Tokina 11-16mm Lens

Tokina 11-16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Written by Tim on . Posted in Camera Gear, Reviews

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

In-stock as of 01/25/12. Click here to get it for only $659.00 after a mail-in rebate from B&H Photo. Hurry while they’re in-stock. These go out of stock fairly quick. The rebate offer ends March 31st 2012.

The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens is hands-down the best ultra-wide zoom you can buy for the money. It competes head-to-head against the Nikon 12-24mm f/2.8 and even beats it in most cases. Plus, the Tokina is wider then the Nikon at 11mm vs 12mm for the Nikon. 1mm makes a big difference when using ultra-wide angle lenses.

Ultra-wide angle lenses aren’t exactly a go-to item in a lot of photographers gear bags, and that’s a bit unfortunate,. One in particular, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 , has become something of a favorite attachment for my Nikon, even though it falls somewhat outside the range of conventional lenses. I decided to put all my experiences and opinions of the model together in a Tokina 11-16mm review, to sort of show and tell why I think this lens is such a valuable part of my DSLR’s toolkit . I typically use this lens for all my outdoor shots, including shooting for extreme sports like mountain biking . It’s a great outdoor lens, and I really like what having such a wide angle does for my composition.

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Jump-to:
Construction | Performance | Where Is It Useful? | Is It Worth It? | Wrap-Up | Specs

The Tokina is a rectilinear lens, as opposed to a fisheye lens , so anywhere in your shot you have straight lines, they’re going to stay straight. The unique perspective distortion is great when you want to capture something up close and personal, yet at the same time use the objects or horizon in the background as part of the composition of your photo without losing focus. The Tokina 11-16mm has a very large depth of field, so objects behind your subject and along the horizon line are usually going to appear just as sharp as your subject itself. Keep in mind, this lens has a minimum focus distance of 1 foot, so it’s not going to be great for any macro shots.

A lot of photographers don’t like the sort of perspective this Tokina offers, choosing to either narrow their depth of field down to encapsulate their subject or just get closer with a smaller angle lens, but wide-angle shots can really be useful for capturing all of something, not just most of it. This is demonstrated below with two pictures of the same ally in the same spot: one with a more conventional 35mm lens that you would use in day to day photography, the other with the Tokina 11-16mm lens . Notice that the Tokina captures far more of the lateral portions of the ally, and while the perspective is distorted and makes the end of the ally seem far away, more of the ally is captured, and it’s all in focus.

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 at 11mm Nikon 35mm f/1.8
Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Construction

Usually, when you first start upgrading from your beginners “kit” lenses, most of the models available just don’t feel solid. A lot of value-priced lenses seem to forgo almost any sort of metal in their exterior construction, leaving them feeling light and easy to break, and when you’re starting out, the last thing you want is a fragile lens. This is where the Tokina excels. The body is all metal construction, with the focus and zoom controls set in easy-to-reach ergonomic places and ringed in rubber for ease of use. The filter thread size is 77mm, which means there’s a huge range of filters you could use on this lens so desired, a definite plus if you’re on a budget and don’t have the cash to grab every filter for every lens you own.

One feature I especially like is the ability to switch back and forth between manual and auto-focus by shifting the focus barrel of the lens forward or back. It’s very convenient, but could be made a little better if the motion of switching between auto and manual was a little smoother. As it is, it requires a bit of a healthy tug, and then it clunks into place. This doesn’t seem to affect the elements inside the lens any, as it is pretty sturdy, but anytime I have to apply some torque to a lens to make it do what I want I get a little nervous.

Another thing I really like about this lens is the way the actual front element of the lens doesn’t move around a whole lot. While you aren’t going to be standing in the middle of a torrential downpour using this particular lens, its good to know that there’s a minimum of moisture being sucked in when you focus in or out. The only way Tokina could possibly improve this aspect of the lens is to include a rubber O-ring where the lens meets the body of the camera, more effectively sealing the elements inside against dirt and moisture.

Optical Performance

Jump-to: Sharpness | Vignetting | Flare and Chromatic Aberrations | Distortion

Tokina really did a great thing by making this lens, as there aren’t a great many after-market lenses out there which are capable of capturing such a wide angle in such low light. The f/2.8 aperture really lets a lot of light in.

Sharpness

While other ultra-wide lenses have problems with decreasing sharpness at the corners of the shots they take, the Tokina 11-16mm seems to do a great job capturing the entire scene as sharp as possible, even when wide-open at f/2.8.

The red square indicates the cropped portion of the photo used to review the sharpness:

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Center Sharpness 11mm f2.8

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Center Sharpness 11mm f8

But as you can see below, when you have the lens zoomed out all the way to 11mm there is some softening of the corners, but only when shooting wide-open at f/2.8. The solution is simple enough: in the comparison photo, I simply dialed the aperture size down to f/8 to bring that sharpness back.

The red square indicates the cropped portion of the photo used to review the sharpness:
Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Corner Sharpness 11mm f2.8

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Corner Sharpness 11mm f8

Vignetting

Tokina seems to have done a great job side-stepping some of the pitfalls of ultra-wide angle lenses too. Vignetting, which can be an issue when you’re trying to capture such a wide view, especially in low-light, is almost a non-issue with this lens. I wouldn’t recommend thicker filters on this particular lens, or even more than one if you’re looking to avoid that darkness at the corner of your shots. Other than that, even the widest angle shots seem to be absent of any noticeable dark spots.

