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Update: Tokina 11-16 f2.8 Lens Test vs Nikkor 12-24 vs Sigma 10-20

IntegrityPhotos

Deerfield, US
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IntegrityPhotos Registered since 26th Apr 2006
Tue 06-May-08 08:19 AM | edited Wed 07-May-08 06:09 PM by IntegrityPhotos

Update note 5-7-08: After discussion about the problems with this particular Tokina lens sample, my supplier is sending a replacement for further comparison with the Nikkor and Sigma evaluation results. I'll post these as soon as they are available. In the meantime, I'll continue to monitor this post and answer any questions regarding these specific results.

Original Post Text:
After an extensive hands on test of this lens in comparison with the Nikkor 12-24 and Sigma 10-20, I've reluctantly returned it. Whether due to faulty production processes, or other defects, it simply didn't perform well in several areas, including poor resolution and ghosting at f2.8 to f4, erratic AF operation, and substantial exposure variance throughout the focal lengths. Since many of the design characteristics of this lens indicate the potential for a strong performance in the problem areas listed above, there's hope that Tokina will address whatever caused this sample's problems and the future issues of the lens will eventually provide good results. An additional complete evaluation can be found at this following link, which will also eventually include extensive images of the complete test chart results in my gallery there. I'll also post some similar images to my Nikonians gallery, but they may be limited by the size restrictions. Here's the link:

http://www.prophotohome.com/forum/reviewpost/showproduct.php?product=133

And here's the text of my evaluation, with six supporting images. (Note: The lenses pictured are from left to right, the Nikkor 17-35 f2.8 AFS, the Nikkor 12-24 f4 AFS, the Tokina 11-16 f2.8 AF and the Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6 HSM. The cropped images of the test chart are top to bottom, Tokina 11mm f4, Sigma 11mm f4 and Nikkor 12-24 at 12mm f4. The last image is an example of the complete test chart including the GTMB ColorChecker from the Tokina test at 11mm and f2.8.) Please be prepared for a lengthy article. Thanks for reading!

Tokina 11-16 f2.8 Lens Test vs Nikon 12-24 vs Sigma 10-20 as of 5-6-08

The new Tokina AT-X Pro DX 11-16mm f2.8 Aspherical Lens has produced much anticipation among Nikon DX sensor DSLR body users, and I was one of them. To satisfy my interest in how this wide angle focal range would compare to its competitors, I’ve been eager to evaluate them side by side. Fortunately, through my favorite supplier's usual excellent service, I have just received my Tokina 11-16 lens and am now able to do so. The following are the results of this evaluation. (As a disclaimer, there was/is no “quid pro quo” involved in this or any other equipment review/evaluation of mine. I purchase all equipment for my own use and am under no obligation to any brand, manufacturer, or supplier. The following review is solely my personal opinion and perspective, based on my own photographic experience and/or use of included equipment.)

As this review begins, it’s important to clarify what it is and isn’t. The Nikon and Sigma lenses have been fully and thoroughly vetted by a number of respected pro photographers, including my two favorites, Thom Hogan and Bjorn Rorslett. Needless to say, I am not attempting to compare this review to theirs, and in fact have benefited greatly from their evaluations of these two lenses and a variety of other equipment. While the performance of these will be evaluated relative to the Tokina 11-16, that’s not the purpose of this writing, and will not include any specifications or technical lens data on any lenses, except when relevant to observable performance issues. The primary goal is to evaluate the sample of this Tokina lens “in hand”, and do so in a manner that provides a practical comparative evaluation that will benefit those interested in this DX focal range. For lens specifications and technical information, please visit the respective company websites. For more extensive reviews of the Nikkor and Sigma lenses, and others, visit these websites:

http://www.naturfotograf.com/index2_PC.html

http://www.bythom.com/nikon.htm

https://www.nikonians.org/nikon/nikkor-12-24mm/index.html

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/digital-wide-zooms/comparison.htm

Now to the evaluation:

LENSES INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW (alphabetically):
Nikkor AF-S 12-24mm f/4 G IF-ED AF DX Lens
Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC Lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Aspherical AT-X 116 Pro DX Lens

