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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.
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 pedal-shaped BH-822 bayonet-mount lens hood comes standard with the Tokina, as well as front and rear caps.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?