Fuji X-E1 – Compact System Brilliance

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When I told my wife that I was to go from the Canon 5D MkIII to the Fuji X-E1 she thought I had lost my mind.

Why did I do it? Well for several reasons.

Firstly, I grew tired of a DSLR’s bulk. I am no professional photographer by any means but on days out I do like to carry a camera everywhere with me. Whether in or out of a bag the Canon simply becomes unwieldy and tiring (or rather tiresome) to lug around.

As I stated above I am not a professional photographer so why take a pro camera around with me? I wanted a camera that would give me images that I could ooh and aah over but not where I would need to be submitting the images to National Geographic. I want images that are good enough for me and can take some tweaking in Photoshop. I don’t need to have file sizes that I can aggressively crop and still be able to print off A1 sized prints.

I don’t shoot sports (so no need for dozens of focus points, focus options or super fast frame rates), I don’t shoot wildlife so no need for the capability to strap on huge telephoto lenses. In fact I want to be able to keep lens changes to a minimum or not at all. I used to tire of dust spots on my sensor and having to touch images up and repetitively clean the sensor after being out for the day.

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No, my personal brief was for a camera that would provide me with excellent image quality – edge to edge sharpness, great colour out of the camera, light, easily portable, no temptation to try out a dozen primes to squeeze the best image quality from that full frame sensor (because in my experience unless you do you are missing out on what the 5D’s sensor can produce). 

After trying a number of CSC’s over the years including the Sony NEX 5n and Olympus E-P3 both of which were okay the Fuji X-E1 seemed to fit the bill with the kit zoom lens. Incidentally, saying the 18-55 is a “kit” lens does it an injustice. Most kit lenses I have used be they from Nikon, Canon or Pentax are invariably average at best. The Fuji 18-55 on the other hand is superb and worthy of its almost £600 price tag if bought separately.

Anyway, with the 5D gone I was left with this small, portable and light camera package that I was hoping would deliver.

And, boy does it.

It has been compared to full frame cameras and fared extremely well despite the perception that the bigger the sensor the better. Fuji, when the sensor was first released, suggested that it was better than that found in the 5D Mk2. Take this as typical marketing headlines but I have owned the 5D Mk2 and Mk3 and I do not feel short changed by the Fuji in any way.  

Another comparison was by Steve Huff. He compared the Fuji with the Sony RX1 and found that in good light he preferred the Fuji and in poor light the Sony. He also preferred the build quality of the Sony.

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What frustrates me with this review is that he doesn’t mention that the Sony with a prime Zeiss lens strapped to the front, a full frame sensor and a retail price over two and a half times that of the Fuji should be better. A lot better. In fact if I had the Sony I would expect it to trounce the X-E1 in EVERY area. Not just one or two!!            

In some ways this comparison was a lot like the comparison in high end audio. The more money you spend my get you a better made component with beautiful brushed steel finish or real wood veneers but the engineering inside the boxes is similar a lot of the time and the sound not significantly better.

So back to the X-E1. It fits the bill in terms of size and weight and convenience. It challenges some of the best cameras around in terms of image quality.

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So what are the downsides?

For me there are none. Really!

For other users, however, they may find the following slightly disappointing:

  • Build quality. Without the battery and lens the camera feels a little lightweight and it is clear the materials used are not the same as the X-Pro 1. Don’t get me wrong fully loaded it feels solid in your hands but without it could prove a disappointment.
  • Video quality. This is just average. At the end of the day this is clearly designed as an image making machine and not a replacement for your video recorder. Expect slow focus and occasional rolling shutter artefacts.
  • Lenses. Compared to the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Olympus reasonably priced lenses are hard to come by.

I have no issue with any of the above. I did not buy the camera as a lightweight alternative to a DSLR only to then fill my bag with assorted lenses. There is a lot to be said to with sticking to one camera and one lens in terms of improving your creativity. In any case the 18-55 lens does everything I want and I am more than happy. In fact I am delighted with the image quality.

