Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX Review | A One-Of-A-Kind Lens, Improved
Tokina’s ultra-wide lenses have a great track record of being killer alternatives to name-brand options. This became clear the day they delivered the first Tokina DX ultra-wide lens, the 12-24mm f/4 DX. Then came the faster, wider 11-16mm f/2.8 DX, and they simply couldn’t manufacture them fast enough. Fast forward a few years, and the 11-16mm got a soft refresh (with a built-in AF motor too, for Nikon shooters), while the now-legendary 12-24mm f/4 DX got a fantastic successor: the 12-28mm f/4 DX. On the full-frame front, Tokina also wowed us similarly with f/4 and f/2.8 ultra-wide zooms that held their own quite well against any name-brand option.
Therefore, Tokina’s 11-20mm f/2.8 DX should come as no surprise, just like its incredible performance should come as no surprise.
Spoiler Alert: If you’ve read our initial report on the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, found here, then you already know that things are looking very positive for this lens. For the most part, that initial impression stands firm – this lens is a stellar performer, and a worthy update to the 11-16mm.
We have a full video review, and a written review below. Enjoy!
Watch The Video Review For The Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8
For lenses, we mainly focus on optical quality when it comes to the “Performance” category. However, it is also worth nothing the autofocus performance too, so before we talk about pixel-peeping, I’ll say that the Tokina 11-20mm autofocused as expected for an ultra-wide lens: accurately, reliably, but not necessarily lightning fast. If it were a 24-70 or 70-200, I might knock half a star off for it not being as snappy and responsive as a Canon or Nikon (just like how most Tamrons and Sigmas are ever-so-slightly slower, too), but since this is an ultra-wide lens, I think it’s just fine.
Okay, about the images! They’re incredible. They’re incredible from 11-20mm, from the dead-center to well past the rule-of-thirds area, and from f/2.8 to f/8 to f/16.
I tested this lens on a Nikon D5300, a 24 megapixel sensor with no AA filter, which is pretty much the most detail-hungry sensor you could possibly attach to this lens. In other words, anyone using a 12-18 megapixel sensor that does have an AA filter, prepare to be floored!
But a lens’ optical performance is not just about sharpness. As you saw in the video, the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 can also brag about very low flare characteristics (the bad kind of flare, the nasty little dots), as well as decently low, simple-to-correct distortion. Actually to be honest, I’ve never seen an ultra-wide lens with such a perfectly even curvature to its distortion! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, google “wide angle lens mustache distortion” and read up.
Chromatic aberration is present in the extreme corners, but low enough that Adobe’s killer CA removal system does remove it quite nicely. In normal daylight or low-light conditions there is no fringing present, however, in astrophotography conditions there may be a little bit of haze present outside the center of the frame. Still, stars form very sharp points to well past the rule-of-thirds area, and coma “wings” are small and chunky which is a good thing in my book.
Just about the only complaint I have is that at (11-12mm only) the extreme, extreme corners (especially on the slightly more demanding 1.5x crop sensor) have a bit more of a sharp decline in overall sharpness, compared to the original 11-16mm. This is probably less of an issue for folks with the 1.6x crop format, and practically a non-issue for anyone shooting 16:9 video or timelapse footage. But for still imagery shot wide open, the extreme, extreme corners do fall apart until about f/5.6.
There are literally just a few pixels between this incredibly sharp image area, and the extreme corners that start to fall apart. For most photographers, no big deal. Astro-landscape shooters, however, might find this to be a bit of bummer.
Above are 100% crops, but below I’ve included a 100% crop (lower right, see the video) that is re-sized by 50%, so you can see just how close perfect sharpness gets to the edges:
As I mentioned above, by f/5.6, the corners are looking pretty stellar! Unfortunately, I was not able to get my own personal copy of the 11-16mm f/2.8 returned to me in time to do a direct comparison. However, I’ve stared at so many thousand images from that lens in these exact conditions, that I’m pretty confident in my verdict. Please comment below if you have any specific questions!
I’d say the optical performance is on par with most of the other class-leading ultra-wide options out there, both crop-sensor and full-frame. And it certainly leaves all other third-party options far, far behind.
As I mentioned in my reviews of the Nikon 20mm f/1.8 G and Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye, a lens’ “Features” rating usually depends on how useful and versatile it is. Through no fault of its own, unfortunately, the more specialized a lens gets, the more it might lose a star for features (usually though, a more specialized lens should gain a star for offering a feature that no other lens can, so they might cancel themselves out)!
Suffice it to say that the Tokina 11-20mm is “more of a good thing” in the features department. It’s got more zoom. It’s also got a built-in AF motor for Nikon beginner DSLR users. It’s got f/2.8, and is amazingly sharp. Just about the only things we can complain about that might be considered features, actually fall into the “Design” category. So, let’s move right along!
