I might just be attuned to the theme, but I hear and read a lot about storytelling in photography. This, of course, is what photo essays are about - the narrative form perfected by Life magazine among...
The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 ATX DX lens, is designed for those who want to photograph ultra-wide on Canon and Nikon APS-C (small-frame sensor) digital cameras. What sets this lens apart from other wide-angle zoom lenses is its fast f/2.8 aperture through its entire range.
A lens with this wide a field of view (104°-82° according to Tokina’s web site) has very specialized uses. Remember that even at the long end of its very limited range, this lens is still very much in wide-angle territory. It’s not a lens that will generally stay on the camera all the time. Also, these very wide angles of view are not useful the same way as what most of us consider a “normal” wide angle lens, say 17-24mm (about 28-35mm field of view in 35mm full-frame terms). This isn’t a lens for “getting it all in”, because everything will be so small and spread out that it will likely make for boring photographs. This kind of lens really shines when showing off something in the foreground that contrasts with a background expanse to display a unique perspective distortion (not optical distortion) you can’t get with a “normal” wide-angle lens. Note that this lens is a rectilinear lens (straight lines are supposed to stay straight) as opposed to a fisheye (which would make dramatically curved images). I tested the lens on my Nikon D50.
It’s not a landscape lens at the wide end, but more of a special effects lens. At the “long” end, it is useful in landscape territory for lots of applications, but still far too wide for portraiture (except special effects portraiture). This kind of lens, zoomed all the way to its widest setting, is also great for photographing interiors for real estate, where you need to get an entire room in one photo. For most interior work, or indeed any photos that require a flash, you will need an external flash with a diffuser (I use a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, (compare prices) (review), with a Sto-fen Omnibounce). On-camera flash will not work at any focal length, since the lens will cast a very large shadow. Even an external flash may yield dark corners without a diffuser of some kind. Good results were obtained using an external flash and a diffuser bounced off of a white ceiling. Better results were achieved with natural light.
This multi-coated lens features 13 elements in 11 groups (quite a lot for any lens), and with its minimum focus distance of only about a foot will achieve a reproduction ratio of 1:11.6. This is not a lens for any kind of macro photography by any stretch, since at its closest focusing distance it’s capturing an object a foot or more wide. When focusing, nothing moves externally on this lens, including the filter ring on the front. The front elements move in and out almost imperceptibly when you zoom, and the rear elements move a little more, but in normal use you won’t even notice this.
The lens takes 77mm filters, and since that’s a standard size for a lot of lenses, chances are that users already have filters in the correct size. Avoid stacking two filters on this lens, since the vignetting at the wide end is extreme. One standard filter seems okay (although I prefer using this lens with no filter, using the included lens hood for protection), but anything beyond that is a problem. In any case, the use of a polarizer on a lens this wide will result in a strange uneven sky (although there are other legitimate uses of a polarizer), and I suspect most users of a lens like this will be using more Photoshop filters than optical ones. Tokina has thoughtfully outfitted the lens with a 9-bladed diaphragm, which I prefer over those with fewer blades. Don’t look for great bokeh, though as a lens this wide has an incredibly narrow depth of field. At f/5.6 or smaller, almost everything is in focus.
As far as the image quality goes, in the center it’s a bit soft at f/2.8, then sharp at all apertures from f/4 through f/16 on my 6MP Nikon D50. The edges sharpen up nicely from f/2.8 (where they are still pretty useful) to about f/5.6. From f/5.6 to about f/11, sharpness seems great across the whole image, and at f/16 I notice only the beginnings of a loss of sharpness due to diffraction. Acceptable images can sometimes be captured at f/22. However, if there will be a lot of cropping or a huge print made, diffraction is an issue, and I would recommend not shooting beyond f/11 or maybe f/16. (There’s really little reason, in a lens with this much depth of field, to shoot beyond f/8.) The lens exhibits the typical coma found in an ultra-wide lens, but nothing that makes for objectionable images.
Falloff at 11mm is visible in the corners at f/2.8, and improves from f/4 to f/5.6, before being virtually gone at f/8 (it’s less of an issue as you zoom in towards 16mm). Unless you have a very wide area of light color, you won’t likely notice this falloff even at f/2.8. Indeed, I had to capture a really boring image of a gray overcast sky to even see it. I didn’t see any appreciable difference in lens performance at different focal lengths.
Flare doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, despite the huge number of elements. There is some relatively “fix-able” chromatic aberration, some “fringing”, as some call it. I had to look for it in the images I shot, and again, it was easy to correct. There is some barrel distortion at the wide end, becoming pincushion at the “long” end, and you’ll notice it if you shoot a brick wall, but I haven’t yet felt any need to correct it in any images I’ve shot so far. For anyone familiar with the complicated and not-totally-correctable distortion in Nikon’s 18-200 VR lens at 18mm, this lens has less and simpler distortion.
The overall construction of the lens is great. It is light years beyond the very plastic-ey feel of kit lenses like Nikon’s 18-70, 18-200 18-135, and especially the 18-55 lenses. It is far more solidly built than the 11-18mm from Tamron and a little more solid than the 10-20 from Sigma and the Nikkor 12-24. It seems to be made with about the same ruggedness as the Tokina 12-24. In fact, it looks almost identical to that lens, except that the accents are silver instead of gold.
The lens is not waterproof by any stretch, although it has a water repellent optical coating. On Nikon cameras (D80, D200, D300), it uses the built-in “screwdriver” motor of the camera body, it focuses as quickly and nearly as quietly as some AF-S lenses I’ve used. Particularly clever is Tokina’s “clutch” mechanism. Push the focus barrel forward a few millimeters and it’s auto-focus. Pull it back again, and it’s Manual focus. No fiddling for a switch on the camera. In practice, this makes the lens as useful for me as if it were an AF-S motor.
