Photographed by lead photographers Amy & Tony Hoffer
All is quiet on the blogging front. For you regular blog-stalkers, we know you’ve been refreshing this page endlessly for weeks. Well we’re back baby! Slow season comes with a little less blogging and much more vacation-ing. So we’re here to share a bit of that. Amy and I took a ride down south the last few weeks. Way south. Here’s a few images from our time in Patagonia…
Beth and Ryan at the Power Plant
Photographed by lead photographers Amy & Tony Hoffer
4 years ago, we took a trip to Kenya to document the amazing work being done by our friends at eduKenya. In the interest of not repeating ourselves, we won’t go into too much detail about that trip. When we finally got the pieces together for a return, we were a bit unsure of what to expect. I think it’s natural for anyone seeing extreme poverty to be shocked. Even though we saw amazing stories and courage and hope last time, we were still pretty culture shocked. This time around there was less of that. Unfortunately, it gets easier to deal with the second time around.
As shocked as we were to see the poverty 4 years ago, we were equally as amazed at the transformation this time around. 4 years ago, we visited a very small school in the middle of the slum. Students worked in small, poorly lit rooms. In just a short time the school has grown so much. Now there are students up through 9th grade, including 3 Kindergarten and Pre-K classes. Over the course of the week, we got to meet every single one of them. It was special.
The biggest difference, though, is the structure. In the middle of the Nairobi slum, there is a new, brightly-painted building that represents the hope that eduKenya has brought to these kids and their families. On Monday I was standing on the balcony looking out over the slum. In front of me I saw gray structures made out of tin and concrete. There was dirt, trash and all the trappings of life in the slum. Then I looked around the school that I was standing in. I heard teaching and laughter in a solid building of brightly colored walls… an oasis.
Towards the end of the week, one of the students told Adam (the founder of eduKenya) that since he had joined the school he had never wanted for anything. It was an amazing statement for a child from an African slum. If our last trip to Kenya was a story of desperation and hope, than this one was a story of transformation and change. The obstacles still exist. The problems still exist. The poverty still exists. However, these kids are being given hope and a chance at life. It’s so amazing to see.
Here is the story of eduKenya. We spent three days in the Pre-Primary and Primary schools within the Mathare slum. Then we spent a day at the temporary boarding school for high schoolers and another day at the land where eduKenya hopes to build a boarding school someday soon. We’d love for you to see our story and we’d love for you to consider supporting eduKenya. It’s an organization we’ve supported for years and we are constantly in awe of the work they do. We know tons of organizations and there are very few that take transformation and self-sustainability as seriously as eduKenya does. Please check them out! Enjoy our story…
Thanks to my friend Justin McRoberts for the music that fits the slideshow!
Lens Reviews: Sigma 20 1.4 Art and Nikon 58 1.4G
Photographed by lead photographers Amy & Tony Hoffer
NERD ALERT #1: For all our regular non-photographer-blog-stalkers, thanks for checking this out! You may be bored. You may be confused. Or you may be at work with some time to kill. If you’re just here to look at photos, click the top right square to view some categories that will take you directly to some photo posts!
NERD ALERT #2: For all our photographer buddies… If you like reviews that tell you how sharp a lens is, what the MTF charts say and how many pieces of glass are carved out of rare earth elements from the southern regions of Uzbekistan, you’ve come to the wrong place. This review (like all the others we’ve done) is about how it feels to shoot with these bad boys and what we think about the results. You may now proceed…
About a year ago, we went a little crazy. We sold all of our gear. Every last piece of Canon equipment went out the door and we switched to Nikon. When you switch cameras, you’re making a decision that will likely affect the way you shoot. For example, I haven’t shot a double exposure in a year because Nikon simply doesn’t do it well. On the flip side, we’ve saved some money on laundry because the articulating screen keeps us off the ground a little bit. My good friend Evan once told me that equipment dictates process. He’s right.
