Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X Lens Review


Wide and Fast, Just Like We Wanted

Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan

Lens Formula
13 elements in 11 groups; 2 aspheric, 2 low dispersion elements.
Other Features
Internal focus, 77mm filter size. Comes with BH-77B hood, 9-blade aperture. Focuses to 12" (0.3m).
Size & Weight
About 3.5" (87mm) long from mount, ~20 ounces (550 or 560g).
Price
US$600 (older version), US$740 (in-lens motor version)

The Basics
The first "wide angle zoom" for DX was Nikon's 12-24mm f/4. A good lens, well built, and reasonably versatile, but not exactly a lens destined for low light indoor use. Next came all the 10-24mm variants and 12-24mm clones. Again, not exactly designed for low light or indoor use.

Tokina stepped in with the 11-16mm f/2.8, which gives you a full stop faster aperture at the expense of a small focal length range.

Two versions of this lens exist: the older version doesn't have an internal focus motor, the newer (II) version does. Other than that, they're optically the same, and almost physically the same, too (the newer version is slightly less weight).

One aspect that surprises a lot of users when they first see this lens is that it is reasonably small and compact. By Nikkor 10-24mm and 12-24mm are both a tiny bit longer and thus stick out a tiny bit further from the camera body than the Tokina 11-16mm, while all three are 77mm at the front end. In other words, the Tokina is smaller than most people expect, despite being an f/2.8 lens. Who says DX lenses have to be big? Indeed, to some degree, the 11-16mm embodies what a lot of folk want from DX: smaller, lighter than FX equivalents.

Copyright 2012 Thom HoganTokina 11-16mm on left, Nikkor 10-24mm on right

The focal range is a bit unusual. We've got a 16.5-24mm equivalent lens here, something that doesn't exist in the FX world. I'm actually perfectly fine with that. I can live with just getting to 24mm equivalent, and 16.5mm equivalent is still very wide. It's that f/2.8 that's interesting to many, as this is a lens that can shoot into the night and indoors well.

This first version of this lens is old-school, meaning it requires an in-camera focusing motor. In the recent DX lineup, that would include the D2h(s), D2x(s), D200, D300, D300s, D80, D90, and D7000. It doesn't include the D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D5000, or D5100. If you own one of those cameras you'll need the slightly more expensive II version of the lens.

This lens does not have optical stabilization. There's a focus distance window on the lens, but no DOF or IR markings. The lens is marked at 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16mm on the zoom ring, a nice surprise.

Like most traditional lenses, the focus ring is furthest from the camera, the zoom ring closest to the camera.

The 11-16mm is an internally focusing lens, so the front element doesn't rotate during zoom or focus. Close focus is about 12" (.3m), which is about right. It would be rare that you'd really want to go closer than that with a really wide angle lens, and for landscape work you're usually stopping down and getting more DOF. The lens uses 77mm filters.

The lens is made in Japan.

Handling
As I've noted, this isn't a huge lens, nor is it overly heavy for its size. It balances on the front of my DX bodies very nicely.

The zoom ring on my sample is stiff, and the lens does not change length as you zoom. The focus ring uses the push/pull method of taking the lens out of autofocus into manual focus, and it's again a very sure mechanism: there's no imprecision in snapping between one and the other. For manual focus, the ring is quite smooth on my sample, but you can feel and hear the engagement with the lens elements (i.e., it has a bit of drag to it compared to the free-wheeling of the ring in autofocus mode). It takes a quarter rotation to move from near focus to far, so there isn't a lot of precision; morever, like most lenses with low dispersion glass, this lens focuses past infinity at most temperatures.

The butterfly hood (supplied) is shallow but effective for all but near-edge light sources. You need to use thin filters on this lens if you use filters, as I find that I get vigenetting from some fatter filters.

Overall, the handling of this lens is solid. The build quality is robust and both the zoom and focus rings feel well connected to the mechanisms you're moving, with no sloppiness you find in some recent low-end designs.

Performance
Autofocus: Like all screw-driven autofocus lenses, some of the autofocus performance is dependent upon the camera, with lower-end cameras focusing slower than higher-end ones. The pro cameras (in DX that would be the D1 and D2 series), have stronger motors and snap the focus a bit faster, though on the original version of this lens the focus is never totally snappy. That's a bit surprising, as wide angle lenses generally need very little optical movement when focusing. But you can actually here the elements moving, and there's a "slide" sound to them, as if they decellerate as they get close to focus point. The II version of the lens is better, with snappier performance and less of that sliding aspect to it. Still, for the intended uses of this camera, I'd rate the autofocus performance as good or better. Not stellar, but it's not likely going to cost you shots, either.

Sharpness: As with other Tokina lenses I've tested, this is a very sharp lens, especially in the central region, and even decently sharp wide open. The corners are soft at f/2.8, though they are near central sharpness at f/5.6. The lens performs exceptionally well at f/8, perhaps better than any of my other wide angle zooms, which is one reason why I switched to it. This is actually quite good performance overall, not just at the landscape apertures I tend to use, and better than I expected when I first picked up the lens.