Once my wife saw the quality of the X-E1’s images and the fact I wasn’t lugging a huge Billingham bag full of gear on holiday she finally got it.

Good job too!

Sigma DP1x – A Pocket Imaging Marvel?

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Sigma DP1x

I recently came across this camera for an extremely affordable price and decided, based on its almost cult status being capable of capturing superb images, to snap it up (sorry for the pun).

I was interested in discovering if it produced the kind of world class images it was purported to be capable of and also whether the frustrating elements of the camera – slow to operate, slow write times, slow autofocus and write to card, poor high iso performance, average build – were accurate.

To cut to the chase I can confirm that the images the camera produces really are superb with wonderful colour and sharpness. The 3 layer Foveon sensor – a Google search will provide a ton of information on the technical aspects if this device – is a significant departure from those used by the competition.

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The DP1x captures colours nicely

The comments that it is close to a film camera in the way it resolves colours and more importantly the visual feel are, I feel, accurate. This performance coupled with the super sharp fixed 28mm (equivalent) lens means that its output exceeds that of my Fuji X-E1 and 18-55 lens which is no slouch in these areas.

But there is I am afraid a “however”. There usually is but the caveats to this camera producing  the kind of images that when you get them on your computer screen make you go “wow” are as long as your arm.

Get the camera in the right conditions and you will be amazed. And by right conditions I mean generally outside, on a bright day (without any sun on the screen as the preview fades dramatically in bright light), with low iso (200 or less), on a static subject and ideally with manual focus to get things just so. Oh and a tripod would probably help as there is no inbuilt image stabilisation.

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Nice detail from the fixed lens/sensor combination

As stated previously if you can comply with virtually ALL of the above (maybe forgo the tripod if you can get your shutter speed up) then you will be richly rewarded with images that have a quality I think you would struggle to achieve with anything up to a Canon 5D Mk3. Not print as big as the side of a house quality but up to A3’ish with some tweaking kind of quality (and yes I have owned a 5D Mk3 and I am fully aware of the files it produces).

As for the build quality. It feels fairly solid but strangely light to me. Build quality is certainly not going to blow you away. It feels no better than a £200 point and shoot from the likes of Canon or Nikon and as the camera’s original retail price was around £600 then I think it will leave many disappointed.

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I feel it handles this scene well

Operationally it is very straightforward which makes a refreshing change with a mode dial on top for “P, A, S, M” shooting, set up, video and voice recording (!?). The remainder of the settings are fairly simply laid out after pressing the menu or quick menu buttons on the back of the camera although these have their own quirks that have to be experienced to be believed.

So who would the camera be good for? I would suggest landscape and architectural photographers that want to produce world class, fine art prints sized A3 or smaller. Forget portrait photography primarily because the focal length does not lend itself to this type of photography. In fact I would forget any other type of photography other than the ones mentioned previously.

Incidentally, forget the video capabilities of the camera – I am at a loss as to why Sigma even bothered given the performance here.

I would love to try out the new Merrill DP cameras out to see if any of the niggles have been ironed out. Until then I will be moving the DP1x on as, for me, its quirks just about outweigh the positives.

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Colours are still good in overcast conditions

