSLR to instagram is still a mess. Partly due to instragram's limitation on posting but sharing a photo on any network is now something every Pro's want to do without re shooting on their phone.

Sony has taken big strides with it's A7 range, bringing mirrorless to the point where some are considering or have swapped their DSLRs. Even Leica has a app to get your photo to your phone. The main let down to me has been the electronic viewfinders on these models, and Sony's over featured selection of buttons. Nikon and Canon must up their game and stop the once a year minor update for something longer term. Both ranges suffer from over filling trying to cover each others models. Neither has made much of an inroad to mirrorless, not wishing to cannibalise their 'prosumer' DSLR ranges no doubt.

Personally I hate shooting on a phone, everything about it, but I can see why it's so popular. DSLRs are generally too big and heavy to carry around on a whim, which is why mirrorless is so promising. I've seen plenty of people shooting on tablets though, which looks and seems crazy to me, so perhaps a little inconvience is worthwhile.

Review: Bellroy Elements Sleeve Wallet

14 April 2015

| Bellroy

Bellroy exists to slim your wallet. A simple message for what should be a simple product. I, like many others, carried a regualar wallet around for as long as I can remember. It had spaces for many things, many things I never had. It also had space for paper money and coins. Once you put coins in it, it became too heavy. It has two clear plastic sections for something I never owned. I carried paper cash, driving licence, bank cards, credit cards, loyalty cards and the odd business card in it.

Bellroy Elements Sleeve wallet

Over time I stopped carrying cash, unless someone gave me it (please) and I stopped going to ATMs. All my purchases became card based either online or bricks and mortar. Business cards also seemed to disappear. So my wallet was 50% unused. Carrying it also required a large pocket and it was obvious to any thief in my back pocket.

Then I discovered Bellroy. Bellroy have a selection of slim wallets, ideal for a card based lifestyle. I was keen to go as minimal as possible and as I spent a lot of time outdoors the Elements Sleeve seemed to be the solution.

It's made from water-resistant leather, not that it's water resistant as such. It's just designed not to soak up water should your pocket leak or it gets splashed. It's made from a nice full-grain, vegetable tanned leather, that's made under environmental stewardship standards. It feels nice in your hand. Not like a leather bag or jacket, more functional, grippy, tactile.

Operation is simple. A flap covers your main card. A pull-tab reveals the rest of your cards. Simply pull the tab and all your other cards are revealed. Press the cards back in to close the tab. It's a method I have only seen before used on phone cases and works very well. It also has a single key stash, which I haven't found a use for so far. You can carry up to 6 cards and it measures just 10cm x 7.4cm and is covered by a 3 year warranty.

Bellroy Elements Sleeve wallet

I haven't had a single issue with it. It slips into every pocket I have, front jeans being the most secure, and I don't even notice it. The only comment I could make is the flap for the main card could be a little easier to close. But thats being very picky. The Bellroy Essentials Sleeve is one of my essential items. Highly recommended.

Monaco Palms

10 April 2015

Palm trees
Palm trees in Monte Carlo, Monaco on flickr

SPECTRE

07 April 2015

SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) is the 24th James Bond movie due to open late 2015.

SPECTRE poster

I grew up on Bond movies, Roger Moore era unfortunately although I wouldn't have said that at the time. After seeing a couple of Moore films at the cinema the Sean Connery ones started appearing on television and it was obvious even to me then that Connery was the one. I enjoyed Moore's quips as much as anyone, the fish being dropped from the Lotus Esprit on exiting the sea sticks in my mind.

Connery had the one liners of course but his delivery was better. Dry like the Vesper, not done for laughs. I didn't go much on the Dalton or Brosnan movies, by then the gadgets had become ridiculous, invisible Aston Martin? So when the reboot came, with to me an unknown Daniel Craig, I was in.

Casino Royale ranks up there with the earlier Connery movies in my mind, Craig plays the character with more brute than Connery but that might be what Ian Fleming might have wanted. Fleming was originally no fan of Connery until he saw him in action. I've read Fleming's books and Casino Royale, although not like book, had the right elements updated.

So to SPECTRE. Quite a task following Skyfall but Craig seems to be working into the role so I am hopeful. The poster fills me with hope, echoes of Moore in Live and Let Die and Connery with the NATO watch band. The watch and band tell quite a story themselves.

Omega is a partner to the franchise (shudder) and Daniel Craig an Omega Ambassador. There will be Omega Seamaster/Aqua Terra special editions available similar to those used in the film. Interesting is the strap. Omega have a NATO strap (NATO being a part number used to order the strap by the British Military, nothing to do with NATO itself) out and this setup seems more appropriate to a ex Royal Naval Commander on a MI6 mission than a stainless dress band. This is no doubt an echo to the Rolex Submariner on a fabric strap that Connery wore in the original movies. Craig himself has been known to wear a selection of Rolex watches with a NATO strap when not filming. Connery didn't wear the NATO strap in the movies but a regimental variation, presumably Craig noted this so as not to seem overly copying Connery.

It's these little details that can often be overlooked that add to the experience of the film that I look forward to almost as much as the film.