One thing that gives me pause is the number of sample variation reports I've gotten from others who've used this lens, many of which were triggered by my reporting I had changed to this lens from my Nikkor. These people report sub-par optical sharpness on this lens, and I asked them to send me samples. Clearly, their copies of this lens don't perform up to the level my copy does. In at least one case, the person followed up by having their lens replaced and got something that seems similar to mine.

For a reviewer, sample variation is a tricky thing. Obviously, few of us ever use more than one sample in creating our reviews (in this case I own the older lens, and borrowed the newer version before publishing my review, so my samples = two). The third party lens vendors, in particular, seem to have more sample variation than the main camera makers do. So I guess my overall comment here would be "trust but verify." Purchase from a store that will give you exchange priviledges if you find you got a less than satisfactory copy.

Since many of you want this lens for the f/2.8, let me talk a bit more about wide open. Obviously, f/2.8 isn't this lens's strongest aperture. On my D7000 and D3200 I see some weakness to the sharpness, even in the central region. But it's not unsharp at f/2.8 in the center. At the edges, yes, at f/2.8 the corners do blur. Not a lot, but noticeably if you pixel peep. I would judge the f/2.8 performance to be very usable, and "good" overall. Stop down two stops and the lens becomes an very good performer, perhaps exceptional. Those of you with the 12-24mm f/4 probably wonder about f/4: the Tokina is better in the corners at f/4 than the Nikkor, and especially better at 12mm.

Light falloff: Surprisingly little for an f/2.8 (fast) lens. It doesn't hit a stop wide open, and the worst vignetting is at 11mm f/2.8, with far less at 16mm f/2.8. That's not surprising when you look at the lens on an FX camera: at 16mm the lens covers the full FX frame (barely). As you'd expect, even stopping down one stop brings the vignetting mostly under control.

Chromatic aberration: Visible, but easily correctable. In a few settings I found it hit 3 pixels wide on my D7000, but I was able to easily remove this in Lightroom/Photoshop. Chromatic aberration isn't the big scary beast it used to be, at least latitudinal CA. This lens has a bit of longitudinal CA wide open, which is tough to correct, but not enough for me to worry about.

Flare: Flare seems to be an issue with Tokina glass. It has to be their coating methods, as I'm consistently finding that backlight impacts the capability of their lenses more so than my Nikkors. If you've got the sun in the shot, you have to watch very carefully for contrast reduction and the internal reflections, which tend to be larger (though less colorful) than those I get from my Nikkors or Sigma. Stopping down helps, but doesn't remove all the flare issues.

Unlike the 50-135mm Tokina I reviewed, I don't get the big ugly aperture impacts with this lens.

Distortion: Barrel distortion all the way. At 11mm it is pronounced (close to 3%) and would need correcting if you have straight lines in the shot. There's a bit of mustache to the barrel distortion, but I've found that straightforward distortion removal algorithms work decently on it. At 16mm there's still a tiny remnant of barrel distortion. At this focal length, I probably wouldn't remove it unless I was doing architectural-type photography and required straight lines everywhere.

Bokeh: This lens isn't going to win any bokeh contests. There's just enough longitudinal aberration wide open that you get the dreaded color artifacts on the blur circles. This is mostly controlled by f/4, and fully controlled by f/5.6. I wouldn't characterize the bokeh as bad, but it isn't excellent, either. If you're worried about it, stop down to f/4.

Overall, I like this lens. Other than having to correct CA and distortion, and having to watch for flare issues, the optical attributes are all quite good.

Drawbacks

  • Corners soft at 11mm f/2.8. Need to stop down two stops for good corners.
  • Flare potential. A lot of internal reflection compared to other wide angle zooms.
  • No VR. Not a big drawback in my book, but since Nikon put VR into the 16-35mm, a lot of people are now asking for it in wide angle zooms. But remember, you're already one to two stops faster than those other zooms.

Positives

  • Sharp. Usable at f/2.8, very sharp at f/8.
  • Nice build. Built well and handles smoothly.
 
Quick Evaluation



Recommended

features
performance
build
value

Either version seems like a good choice.

Limitations


The 11-16mm lens has limitations you need to be aware of:

Converters: no converters are recommended (rear element behind the mount position at 11mm).

G: Since this is a DX lens, it's not likely that you'd mount it on an older 35mm body that can't handle the lack of aperture ring or makes restrictions because it is missing.

Focus: The less expensive version doesn't have an internal focus motor, which means that it doesn't autofocus with the D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100, D3200, D5000, or D5100. The newer II version is more expensive, but has the internal focus motor needed by those cameras.

Coverage Area: produces a circular image vignette on FX bodies from 11 to just shy of 15mm. Corners at 15 and 16mm on FX bodies are soft.

Version of Review:
10/15/2012: initial post.

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