Thursday, August 28, 2008

28 August 2008


Scientific Name: Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX
Also Known as: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
Mount Available: Nikon and Canon mount
Aperture Range: f/2.8 - f/22
Optical Elements: 13 elements in 11 groups
Minimum Focusing Distance: 30cm
Focusing Type: Internal focusing
Filter Size: 77cm
Length: 89.2mm
Weight: 560 grams
Price: US$560 - US$699
What's in the box: Lens, manual, and lens hood


Camera Used for This Review: Nikon D80

Okay, first of all, I realise that this is a fairly long, if not long winding review. So for those of you who like to skim through and only interested in the conclusion, let me tell you beforehand to save your time: Yes, This Lens is Good! :)

Also, what I am going to write now is just purely from my point of view, based from my personal usage, and from my experience (and style) in photography. Therefore some people might not relate to it, some people might, but I am happy to share with you what I think of this lens.

Sample pictures shown are small thumbnails only, so please click them in order to view them at normal sizes. (duh!)


I have had been wanting to get a wide angle lens to add to my collection for a long time, but had always been put off by the lack of speed from such lenses. For example, I really like the Tokina 12-24mm, but even with the constant f/4 which is considered to be 'fast', I still was not really convinced.

This might be because all the lenses that I have until recently were primes, so I am very accustomed to no hassle, constant aperture of f/1.4, or f/2.8 the most. I know many people would think why would I need a fast lens for a wide angle? That's because personally I don't shoot daylight landscapes that much, I don't like flash, and I shoot a lot of night/available night photography for my personal use.

So anyway, at the fourth quarter last year, Tokina announced the surprisingly weird but interesting lens, the Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX. Perhaps the people behind Tokina were sick of their product lines always trailing behind giants like Nikon or Canon. So maybe during one of the team meetings, someone mentioned: "Hey, why don't we just introduce a totally different lens altogether? That way at least we will stand out from the competition for sure."
And what a great idea it was - with the introduction of Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX, I finally found the lens that really suits me.

After waiting a bit to make sure that it performs as good as the specs say (in other words, I don't like to be a guinea pig), I finally made up my mind and bought the lens. I got it from my favourite local camera shop - it was the last one they had. I actually got it because the person who was supposed to pick it up never showed up. Seems like not many stores in Sydney have this lens in stock.


The Review


The Name

Reviewing a lens' name? Now that's new. Tokina humbly gave a simple name for this lens: Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX - unlike some of the more richly-named Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II LD Aspherical (IF) or Sigma APO 70-200mm f/2.8 II EX DG Macro HSM. Boy, am I glad this lens was not named Tokina ATX 11-16mm f/2.8 Aspherical DX BBC BBQ SESAMESTREET Mark IVDs Doublecoating Youtube.

I like the simple name approach; just with an addition of "Pro" to indicate that if you buy this lens, you will suddenly become a pro, haha... But really, I like the naming of the product, it's nice and simple. Well actually on the box it also says Aspherical, but I don't think that's part of the official name. But for some reason I like to call it Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 or Tokina 116 ATX Pro.

The Look

Just like the name, this lens follows a more conservative approach in the looks department. There is no 'look at me' factor, it just looks like a nice, normal lens. This can be either good or bad depending on how you prefer your lens to look like. It doesn't have gold markings all around it, or large focus distance window, or huge front element that tends to attract more attention from passer-by. Instead, its design is more down to earth and subdued.

I actually like the combination of silver and white lettering of the lens instead of gold colours like many other lenses. But overall I am just glad that this lens is not white. If I had to personify this lens, I would say this lens is like Roger Federer or Pete Sampras; not flashy, not attention-seeking, but still performs very well (but this is not the best lens ever made though) :)

The Front Element

Just like any other ultra wide angle lenses, the front element is dangerously close to the lens cap. It's so close you can accidentally scratch it with your lens cap if you are not careful enough. You can use a thin, quality filter to protect the lens, but I decided that I am not going to use a filter mainly for two reasons: I don't want to have additional glass (no matter how neutral) in front of my lens and secondly because I just can't justify the high cost of top grade filters.

