While both Canon and Nikon (and all other DSLR lens makers, as far as I know) have yet to produce ONE f/2.8 ultra-wide lens for their APS-C sensor formats, Tokina has just delivered a successor to their highly popular 11-16mm f/2.8 DX lens. Ladies and gentlemen, here is the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX!



Tokina’s Unboxing Video


Initial Thoughts

Right off the bat, I want to say two things;  Firstly, I’m very, very happy that Tokina has managed to squeeze in another 4mm into this lens without making it (much) heavier!  On paper, it weighs in at 560g, an indiscernible 10 grams heavier than the previous 11-16 DX. (On my 1.5x crop sensor Nikon DSLR, it will roughly equal a 16.5-30mm full-frame zoom).

Secondly, however, I’m moderately crestfallen that this lens could mark the end of my like-the-plague avoidance of 82mm filters.  The original 11-16mm f/2.8 DX takes 77mm filters, and is already so dang sharp at 11mm, that this new lens is going to have to really blow me away before I pony up for a whole set of 82mm filters (a UV for rare use in nasty weather, a polarizer for frequent use on skies and wet things, plus 3-stop and 10-stop ND filters for water/cloud blurring capabilities at any time of day).

Actually, I would have been much more excited to finally make the jump from 77mm to 82mm, if this lens had gone in the opposite direction- a 10-16mm f/2.8, or 9-16mm f/2.8 DX!  But alas, accomplishing that would have probably forfeited front filters altogether.


Having said all this, my initial glances at images on my camera are extremely promising. This lens is sharp, sharp, sharp.  I’m using a Nikon D5300, which has crammed 24 megapixels and no AA filter into a 1.5x crop sensor, which is one of the most pixel-dense kits on the market today. Yet the Tokina 11-20mm shows every indication that it is resolving fine details effortlessly, even wide open.

My personal copy of the older 11-16mm f/2.8 DX is in Tokina’s service center right now, (after a couple years of very heavy abuse and crazy adventures!), so I haven’t had a chance to put them truly head-to-head just yet. So far though, everything is pointing to the new 11-20mm being a real stunning lens. The entire image from center to just past the rule-of-thirds area is very sharp throughout the entire focal range, and only the last few pixels in the extreme corners at 11mm have any sort of serious deterioration.

(Keep in mind, of course, that I’m testing this on a 1.5x crop sensor, so a 1.6x crop sensor might significantly improve the extreme corners! Click HERE to see a rough sample of the extreme corners on 1.5x and 1.6x sensors, at f/2.8. We’ll have to compare the two versions of this lens at a later date, especially considering that Canon just recently stepped up its Rebels to 24 megapixels, too).

Anyways, stopping down to f/4 and f/5.6 helps the corners a bit, and at f/8, things are looking flawless.  Actually, I’m pleased to report that even at f/11, where normally on such a sensor fine detail would start to get obliterated by diffraction, this lens is still just incredible! Diffraction doesn’t really start to hurt until f/16 and f/22, and even then, I’d use f/16 in a pinch.

tokina-11-20-review-slr-lounge-4 tokina-11-20-28-crop-preview(Fine-radius sharpening applied)

Does It Work On Full-Frame?

One of the questions I know I’ll get asked eventually is, “How does it look on full-frame?” So, let’s just cut right to the chase, the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 goes from “normal light falloff” to “completely black corners” between 16mm and 15mm.  Actually, at 16mm, the lack of light falloff on full-frame is downright impressive, far less than most full-frame lenses that wide!

Sharpness on full-frame is incredible between 16mm and 20mm, from the image center to just past the rule-of-thirds area.  However, from there, softness sets in pretty significantly towards the extreme corners, as you might expect from such an uncouth test, I suppose.

Stopping down to f/8 or f/11 gives pretty decent corner sharpness, but the last few pixels will always have that “stretchy” look to them.  Again, as expected for a crop-sensor lens on full-frame.  Then again, I’d argue that from 16-20mm, this crop-sensor lens would give the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II  a run for its money on full-frame, both wide open and stopped down.