For me, a camera changes the way I shoot. Lenses change HOW I shoot. That’s why I write these lens reviews. There’s something to be said about sharpness and ‘perfect’ lenses, but I think almost every modern lens is sharp enough and perfect enough. I want equipment that makes me feel creative and that brings out the desire to push myself towards something new. An interesting lens does that for me. So our lens lineup looks very different than it did 12 months ago. It’s a process of discovering what works for us.
With that said, here’s some thoughts on my two favorite new lenses…
Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art Review
Anyone who has seen some of our previous reviews knows how much we’ve loved Sigma lenses over the past few years. It started with the 85 1.4, then progressed to the 35 1.4 Art and the 50 1.4 Art. Sigma’s latest Art lenses have been second to none and the photo world has realized it. I was pretty surprised when Sigma announced that their next lens would be the 20 1.4 Art. I was SUPER excited, but it didn’t really seem like a lens that needed to be made. With both Canon and Nikon, there are a ton of wide angle options. Both systems have multiple wide angle zooms and primes. Even Sigma has a 24-35 f/2 zoom which is one of a kind. That’s why I found it so strange that Sigma would create something that was only 4mm wider than the typical wide prime. It’s also the reason I was so excited to finally get it.
We shoot a lot at night and this lens is the grand champion of night shooting. It’s perfect for crowded wedding receptions, perfect for seeing stars out in the wilderness and perfect if you need a brick or a sandbag (it’s freaking heavy). Here’s some thoughts…
I don’t shoot below 24mm very often. At least I didn’t until about 3 months ago. I don’t think I’d ever shot 20mm until now. It’s an awesome focal length for shooting wide without making everyone look like Gumby (do I sound old yet?). When you couple that with the fact that you can actually shoot an image with bokeh at 20mm, you’ve got a winner. It’s hard not to fall in love with the look.
The Low-Light Capability
Without a doubt, the greatest feature of this lens is the ability to shoot in low (or no) light. I got this lens when it was released in late November, so I haven’t had many warm nights to explore shooting stars. What I have had is a few dark weddings where this thing was a champion. It’s like it creates light.
I was pretty worried about the focus when I first got the lens and was goofing around with it at home (I’ll go into detail in ‘The Bad’ section). I took it to a wedding that weekend to see how it did. At that point, I was actually somewhat convinced that I’d be returning the lens for misfocusing. Then I got to the wedding and I was nailing everything, even at 1.4. So, I guess that means that the lens is a gamer. It performs when it matters. Either that or it’s inconsistent… Hmm.
If you own the Sigma 35 1.4 Art or the Sigma 50 1.4 Art, you’ll feel right at home with the 20 1.4 Art. The color and contrast the lens produces are gorgeous, just like the other Sigmas. Whatever they’re doing in that factory is working. Kudos to you Sigma. You’re a player. Play on, player.
This thing is big. It feels like it weighs as much as the Canon 85L. That’s a lot. Do I care? Sort of. Will you? I don’t know. It’s a beast.
One of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced happened with this lens. About a week after owning it, it started squeaking. Strange, right? I would go to focus the lens and it would squeak. It wasn’t a quiet squeak. It was a nails-on-the-chalkboard squeak. Nothing changed with the performance except that everyone looked at me when they heard it. So, that wasn’t great. The lens comes back from Sigma service today. Hopefully it’s calmed down now.
As I mentioned above, the focus was bad, until it became great. More than anything, it’s a bit inconsistent. I have to double check my photos before I move on from the scene. That’s pretty annoying. It almost seems like the faster you move, the better the focus is. It’s like the lens has a brain that tends to overthink the focus. It’s pretty strange. With that said, I’ve owned the lens for 3 months and it’s been awesome overall. When I sent it in for the squeaks, I mentioned the focus inconsistency. Time will tell if this is permanent or not.