Format FOVEON X3® Direct Image Sensor (CMOS)
Image Sensor Size 20.7×13.8mm (0.8 inch×0.5 inch)
Number of Pixels Effective Pixels 14.06MP (2652×1768×3 layers)
Aspect Ratio 3:2
Focal Length 16.6mm F4 (35mm equivalent focal length: 28mm)
Lens Construction 5 Groups, 6 Elements
Shooting Range 30cm–∞ (Full Mode),50cm–∞
Storage Media SD Card/Compatible with SDHC,Multi Media Card
Recording Format Exif2.21, DCF2.0, DPOF
Recording Mode Lossless compression RAW data (12-bit), JPEG(High, Wide, Medium, Low), Movie (AVI), Voice memo to still image (10 sec./30 sec.), Voice recording (WAV)
File Size (Number of Pixels)
For Still Images
RAW High Approx. 15.4MB (2640×1760)
JPEG High Fine Approx. 3.3MB (2640×1760)
Normal Approx. 1.9MB (2640×1760)
Basic Approx. 1.4MB (2640×1760)
Wide Fine Approx. 2.7MB (2640×1485)
Normal Approx. 1.6MB (2640×1485)
Basic Approx. 1.2MB (2640×1485)
Medium Fine Approx. 1.6MB (1872×1248)
Normal Approx. 0.9MB (1872×1248)
Basic Approx. 0.7MB (1872×1248)
Low Fine Approx. 0.8MB (1312× 880)
Normal Approx. 0.5MB (1312× 880)
Basic Approx. 0.3MB (1312× 880)
File Size/Movie QVGA:320×240 (30 Frames Per Second), Approximately 30minutes is possible with a 1GB SD Card.
White Balance 8 types (Auto, Sunlight, Shade, Overcast, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, Custom)
ISO Sensitivity AUTO (ISO 100–ISO 200): With Flash (ISO 100–ISO 400) ,ISO 50, ISO 100, ISO 200, ISO 400, ISO 800, (ISO 1600– 3200 in Raw mode only)
Color Mode 7 types (Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape, B&W, Sepia)
Auto Focus Type Contrast Detection Type
AF Point Selection Selection of 1point from 9points
Focus Lock Shutter release halfway-down position (From Menu Settings AE Lock is possible by AE lock button)
Manual Focus Dial Type
Shutter Type Electronically controlled lens shutter
Shutter Speed 1/2000sec to 15sec: The maximum shutter speed is varied depending on F value.
Metering System TTL Full Aperture Metering [1]Evaluative Metering, [2]Center Weighted Average Metering, [3]Spot Metering
Exposure Control System [P]Program AE, [S]Shutter Priority AE, [A]Aperture Priority AE, [M] Manual
Exposure Compensation 1/3 EV Steps up to±3EV for Appropriate Exposure
Auto Bracketing 3 pictures in appropriate, under and over exposure levels. It can be set in 1/3EV stop increments up to ±3EV.
Built-in Flash Pop-up (Manual)
Guide Number 6(ISO100/m)
Built-in Flash Coverage Range 30cm to 2.1m (ISO200)
External Flash Hot shoe (X Sync. Contact, dedicated contacts)
Drive Modes [1]Single, [2]Continuous (3 Frames/second), [3]Self Timer (2sec./10sec.)
LCD Monitor Type TFT Color LCD Monitor
Monitor Size and Pixels 2.5inches / Approx. 230,000 dots
LCD Monitor Language English/Japanese/German/French/Spanish/Italian/Chinese (Simplified)/ Korean/ Russian
Interfaces USB (USB2.0), Video Out (NTSC/PAL),Audio Out (Monaural)
Power Dedicated Li-ion Battery BP-31, Battery Charger BC-31, AC Adapter (Optional)
Battery Life Approx.250 shots(25℃)
Dimensions 113.3mm/4.5″(W)×59.5mm/2.3″(H)×50.3mm/2″(D)
Weight 250g/ 8.8oz. (excluding batteries and card)
DP1x Accessories Li-ion Battery BP-31, Battery Charger BC-31, Lens Cap LCP-11, Neck Strap NS-11, Soft Case CS-70, Hot Shoe Cover HSC-11, USB Cable, Video Cable, SIGMA Photo Pro Disc, Instruction Manual

A trip to Camp Hell – In the Garden

Hell 2010

I have recently taken an interest in camping. This is odd considering the memories of many a miserable day and night in a tent are still firmly etched on my subconscious.

The dark recollections of many hours spent huddled millimetres away from the only thing that separated us from the outside world whilst gales incessantly battered our fragile living quarters and rain thundered against the canvas centimetres from my head are difficult to shake.

