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Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 PRO DX Initial Thoughts

By Matthew Saville on February 20th 2015

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!

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tokina-11-20-review-unboxing-slr-lounge

Tokina’s Unboxing Video

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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.

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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?

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

38 Comments

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  1. Jordan Russell

    This comments section *really* needs an edit button – after several on-the-fly edits while in a rush the above comment is so broken! Haha :)

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  2. Jordan Russell

    Have just uploaded some pics of my first two outings with this lens. Having waited months on a UK release I finally giving in and purchasing a grey import before summer and an upcomming holiday had been and gone!

    https://jordanrussell.smugmug.com/Landscape-Scenery/Pollok-House-Garden/

    https://jordanrussell.smugmug.com/Landscape-Scenery/Milarrochy-Bay-Loch-Lomond-1

    A couple of the images in the latter gallery were shot on a 10.5mm fisheye but should be easy to spot due to their ‘fishiness’ :)

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    • Jordan Russell

      Oh, and thanks once again to Matthew Saville for the write ups and responding to comments, which helped me decide on this lens!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Great images, Jordan, and thanks for posting the comparison between 11mm and the 10.5mm fisheye, I thought it was very helpful!

      I’m definitely excited to see where Tokina goes in the near future. They’ve always been a champion of ultra-wide lenses, and lens sharpness in general. :-)

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  3. mike fle

    Any tests comparing the 11-16mm with this new 11-20mm ? I have the 11-16mm and like it a lot. I don’t really need the extra 4mm at the long end nor do I like the idea of having to use 82mm. filters. If it’s noticeably better in IQ than the 11-16mm I might consider but I can’t find any direct comparisons.

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  4. mike fle

    I have the Tokina 11-16mm (first gen/no focusing motor) and like it very much. Before that I had the Sigma 10-20mm and tried the Sigma 8-16mm as well. I’d really like to see a direct comparison between the 11-16mm and 11-20mm just to see if Tokina has improved the already great performance of the lens. I might try it myself at one point. Thanks for the review.

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    • Conny Benischek

      Just to make sure. Iwant to get the 11-20mm Tokina and I have the Nikon D5300 has this Lens the Ultrasonic Drive?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yes, Conny, the new Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 does have a built-in AF motor, however it is not necessarily the exact same quality and “quietness” that you’re used to with Nikon’s “Silent Wave” (same as Canon’s Ultrasonic) AF drive. It’ll still be fast and reliable on a D5300, though!

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  5. Jordan Russell

    (Im)patiently waiting on this being released in the UK!

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  6. Steven Pellegrino

    I am thrilled you reviewed this lens because you brought it to my attention. I bought it a couple of weeks ago and over the past 24 hours have used it on 4 shoots in Ferguson.

    Unfortunately last night during a protest two police officers were shot, so since 1:00am I’ve been shooting at different locations and putting this lens through its paces. I’m shooting with two DX bodies – a D300 and a D7100. I have this on the D7100. On my D300 I have an older Nikon 35-70mm 2.8d lens and for photojournalism these two lenses work great together. I’m getting photos that I wouldn’t have been able to without this lens.

    It’s perfect with the D7100 in low light situations. With the ISO bumped up to about 1600 and keeping the lens at 2.8 I shot some remarkably clean images.

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  7. Jordan Russell

    Indeed – with f2.8 it will even be useful indoors where sometimes my 35mm f1.8 is fast enough but not wide enough :)

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  8. Jordan Russell

    As long as they haven’t done something catastrophically wrong to ruin the IQ, I’m definitely getting one of these! I procrastinated over a wide-angle lens for a long time, not knowing whether to get the good range and great value of the Sigma 10-20mm; the speed and strong IQ but short range of the Tokina 11-16mm; or the great range but slower and more expensive Nikon option. Now that is settled – the Tokina it will be :D

    Shame about the filter size, but since I’m yet to invest in any filters at least I’m not having to do it all again!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Jordan, having personally tested literally EVERY different model of crop-sensor ultrawide zoom, including Sigmas and Tamrons and Nikons and Canons, …I have to say that yes, this Tokina 11-20 is near the top of the pile. Especially considering that no other crop-sensor ultrawide even goes to f/2.8; if you compare this lens at f/4 or f/5.6 against any other, it is absolutely the winner by a very long shot, except in maybe the last few pixels of the corners at 11mm only…

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  9. Phil Bautista

    I own the 11-16/2.8 and thhe Sigma 18-35/1.8 so I’m not really in the market for this lens but I am quite curious how they compare with the 11-20/2.8.