First, one question that I’d like to address before we move on is this: Does the 11-20mm have enough “features” for someone who already owns the 11-16mm to want to upgrade? If you own the oldest Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, you already own one of the sharpest crop-sensor lenses on the market, and the only f/2.8 ultra-wide zoom available for most, if not all, 1.5x and 1.6x DSLR systems. So, just ask yourself, do you want 4mm on the long end? Do you want even more sharpness through the whole zoom range and at every aperture, except for the last few pixels of extreme corners wide open and at 11mm?
I’ll be the first to admit that many existing 11-16 owners may opt to simply keep using their existing lens. I love mine, that’s for sure! But if you’re so inclined, or especially if you don’t already own an ultra-wide lens for your crop-sensor camera, this lens is totally worth it.
Tokina 11-20mm @ 20mm, 16:9 crop
Tokina 11-20mm @ 20mm, slight crop
I’ll just say it: I don’t want to buy 82mm filters. I would have been more willing to bite the 82mm bullet if this lens had been a 10-16mm f/2.8 or 9-16mm f/2.8 instead of 11-20mm, or if it had been able to hit 11-24mm without any sharpness lost in the extreme corners at 11mm.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, so I do feel inclined to knock a star off. If you already own one of the new 24-XX or other zooms that already made the jump to 82mm filters, then maybe this isn’t an issue for you. But for most crop-sensor shooters to whom size and weight and cost are always a factor, I suspect it is an issue.
The only other nit-pick I have about this lens’ design is the rear element, as seen on a Nikon mount. Nikon has a problem with rear element glass protruding a bit too far sometimes, and they usually solve this problem by adding a small protective bump or tab to save the lens from complete disaster if you were to (stupidly) put the lens down on a rough surface without the rear lens cap attached. The 11-20mm just doesn’t have this protection, and if you zoom the lens just right, that rear element will stick out just enough to make me squirm. Most careful, not-so-reckless photographers won’t see this as a problem, but if you’re the kind of guy who just tosses stuff in a camera bag, or needs to set a lens down on a rock once in a blue moon, please beware!
Quality has always been one of Tokina’s strengths. Almost every one of their ultra-wide lenses has proven to be a rock-solid piece of kit that the average photographer will find very difficult to harm, let alone destroy.
Tokina has historically used a bit more metal in all their lens designs than any other third party, and even more than Nikon or Canon in some cases.
The awesome thing is, the Tokina 11-20mm is already so lightweight and compact, that size / weight still aren’t a problem.
Build quality is one thing; what about quality control?
While I do feel inclined to perform additional testing of an off-the-shelf Canon version of this lens, to see if the extreme corners are any sharper (maybe I had a slightly de-centered copy), I think that quality control with Tokina has been, well, no worse than any other maker’s generally lower modern standards (compared to say, the 80’s when everything was made of metal, and lasted forever). QC is certainly better than an alternative such as Rokinon, and I’ve heard less chatter about AF woes from Tokina than I have from Sigma or Tamron, so that’s good. But like I said, I’ve only tested one copy of the 11-20 so far.
When a lens offers sharpness on par with others costing 2-3 times as much, and trounces anything even remotely in a similar price range, how can you not give it five stars for value?
The Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX is a poster child for everything that is good about crop sensors, and in my opinion, even offers a pretty compelling reason to stay with the DX crop even if you’ve been eyeing a full-frame upgrade!
I know that a dual-format sensor system isn’t for everybody, nor are the budget / weight considerations as restricted. But owning both a crop and full-frame setup really works for me as an astro-landscape shooter who spends a lot of time traveling light. So, I highly recommend it to anyone who is on a budget and/or worried about saving weight & space in their bag. (I’ll get to who else might be interested in this lens, in the conclusion section below.)
But, who should buy the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX? What is this lens’ most direct competition? If you haven’t already, read my initial thoughts on this lens, do so by clicking HERE. In short, I can’t recommend any other crop-sensor lens more than this one. If you are on a super-duper tight budget, a brand new mk1 (no AF motor on Nikon) Tokina 11-16mm is still in stock, and at $418, would save you almost a couple hundred bucks. If you ask me, AF and the extra 4mm are worth it though.
If you really want more zoom ranage on the long end, and impossibly flawless extreme corner sharpness, then maybe the existing Tokina 12-28mm f/4 DX is a better choice, but personally the difference between 11mm and 12mm is more important than the difference between 20mm and 28mm. That, plus the f/2.8 vs f/4 thing. ;-)
Canon’s aged 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 EF-S is a tad wider and longer, but not nearly as sharp.
Nikon’s new-ish 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 DX is also a tad wider and longer, but $200 more expensive, and not nearly as sharp unless stopped down all the way to f/7-10.
With f/2.8 at your disposal and the ever-increasing image quality coming from crop sensors these days (especially from the high ISO of cameras like the Canon 7D mk2, or the dynamic range of cameras like the Nikon D5300), you must really ask yourself what is the best path for you.
In my opinion, full frame is no longer the only acceptable tool for a serious photographer, upgrading is no longer an inevitable progression like it was thought to be just ~5 years ago.
So, pick the system that is right for you, and pick the lenses that get the job done well. The Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 is is absolutely ready for almost any job.
Thanks for reading / watching and take care,