Still, 30 years later, I thought I would give it another go. Bear in mind this is after point blank refusing never to sleep in the great outdoors again without at least 6 inches of concrete, a comfortable bed and a front desk for help at my disposal.

So why this sudden interest in camping? A question my wife repeatedly asked me. Well, a work colleague had been extolling the great pleasures he had had with his family on a couple of recent camping trips. Then he started talking about camping gadgets and I became intrigued. Everyone knows, like most men,  that a good gadget is hard to resist. When I realised that there was a new world of strange implements to discover and delight in I knew I would have to put a tentative foot into this new world.

But before I could get too carried away I needed to establish whether I could put the camping horrors of my childhood behind me.

I thought the best way to ease me into this old territory would be to try out my wife’s old tent. Rather than go away somewhere I thought the most straightforward thing to do would be to set the tent  up in the garden and spend the night in it. Brilliant, I thought.

So on a warm evening I wrestled with poles, canvas and guide ropes for around 2 hours until my wife came and gave me a hand and we finally had ourselves our home for the night. And no back garden left.

We gave the tent a night and day to “air” and when the night of our adventure came the excitement of us all sleeping under canvas was almost unbearable for our youngest who is 6. I bought a new super duper sleeping bag for myself and sleep mat and set up two airbeds for my wife and children.

And so our garden adventure began and oh how it was action packed:

  • Our six year old went to the toilet in the house 3 times because she knew she could make use of the torch I had let her look after – this is three times more than she would normally go and she trampled over everyone in the process.
  • She then proceeded to wake me waking me up at 3 in the morning to say she was cold. I discovered she had wriggled out of her sleeping bag which was at the end of the airbed and had a small fleece blanket wrapped around her. I had to cajole her back into the sleeping bag and to sleep.
  • At some point in the night she was wriggling that much in the night she fell out of the airbed and so I had to get her settled. Again.
  • Then came the plumetting night temperature. I could not believe how cold it became. A millimetre of skin exposed meant I could feel icy fingers burrowing under my skin. I shiver at the thought of it.
  • And the noise? Cars and people walking down the street until God knows what time coming back from nights out.
  • Then at 4.30am the dawn chorus. I didn’t realise that there were so many birds living near us and the racket they could make! My wife did say I was an idiot because we live near open fields and what did I expect?
  • One of the cats escaped out of the house on one of Kate’s toilet trips and then proceeded to sit on top of the tent. No amount of banging on the roof would remove it!
  • And to top it all? Our back garden is only on a slight gradient but it didn’t stop the kids double airbed from sliding into me. My wife bailed on us at 6 to get into our bed. I can’t say I blame her!

So my recent interest in camping is over. I will put Camp Hell behind me and move on. I tried. I really did but give me a cheap hotel any day. Throw in a few bed bugs I don’t care. As far as I am concerned all future holidays will be canvas free. Just need to make them kid free now…………

Isle of Skye

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The Road to the Cuillins

I recently returned from a two week break on Skye with the family and have been asked on more than one occasion: “two weeks on Skye? What did you find to do in all that time?”.

It was this implied preconception and misconception that a small Island of the North West coast of Scotland couldn’t provide enough to occupy a family of five for two weeks that prompted me to write this Blog post.

The first thing to say is really stating the obvious I suppose. If you enjoy wide open soft sandy beaches, siting by a pool, consistent 12 hours of sunshine etc then this is not the place for you and I suspect Skye would not even appear on your radar as a potential destination.

If, like me, you enjoy stunning scenery, lochs, mountains, climbing, walking, wildlife, sea life, great food and drink, rock pools, relaxing by a log fire, weather that can have you in a t-shirt in the morning and wrapped up in a rain coat and woolly hat by lunchtime and to top it all wonderfully warm and welcoming people then Skye is certainly for you.

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The Cottage at Dunpark

This year was our second visit. We fell in love with the cottage we stayed in last Easter – Dunpark –  and were lucky enough to be able to book it again for this year. The cottage is comfortable with all the amenities you could want apart from a dishwasher  – we brought one with us in the shape of our 13 year old daughter.