You should think of the Sigma 20 1.4 Art like Russel Westbrook (if you don’t get this reference, watch this). It’s an MVP quality lens. The photos it produces in dark situations will straight up astound you. There’s nothing quite like it on the market. On any given day it will become your favorite lens and give you something that you can’t get anywhere else. Just when you’re ready to say that it’s the best lens you’ve ever used, it will miss focus and you’ll be annoyed. It’s imperfect, but the good things are so amazingly great that it’s worth dealing with the bad. Good job Sigma!
Nikon 58 1.4G Review
I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to photography. I’ll spare you from reading them all. Suffice it to say, that you’ll never see a blog post from us trying to convince you of how hard our job is :) With that said, there is one pet peeve that’s petty and stupid… and also wrong. I really don’t like when people say that a lens was glued to their camera. Maybe it’s the gear fiend in me, but I don’t think I could ever shoot with the same lens for a whole week. And then last week happened. I’m in love with the Nikon 58 1.4G. It’s probably unhealthy.
A few years back, I shot a 35mm and an 85mm for most our work. Amy was more of a 35, 50, 135 kind of girl. Sometime before we switched to Nikon, I found myself using my 85 less and Amy’s 135 more. Then I bought a second 135 and my 85 barely got touched. When we switched to Nikon, we bought all the same gear (35s, 50s, 85s, 135s), but i still found myself gravitating towards the 35 and the 135. I just never seemed to reach for a 50 or and 85.
I hadn’t heard of the 58 until a few months ago. Any lens that’s super expensive intrigues me. I equate it to a girl shopping at Anthropologie. Sure, there are dresses at other stores for 4x less money, but you really just want to check out the expensive one. That was me with the 58. I’m in love.
Ask anyone who owns this lens what they like about it and they’ll say that it has great ‘character’. If you’re a pixel peeper, this is confusing. It’s hard to explain what makes a lens special. It could be the way it interprets bokeh. It could be the vignetting (or lack there of). It could even be something simple like knobs or buttons. The images from the Nikon 58 1.4G look different than any other lens on the market. That’s character. That’s awesome.
Like all the new Nikon G lenses, this thing is a light weight. Without looking up the specs, it feels like it weighs half of the Sigma 20 (above). While weight isn’t a make or break issue for me, it’s amazing to have such a light lens that performs so well.
Is the 58 the sharpest lens I’ve ever used? No. Is the Sigma 50 1.4 Art sharper? I would say yes. So, why is the sharpness in the ‘Good’ category? Simple. When I was thinking about this lens, everything I read said that the lens has awesome character but isn’t very sharp. If you’re looking to nitpick the lens, the sharpness could be improved, but I think it’s still really excellent as is. I’ll also say that when I shoot with a lens that give such interesting look, sharpness becomes very overrated. I was very pleasantly surprised with how sharp this lens can be at 1.4. Don’t let that hold you back. It’s good.
One nice bonus about the 58 is probably pretty specific to our style. We’re hard on our gear. We don’t us lens caps because they slow us down. The glass of this lens is recessed at least 1″ back from the filter holder, which makes it much safer to put in a bag without a cap. It’s a great little bonus!
If you’ve ever looked into this lens, you already know the worst part. Brand new this lens costs over $1600. That’s a crap ton of money for a prime 50, especially when the Sigma is half that. Plus, good luck finding one used. I looked all over and didn’t find many options. I ended up buying new, but got lucky when a friend sold his a few weeks later. I was able to return the new one. Either way, it’s a wallet-buster.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that my lens choices affect how I shoot. Nothing has driven this point home like the Nikon 58 1.4G has. Although, I don’t doubt that I’ll continue to use my 35 and 135 extensively, the 58 has enabled an entire zone of shooting that I had never really enjoyed before. It’s not that the Sigma 50 wasn’t a good lens (it’s an AMAZING lens), but it didn’t make me want to explore the range. The 58 does that. There’s something special about the way this lens interprets light that is both ethereal and unexplainable. If you can afford it, you should buy it. If you can’t afford it, stay far, far away. It will suck you in like a vortex.
Thanks for reading! Have a different opinion or a question? Feel free to post in the comments below…