Build Quality

Some people may not care about build quality as long as it delivers nice image; but I think build quality is part of the equation for joyful shooting. I really appreciate it when the equipment that I am using is actually solid, and not feel like a flimsy plastic toy. In my case I don't even mind to sacrifice a bit of convenience in order to have a more solid equipment. That's why the lens that I use 80% of the time is a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 Ai-S which is built like a tank.

So how good is the Tokina 11-16mm in terms of build quality? It actually feels very similar to its older brother Tokina 12-24mm f/4, which is a very solid lens. The barrel and rear mount of this lens is made from metal, and the zoom grip is made from some sort of hard rubber. It has a solid weight to it so it balances up nicely with medium-sized or larger DSLRs.

Actually the build quality (and somewhat the look) of this lens reminds me of Nikon Ai/Ai-s range. Although not as solid as all-metal Ai lenses (they don't make them like that anymore), but it is solid enough to be categorised in "Pro" range among current production lenses similar to the likes of Nikon 17-35mm or 70-200mm. From my experience of using the Nikon 17-35mm, I personally prefer the feel of Tokina 11-16mm over the Nikon 17-35mm.

I also like Tokina's zoom, it's very smooth when you twist it around - no choppy or bumpy feel at all. The zoom ring is thick and nicely placed (not too far back or too front), so it's very comfortable to operate. However, I feel that the focus ring is not as nice as the zoom ring. I am not saying that it has this toy, crappy feel like when you manual focus a Nikon 18-55mm, but the focusing feels 'only' like a 17-35mm focusing. It is nowehere as nice as an MF-only lens, but then I think I'd be asking too much if I wanted it to feel like an MF lens.

Good things aside, there is something that I don't like about the build. The top bit of the barrel (where you attach filter and lens hood) is not made from metal. Instead, Tokina opted to use some sort of hard plastic material. I am not sure whether it is to minimise cost or because Tokina didn't want to make this lens too heavy. But overall, the lens is still very solidly built, no wobbly bit or hollow-feeling parts.

One thing that I really don't agree is the lens hood. For me it feels cheap and too plasticky. I don't expect the hood to be made from metal, but I would prefer a more solid hood. Also the inside of the hood has this funny texture and dust seems to stick around that area easily. But fortunately when you attach the hood, it actually clicks in and fit perfectly onto the lens.

Overall, I rate the build quality of this lens pretty much in the same calibre as Nikon 17-35mm, but I think Tokina wins a bit in terms of zooming feel.


Attached to D80, it feels balanced, not front-heavy at all. I am sure it will also feel great on D300 or bigger cameras. But maybe it won't feel as good if you attach it to small DSLR like Nikon D40.

Manual focusing in this lens is done by sliding down the focus ring, and if you want to switch to auto focus again, just slide back the focus ring, simple. But I don't think I will use manual focus so often (if at all) with an ultra wide angle lens, especially considering the AF is accurate. There is no manual focus override, but again, I don't find this necessary. There is no aperture ring for this lens, switching aperture is done via your camera.

This lens does not have a built-in motor inside, so it relies on your camera's motor, making AF only available for cameras like Nikon D80 and higher.
Does it really matter that this lens does not have AF-S or HSM feature? I personally don't think so. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure if I can actually notice the AF speed difference between this lens and Nikon 17-35mm. Maybe the 17-35mm is actually faster, but I never noticed it in real life shooting. With my D80, the lens focuses quickly, but I think all ultra wide angle short zoom will focus fast anyway, so nothing to worry about here.

Does the AF hunt in low light? It might once in awhile. But the only times that it might do that is when you focus the lens to a very flat object with even colour with no angle (eg. focusing on plain wall). But other lenses usually will hunt too if you do that.



I know when we are talking about ultra wide angle, we have to talk about distortion, but I am sure that before reading this, you have also read a couple of other reviews of this lens in which distortion was thoroughly mentioned.

