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Tokina 14-20mm f/2 Review | An Even More Impressive F/2 Zoom?

By Matthew Saville on July 7th 2016

Tokina has joined the exclusive club of faster-than-2.8 zooms, and the results are just what you expected from the company with a long track record for making great ultra-wide lenses.

The Tokina 14-20mm f/2 DX is an APS-C zoom lens that delivers approximately 21-30mm on Nikon’s 1.5x crop DX bodies, or 22-32mm on Canon’s EF-S 1.6x crop bodies. As such, this makes it the widest zoom available with such a fast aperture, on APS-C or full-frame cameras.

Tokina 14-20mm f/2.0 dx video review

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Filming timelapse in the mountains east of Los Angeles, CA

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A 2-image panoramic image created at 14mm

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100% crop, f/2 extreme corner (faint coma and softening visible)

The 14-20mm f/2 joins a family of crop-sensor and full-frame ultra-wide zooms from Tokina that has been renowned for its sharpness. Our review of the impressive 11-20mm f/2.8 DX can be found here, and our review of the older but similarly legendary 16-28mm f/2.8 (full-frame) is here. So, just how well did the 14-20mm f/2 perform?

[RELATED: SHOWDOWN: CANON 16-35MM F/2.8 II VS TOKINA 16-28MM F/2.8]

Initial Thoughts On The Tokina 14-20mm f/2 DX

Right out of the box, the lens feels hefty. Both optically and mechanically, they’re definitely not cutting any corners. I immediately had high hopes that the final sharpness tests would blow me away.

It’s a dedicated crop-sensor lens that costs nearly $900 though, so it really does need to be impressive! For $900 you could get the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art, or you could even get the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art and have a few dollars left over. Lastly, Sigma’s 18-35mm f/1.8 is a well-established option that sometimes can be found for as little as $600.

Does it beat these lenses? If you’re a nightscape shooter, I’d say yes. If you’re a different type of specialist, I’d say it depends on your particular need, but the 14-20 is still an impressive lens worth considering.

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20mm, f/2 (“Clutter” bokeh is tough to shoot; The 14-20 handles it well!)

Does The Tokina 14-20mm f/2 Work On Full-Frame?

Many who are reading this may have already “upgraded” to full-frame, so there are some questions to address:

Does this lens work on full-frame? Yes! Well, sort of. I tested the Tokina 14-20mm f/2 on my Nikon D750 and discovered that unfortunately, when shooting full-frame, there is noticeable vignetting and total loss of image detail in the extreme corners, even at 20mm.

However, here’s the good news! In 1.2x crop mode, something which most full-frame Nikons have, you can shoot with almost no hard-edge vignetting right down to 16mm (equivalent to 18mm full-frame). Sharpness is compromised in the extreme corners when shooting wide open at f/2, however, a timelapse shooter or videographer who crops even further to 16:9 and only needs 1080p or 4K resolution, might be very happy with the results on full-frame all the way down to 15-16mm. Or, a stopped-down landscape photographer will find that at f/11 on full-frame you can also shoot at 15mm!

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Nikon full-frame in 1.2x crop mode, f/2 sample vignetting

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Nikon full-frame in 1.2x crop mode, f/11 sample corner sharpness

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Nikon full-frame in 1.2x crop mode, f/11 sample corner sharpness

Either way, this effectively gives  you an even wider perspective than 14mm could on 1.5x crop, let alone 1.6x! Therefore, the lens is an interesting option for any speed freaks out there who are looking for the next big wide-and-fast fix, even if they’re already shooting full-frame.

(Yes, I know that most full-frame shooters ought to just buy a dedicated full-frame f/2.8 zoom; I’m just posting these results for the geeky crowd who are interested.)

Why Buy A Dedicated Crop-Sensor Lens If Full-Frame Is An Inevitable Future?

In my opinion it is incorrect to think that all photographers strictly adhere to the “once you go full-frame, you never go back” philosophy. For some types of photographer this may be true, but not for all.

Simply put, any photographer who needs more than one camera, whether for action sports, wedding photojournalism, or nightscape timelapses, may be extremely interested in a crop-sensor camera (like the Nikon D500) as a 2nd camera, or even a primary. Even if they already own a full-frame body, or were planning to upgrade soon!

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Tokina 14-20mm @ 20mm, f/2, full-frame in 1.2x crop mode

As regular readers will know, I am both a full-time wedding photographer and an avid astro-landscape & outdoor photography. In all of these environments, having more than one camera is often an absolute requirement. Furthermore, there are two huge benefits of a DX body for telephoto and general action work: Focus points being spread out all over the viewfinder, and the effective added ‘reach’ provided by the pixel density.

