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Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX Review | A One-Of-A-Kind Lens, Improved

March 19th 2015 7:40 AM

tokina-11-20-review-slr-lounge-2Purchase the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX (Nikon) from B&H for $599
Pre-Order / Purchase the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX (Canon) from B&H for $599

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.

15-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samplesTokina 11-20mm f/2.8, Nikon D5300, Hand-held
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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!

[RELATED: Tokina announces new 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro Lens]

Watch The Video Review For The Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8

04-performance-5-stars

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.

36-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples 17-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

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.

tokina-11-20-28-crop-preview 01-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

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:

02-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples 03-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples 04-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

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.

09-features-5-stars

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.

05-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samplesTokina 11-20mm @ 20mm, 16:9 crop

06-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samplesTokina 11-20mm @ 20mm, slight crop

13-design-4-stars

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.

38-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

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!

19-quality-5-stars

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.

21-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

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.

24-value-5-stars

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!

The 11-16mm on my Nikon D300, and now my Nikon D5300, was the lens that satisfied my need for ultra-wide coverage, even when I upgraded to full-frame for certain needs.

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.)

09-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

 Conclusion

33-overall-score-4.5-stars

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.

30-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

29-Tokina-11-20mm-28-lens-review-test-samples

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,
=Matt=

Purchase the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX (Nikon) from B&H for $599
Pre-Order / Purchase the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX (Canon) from B&H for $599

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

Comments [31]

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  1. Michele Wassell

    Hi Matt… thank you for the great posts as they have been very informative and helpful. I have been researching for the “right” astro lens (milky way/star trails). I have a Canon 7Dii and have been using the Canon 10-22mm lens which I really enjoy shooting wide. I have been trying to decide if I want to replace this lens with the Tokina 11-16II, Tokina 11-20 or Sigma 18-35, but am so overwhelmed with the three options – what would you suggest? I even thought that if I went with Sigma, I could get a Rokinnon 10 to have something a bit wider. Another question: with the Tokina, can you first set your focus in autofocus and then change to manual like I would on my Canon 10-22? Thank you so much for your info and time.

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  2. Joao Maia

    Hi,
    First of all, thank you for your text.

    I currently have a D5200 but I will be upgrading to a D7200 on winter.
    My lens is a Sigma 17-50 f2.8, but since I shoot a lot of landscapes I want something wider, and came across the Tokina 11-16. Since there is no difference in price, it would be de II version.
    I have been reading about the 11-20, and because there is a price difference I don’t know which to choose. I see he 20 is better with flares, but the corners are very bad compared with the 16.

    Thank you for your time.

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  3. Doug Jefford

    Thanks , I just made up my mind from the story the close is more important than the far. I’ll be keeping my Tokina 11-16 . Good write up.

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    • Mohammed Shahid Rahman

      Wonderful review. I am planning to buy 11-20mm Tokina for my D7200. I will use it for landscape and 20mm side for Wedding and general stuff. I also have Tamron 16-300 and happy with it but I need that extra 5 mm for landscape..

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  4. mike fle

    Between this one and the 12-28mm F/4, which on is sharper overall ? I don’t really need f/2.8 and I’d rather have a lens with a more normal filter thread. Thanks.

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  5. Gerald López

    Great article and video review. I’ve been doing research on the 11-16mm and I just found out there is a new 11-20mm. Is it worth it to spend the extra cash for the 11-20? Is it better as far as improved flare and CA? I currently have an 18-35 Sigma 1.8 with a 70D and I love it but now I need to add an ultra wide angle lens especially for video. So far the Tokina options seem like the best out there but now I don’t know if to go for the 11-20 or 11-16 ii. I heard the improvements from the 16 to the 20 aren’t significant but then I’ve read other comments say the opposite. Any suggestions?

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  6. Anurag Kandy

    Would this be good for a Nikon d3300? Please please answer please omfg I really want this lens

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yes, this lens is perfectly suited for a camera like the Nikon D3300! Both are extremely lightweight and compact yet both deliver extremely high quality images. For travel and other types of photography, I cannot imagine a better ultralight setup. Especially if you’re into astro-landscapes like I am, or just landscapes in general.

      Good luck!

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  7. mohammad ali ashraf khan

    Nice review, really wanted to buy this ultra wide angel for my Nikon d5300, Thanks

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  8. Jesper Ek

    I’m really getting an urge for some landscape shooting after this article.

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  9. Zdarcu Anton

    Hy
    Does anyone have both Sigma 10-10 3.5 ex dc hsm and Tokina 11-20 2.8 dx in order to compare the two?

