Review Tokina 12-24 f/4 (IF) DX AT-X PRO

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This is the second of my series of kit reviews, written after (reasonably) extensive personal use of my own kit, using my own opinions, from months/years of use, and the occasional fact from other websites... The first review was of my Canon 300mm f/4L prime lens (see here), a very ample lens, cheap enough to be within reach of most people, but of L quality. This one concentrates on the wide angle area of my camera equipment, the Tokina 12-24 f/4 (IF) DX AT-X PRO.

There is quite a range of APS-C lenses that cover this sort of focal length, and so the market has a lot of choice, both for quality, range, aperture and cost. These include the:

  • Canon 10-22
  • Nikon 12-24 f/4

From the major manufacturers, and the:

  • Tamron 10-24
  • Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
  • Tokina 12-24 f/4
  • Sigma 10-20

From the third parties. There are also a couple of full frame lenses that need to be considered too, these are the

  • Nikon 14-24 f/2.8
  • Sigma 12-24

Now obviously that's a pretty wide range of lenses to choose from, which all have their own plus points, as well as minus points (some more than others) so if you are thinking of getting a lens in this range, then a lot of your initial choice will be down to any specific requirements. For example, if you are looking at full frame, well your decision is almost made for you (is if you are a Canon user), the Nikon 14-24 is by far the better lens (apparently one of the best in the Nikon range!) and the only reason to go for the Sigma is for the extra 2mm, or because you can't afford the astonishingly high price of the Nikon.

As for the APS-C range, it's a little more blurred in most cases. If you need the widest lens possible, then the choice is reduced to the Canon 10-22, Sigma 10-20 and the Tamron 10-24, if you need a lens for as low light as possible then you would be stupid not to go for the superb Tokina 11-16 f/2.8, and if you only have a couple of hundred to spend then the Tokina 12-24, Tamron 10-24 or Sigma 10-20 are your choices. However if your choice isn't narrowed by specific requirements then the whole range opens up, although generally the official manufacturers lenses are probably the best bet then. So, why did I pick the Tokina 12-24 f/4 over the rest of the competitors? Well first the price, I couldn't afford the official Manu. Lenses; secondly build quality, the Tokina 12-24 was the best built of the three I tried (the others were the two favourites in the Canon domain, the Canon 10-22 and the Sigma 10-20); and thirdly the image quality, overall sharpness is very similar in all three cases (shown in more technical reviews, see links at the bottom of the page for that) so there was little to choose from in that case, although the Tokina is reputed to be slightly sharper than the Sigma, but beaten by the Canon; and finally, the constant f/4, although not much (and actually beaten by the Canon at the short end) it is faster than the competition (the Tokina 11-16 wasn't released at the time), and that extra light is important to me. Anyway, on to the review proper...



Looks


The Tokina 12-24 is a nice looking lens, it is reasonably compact (84x90mm), although slightly larger than some of the competition, and the finish is apparently very similar to the one that Nikon uses on its top end lenses, which means it is very nice, and so far helped it avoid the dust catching abilities that Sigmas appear to be famed for. At the top of the lens, in the centre of the barrel, there is a basic focus guide, although no depth of field guide, just distance in ft and m, not that it is particularly useful on this lens, due to the depth of field wide angle lenses have. The distances are marked as 0.3-2m (1-7ft) and then infinity... Weight wise it is also slightly heavier than most of the APS-C competition at 570g, possibly due to the extra glass needed for the wider aperture? For those interested, the sister lens to this, the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 is apparently practically identical to the 12-24 f/4.

Mechanical Qualities


The lens is part of Tokinas AT-X Pro range, their version of the Canon L range, and as such explains some of the features here, and one of the main reasons I chose it over the competition I tested (Sigma 10-20 and the Canon 10-22). The build quality is IMO exceptional for the price point, quite a lot better than my Sigma 24-70 and giving the Canon 300mm f/4 prime a run for its money. Compared to this lens the Sigma 10-20 felt like a cheap kit lens (although it is actually a lot better than the 18-55 kit lens), and the Canon 10-22 fared not much better (although both are lighter, which does have its benefits). Neither are that badly built, although there was a lot of plastic in them, but just weren't comparable with the Tokina (this comment is relevant to the Tokina 11-16 as well, due to the almost identical build of the lens). I've expressed this opinion before, and had a few strong replies from Sigma owners, which I stood by, and I'll repeat my reply here, you really need to test them side by side before you comment, as there really is that much of a difference.