I know that some photographers find it unacceptable to own lenses made for different sensor sizes, but when you buy task-oriented gear for specific shooting needs, it becomes totally normal in my experience. For example, I’d consider a Tokina 14-20mm f/2 to pair perfectly with a Nikon D500 for in-your face action shots, Even if your full-frame kit also includes a full-frame body and a 24-70 and 70-200. (That D500 will probably also be wicked for telephoto sports with the 70-200, too! Stay tuned for multiple in-the-field reviews of the D500.)

So before you make any buying decisions, I would strongly encourage you to consider what you shoot, what gear you already have, and why you might choose this lens instead of its competition.

 

04-performance-5-stars

Performance:

A lens’ image quality is its first and foremost measurement of performance. But image quality goes beyond sharpness, so let’s get this out of the way first:

Color and contrast are great, distortion is almost non-existent (and a correction profile already exists for Adobe Lightroom / Bridge users). Every other aspect of image quality, such as flare, sunstars, bokeh, fringing, all of those other things are impressively well-controlled.

 

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If I had to complain about anything, it would be my usual pet peeve with pretty much EVERY third-party lens I’ve ever tried, which is having to dial in some AF micro-adjustment before it works perfectly. I would mention my disliking of 82mm filter threads, but it seems like 82 is the new 77 so I’m trying to get over that.

All in all, Tokina has produced yet another winner in their long standing tradition of killer wide angle zooms. It’s an impressive lens, and if you need what it offers, I highly recommend it.

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08-features-4-stars

FEATURES:

The Tokina 14-20mm f/2 is certainly a specialty lens, not a practical choice for general shooters. Having said that, if you want a zoom that goes to f/2 and hits ~21mm, this is the only game in town, and is a feature that many low-light photographers are bound to value quite highly.

But, why get this lens instead of a more versatile alternative? It’s all about specialty use. There are great alternatives out there, all (surprise, surprise) made by Tokina. The Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 is killer if you don’t need f/2 and want more zoom range, and the Tokina 12-28mm f/4 offers even more versatility if you’re a stopped-down shooter looking for more medium-wide range. All three of these lenses are incredibly sharp and overall fantastic performers. Like I said, it’s Tokina tradition.

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So, that’s what it comes down to: do you need f/2, and do you need it to zoom all the way out to 14mm? The average shooter probably does not. However for those who do, the Tokina 14-20mm f/2 delivers the goods.

While we’re on the subject of features, I’ll mention my only other pet peeve with Tokina: I kinda don’t care for the push-pull manual focus switch ring. For nightscape timelapse work where infinity star focus is critical, Tokina lenses are by far the easiest to accidentally bump out of focus. However, with practice you can focus at infinity manually, and then carefully slide the clutch back to autofocus and disable AF on the body of a Nikon camera.

 

14-design-5-stars

Design:

Tokina’s lens designs have always been solid and robust. Even with heavy abuse, Tokina’s APS-C zooms have a track record of staying sharp and focusing well. This is not your uncle’s cheap-o wide angle kit lens, it is a well-designed professional tool.

One other thing I wanted to mention, a problem Nikon shooters have had in the past, and that is the exposure of the rear element. Thankfully, the 14-20mm f/2 does (barely) offer enough protection of the rear element, just in case you carelessly set the lens down without a cap on. (Please don’t ever do this, anyway!)

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19-quality-5-stars

Quality:

Like Design, the overall quality of the Tokina 14-20mm f/2 is impressive. Barring any serious impacts, you should expect this lens to last a very long time. (And even then, I suspect it might survive quiet a lot of nasty abuse.)

The internals of the lens are metal, (and glass, duh) though the external of the lens does have some plastic in it. Personally I find high-grade plastic to be a superior material for external protection, because small impacts usually don’t permanently alter the lens’ moving parts, whereas a metal outer housing can cause zooming or focusing to come to a grinding halt (literally) if the lens suffers even a minor impact in just the right spot. Well done on such a rock-solid lens, Tokina.

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23-value-4-stars

Value:

I’ll admit, compared to the alternatives out there it is a tough decision to buy this lens at $899. (Hey, it’s currently on sale for $849!)

As I mentioned when talking about features, if you don’t absolutely need both 14mm and f/2, you should consider an f/2.8 alternative like the Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8, or maybe the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC if you want a more mid-range zoom.

I would have loved to see this lens hit 13mm or even 12mm on APS-C, especially for Canon shooters. Heck, I would have loved to see Tokina just take their original, legendary  11-16mm focal range and bump that up to f/2. That might have been possible for less than $1K and under 2 lbs.