EQUIPMENT USED:
The equipment used for this evaluation includes the Nikon D300, D200, SU-800, SB-800, Gitzo 1228 CF Tripod, Arca Swiss B1 Ballhead, various RRS Arca Swiss style L-Plates and clamps, an Expodisc, as well a various other miscellaneous equipment. The lens test chart is composed of a 60” x 40” foam board for DX sensor perspective, marked from the center to right edge in 1mm proportional increments. It includes a Gretag MacBeth color chart and Norman Koran 2003 lens test charts as outlined in his website located here:

http://www.normankoren.com/Tutorials/MTF5.html#using

TESTING PROCEDURES:
The lenses were tested from their minimum focal length through 16mm only, since this review’s main objective is to evaluate the Tokina lens, which has a maximum focal length of 16mm. They were also tested from their widest aperture through f/11 only, since lens diffraction beyond f/11 negatively impacts the results with the two DSLR bodies used. All lenses were custom white balanced prior to the test chart and brick house sequences, using the Expodisc. (Interestingly, the difference between the Custom WB and Auto WB on the D300 with flash was very minor.) Auto WB was used on any other images. When photographing the test chart, and in other tripod situations, the Nikon body used was set to Mirror Lockup and triggered by a remote release. The DSLRs were leveled with a shoe mount bubble level, and measurements taken to confirm proper centering and perpendicular lens orientation to the test chart. Also, the chart was lighted by both ambient daylight and by two SB-800, one on either side, with diffusers aimed into umbrellas and triggered with an SU-800 set to TTL with -1 EV compensation. Finally, the outside sequence was photographed during overcast conditions with light remaining consistently flat to minimize exposure differences.

FACTORS EVALUATED:
1) Lens construction and operation/handling
2) Auto Focus/Manual Focus operation/performance
3) Resolution both center and edges
4) Exposure variance/Light falloff
5) Color rendering per color chart
6) Custom WB and other settings
7) Color contrast and accuracy
8) Chromatic Aberration and Flare

EVALUATION RESULTS:

1) Lens construction and operation/handling:

All three lenses are well constructed and feel solid in handling. The Tokina is heavier than the other two, with more metal. But both the Nikon and Sigma are well built, with the Nikon taller like the Tokina, and slightly thinner and lighter than the Sigma, which is the shortest. The Tokina and Nikon include indented front caps while the Sigma’s does not, being thinner and more difficult to remove even from the sides. The Sigma also has a finicky rear cap that only mounts from one position, instead of from three positions as do the other two. Finally, the lens hoods on the Tokina and Nikon slip easily into place and lock securely with a click, while the Sigma is difficult to mount properly, constantly being mis-aligned, and, when it is in place, is very tight fitting. Other than these complaints, all these components work as intended.

As for general operation and handling, all three mount quickly, easily, and securely to the DSLR body. All are “G” designs with no aperture ring on the lens, and have IF elements with no filter ring movement during focus. However, during zooming, all three move somewhat, with the Tokina and Nikkor doing so within the confines of the lens barrel, and the Sigma extending the front ring slightly. As for zoom and focus ring placement on the barrel, while the Nikon places the focus ring to the rear at the mount with the zoom ring to the front, the Tokina and Sigma use the more traditional reverse orientation. (The Sigma’s focus ring rotates in an opposite direction to the other two.) Either ring orientation/rotation direction works, and it’s just a matter of what feels best. If you’re used to the older Nikkor zooms, the traditional front focus/rear zoom of the Sigma and Tokina will feel more natural, except for the focus direction on the Sigma. But since many newer Nikkors now use the reversed ring position, you may already be familiar with the feel of this Nikkor lens ring placement.

2) Auto Focus/Manual Focus operation/performance:

The Tokina AF is driven by the DSLR AF motor, as opposed to the Nikkor and Sigma, and this lens isn’t compatible with the D40 and similar bodies. Tokina also takes a totally different approach to the AF/Manual switching by implementing it into the focus ring. To switch from AF to manual, you pull the focus ring toward the body, and visa versa. Unfortunately, there is no manual override during AF operation. It’s either in AF mode or Manual mode. Also, with this sample, the focus ring didn’t always positively active AF operation. Even when it seemed to click into place, AF was occasionally less than accurate. It sometimes took several cycles before it started to AF properly, and on one occasion it took dismounting and remounting the lens to return it to proper operation. (Just in case, the lens contacts were cleaned, with no change.) And of major concern was that this lens also experienced difficulty focusing at certain apertures, as will be discussed later. This created a real problem with its overall performance and ultimately its desirability.