One of the main appeals of the cottage is it’s location. It is situated on the Sleat peninsula around a 10 minute drive from Armadale ferry port and overlooks the Sound with the mountains of mainland Scotland (including Knoydart) across the water providing a constant picturesque backdrop. There is a great garden for the children to play in and access to the rocky coastline that borders the land.

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Sunrise at Dunpark

Ishbel and Angus MacDonald own and manage the cottage and a friendly and helpful. All in all you have a great almost get a way from it all holiday home at an extremely reasonable price. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

From the cottage exploring the stunning Sleat peninsular is straightforward with a main road that runs the length of the peninsular. There is everything here from great restaurants, wildlife in the shape of otters and seals to spot, deer are quite common and there are great beaches where rockpools abound.

You could probably spend a week or so discovering all the nooks and crannies of Sleat but there are other amazing things to do and see within an hour or so in the car.

On top of the incredible scenery to discover there is also the art trails to explore. Skye is home to some supremely talented artists and photographers. We have visited many of them and they have all been very welcoming and open about their work and influences.

Be sure to visit photographers Russell Sherwood, Tim Wilcock and Alan Campbell for some inspiration. Artists such as John Bathgate and Diane Mackie have some beautiful work to see and purchase in their galleries.

Here are just a few of my other recommendations:

Ellishadder Art Cafe

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We all fell in love with this little cafe in the North East of the Island. It is owned and run by the amazingly friendly and talented Stuart and Maggie Quigley. Stuart is a very talented artist and Maggie cooks delicious vegetarian food – if you are a died in the wool meat eater don’t let this put you off. One visit to the cafe almost turned me vegetarian the food is that good. Save room for some fantastic desserts too! Maggie is also a weaver and both Stuart and Maggie’s work is for sale at the cafe.

Dunvegan Bakery

The oldest bakery on the Island. It is also a cafe too serving simple but delicious meals. Their scones are to die for and the best that we have ever tasted – we always ensure that we leave with a couple of bags full. The owners are also really friendly and make you feel welcome.

The Quiraing

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The Quiraing is a geological phenomenon with towering spires of rock thrusting from the earth in a myriad of different shapes and sizes. It really has to be seen to be believed. The views from all areas is sublime and worth the effort to get here.

Dunvegan Castle

Set in beautiful gardens this is similar to Eilean Donan Castle (see below) and again well kept with excellent facilities. The history of the castle is fascinating and there is plenty to keep the children occupied.

Faerie Glen

Close to Uig this is not the most straightforward place to find. Ask a local and they will give you directions. It is all worth the effort though when you get there. The landscape is otherworldly and you have the feeling that you have stepped onto another planet. Unusual rock formations abound with plenty to explore. It is easy to imagine a settlement of fairies living there.

Eilean Donan Castle

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Okay, this is not on the Island but a short 20 minute drive from the Kyle of Lochalsh. Of all the castles we have visited this one is easily the best. Why? For a start it has been beautifully restored with an eye for detail unusual, in my experience. The guides are extremely knowledgable and helpful and went out of their way to ensure our visit was interesting and interactive. The views from the castle are also spectacular. It is no wonder that the location has been used in so many blockbusters – Highlander being the obvious one.

Neist Point Lighthouse

Not for the faint hearted or the unfit. The steps down to the lighthouse seem easy but coming back is a real challenge. It is more than worth it though with some stunning views of the coastline and of course the lighthouse itself. A short walk from the small carpark affords a magnificent view of Neist Point too.

There are many, many other places I can recommend  including the MacDonald visitor centre near Armadale, Kilt Rock, Coral Beach near Dunvegan and Elgol to name but a few but visiting but one of the pleasures of Skye is getting out and exploring the many nooks and crannies of an Island steeped in history.