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  10. Joram J

    I owned the 11-16mm and loved it and missing it on my 6D. Unfortunaly is wasn’t very usefull on FF.
    But it was build like a tank. And the clutch for shifting from MF to AF…. just cool.

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  11. robert s

    I was looking for a UWA a few years back. I saw the tokina 16-28. I wound up passing on it for a 2reasons.

    1-QC issues. they didnt even have any in stock for a long time. adorama told me they recalled them all to fix decentering issues.. I was on a waiting list for months and finally just went and got a used tamron 17-35 2.8-4. very nice lens.
    2-the lens is sharp in the 16mm area and less so when moving towards the 28mm fl. I prefer it the other way around.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2_H3UwXAGk
    shooting wedding, I try to avoid shooting anything wider than 24mm because it warps and stretches people who are more towards the edges. I never shoot groups with a UWA FL. I always go back and shoot at 35mm and even go to 70mm
    at times on the dance floor where its tight, I have no choice but to use an UWA but try to shoot no wider than 24mm if I dont have to. so I would prefer a lens thats sharper towards the tele end.
    3- bad flare control

    all in all Im glad I waited a few years because that tamron 15-30 looks like its everything I need. if the sharpness is there in the corners wide open on the nikons level im in. Im not a buy right away guy. I will wait ti see if any QC issues arise first.

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    • robert s

      btw, how the HELL does an apsc lens get to a point its using 82mm filter threads when it got 4mm on the tele end?

      this is just bad designing to me.

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    • Matthew Saville

      To be honest, it sounds like you should just get yourself a 24-70mm, and a 14mm prime or something. That right there is the reason I’ve never needed an UWA zoom for wedding photography. At least, not a full-frame one.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Also, I dunno, ask Sigma about their newer 10-20mm f/3.5, which was the first to have 82mm filters.

      The difference, here, is that the Tokina is absurdly sharp, sharper than most other lenses available for crop and FF.

      Also, the choice to bump to 82mm may have to do with avoiding vignetting when using thicker filters, or stacking filters, or simply the fact that more and more lenses are bumping up to 82mm anyways; Tokina may just be pre-emptively assuming that it’s the new pro standard…

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    • robert s

      I dont appreciate your condescending comments on my preference for gear. Ive been in the wedding business for many years. keep it to yourself. this is not the first time I mentioned choice of words. you have an overly excited superiority complex. careful matty

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    • Matthew Saville

      Robert, I don’t understand why you’re surprised by my comments. You said twice that you rarely, rarely shoot wider than 24mm. If this is the case, why lug around a 2.5 lb UWA zoom that costs $1200, just to capture a few shots here and there?

      I’m not trying to insult you, or anyone else; I’m genuinely curious to hear about how different types of photographers approach gear buying and other decisions… In your case, I’m truly interested in hearing your logic behind getting the Tamron, as opposed to an f/4 zoom or an f/2.8 prime.

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  12. Stan Rogers

    Just as an aside, Matt, if you are considering a buy, you might want to consider swapping that prospective UV filter for a 1A or an 81A. You have this habit, see, of hanging out where there’s like hills and stuff, and while white balance adjustments ostensibly mean that nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ no more, a near-UV cut (a 1A “Skylight” filter dips slightly into the spectrum that the camera’s own UV-cut leaves alone, but is really quite mild and probaly won’t affect white balance choices) or a very slight warming filter (81A, the weakest of the bunch, approximately the same as setting +1 Amber in-camera) can give you a lot of recording headroom in the blue channel that you might not have known you were missing. You’ll see the difference most in snow at altitude, but the effect is there any time sea level becomes a really uncomfortable jump down.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Thanks for the tip, Stan! I shoot in warm colored light more often than cold colored light, so I’d probably be better off with a 1A.

      I’m definitely planning to do a test soon of UV & similar filters, to see how they actually affect images. Maybe I’ll use it to start my “photography mythbusters” series, since everybody seems to hate filters so much…

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    • Derek Schwartz

      I love the idea of the filter shootout series. Hell, I’d pay a small fee to access that kind of premium content.

