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Mar 19

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First impressions: Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX 11-16mm F/2.8 ultra wide angle lens

I've been itching for a new lens for a while now, but deciding on what to buy on a limited budget is always tough. In the end, I narrowed down the choices to an ultra wide or a 70-200mm zoom. On the ultra wide end, there are many options from Nikon, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. Obviously, almost any Nikon is out of the question for me at the moment, and that left me with either the Tokina AF 11-16mm F/2.8 Pro DX, Sigma AF 10-20mm F/3.5 EX DC HSM or the Tokina AF 12-24mm F/4 AT-X Pro DX. On the 70-200mm, there isn't really much choice unless you widen your hunt for second hand glass. In the end, I narrowed down my choices to the Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX or the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX DG APO Macro HSM II. Both lenses offered adequate performance for my photographic needs at a cost that is affordable. To aid in making my choice, I asked my wife.. I asked some friends. And to help, I summarised my requirements into a table:
Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8
Price (including used) RM2400 - RM3850 RM1700 - RM2350
Portability 185mm length and 1.3kg weight: not very portable 89mm length and 560g: similar portability to my 18-70mm Nikkor
Use Very good for getting close to objects and people far away. Would be useful for candids. Specialty lens that is good for cramming alot into a frame, especially indoors.
Will it complement my photographic style? It will, but very specifically for candid photography. It will, useful for close quarters as well as for travel photography.
Anyway, as the title of this post denotes and to cut a long story short, I went for the Tokina. 😛 There are now quite a few online stores that you can purchase camera equipment here in Malaysia. As good as these online stores may be, it's still nothing like visiting a proper brick-and-mortar shop to get a fell of a product before deciding on whether or not to purchase. I wouldn't hesitate to purchase lighting equipment or batteries. But for lenses, I still suggest that you go to a shop to test it out. This is more important if you're purchasing third party lenses such as those from Sigma, Tamron or Tokina. I actually tested 3 lenses before settling on one. The first two samples I tested had front-focusing issues.  The testing process does usually take a while, and since no two cameras are exactly the same, make sure you bring along the camera which you plan to use the lens on. It helps if the shop you're intending to make the purchase from is friendly and accommodating. The one I finally purchased had minor front-focusing but not as severe as the first two. I figured I could live with it, since by F/5.6 or so, most of the frame would be in focus. So, on to my first impressions!

50mm at F/2, 1/60s, ISO500 - Lit by wireless flash and silver reflector

Unboxing The Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX comes in fairly simple packaging. The lens itself comes attached with the hood and is wrapped in plastic. It is 'encased' in a corrugated cardboard shell that keeps the lens safe during transport. The lens comes with a user manual, a warranty card, a sticker in Japanese (mine seems to have gone missing) and both front and rear lens caps. Tokina doesn't include a lens bag, which may have been useful to some.

50mm at F/2, 1/60s, ISO500 - Lit by wireless flash and silver reflector

Description The Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX has a 77mm filter thread that doesn't rotate either during focusing or zooming. In fact, all focusing and zooming is done internally with no extending extending barrel to deal with. The rear lens element does move when zooming in and out though. The front lens element is quite exposed and I would recommend either getting a filter to protect it or keep the lens hood on at all times. The zoom ring still feels a bit too damped for my liking, but I expect it to loosen up a bit with more use. The lens itself is made up of 13 lens elements in 11 groups with a 9-blade diaphragm.

90mm at F/16, 1/320s, ISO500 - Lit by wireless flash and silver reflector

Build quality When I first held the lens in my hands, I immediately was impressed with how solid the lens felt. Although almost entire plastic on the outside, it didn't feel like it. It has that same crinkle finish that Nikon lenses have. Its 560g weight probably adds to the impression of solidity. This of course isn't a weather sealed lens. It doesn't come with the rubber seal on the lens mount, so be careful if you're shooting in unpredictable weather.

90mm at F/16, 1/60s, ISO500 - Lit by wireless flash and silver reflector

Focusing There's no internal focusing motor so users of most entry-level Nikons will need to be aware of this if they plan to use it with their camera. Tokina, like Tamron uses a clutch system to switch between auto and manual focusing, which is quite convenient. Just pull the front ring toward you and you have manual focus. On my D70s, focusing is quick and slightly quieter than my Nikon 50mm F/1.8 D. Focusing from infinity to 0.3m is just 1 quarter of a turn, which explains the quick focus. Focusing is accurate thanks to the F/2.8 aperture, and in the real world, the front-focusing issue doesn't really affect the end result (at least for now anyway). Image quality In earlier reviews I've read when doing research for this lens, practically every one mentioned a chromatic aberration problem, and I can confirm this. It is particularly pronounced at the edges of the frame.  Take a look at the 300% crop (resized) of image below. Thankfully, this is easily corrected both in-camera or with software.

300% crop, notice the blue / yellow chromatic aberration

Early use and experiments of this shows the center of the images to be sharp even wide open (not pin sharp, but sharp), however the same can't be said about the corners, which are noticeably soft. However, in practical use, I don't see this as much of a problem. Vignetting is noticeable in anything but daylight, especially at 11mm, again, something totally acceptable to me. First impressions I think I will really love this lens. The photographic possibilities it opens up are exciting! I realised I was moving around more to compose a shot as this lens really forces you to look at what's in the frame and whether you want it there or not. I will post a follow-up with more images taken using the lens. Check back soon!

Permanent link to this article: http://blog.stillworx.com/2011/03/19/first-impressions-tokina-at-x-116-pro-dx-11-16mm-f2-8-ultra-wide-angle-lens/

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