The finish, as I mentioned before, is very good, and most of the barrel is made of metal, with tough plastics used everywhere else. The zoom ring is well damped and has just the right friction, same with the focus ring. When zooming and focusing nothing visible moves, the barrel doesn't rotate or extend, but the front element does move back and forwards slightly within the barrel. This lens feels like it is built to last, and I would (probably unreasonably) almost expect it to survive some heavy drops with just some superficial scratches.

The focus system is based around a clutch system, and with past experience of Sigmas version (on the 24-70 f/2.8) I was slightly worried about this, however Tokina have done good here too. There is no AF/MF switch on the lens, just a focus ring that you pull down to change from AF/MF, almost as easy as the normal switch (the Sigma has both, and is a pain to change, if you forget one you either get no AF and no MF, or the focus ring rotates when you AF, making you fear you will damage the gears). Focus speeds are not particularly fast, but comparable with the Sigma, and TBH doesn't really matter due to the minimal use of it (due to the wide angle-ness of the lens). Like most third party lenses however it is a little noisy, but not obtrusively so in normal conditions, however if you are planning on shooting in somewhere with issues with noise (concert hall for example) then maybe the Canon or Nikon lenses are for you?.

The lens cap is another Nikon "copy", and as such means you can remove it by either pinching it at the edges or by pinching it in the central section, a definite plus over the Sigma caps (terrible!) and the Canon caps (ok, but can be a pain with a lens hood).

Optics


Optically the lens is fine to my eye, and to the technical testers (see links at bottom), there is a little fall off at the corners, like most lenses, but the centre is lovely and sharp from the get go at f/4, and doesn't really change much either through the aperture range (until you get to diffraction, which affects all lenses) or through the zoom range. Compared to the Sigma 10-20 and the Canon 10-22 there is very little in it and TBH only the most determined pixel peepers will see any difference in real life.

Tokina lenses are "renowned" for having poor CA control, however I have seen NO ISSUE with my copy of the lens, in fact I don't think I have seen any in normal conditions, only a small amount in really contrasty scenes (midday, with dark foreground and blown out skies), which I don't think I bothered correcting. IME it controls Chromatic Aberrations better than the Sigma 24-70, the Canon 18-55 kit and the 75-300 IS.

Distortion is obviously an issue with this lens, as with all wide angle lenses. According to Photozone.de however this lens controls these very well for its focal length, and my experience has shown that once past the extreme wide angle (around 15-16mm) distortion is negligible (practically perfect at 24mm according to Photozone). Distortion is also very even, which means it is very easy to remove in post processing if you wish (however I quite like wide angle distortions, and it can be used creatively for nice effects). Other lenses in this class don't have this luxury; the Sigma 10-20 being the main culprit. It has a lot more distortion, especially at the shorter end, however a lot of that can be put down to the more extreme wide angle of that lens, what can't be excused (according to Ken Rockwell) is the wavy nature of this distortion, which means it is almost impossible to correct properly.


Photo example: 20mm, f/9, ISO200, 30s


Example image of what this lens can do: 12mm, f/8, ISO200, 15s

Summary

For those looking for a good all round wide angle lens the Tokina is IMO the second best bet of the third party lenses (and better than the Canon in some cases), it is faster than most, better built than most and has a nice range (although not as wide as the Sigma, Canon and Tamron). The only downside of the build quality is the extra weight and size, however it is pretty minimal and unless you are really into reducing weight in the rest of your kit a bit of a non issue. For the Canon scope the only other lens you should be contemplating is the Tokina 11-16 (the best third party lens!), which is faster, slightly wider (although some joke that it should be sold as a prime due to the minimal zoom range!) and is widely regarded as the sharpest lens in the range. Those in the Nikon camp could also find it is sharper than the 12-24 as well. I myself plan to sell my 12-24 when I have enough money and replace it with the 11-16 (which is around £100-£200 more) as the extra stop in speed could be really beneficial ("star trails" and indoor shooting would benefit massively from an f/2.8 lens this wide, and there are no other choices I know of for APS-C cameras with the same width and aperture). The lens comes with a lens hood, however I didn't receive one with mine, and sourcing a replacement has met a stone wall. What it doesn't come with is a lens case, and so I bought a Lowepro 1W lens case to store it in, which is the closest fit I could find (it is a little big, but not enough to worry about).

Further Reading

For more technical details these sites are very good:

Photozone Tokina 12-24 f/4 review
 
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