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  13. Stephen Jennings

    The Tamron 15-30 is AMAZING. Awesome buy. Personally I needed that extra 1mm (which that low is actually pretty substantial) but if you don’t NEED the 14mm the 15-30 is simply amazing, the low price tag is a bonus. I’d say it’s even better than the 14-24 for landscape because the 14-24 tends to flare a lot, the Tamron not so much.

    The Tokina for the price is good, not something I would buy personally.

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    • robert s

      ones for apsc the other FF. not comparable at all.

      not sure why there arent any legit reviews for the tamron 15-30 yet

      legit to me means full raw untouched downloads and 6 images. thats all I need to judge.
      a brick wall shoot. shot at 15mm and 30mm at 2.8/4/5.6

      flare/distortion/ca tests is nonsense and irrelevant.

      a test is not to show ones skill level. I want to see what it can resolve in the corners. shooting something with depth doesnt show it. it has to be something thats on the same focal plane to judge.

      I want to see raw files of a brick wall and nothing else. all the rest is just fluff to me and not credible.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Robert, I’m not sure you’re getting the whole gist of my article, if you’re saying that just because one lens is for APS-C and the other is for FF, they are not comparable at all.

      They may be apples and oranges, I know, however the whole point of my preview review here is that an APS-C lens like the 11-20mm offers a package that should cause anyone who thinks FF is the holy grail to seriously reconsider.

      The sharpness and focal range are very close, and yet one weighs and costs a fraction of what the other costs.

      And since I know that the sensor itself is far more important than a lens’ sharpness, rest assured that I’ll be posting a direct comparison between the image quality offered by the D750 and the D5300, at various ISO’s.

      I think, in short, the “advantage” of shooting a full-frame lens will be lost on most types of photography, and most photographers period for that matter. I know it’s a very wild claim, but the images (and prints) that I have from recent years are what give me the confidence to make it.

      =Matt=

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      Matt,

      I can not wait for the 5300/750 comparison!! I have yet to try either, but that would be an interesting evaluation.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I’ve seen reviews for the Tamron, mostly comparing to the 14-24 as that’s what Tamron said they were aiming to take down. And they did for the most part.

      The 11mm Tokina is equivalent to … what .. 16mm on a full frame? So if you were comparing the over all cost/value/image quality of for instance a d800 and a 14-24 ($5,300ish) vs a d5300 and a Tokina 11-20mm ($1,400) with roughly the same focal lengths and such the comparison makes sense.

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  14. Jason Teale

    I have the 16-28mm and I have been always impressed. I had the 12-24 mm years ago and it was my workhorse until I accidentally dropped it. At any rate, this new lens looks great. The 16-28 is a great lens but you are right about the weight and the filters.

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    • Joel Medina

      How do you think the 12mm-24mm compares to the 11-20mm?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Joel! You can check out my full review of the 11-20 here: https://www.slrlounge.com/tokina-11-20mm-f2-8-dx-review/

      In short, I think the 11-20 is a great competitor versus the 12-24 f/4. In fact now that the 12-28 f/4 exists, I can’t imagine anyone buying either of the older models, unless they find one used for a real bargain. The 12-28 is just insanely sharp throughout its entire range, as is the 11-20. It mainly just depends on what you shoot. More traditional shooters may find the 12-28 better suits their needs, while an astro-landscape shooter such as myself might find that the 11-20 is a better fit.

      Good luck!
      =Matt=

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    • Joel Medina

      I think I might just settle for Nikon’s 12-24 instead. Thanks for the review Matt!.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Unless you already own the Nikon, or have found it for a screaming deal, (under $500) in my opinion the Tokina 12-28mm f/4 is a much better investment if you’re looking for an f/4 lens. The Tokina is noticeably sharper across the board and has a bit more zoom range on the long end too. BTW I’ve shot extensively with both, I don’t just say this after looking at tests etc. on the web. ;-)

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    • Joel Medina

      Yeah, i just couldn’t wait, i just bought the 11-20mm after seeing the full review, I find it going well for street photography as well for landscapes/cityscapes.

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  15. robert s

    everyone gives at minimum 5 years warranty, and tamron 6.

    but tokina only 3 years..why?

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  16. Gurmit Saini

    Love the article and it is very informative. I have never got my hands of Tokina previous version but like to see some more sample images and how it performs. Great images!

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