But I digress. Despite having a complete monopoly on zooms that go to 14mm and f/2, I wouldn’t call this lens overpriced. And yet neither would I consider it an easy choice, due to its specialization.

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14mm Not wide enough? This is a 3-row, 3-column panoramic stitch (And the blue-purple light is not flare, it is a police car that stopped in the fog)

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100% crop, upper-right corner, f/2.8 (Coma? What coma?)

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overall-score-4.5-stars

Final Verdict:

All in all, the Tokina 14-20mm f/2 is nearly perfect. In fact as a 14-20mm f/2 on an APS-C camera, it really is perfect. The only real complaint I could think of was that I’d love to have an extra milimeter or two on the wide end, and that’s something that I’m sure the optical team behind this lens would have loved to do as well yet were constrained by budget and size/weight.

At $850-$900 and 1.6 lbs, I’d call this lens a great balance of specialty, affordability, and portability. The only real deciding factor is, do you need such a speciality lens? I sure would like one!

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please join in below. I am happy to answer further questions or talk about certain speciality applications.

Take care and happy adventures,
=Matt=

 

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

6 Comments

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  1. David Palenik

    Hello Matt,

    I would have a question. I own DX system only and as I had to sell Sigma 18-35 Art, because of repetitive AF issues, which even service guys were not able to solve, I am now missing some bright wide angle lens for events and wedding purposes. Would you recommend this Tokina in regards of image quality and angle of view? FX guys have 20mm, 24mm and 28mm primes, so I am looking for something similar in terms of IQ and angle of view..

    Thank you!

    David.

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  2. Don Ferrario

    Why would you devote 1/3 of this article to whether this lens is useable on full frame when it was never designed for that. Technical analysis and images showing full frame use, but on APS-C just beauty shots?

    That critique aside, all your shots with the couples are beautiful. Most photographers don’t think of shooting a couple with a wide angle. I’m sure your clients were pleased.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Hi Don,

      Thanks for the critique, I do strongly value honestly from readers.

      The simple answer is that I’m trying to find ways to be more pragmatic about the current bias against crop sensors. And, in my opinion, any crop-sensor lens that can also be shot on full-frame becomes considerably more valuable and interesting to photographers.

      Of course, I do realize that there are plenty of folks who are strongly against the “mix and match” approach to lens compatibility and sensor sizes. I guess I was hoping to bridge that gap a little bit with this article.

      BTW, the history of using crop sensor Tokina lenses on full-frame cameras goes back to the 11-16; to this day I still meet cinematographers in particular who use the 11-16mm as a killer 16mm f/2.8 full-frame “prime”, actually.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Also, unfortunately you’re going to have to put up with a little bit more of my shenanigans in the near future, LOL, because it just so turns out that the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC ART also is compatible on full-frame bodies in 1.2x crop mode, and I just couldn’t resist the thought of an f/1.8 zoom with the equivalent of 60-120mm on full-frame. But don’t worry, for the Sigma 50-100 review I’ll make sure to more prominently feature the new Nikon D500, instead. :-)

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  3. Paul Wynn

    Looks like another interesting addition in the range of 3rd party lenses. In my experience, Tokina is not considered a serious brand by professionals, this I believe this the most significant barrier they will need to break.
    Reminds me of Sigma, which only a few years back were not considered as rivals to the OEM products…but look at the company now. Their Gobal Vision strategy and ART lenses have transformed their product range and fortunes.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Paul, maybe in a few circles Tokina isn’t considered a serious brand, however there are plenty of circles in which it is a very serious option, if not the best choice in some cases. Simply put, their wide angle line is legendary, and it seems to have always been an area of specialty for them, even before the days of digital. But especially during the digital era, Tokina’s ultra-wides have routinely matched or beaten the name-brand options.

      You’re right about brand image overall though, and how recent years have treated folks like Sigma. While I personally was already a fan of EX lenses for years before “Art” came around, and even used a couple Sigma EX lenses for serious professional work, it would still be correct to say that it’s hard for any of these third parties to shake the stereotype of just being a cheap-o alternative.

      However I think that all three of the major third parties have totally shaken that monkey from their backs, in their own unique ways. Sigma has clearly attempted to dominate the f/1.4 prime market first, while Tamron has an impressive trio of f/2.8 zooms and Tokina have chosen to stick with what they does best too so far; ultra-wide zooms.

      I can hardly wait to see if Tokina has a new full-frame zoom up their sleeve, whether or not it’s faster than f/2.8 I’ll be eagerly watching.

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