Hands-On Review: The Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX Lens

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As a third-party lens manufacturer, you know that when you enter the realm of the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, you are going to be competing against the best of the best from the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM). Not only that, but the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is likely the one lens that rides at the front of many photographers’ cameras the majority of the time. The wide-to-portrait focal length lends itself to exceptional versatility for everyday shooting. Because of this, if you want your lens to compete, you have to pull out the stops to make it race with the big boys.

Over the past several years, Tokina has been making wide-angle zooms for both full-frame and APS-C format cameras, like the ATX-116 PRO DX-II 11-16mm f/2.8, that not only represent a great value, but have often exceeded the image quality of the similar offerings of their brand-name competition. It looks as though that trend will continue with the Tokina AT-X 24-70 f/2.8 PRO FX lens, available in Nikon F or Canon EF mounts.

Design

Tokina definitely did not return to the drawing board for this lens as, on the outside, it is unremarkably similar to the other lenses in the Tokina line. This is not a bad thing, in my opinion, as the Tokina shape is conservative, reserved, and functional. If there is nothing wrong with the design, do not fix it.

The front of the lens features a Nikon-like gold ring. The focus ring (forward) and zoom ring (aft) are textured with aggressive, grippy rubber rings that have contrasting knurled patterns. In classic Tokina style, the focus ring has horizontal and vertical grooves, while the zoom ring features only vertical cuts.

Inside, the new Tokina sports 3 SD super low dispersion glass elements and three glass molded aspherical elements that work together to fight chromatic aberrations and distortion, and provide sharpness. These six elements form a complex system of 15 total elements arranged in 11 groups. Of course, multi-coating is applied to the system to combat ghosting and flaring.

Autofocus power comes from an SDM (Silent Drive-Module) that provides snappy and nearly silent focusing services. A petal-shaped BH-822 bayonet-mount lens hood comes standard with the Tokina, as well as front and rear caps.

Size

The search for the compact 24-70mm f/2.8 lens continues to elude manufacturers, and the new Tokina is no exception. Like its Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM competition, the Tokina features a wide 82mm front element that gives the lens a stout and purposeful look. The lens measures 89.6mm at its maximum beam. I was never enamored by the awkward long and narrow look of AF-S Nikon Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens with its traditional Nikon pro 77mm filter. The Tokina is an inch shorter than the Nikon and half an inch shorter than the Canon. With a wider presence than its rivals, it looks great on a big DSLR.

The focus action is internal to the Tokina lens, and the zoom action is external, with a snoot extending from the lens body when you roll into the telephoto regions of the zoom range.

Weight

If you always look for excuses to avoid the gym but still want to work out, this lens is for you. It weighs a considerable 2.2 lb. Your arms, neck, and shoulder will surely get exercise. I don’t know this for sure, but the Weight Conservation Department at Tokina has apparently been on strike for years. Therefore, where many manufacturers are turning to exotic composites to shave ounces from their lenses, Tokina is cranking out lenses that feature a lot of metal and glass.

The end result is a quality product that has serious heft. On the Nikon Df on which I tested the lens, the balance was perfectly fine, but after a few months with a mirrorless camera system, I had forgotten how much a DSLR and pro zoom lens could weigh.

The rival lenses from Nikon (1.98 lb), Canon (1.78 lb), Sigma (1.74 lb), and Tamron (1.81 lb) all show the results of years of dieting when compared to the Tokina. If you like lightweight composites and a plastic feel to your lens, the Tokina is not for you. If you like to hold a beautifully constructed metallic chunk of lens, definitely get your hands on the Tokina.

Mechanicals

Tokina continues to employ its autofocus/manual focus clutch system where the shooter can engage the manual focus gears by sliding the entire focus ring toward the camera. The system is effective and quick, but don’t expect it to be a silky-smooth shift from AF to MF that you could employ accidently. There is a solid mechanical click that accompanies the process. It’s not unpleasant, it’s just purposely noticeable.


Photographs by John R. Harris

The focus ring, when slid aft into the MF mode, has a good weight that is heavier than most autofocus lenses. The zoom is also stiff, maybe more than most people would want, but I like a lens that demands purposeful adjustments instead of those that change focus or zoom if a wind blows across your face while shooting.

