Jan 24 2006

Tokina 12-24 review – the wide zoom alternative

When the digital SLR cameras with APS size sensors first appeared, most photographers were disappointed by the fact that their wide angle lenses were not wide enough anymore. Then, Nikon responded with the launch of DX lenses, of which the Nikon 12-24 DX had the same coverage as a 18-35mm on film or full frame digital cameras.

This meant the return of the wide angle zoom for APS size digital cameras. Shortly, other manufacturers follow this trend so we can now enjoy a lot of DX zooms and even some primes.

The Tokina 12-24 AT-X PRO line DX wide zoom is the reply to the Nikon 12-24mm DX wide zoom. It is available in both Nikon and Canon mounts.

I tested the Tokina 12-24/4 in Nikon mount, so all specific details in this review are about the Nikon version (no AF internal motor, etc.).

Tokina 12-24 review – Specifications:

Tokina 12-24/4.0 wideangle zoom lens

Tokina 12-24/4.0 wideangle zoom lens with lenshood

The long name of this lens is:
Tokina SD 12-24mm F4 (IF) DX AT-X PRO D
Focal Length: 12-24mm
Maximum Aperture: f/4
Construction: 13 elements in 11 groups
Minimum Focus Distance: 0.3m
Maximum Reproduction Ratio: 1:8
Number of Diaphragm Blades: 9
Picture Angle: 99° – 61°(Nikon DX format)
Aperture: 4-22
Filter Size: 77mm
Dimensions: 89.5 x 84mm
Weight: 570g

It comes with a 77mm lens cap, a rear cap and a petal shaped bayonet lens hood which can be mounted in the reversed position for transport.

I must confess that I keep it in the working position all the time, since it is faster to use and I have customized my bags accordingly.

Since it is a DX lens, it is dedicated to APS size digital cameras only, on which it will cover the same angles as an 18-35mm on a full frame camera. Between 18-24mm it will cover the full frame format but I didn’t test it for optical quality.

It incorporates 2 aspherical elements and SD – super low dispersion glass to correct the aberrations usually associated with wide angle lenses.

Competition

The first ultra wide angle zoom designed for the DX cameras was the Nikon AF 12-24mm f/4G ED-IF AF-S DX.

Then, the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X 124AF Pro DX hit the shelves and now there are also available Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6D EX DC HSM, Tamron SP 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Di-II LD Aspherical (IF).

There is another interesting Sigma, the 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG aspherical HSM which is a full frame capable lens, which was available long before the DX lenses.

For Canon reduced frame cameras with 1.6 magnification factor, there are the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM and the Sigma, Tamron and Tokina lenses mentioned above.

Tokina 12-24 review – Appearance:

The Tokina 12-24 is very well built, up to the AT-X PRO standards. The length and finnish is pretty similar to the Tokina 100 macro, but it is larger in diameter and heavier.

The distance scale indicates meters and feet. There is no depth of field scale.

The Tokina 12-24 is an IF design, so it doesn’t change length or rotate the filter thread when focusing.

When zooming, the front lens moves by a couple of mm, but this is done just below the filter thread which does not move at all. This is a very reliable design, both the hood’s bayonet and the filter thread are not mechanically linked to the optical block, allowing some abuse on the lens.

The zooming mechanism is build of metal, only the outer barrel is plastic which combine increased reliability with a reasonable weight.

Tokina 12-24 features the One Touch Focus Clutch Mechanism for fast switching from Auto focus to manual. The advantage on Nikon cameras is that the camera does not need to be switched to manual focus since the lens does not engage the focusing coupling when switched on manual focus.

The lens’ multi-coatings is multi layered of the new type, which is said to minimize the reflections from the digital sensors.

Tokina 12-24 review – In use:

The Tokina 12-24 is not a small lens but it balances well on the camera, and the weight can help minimize the vibrations when used handheld at long exposure times.