Whenever we have been to Skye we never want to go home and try and think of ways of us setting up home there at some point. It is the kind of place that captures your heart and inspires yours soul. We could not imagine not making an annual pilgrimage to Skye to visit old favourites and discover new.

Links

http://www.skye.co.uk

http://www.dunpark-skye.co.uk

http://www.ellishadderartcafe.co.uk

http://www.eileandonancastle.com

http://www.dunveganbakery.com

http://www.glendaleskye.com/neistpoint.php

http://skyescapegallery.zenfolio.com

http://www.timwilcock.com

http://www.art-skye.co.uk

Harbeth P3ESR Review

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Harbeth P3ESR on Stands

I can honestly say that I have lost count of the number of speakers that I have owned over the last 20 years. Of all the elements of my hifi system they seem to be the part that has changed the most.

What I do know is that I have owned, including the P3ESR’s, four different pairs of Harbeth Speakers: P3ES, Compact 7ES and Super HL5. I loved the each of them but, for various reasons which have nothing to do with sound quality I had to move them on.

In the meantime I have owned several mini-monitor speakers from Proac, Totem, Sonus Faber, Gamut and Reference 3A to name but a few. A few months ago an opportunity to acquire a pair of the P3ESR’s came up and despite me loving the musical capabilities of the Reference 3A Dulcet I just knew that I had to get my hands on the Harbeths and so the Dulcets were quickly moved on.

The change in speakers also coincided with a system overhaul. I decided that it was time to downgrade my system to something much more simple and affordable and out went the Consonance CD Player and Amplifier for a Rega CD and Ampliffier pairing of the Apollo R and Brio R.

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Rega Brio R and Apollo R

Both are unassuming half width components and despite their budget price tag of £500 per unit they certainly punch above their weight and would offer an excellent foundation for the Harbeth’s to show what they could do. Their build quality is excellent and have operated flawlessly since the day I bought them.

So, how do the Harbeth’s sound?

Well putting to one side the limitations of their size and the fact that they are never going to defy the laws of physics and produce lower registers they are captivating, drawing you into the music like few other speakers I have heard. They are warm but with enough bite to strings for example to retain a realism that makes you want to keep listening long into the night. They can project large scale music better than they have a right to but really score well on smaller scale acoustic music where they just carry you away communicating the emotion of the music.

Listening becomes a more interactive experience with little subtleties and details drawing you further into the music.From classical to rock and folk to blues they seem to be equally at home in any genre.

Alan Shaw will not thank me for saying this but I always felt with the bigger speakers – and this was very subtle and possibly a psychological effect of the size of these speakers – that there was a slight hollow sound to the reproduction. It was if you could “sense” those large, thin walled boxes adding something to the sound.

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The Beautiful Grain of the Eucalyptus Veneer

Maybe it was also the fact that the other larger Harbeth speakers are ported unlike the P3ESR’s. I don’t know. Magical as the C7’s and Super HL5’s sounded their smaller cousin just has the edge for me. And that is, I guess all that matters.

The bottom line with the P3ESR’s is that they seem to take the best bits of all of my favourite small speakers – the Reference 3A Dulcets and Totem Model One – and roll them into a perfectly sized box that would fit into any environment bar an aircraft hanger sized lounge. Much as I loved the bigger Harbeth speakers I feel that the P3ESR’s are perfectly balanced soundwise.

I don’t know enough about the company to really comment but from reading posts written on the Harbeth website Alan Shaw is clearly a dedicated and passionate designer of loudspeakers. He should be congratulated on designing a mini masterpiece. A number of people have suggested that the P3ESR’s will be their last speaker upgrade – I can honestly say that they will be for me.