The journey from 24mm to 70mm on the zoom ring can be accomplished by one turn of the wrist, but only if you grip the camera with a plan to travel that entire range. Likely, in a casual shooting hold, you will have to release and then re-grip the zoom ring to make it all the way from wide to telephoto, or vice versa.

Shooting

Did I mention that this lens is heavy? It is. But, once you get past that, and start making images, the Tokina is a solid performer in all respects.

I took the lens and the Nikon Df on a pair of night outings in the Big Apple to explore the area around the famous Flatiron Building and New York City’s famed Chinatown, finishing with a stroll home over the Manhattan Bridge.

As you would expect from a 24-70mm zoom and full-frame camera package, the lens was versatile for the varying urban landscape and it did not seem to balk at any task I asked of it.



Photographs by Todd Vorenkamp



 


 



 
 


 


 


 


 


 

The autofocus was quick and accurate, but I suppose equal credit has to go to the Df in this regard. The Tokina SDM focusing motor was completely silenced by the competing noise of New York City traffic. Manual focus was easy to use and had good feel. Zooming in to my images on the Df’s LCD screen showed everything to be sharp, but the proof is always on the big screen when you upload the photos.

Once I uploaded the images, I found that the Tokina’s images did not leave me wanting more sharpness. I kept the aperture at f/8 for most of my shots, at the heart of the strength of most lenses, and edge-to-edge sharpness was terrific. You will see softness start to creep in at the wide apertures, but that is expected of all lenses. Also, diffraction starts to appear when stepped down toward f/22, but the difference in sharpness between f/8 and f/16 was only noticeable if splitting pixels on my monitor.

Distant light sources turn into beautiful 18-point stars that are noticeable at f/8, but really pop by f/16. In post-processing, any geometric or lens distortion was easily manageable, when I wanted it to be. I didn’t photograph the proverbial “brick wall,” because I find brick walls pretty boring, but the lens did not seem to have any obvious bad habits to speak of. I did get some ghosting on a wide shot by the Flatiron, but I was not using the lens hood and the lighting situation would have been a challenge to any lens of that focal length in that location.

Overall

For years, Tokina has been delivering great image quality and value in metal-wrapped packages, and the new Tokina AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 PRO FX lens continues that tradition. It is heavy, well built, solid, purposeful, and it helps you capture sharp and colorful images at a price considerably lower than its first-party OEM competition. What more could you ask?

Discussion 16

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This review is very, very lame.  The only technical aspects that you'll learn from it is that the lens is heavy and that the shapness didn't leave the reviewer "wanting  more" because apprenetly he only shoots at f/8.

Can I please have my time back?

Can I have my time back too?.....only other thing I learned was that the lens motor isn't quite as loud as NYC traffic....."The Tokina SDM focusing motor was completely silenced by the competing noise of New York City traffic".... Not sure you'd want this fella reviewing your products.

Beam,

Unfortunately, I cannot give you your time back. I have been searching the internet for a working time machine for years and have yet to find one that meets my needs.

Also, I did not have a decibel meter handy to measure the amount of noise produced by the Tokina SDM lens. All I can tell you is that I couldn't hear it over the noise of the traffic.

Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading!

I felt the same way. I enjoyed the samples and read about the mechanical aspects but none of it surprised me as this is in line with every other Tokina pro lens for the last few decades. The main reason people would be interested in a lens like this would be to use it at f/2.8-4, so why show us samples at f/8? Even low-end $100 lenses are good at f/8.

Hey Bret,

As I mentioned to lollol above, I shot the lens at all apertures and was very satisfied with the sharpness. I mostly used the lens in a real-world scenario where I was tripod mounted and not looking for shallow DOF. Due to constraints, we could only share of a portion of my images to illustrate this review.

I am glad you enjoyed the sample images. Thanks for reading!

Hi lollol,

Thanks for your comments. I shot the lens at every possible aperture and was more than satisfied with the sharpness. I am sure that there will be a great collection of MTF curves posted in the near future on other sites if you need to see numerical data on the lens. My assignment was to review the lens, not bench test it, and I chose to do that in an environment that reflects how I would use the lens in the real world and share the shooting experience with the reader.