Vignetting at f/2.8 Vignetting at f/6.3
Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Flare and Chromatic Aberrations

This lens seems to be fairly resistant to artifacts such as chromatic aberrations, flare and ghosting, although not so resistant that these don’t show up from time to time. With the zoom wide open, flare is at its worst, but is easily stopped by either shifting yourself laterally to take the source of flare, usually the sun , out of view. Chromatic aberrations are present, and are the worst only in the corners of the photo, but with such a low zoom capability, they aren’t a huge issue with this lens as there isn’t a lot of room for diffraction to happen. Once again, the problem seems to be pretty much solved once you’ve removed any over-bearing sources of light from your shot that are causing high-contrast areas in the photo.

Take a look at the example below. It’s a 100% crop of the edge of a photo. As you can see, there’s a tiny amount of color fringe on the door and window frames. These can be easily corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop.

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Distortion

Distortion is always noticeable in ultra-wide angle lenses, and the Tokina 11-16mm  does indeed still have some. It’s distortion is most visible in the 11mm zoom range, getting better as you go toward the longer end of the zoom at 16mm. Thankfully though, the distortion is extremely easy to correct in Lightroom or Photoshop using their respective Lens Correction tools.

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Distortion at 11mm

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Distortion at 16mm

The f/2.8 aperture is very unique to this lens, and as far as I know none of the other major lens or camera manufacturers make something comparable to this model. Some other photographers who wouldn’t recommend something like this for outdoor or landscape shooting, and I’d have to say I disagree. This lens is almost the only lens I use for outdoor shots anymore, simply because it gives me that surreal, stretched out landscape. It can make a quarter mile of desert feel like the endless expanse of the Sahara when you view it through the viewfinder, a quality I prefer in my landscape shots.

The large aperture coupled with the fast, reliable auto-focus, however, make it equally great for the kind of low-light shots you’d be trying to take indoors or outside at night. Even with the zoom ramped as far forward as it can go the lens seems to scavenge every stray beam of light out of the air, making for splendidly well-lit shots.

One note about shooting in low-light environments with this lens: do not use an on-camera flash. The ultra-wide angle of this lens is sufficient enough to capture the shadow of the lens itself on the bottom of your image, so a hand-held or satellite flash would be ideal if you plan on using one. It might also be possible to use some sort of light-bouncing equipment on your on-camera flash in order to remove that shadow, but I haven’t tried this out myself.

Where Is It Useful?

Tokina 11 16mm Review and Why You Need to Buy One

Of course, all this is pretty much useless if you don’t take the kind of photos that this lens will provide you. While many “traditional” photo-bugs would say that this lens belongs in a specialty category, I believe it has a wide range of uses both indoor and outdoor. Being such a unique lens, it can really give you one-of-a-kind shots that no other lens is capable of, which is one reason it’s one of my go-to lenses, especially for outdoor applications. I like to think it brings something to the table that few other lenses can in that situation, and the super-wide angle makes it easy to capture everything I want to capture in a shot.

That can be the biggest complaint with ultra-wide angle lenses like this, however. It’s easy to bring unwanted objects into your shots because you’re actually capturing a wider area than what you can see with the human eye. Expect to get a little extra on the sides of the photo. One place this kind of lens excels is up-close shots with a big background behind them. This can work well for action shots, in order to highlight, say, a mountain biker making a jump with the horizon behind him. It will really bring the subject a lot closer while making the background seem farther away, thus filling more of the frame with your subject.

Is It Worth It?

Easily . The Tokina 11-16mm  is one of the most affordable ultra-wide angle lenses on the market, clocking in at under $800 US. While this seems to be quite a chunk of change for a “beginner” type lens, keep in mind that the sturdy construction and interesting composition options it lends you will be well worth the cash you spend once you learn how to use it properly. This is not a lens you are going to have to upgrade in a few years, this is something that will have a permanent home in your bag for as long as you’re taking pictures. The only downside to this price point is that it has made the Tokina a very desirable lens, and it can be a bit hard to find. If you keep your eyes peeled however, it is well worth the search.

Also, keep in mind: there is literally not another lens like this on the market. Most ultra-wide angle lenses have problems with vignetting and aren’t nearly as user-friendly as the Tokina, and they are usually constructed of inferior materials on top of that. Between the construction, the performance and the price point, the Tokina 11-16mm  is easily worth the asking price, and I’d recommend it for anyone needing a wide-angle lens with a great big aperture.

The Wrap-Up

PROS:

  • For a sub-$700 lens, you’re really getting a lot for your money, both construction and versatility-wise.
  • It’s a fast lens. The constant f/2.8 makes it a great indoor ultra wide-angle lens, and it’s equally at home outside capturing action shots
  • The ability to quickly switch between manual and auto-focus at blazing speeds is beyond awesome.
    With 77mm threading, it’s compatible with a huge range of filters .
  • Great sharpness across whole zoom range, even with the zoom wide open the sharpness is better than other comparable, not to mention more expensive products.
  • The auto-focus works quickly and without any real issues, making it very useful for low-light shooting.
  • While artifacts such as chromatic aberration or ghosting do occur, they’re not nearly the issue they are on other lenses and are easily fixable.

CONS:

  • Because it’s such a great value, especially for beginning photo-bugs, it can be really hard to find.
  • Using thicker filters or more than one can result in vignetting.
  • With the zoom opened up all the way to 11mm, there is a slight decrease in sharpness across the whole photo, but this can be combated by closing up the aperture a little more.
  • It might be a little bit strange to figure out at first, as setting up shots with a lens like this can be a game of half-inches and centimeters.

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Technical Spec

Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Tripod Collar No
Physical
Filter Thread 77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.3 x 3.5″ (8.38 x 8.89 cm)
Weight 1.23 lb (560 g)
Performance
Focal Length 11 – 16 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Nikon F
Format Compatibility Nikon DX
FX in DX Crop Mode
Angle of View 108° – 82°
Minimum Focus Distance 11.81″(30 cm)
Magnification 0.08x
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:11.6
Groups/Elements 11/13
Diaphragm Blades 9

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