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  10. chilium hongkong

    one more question, Matt. Would you recommend this lens over Nikon 10-24mm for astrophotography? Nikon offers an extra 1mm but this Tokina keeps f2.8 all the way.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yes, I tried using the Nikon 10-24 for astrophotography and when you combine the vignetting with the f/3.5 aperture and the generally soft corners, it’s not in the same league as the Tokina. However having said that, the Nikon is pretty darn awesome if you shoot at f/8-10 all the time…

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  11. chilium hongkong

    I just got this lens and it’s amazing! I’m thinking of getting a UV filter and a CPL for it. What would you recommend and do I need slim frames? Thanks!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Chilium,

      I don’t think slim filters are needed for this lens, especially now that it has been bumped up to 82mm. Having said that, my favorite Polarizer is slim anyways! I recommend the Sigma EX polarizer, or the WR if you’re shooting in wet conditions a lot. They’re a bit pricey, but they’re worth it. Hoya also makes an anti-static UV filter, which I think is another useful tool for anyone who is in dusty, dry conditions.

      Personally, I don’t use UV filters UNLESS I’m in really nasty conditions, so I definitely love the antistatic UV filters…

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    • chilium hongkong

      Thanks a lot Matt!

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  12. Jason Pasqua

    Great article and great pics. I’ve been looking for an affordable wide angle lens…this may be it!

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  13. Jordan Russell

    Have been pretty much set on this thing since it was first announced, just wish they’d release the thing in the UK already! Thanks for the review :)

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  14. Rob Fite

    I saw it was listed for Canon and Nikon. Do you know if a Sony A mount is the works?

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  15. Phil Bautista

    How much of a must have is this lens for an owner of the 11-16? Big enough to trade up?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Phil,

      I think that depends on how much you value that long end, versus how much you value the extreme, extreme corner sharpness at 11mm.

      If you mostly shoot journalism and general action etc. photography, then I’d say yes, the added general sharpness and the 20mm reach makes it worth it. However if you shoot astro, and/or similar things where extreme corners are important, and/or if you’re hoping to stick with 77mm filters, then I’d stick with the existing 11-16.

      Me, I’m still un-decided. I’d like to test a few more copies of the 11-20, or see a few other people’s reviews, before I make my decision.

      =Matt=

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  16. Herm Tjioe

    That’s another fine, well-thought out report I just read. AHMAZZING

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  17. Trey Mortensen

    I’ve been a big fan of the 11-16 and this sounds awesome too. The only thing I don’t like about Tokina lenses (I own the 100 Macro) is the pump action AF/MF switch. It was fun at first, but I’d rather have a switch and full time override like most other brands. Tokina’s optics are pretty awesome even though the company isn’t as big as other third party companies

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    • Matthew Saville

      I have mixed feelings about this too, Trey. Some days I like it, some days I don’t.

      I will say that for astro work, the infinity focus for stars is MUCH easier to nail perfectly than with any other Canon or Nikon lens that seems to be super finnicky about how precisely it has to be focused. With the 11-16, the 11-20, and with I think all of the Tamron ultra-wides that I’ve tested, if you just set it at the infinity mark, you’re good to go. (This depends on how cold it is, by the way, and if it’s below freezing you might have to use a slightly different point.)

      With Nikons, on the other hand, there is literally a single millimeter on the focus ring that gives maximum star sharpness, and anything even slightly off will give you far less detail on a 24 or 36 megapixel image.

      So, all in all, I’m happy with Tokina’s focusing system…

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  18. Graham Curran

    Great photos and this looks like a nice lens. Maybe it’s time to trade in my Canon 10-22mm.

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  19. Peter Hagström

    I Love the photos in this article!

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  20. Steven Pellegrino

    Excellent review! I loved the video. Salton Sea looks like an amazing place to photograph.

    I mentioned in one of the other articles that I’ve owned this lens for a couple of weeks now and have had a chance to shoot with it on half a dozen photojournalism jobs (day and night) and I agree that it’s “an amazing” lens. No, I don’t think you can say that too often. This weekend I’m going to be shooting backgrounds for composite portraits and I’m really looking forward to using this lens.

    I don’t think I’ll be taking this off of my D7100 anytime soon.

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  21. Ed Rhodes

    love the 2-seater outhouse! my grandparents used a 2-seater outhouse until 1987 when they moved into town.

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  22. Chad Whitt

    Thanks for the review. This may be my next lens.

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  23. Gurmit Saini

    great video and I am thinking of buying this with my D800.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Gurmit, keep in mind this lens is designed for crop sensors. See my initial report regarding how it works on full-frame cameras: https://www.slrlounge.com/tokina-11-20mm-f2-8-pro-dx-review-initial-thoughts/

      In short, unless you have at least one crop-sensor camera in your bag, this is not the right lens for you. Yes, I would use it on full-frame from time to time at 16-20mm, or in DX crop mode when I’m covering an event that doesn’t need all that resolution. But for serious full-frame work, you’re probably better off getting a lens like the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 if you’re on a similar budget, and also want to save weight, OR the Tokina 16-28 or the new Tamron 15-30, if you’re not on the same “weight budget” and you also want f/2.8. (Keeping in mind that the Tokina 16-28 is the ONLY f/2.8 full-frame lens that even comes close to this price range.)

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