Thanks for reading!

Unfortunately I will agree with the other not so friendly commenter. At least post some examples at every f-stop and use a tripod with the same conditions etc. honestly if you are going to review something do it professionally. Presently you have no credibility and you appear to be a weekend snap shooter feeling a need to blab online That statement is not being a hater rather it is being honest. That was almost as bad as a Ken Rockwell review. 

With dribble like this, maybe there is a place for Rock Kenwell after all

Beam,

Thank you for your comment.

RukiDDnMe,

Thank you for your comments. The goal of my review was to use this lens in the manner that I would use it for my photography, not to bench test it, and share the shooting experience. There will be plenty of websites that will show brick walls and MTF curves for this lens. For me, photography isn't about these things. This lens allowed me to get the shots that I wanted to capture, and it did that very well. That is what is important to me.

Thanks for reading!

Why didn't you shoot at 2.8? Not that it would've told us much by the images you've posted, but you could have tried! And yes, a set of images of a (Good Quality Built) Brick Wall does provide a lot of useful information. I've been waiting to see what this lens can do, but I guess I'll have to wait a bit longer. ...that is, if you've sent it back. If you didn't, maybe you could shoot some good reference images at a few focal lengths and apertures so we can learn something about it. After all, we have come to expect better than this from B&H. If you need some help, just ask! 

Hi Joe,

Thanks for your comments.

I did shoot the lens at f/2.8. The second image (neon sign) was taken at that aperture. I shot the lens at all apertures and focal lengths, but we can only present a handful of the images I captured. If this was not sufficient for you, I apologize and will forward your comments to the editors to see if they want to change our approach to lens reviews moving forward.

Yes, the brick wall does provide some useful information, but it makes, in my opinion, for a horrible photograph. What I tried to present is real-world examples of images that this lens can capture. What I tried to convey is the shooting experience with this lens.

Thanks for reading!

Hi Todd, Thanks for responding. I would never say anything bad about you or your work, but like most of the others that wrote in, I was completely baffled by this one. I really want to like this lens (I have two other AT-X Pro lenses, and they are great). I think the Nikon version is coming through first, and I just want to hear some of the good points, and I''ll put my order through. I am sure that this is going to be a Hot seller, so I expect the first batch to go fast. By all means, if you could post some more images (with the specs listed) you would surely make many of us happy. I'm sure that you know, we are a very loyal customer base, and you probably know many of us personally. We'd all appreciate it if you can just give it a try. That's all we can ask!  Kind Regards. ... Joe Prete

Hey Joe,

No worries. I'll try to reply without sounding completely defensive here...

I will inquire about adding to the image pile with some metadata. However, I only had the lens for a short time, and it has gone back to Tokina, so there is no chance of getting new images until we get one in stock.

I certainly could have photographed the proverbial brick wall, but this lens did not have any really noticeable distortion issues that made me want to shoot a brick wall. The lens corrections applied in Lightroom were well within normal parameters for other lenses I have used.

As far as performance wide open versus stepped down, I could have taken 6 identical images at each focal length to visually bore you all with 18 pictures of a static scene, but the maximum resolution we can show images on the site would not lend themselves to analyzed study. That would likely lead to more frustration with readers. We are discussing the possibilities of allowing full-resolution reproductions for future reviews.

My goal was to write about the experience of shooting the lens and produce some good images with it. I was not tasked with bench testing the lens, so I took it out for night photos just like I would do on a night with my gear.

I, and B&H, certainly values your input and critique of our articles and hands-on reviews, so please keep your comments coming! As a retail outlet, we are sometimes limited by what we can say or do, but we are always open to change and improving.

Thanks for your time and thanks for reading! I am happy to meet you at the superstore for a chat anytime!

Also... The first two images show that you had the lens in Daylight, but you waited to shoot your "Artsy" images at Night? ...WHY?

Hi again, Joe,

I did have the lens during daylight, but I consider myself a "night photographer" and much prefer night photography over daytime shooting. Also, I find that nighttime is a better environment to evaluate many aspects of lens performance, especially when it comes to color reproduction.

Thanks again for commenting and reading!