Due to the fixed F4 aperture, the image in the viewfinder is reasonably bright, which is quite useful when shooting in dark interiors or outside at night.

The AF is fast and accurate so in normal use there is no need for manual focusing, which is pretty difficult due to the large depth of field inherent to wide angles.

The Tokina 12-24 is an extremely flexible lens, covering all your wide angle needs, in a good quality zoom.

The 77mm filter thread is very welcome, since this is the standard on professional lenses on both Nikon and Canon systems. So if you already have some professional lenses like the Nikon 17-55 2.8, 28-70 2.8, 80-200 2.8 you can share the filters, namely the rather expensive circular polarizer.

To avoid vignetting at 12 mm it is best to use a slim polarizer, but if need arises you can always correct the dark corners in post processing.

Tokina 12-24 review – Performance:

The Tokina 12-24 has a very well designed optical system, and that shows when you use the lens at full aperture. The images at F4 are quite good, and from F5.6 you can use the lens for almost all applications. Top image quality is achieved around F8-F11.

You will be able to see some CA (chromatic aberration) at the edges of the frame, particularly at shorter focal lengths if you shoot tree branches against the sky, but in most real life situations the CA does not appear.

I compared the Tokina 12-24 at 20mm with my Nikon 20 2.8 and, surprisingly, I preferred the zoom to the prime.

Of course, the Tokina 12-24 is more than two times bigger and is a DX lens.

The distortion at the 12mm setting is pretty visible, but only in images with straight lines near the edges and it can be easily corrected with Panorama Tools, or easier with PTLens from Thomas Niemann.

Some even say that the Tokina’s distortion is easier to correct than the Nikon 12-24/4 DX lens.

The image at the right was not corrected at all for distortion.

The Tokina 12-24 bokeh should look great, the lens have 9 aperture blades but usually you can’t see the bokeh in the regular shots taken with a wide angle lens due to the large depth of field.

Lens kits:

Tokina 12-24/4 makes a very good companion to a 28-70/2.8 lens, the gap between 24 and 28mm being minimal. You can add a tele-zoom lens or the Tokina 100/2.8 macro can be used as a short tele.

In fact, one of my kits consists in Tokina 12-24/4, Tamron 28-75/2.8, Nikon 70-200/2.8. With this kit I can cover most of my corporate assignments, except for social events when I consider an 18-xx zoom much handier.

Back in the film days, a lot of photo-journalists used two cameras fitted with a 17-35/2.8 and an 80-200/2.8. Right now, with DX digital cameras, the Tokina 12-24/4 does replace the 17-35, but there is no substitute to the 80-200/2.8 yet.

The good news is that Tokina announced a 50-135/2.8 lens to hit the market in the summer/fall of 2006, so we will finally get the 80-200/2.8 framing back, and we will be able to make a very handy two zoom kit.

Tokina 12-24 review – Conclusion:

I have used the Tokina 12-24 on all sort of assignments, from interiors, to industrial, to social photography and it is a lens I can rely on to deliver professional results.

I constantly wonder how I did without it, having only 18mm as my widest alternative.

I shoot if from F4 in low light with people in the frame to F11 in the broad daylight and I keep getting very good results.

I do not regret buying it for a minute and I wouldn’t change it with any other alternative without serious testing, since I am already very happy with it.

Price – at 1/2 of the Nikon 12-24 for close performance, it’s quite a bargain.

Image quality – one of the best wide angle lenses you can get for a DSLR – not to mention it can zoom also.

Constant aperture – and if you really need to shoot it at F4, don’t hesitate, you’ll get that shot. And do not forget that with wide angle lenses you can get away with much longer exposures when hand holding.

Great build quality – you can expect the Tokina 12-24 to last through a good number of rough assignments.

Buying the Tokina 12-24/4

You can get the Tokina 12-24/4 at B&H, in Nikon or Canon mount.

The new model with AF motor for Nikon consumer cameras is Tokina 12-24/4 AF II.


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