Specifications:

Transducer system 2-way: Harbeth 110mm RADIAL2� mid/bass; 19mm Ferro-cooled tweeter with HexGrille.
Freq. response 75Hz – 20kHz +/-3dB free space, 1m with grille on with smooth off-axis response.
Impedance 6 ohms – easy to drive.
Sensitivity 83.5dB/1W/1m
Amp. suggestion Works with a wide range of amplifiers, ideally from 15W/channel.
Power handling 50W programme
Connector Two 4mm gold-plated binding posts for wires or plugs
Dimensions (hxwxd) 306 x 189 x 202 mm (inl. grille and terminals)
Finish Cherry, black ash, maple, rosewood, eucalyptus, gun grey, arctic white, jet black.
Space needs Ideally > 0.30m from rear wall
Stands Typically 24+ inches
Weight 6.3kg each (without packing)
Packing One matched pair per protective carton

Jungfraujoch, A Journey to the Top of the World

Train on the way back from the “Top of the World”

Other then cuckoo clocks, Toblerone and world class efficiency I had no solid preconceptions about what to expect of Switzerland. Looking for somewhere to go for a short break in October last year I researched the area on the internet, however, nothing could have prepared me for the breathtaking beauty of the Jungfrau region and the sights and experiences it has to offer.

We arrived in Geneva via a short Easyjet flight from Liverpool. Once we had picked up our bags from the carousel we made our way to the train station and purchased our rail tickets to Interlaken. Children under 6 travel free on the Swiss Rail network although this doesn’t make the £100 one way adult fare any more palatable.

After the two hour journey to Bern we changed trains for the 45 minute hop to Interlaken we found ourselves standing at Interlaken West rail station bags in hand and ready for the hotel and food.

As an aside whilst the train tickets may have been expensive they arrived and left each station on time and were very clean.

The train station in Interlaken

Surprisingly, it was warmer in Interlaken than it was back home and we suddenly wondered whether the winter coats we came armed with would get much use. After a 5 minute walk down the main street we found ourselves at our chosen hotel and before long checked in and tucking into a family sized lasagne and salad at the hotel’s restaurant.

After a short stroll to walk some of the food off we were back to our simple and clean room at the hotel to get some rest in preparation for our early start the next morning to go and venture to the “Top of the Europe”: Jungfraujoch.

We awoke the next morning to ominous low cloud on the surrounding mountains – at least we assumed there was a mountain range behind the clouds as we had seen nothing having a arrived in the dark the previous night. Mountain weather is infamously changeable over a short period and we set hoping that the cloud would lift and we would be presented with a spectacular vista.

The hotel and restaurant in Interlaken

Having bought our tickets we tentatively boarded the first train that would take us to Grindelwald where we would have to change for the next leg of the three part journey to the “Top of Europe”. Still the clouds clung to the surrounding mountains frustratingly obscuring our view.

Before long we were on the next part of our journey and slowly but surely chinks of blue were staring to appear above us . As we climbed it became brighter and brighter until eventually we arrived at Kleine Scheidigge station through the cloud and looking up at the Eiger in all it’s breathtaking glory. By this time you could see back down the mountain and into the valley with a huge layer of cloud sitting above Interlaken.

Above us towered the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. The story goes that the Monk (Monch) is protecting the Young Girl (Jungfrau) from the Ogre (Eiger)

Breathtaking view from Kleine Scheidegg

So, it was back on the train. After a couple of stops along the track to take in the glacial vistas in all their glory we found ourselves at the top of the Jungfrau.

What struck me first was what I huge complex of buildings we were in. There is an ice palace carved into the glacier, a number of restaurants, several viewing platforms, etc.

It was hard at times to get a proper perspective on how high we were. When looking back down the mountain all you could see were, well, mountains as far as the eye could see. Then you made out a tiny reflective speck in the distance and realised that it was a town or village you were looking at which brought some perspective to the lofty perch you were standing on.

I can only liken it to the Grand Canyon where what surrounds you is such an immense scale that you struggle to take it all in.

We spent the next couple of days almost permanently on the trains and cable cars that criss cross the area assuming that the views couldn’t get any better. They invariably did.

The downsides? Just the one: price. It is, like the rest of Switzerland, extremely expensive but, as a once (or maybe twice) in a lifetime destination it is a bargain.