The Sigma on the other hand, doesn’t include a separate AF/Manual focus switch on the lens barrel for Nikon bodies, and also won’t allow manual override with the focus ring during AF operation. In fact, it constantly “fights with you” if you try to do so, jerking the lens back to the predetermined AF position. The only way to operate this lens manually is to change the focus mode to manual or “M” via the body’s front selector switch, which precludes the more convenient AF override with manual lens adjustment/fine tuning via the lens focus ring as on the Nikkor. On the positive side, this lens incorporates an internal HS motor which is similar to the Nikkor’s AFS AF motor, with AF quickly and accurately acquired.

The Nikkor implements AFS high speed operation, which is compatible with the D40 and similar bodies, and uses a AF/Manual or Manual two position switch on the lens barrel, which is different than the other two lenses, but similar to most Nikkor designs. It also allows for manual override during AF operation, with the focus ring easily switching the lens to manual focus mode as you rotate it with the AF activated. AF was always accurate and snapped into place, and MF was accurate and easy to implement.

3) Resolution both center and edges:

As the test chart examples reveal, all three lenses exhibit very good resolution at the center at f/5.6 and above. However, it’s at the edges and the extreme wide aperture that problems arise with two of them, the Sigma for edge resolution, and the Tokina for f/2.8 and f/4 apertures.

The Tokina’s lens resolution is very poor at certain settings. It’s possible the results are unique to this certain sample, but I’m unable to determine that possibility. The overall behavior was erratic depending on the lens settings, but consistent with these results throughout the testing process. Of the discrepancies, the worst performance occurred at f/2.8 to f/4 for both 11mm and 16mm, the tested focal lengths. The results may have been exacerbated by exposure variances, which will be discussed next. Suffice it to say that the images were definitely not focused properly, and show elements of ghosting or double imaging. It’s difficult to define this without seeing the images, some of which will be posted accordingly.

The Sigma is very good in the center focus at the focal lengths of 11mm and 16mm at f/4 and improved to excellent by f/8. But as mentioned by several reviewers, its edge sharpness doesn’t hold up as well and is consistently of slightly lower quality, but not drastically so. Overall, it has very good to excellent resolution in much of the image area.

The Nikkor is the most consistent of these three lenses, with center sharpness coming in as excellent throughout, except for very good at f4 and 12mm. The edges also exhibited consistently fine behavior, with only minimal drop in resolution, even at f/4 for 12mm, where I still rank it as good to very good. Overall there is very little variance in the excellent resolution for this lens throughout it’s tested range of 12-16mm and f/4-f/11.

4) Exposure variance:

At smaller apertures, all three lenses expose about 1/3 stop within each other for the same scene and lighting. At wider apertures, and depending on the focal length, the Tokina and Sigma exhibit more variance, with the Nikkor remaining stable throughout its range. (Note: Light falloff from center to corners was not part of this evaluation.) Here are the specifics:

The Tokina exhibits severe exposure variance from f2.8 through f11, the minimum aperture tested, at 11mm, the shortest focal length. There’s an immediate falloff of about -.5EV then it continues to about -7EV to -1.0EV, depending on the overall scene. At 16mm, the maximum focal length, there is much less total scene light falloff. But overall, the exposure varies widely from scene to scene, depending on the focal length and the aperture.

The Sigma exhibits some scene light falloff from f4 to f5.6, and then stabilizes to a more consistent level for apertures smaller than f5.6, at the 11mm focal length,. It exhibit stable exposure throughout its aperture range at the 16mm focal length.

The Nikkor starts out with less exposure than the other two lenses at wider apertures, but remains stable throughout its aperture and focal length ranges, while the other two “catch up” by lowering the exposure as the aperture becomes smaller. Its consistency is excellent.

5) Color rendering per color chart:

There are slight variations among the three lenses in their rendering of the Gretag MacBeth Color Checker Chart, but these are minimal. The most difficult for all to render is the cyan square, directly above the black square in the lower right corner. They all tend to exhibit a bit more blue than is required, to varying degrees. Other than that, they show reasonable accuracy. (For an example of the Tokina Color Chart results, see the original product posting for a sample image.)

6) Custom WB and other settings:

Both the Nikkor and Sigma lenses were able to achieve Custom White Balance settings on the first attempt throughout their aperture ranges tested. However, the Tokina wasn’t able to do so at f11 in spite of repeated attempts, no matter the focal length. It was able to do so easily at maximum aperture. Also, all seemed to perform well with other WB settings, including Auto WB, which produced a result very close to the custom setting achieved with the Expodisc. The only other negative influence with results came from the erratic exposure problems by the Tokina lens. Whether this was due to a faulty product couldn’t be determined, but it was disconcerting based on the anticipated positive performance this lens had in the media.