The zoom and focus rings are very smooth and move easily with the touch of just one finger. The zoom is evenly spaced out along its very short range, and the focus ring has a very short travel from infinity to closest focus, less than a quarter of a turn. For a lens with extreme depth of field like this, that’s just the way it should be.
There are several different lenses (which I’ve already mentioned) you should consider before buying this lens. Sigma’s highly regarded 10-20mm lens, although slower (f/4.5-5.6) has a better zoom range on both ends and has a pretty solid and substantial feel to it. Tokina’s 12-24 is a much better range for many users as well, and is also a bit slower at f/4. Nikon and Canon both have more expensive offerings, Nikon at 12-24 and Canon at 10-20. (I’m not including the Tamron 11-18 since Tamron is soon releasing a new 10-24 lens, which will likely replace it, and the 11-18 is, in my opinion, not nearly as well-made as these other offerings. Also, I’m not considering the Tokina 10-17 since it is a fisheye and not a rectilinear wide-angle, or the Sigma 12-24, which is a big, heavy, and solidly built full-frame lens, but I don’t think a reasonable option for crop-frame sensors.)
The reasons you’d want this Tokina lens are the faster aperture (versus the very good Sigma lens), the slightly wider perspective (versus Tokina’s and Nikon’s excellent 12-24), and the relatively simple and correctable distortion. If you don’t want or need those things, it may well not be the lens to buy. I chose this lens over the others because at f/2.8 throughout the zoom, the image quality is stellar two stops down at f/5.6, whereas the Nikkor, Sigma or Tokina at f/5.6 would be zero to one stop down from maximum. Most of the images I shoot with it would not be drastically different from what I’d get with those other offerings.
I suspect that this lens will be regarded by most as a “specialty” lens. If the range had been just a hair more on either end, it would make more sense for more people. I wish it were 9 or 10mm on the wide end, 17 or 18mm on the long end, or both. In fact, I’m unaware of any zoom lens for any DSLRs that has a more limited zoom range than this lens, and for many reading this review, that should be a deal-breaker. If you think it would be a better idea to sacrifice some speed for some range. No worries, the excellent 12-24 lenses from Tokina and Nikon are available for those users. Willing to sacrifice even more speed for an even wider view? Again, Sigma offers a great 10-20. (Or for Canon shooters, the extraordinary Canon 10-22.) Very early reports are that the Tokina has better image quality than some of those lenses, but I have not been able to compare them side-by-side, so look elsewhere for comparison tests.
It mystifies me that third party manufacturers have not yet implemented internal focus motors in their offerings for Nikon, as they are forced to do with Canon. If you are photographing with a D40, D40x or D60 (and any future Nikons that lack “screwdriver” focus motors), this lens will not focus with your camera at all, although it will meter just fine. Ultra-wide lenses are very easy to manually focus, so it still might be useful, but many who feel they must have auto-focus, which I suspect is a very large number of people who buy those cameras, will feel left out, and be better served with either the Sigma 10-20 or the Nikkor 12-24, both of which will focus just fine.
In short, most of the people reading this review need to consider very carefully if one of the other lenses mentioned would be better for them. If you can’t auto-focus this lens with your camera, or if you need or want a larger range of magnification, or don’t need the fast f/2.8 aperture, you probably should carefully consider the alternatives first.
If you’re looking for great image quality in a fast ultra-wide lens for Nikon or Canon, this might be the lens to buy. I’ve only had mine for a short time, but even if it had been an 11mm f/2.8 prime lens, I think I still would have considered it. (In fact, most of my capturing with this lens has been all the way out at 11mm). At under $600 US, it’s a steal.
I almost bought an ultra-wide zoom last year and was deciding between the Sigma 10-20 and the Tokina 12-24 until this lens was announced. I waited to read a review or two, and when it seemed it was a great lens, I went ahead and took the plunge. However, I have to admit, I might have been just as happy with either the Sigma or the other Tokina. You should take the time to look at them all and see how they handle. If you are printing 8×10 or smaller, any of these lenses will likely give you the same quality prints. If you’re more likely to view your photos on-screen, any of them will certainly do well for you.
You will need to adjust the way you photograph with a lens this wide, as even a miniscule tilt or shift of angle will change your photo drastically, and introduce extreme perspective distortion. As I’m learning to use this lens, often I don’t realize I have an image that I couldn’t use until I view it on my computer. Composition will be a challenge, but for those willing to work a little harder and think differently about their photography, this lens will produce some stunning results.
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I haven’t had time to take any “breathtaking” images with this lens yet, but here’s at least some photos that will give you an idea of its capabilities. All but one of them at this point are at 11mm. I rarely “zoom in” at all. The one thing I’ve learned, which you can see from my comments, is that this is not a point-and-shoot lens. You need to think about what you’re doing and capture with some thought involved. Who knows? It could make you a smarter and better photographer.
This photo of the marina near my home would look totally different if I took one step to the left. Just look at the next image. 11mm at f/11
Okay, so which one do YOU like better? 11mm at f/11
I’m only a few inches from this set of benches, and it’s actually not easy to get just the right angle when the view is this wide. If I rotate just a little to the left or the right, the photo is filled with things I didn’t want in the picture. 11mm at f/5.6
Everything in this huge vista is in focus. But one move to the left or the right and everything changes…drastically. 11mm at f/11
One of the best things about a lens this wide is the ability to photograph a whole room. Realtors, decorators and anyone doing a lot of interior room photography will love this. 11mm at f/5.6
I had to sit on the ground to get this photo, as standing up it just didn’t look right, showing again how careful you need to be with composition with a lens this wide. 16mm at f/8