Therefore, the Tokina 11-20mm isn’t just for crop-only shooters, it’s also a great lens for shooters who use both sensor sizes, especially with Nikon’s easy-access DX mode.  (I really love using Nikon’s 36 megapixel or 24 megapixel cameras in DX crop mode for general dance floor shooting where I just don’t need full-res images).

matthew-saville-havasupai-falls-star-trail-splashHavasu Falls, Grand Canyon, Moonlight
Nikon D5300, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, FotoPro C5C Tripod

monument valley sunrise long exposure splashMonument Valley Sunrise, 10-stop ND long exposure
Nikon D5300, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, FotoPro C5C Tripod

The Ultrawide Lens Competition

I know what you’re thinking: why is Matthew Saville wasting his time reviewing crop-sensor lenses, let alone testing them on full-frame, when exciting items like the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC and Canon 11-24mm f/4 L are right around the corner?

Simply put, a lens like the Tokina 11-20mm offers something that neither of these new lenses (nor the majority of other full-frame ultra-wide zooms) can offer: extremely light weight, a reasonable price, and zero-compromises sharpness.  In the full-frame world, such a lens simply doesn’t exist. (Well, see below…)

(Keep in mind, the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 DX weighs 600 g / 19.75 oz, and costs $599)

By comparison, the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 costs $1,200, and weighs more than both the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8 and the Tokina 16-28 f/2.8 (almost 2.5 lbs, ouch!).

The Canon 11-24mm f/4 L costs $3,000, is f/4, and is clearly designed for an entirely different focal range and target market anyway.

The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is also a different beast, costing $2,000 and weighing 2.2 lbs. Yes, it goes to 14mm and does so with incredible sharpness, but the price and weight still put it in a completely different category.

The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L mk2 is a bit more of a direct competitor than the Canon 11-24, but unfortunately, it is also very expensive at $1,700, yet it is such a poor performer optically that you notice its edge softening (and field curvature) even in 1080p video / timelapse footage.

Tokina’s own 16-28mm f/2.8 is the most competitively priced, at a mere $630 and if weight is no object, you’d be delighted by its sharpness.  However, anyone who is really concerned about weight will not be happy to hear that it weighs almost a pound more than its new crop-sensor sibling. Not exactly a day hike lens, let alone a High Sierra backpacking lens. Oh, and it doesn’t accept normal threaded filters.

[Read: Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 Field Review – a wedding shooters’ best ultra-wide zoom!]

tokina-11-20-review-slr-lounge-5Nikon D5300, Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8

tokina-11-20-review-slr-lounge-7Nikon D5300, Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8

F/4 Full-frame Zoom Alternatives

Of course, since full-frame sensors offer an advantage in both high ISO and shallow depth, let’s “level the playing field” a bit and compare the Tokina 11-20 against a couple full-frame f/4 zooms just to see what happens.

Both the Canon and Nikon 16-35 f/4‘s offer stabilization to make up for the fact that they’re f/4, and most shooters will be okay with this. However, both lenses cost about $1,200 and weigh 2-4 oz more, while not really offering sharper results.

In other words, assuming a ~1 stop difference in DOF and ISO, you pay twice as much and gain almost nothing by upgrading to full-frame.

Ironically, the closest full-frame lens to the crop-sensor Tokina 11-20mm is Tokina’s own 17-35mm f/4, which weighs in at a mere 600 grams and $450.  Depending on your 1.5x or 1.6x crop factor, it’s also a close match in focal range too.

tokina-11-20-review-slr-lounge-8Nikon D5300, Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, FotoPro C5C Tripod

Full Review Coming Soon!

Since we don’t have much time with the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 before WPPI gets started in Las Vegas, we’ll be putting up our full written and video reviews in a very short time! In the full review, we’ll share additional sample images, and we’ll test things like flare, sunstars, autofocus, etc.

What do you think about this newcomer to the crop-sensor market?  Will you consider buying one? Do you already own the Tokina 11-16 2.8?