7) Color contrast and accuracy:

The Nikkor exhibited slightly stronger contrast given the same scene exposure. But again, the predominant difference in these lenses regarding contrast and accuracy was dependent on exposure variance. Since the Nikkor was consistent throughout its range, it was the easiest to “set and forget”. The Sigma required some thought to achieve the same results when using maximum apertures, and at minimum focal lengths, the Tokina required constant adjustment to achieve the same results, although it was more consistent at longer focal lengths.

8) Chromatic Aberration and Flare:

As other reviewers have determined, the Sigma performs very well when it comes to chromatic aberrations. The surprise was how well the Nikkor also performed in this regard, showing very little CA, essentially the same amount as the Sigma. The Tokina was reasonably well controlled with regard to CA in most situations as well, but showed slightly more effect than either of the others. It also had more problems with flare, though not to a great extent in my limited observations. The Nikkor seemed to handle flare the best, but this wasn’t tested extensively. For flare results, and other details on wave distortion, corner light falloff and other particulars, please refer to other reviewers. (Note: The D200 was used for evaluating CA, since the D300 processing of Jpegs includes CA correction, which is quite effective. Image quality was set to RAW + Jpeg Basic.)

Conclusion:

Unfortunately, I was seriously disappointed with the performance of the Tokina lens. Its design seems perfect to minimize the problems other Tokina’s have exhibited, such as CA and flare. And to this extent, it seems to perform better than other designs, based on my readings, not personal testing. However, the performance in the primary area of lens resolution, particularly at a wide open aperture of f2.8 to f4, my primary reason for considering this lens, was a real “bummer”. Whether due to faulty production, or other defect, the results wide open are soft, and exhibit severe ghosting. Other distortion, particularly CA, is evident along the edges, even including low contrast area differences. This coupled with the erratic AF behavior created a “no go” appraisal for this lens. It has been returned.

On the positive side, this test confirmed other reviewer’s positive remarks regarding the comparative results between the Nikkor and the Sigma wide angle zoom lenses. They both perform very well optically, with comparable results in color rendering, contrast (at most settings), CA, AF operation, and construction. While the Sigma has an advantage in wider focal range, and more compact size, the Nikkor excels with better resolution, not only in the center, but even more so at the edges.

(See the attached cropped images of the Koran Lens Test Chart in the initial product posting. These are crops of the one Koran test chart strip located in the left lower center of the complete test chart, which is shown in the image on the bottom. As mentioned above, the top image of the crops of the Koran chart is the Tokina, the next is the Sigma and the third is the Nikkor. All are at 11/12mm and at f4 aperture. In the Nikkor image crop, you can still make out the web site listing and Norman Koran’s name, while with the Sigma image it’s more difficult, and in the Tokina it’s essentially illegible. Once at f5.6 and above, the three lenses show similar center resolution results.)

The Nikkor also performs better than all three lenses, including the Sigma, with consistent exposure throughout its aperture and focal length ranges, has a substantially better manual focusing system with immediate AF override, as well as positive manual focus switching on the lens barrel. This avoids confusion, particularly with other lenses, that may occur with the Sigma when the focus mode switch needs to be returned to the AF-S or AF-C position after manual focusing. And finally, although easily remedied, the Nikkor has better lens caps included, as it should for it’s substantially greater price. But for me, all these performance positives and ergonomic nuances add up. My choice is the Nikkor, in spite of the price difference.


First two images left to right: Nikkor 17-35 f2.8, Nikkor 12-24, Tokina 11-16, Sigma 10-20

Click on image to view larger version


Click on image to view larger version


Third image: Tokina 11-16 at 11mm and f4

Click on image to view larger version


Forth image: Sigma 10-20 at 11mm and f4

Click on image to view larger version


Fifth image: Nikkor 12-24 at 12mm and f4

Click on image to view larger version


Sixth image: Tokina 11-16 full test chart at 11mm and f2.8

Click on image to view larger version


Seventh image: Tokina 11-16 full test chart at 16mm and f2.8

Click on image to view larger version


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OldPhotos
"If everyone possesses some measure of this intangible quality called creativity, photography is unprecedented as an outlet for its expression." - Ansel Adams

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