You might think Nikon and Canon users have a good choice of ultra-wide zooms available to them but Tokina believes there's room for another.
Tokina has been making high-quality photographic lenses for various camera makers for over sixty years, with only the last three decades using the Tokina brand name. It's claimed the company was founded by a group of ex-Nikon engineers, and perhaps that might explain why many of their models take their design cues from Nikkor lenses to this day.
Certainly this lens, with its bulbous front element, built-in hood and trombone-shaped body could easily be mistaken for the AF-S 14-28mm f/2.8 Nikkor. Aside from the distinctive silhouette, the finish, focus grip and markings not to mention the lack of an aperture ring make it look uncannily similar up close too; only the widely ribbed zoom control covering gives it away. As a full frame model, the lens is also offered with a Canon mount, but the design looks somewhat incongruous on EOS bodies.
With a slightly longer focal length and 107-degree diagonal angle-of-view at its widest the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 can't match the extreme 114-degree view offered by the Nikkor but then the price isn't close either.
A quick look at the list (inclusive of VAT) shows there's quite a difference, £1500 for the former as opposed to £1075 for the latter. But, the disparity in street prices is even more favourable. The Tokina can be bought for a shade under under £665 (ex VAT), while the highly regarded Nikkor is commanding around £1100 (exc VAT). Nikon has since introduced a 'more affordable' AF-S 16-35mm f/4 but even though the VR-enabled lens is a capable performer it's aimed at different demographic.
Canon users face a similar dilemma. Their EF 16-35mm f/2.8L is smaller, lighter and has a wider range. But the main drawback is price. It sells for only a £100 (ex VAT) less than the big Nikkor. And while significantly cheaper than the f/2.8 model, Canon's widely respected EF 17-40mm f/4 L targets the same users as the new Nikon VR option yet costs around the same price as the Tokina.
As an ATX-Pro model, the Tokina is well built mechanically, only the built-in petal shaped hood, focus ring and mid-section are made from engineering plastic while the rest of the external components (essentially, the rear half) are metal. It's all rather impressive but a cheap plastic push-on cap is supplied, and a concession to the price no doubt. It marks the built-in hood, but at least it's not easily dislodged when placed in a bag. A clip-on cap was offered as a replacement for Japan market and, hopefully, that might now be made available for the UK.
To maintain the image quality at the wider end of the range the focal length at the longer end is reduced from 35mm to 28mm. The coverage is still useful but Tokina argue this lens is likely to be supplemented by a 24-70mm f/2.8. Even so anyone expecting the 16-28mm to be small and lightweight will be disappointed. With a length of 133mm and weighing 950g, this is a large and heavy lens.
The long body allows plenty of room for well-spaced and sizeable zoom and focus controls. Despite the otherwise excellent ergonomics though the action of the zoom ring was heavy compared to rivals. No claims are made of its resistance to the environment in any UK PR material but with translation the maker's Japan site makes reference to 'dustproof and waterproof rubber sealing the outer periphery'. It has a seal around the mount, but it's discrete enough to overlook without closer inspection.
Viewed against today's electronic real-time manual override options of rivals Tokina's One Touch Focus Clutch push-pull design of the focus-ring appears somewhat outdated. However, it's ergonomically superior to the switches of rivals and manual focus is well-weighted allowing ultra-fine adjustment.
Tokina says it has a newly developed silent DC motor, but that's a stretch as there was a noticeable rasping-sound in use from the sample tested. The lens is also the first model to feature a new GMR magnetic sensor in place of the more usual rotational type. These sensors relay focus movement of the lens to the body, but the accuracy of rotational sensors is subject to mechanical wear, typically, backlash from the reduction of gears.
This new design should help maintain accuracy with use, while a contact for the company told me it's more precise any way, and faster in operation due to the GMR sensor being located immediately above the focusing cam. Real-world use showed the Tokina to be in the same class in accuracy and AF speed to my AF-S Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8, a lens still in production but one that bizarrely sells with a 25-30-percent premium over the 14-24mm f/2.8.
In terms of optical quality, the Tokina is unlikely to disappoint. As you might expect, wide-open at 16mm the edges fall behind but throughout the zoom and aperture ranges the resolution in the centre of the frame is very high.
Three SD (low dispersion) glass elements are used, with properties and performance close to fluorite say Tokina. But, this doesn't prevent chromatism completely, after all this is a complex zoom with 15-elements arranged in 13 groups. All the same, levels are low and easily correctable.
So to is light fall off wide-open at 16mm; a substantial 2.4 stops to the corners according to my testing with Imatest software, but it's not as noticeable as the figures suggest. Modern Nikon bodies remove this with out-of-camera JPEGs, though it's an important point to bear in mind when using a RAW workflow.
Care must be taken when shooting towards the sun as the large convex front is highly prone to flare. Like other modern designs the front group extends from the petal shaped hood during zooming and is more exposed at the wider-end.
With the Sun in the frame there will be the inevitable patches and even with oblique rays, you can expect dramatically lowered contrast. The propensity to flare is perhaps its weakest point as geometric distortion is low especially at mid distances and beyond. After a while it becomes obvious that this lens hasn't just been developed for a particular niche. The drawing style has an appealing aesthetic quality and out of focus elements are rendered smoothly with little of the harshness associated with zooms. Considering the broad range of potential uses the efficacy is impressive.
Lens design is all about compromise, though. The 1.75x zoom range is more modest than rivals, however, the addition of three aspherical elements; one a large (56mm) PMO and the high number of SD elements combine to make a very highly corrected lens. The large size and weight count against it to a point and some users might find it difficult to work with instinctively when switching between makes, but few can argue the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 isn't an attractive option.
Distortion. This indoor handheld high ISO shot won't easily convey the excellent micro-contrast this lens is capable of but it does show the excellent geometric correction as well as the propensity for flare (at the window, upper left) and ghosting (seen at the base of the column, lower right). Taken with a full-frame Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III.
More information, including a list of UK stockists, can be found at www.kenro.co.uk.
Tokina is distributed in the US by THK Photo, www.thkphoto.com.
Shop for the Tokina ATX-Pro 16-28mm f/2.8 FX at the following retailers:
Adorama US - $899 Nikon, Canon.
Amazon (all countries) Nikon, Canon
Warehouseexpress.com UK - £794.99 (inc VAT) Nikon, Canon
For lens hire in the US try here, and the in UK, try here (please mention us).
Manufacturer rebate available on Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8
Tokina roll out AT-X 17-35mm f/4 Pro FX for home market