The reason why I don't want to put samples here is because it's actually hard to create a perfect setup for distortion test; everything should be 100% level and straight, lens and object should perfectly align both horizontally and vertically, etc... In other words, me dumping a tripod-mounted camera in front of my neighbour's brick wall doesn't strike me as accurate enough, that's why I don't really want to do the test. I don't want to give false impressions by showing samples from a slightly-off setup.
Excuses aside, I admit I am just a lazy bum. :)

However, I pretty much agree with the observation from the reviewers, meaning that distortion although present at 11mm, it is easily corrected using post-processing software. Distortion performance improves significantly from 14mm onwards.

Sharpness - 1st Test

For this test, I decided to begin the test by putting it up against one of the sharpest lenses around - Nikon 50mm f/1.4 stopped down to f/2.8. As you all know, this is a very sharp lens, easily revealing facial hair and pores of the subject.

The test shot from Nikon 50mm was manually focused. Now before you say blasphemy, let me assure you that the sample picture I post is from an accurately focused, sharp copy of 50mm. To make sure that the focus was accurate, I took eight pictures in between - starting from when the focus confirmation dot appeared on the camera, and then I slowly rotated the focus ring and took seven more pictures in between the rotation until the confirmation dot disappeared.

After that process, I viewed the pictures individually at 100% and picked the sharpest one out of the eight pictures; this way I could make sure that the picture that I chose was focused properly. For the Tokina, it was much simpler. I just relied on the camera's auto focus.

The result was quite a surprise for me. I know that by theory, the stopped-down Nikon should be sharper than a wide open Tokina. The test shot from both lenses confirmed that the Nikon was indeed sharper, but it's only by a slight margin and you probably wouldn't notice the difference unless you really looked for it from 100% view or from a very large print.

This result should put a lot of people at ease if they wonder about the sharpness of this lens wide open. Refer to the comparison shots below and see it yourself.

100% Crop:

Sharpness - 2nd Test

The sample below is a picture of a plasma TV showing a movie. I know it's not the most ideal object to test sharpness, but I must admit that I was too lazy to find other objects. The picture was basically taken with the camera positioned in front of a 50" plasma at the distance as close as possible so that the TV filled the whole viewfinder. I didn't exactly measure the distance between the lens and the TV screen, but it was very close.

The roughness that you see from the 100% crops is from the plasma's pixels ("screendoor effect" of plasma TV). I also put two different types of 100% crop: untouched ones and crops that have been applied with a bit of sharpening in order to roughly show how much difference between the original and the after-sharpening picture.

Sharpness: 3rd Test

For the third one, I decided to use outdoor shots without tripod because we don't always shoot with tripod and it's good to estimate how much sharpness you can get from casual shooting. The result may not be accurate since I wasn't using tripod, but even then, I am still very pleased with the details it provides.


Before I move on to next category, I feel inclined to chip in my 2 cents in regards to comments floating around the net that this lens might be very soft. If you regularly visit Nikonian, chances are you might have encountered posts mentioning how poor the sharpness performance of this lens. If I am not mistaken, the poster later mentioned that it might be because of the poor shipping method (lens shaken too much during shipment or something). But I experience none of that and the lens is actually very sharp as you can see from the samples.

Furthermore, the supporting cardboard inside the packaging really prevents the lens to bump around inside the box, so I really wonder how come the poster could get two bad copies in a row like that... either someone might have intentionally slamming the box on the ground (but then the outer box would've been damaged) or he was indeed one of the unluckiest photographers around.

Colour and Contrast

I don't really want to comment much on colour characteristics since this is a very relative subject that can depend on so many factors, but all I can say is (warning: very subjective speak) with the combination of my equipments, my Nikon lenses in general have colder tone compared to this Tokina (and my Tamron lens being the warmest). Contrast wise, I am very happy with this lens even from its wide open performance.
The samples below were taken at f/2.8, saved in Jpeg-Fine. The only thing I did was resizing the pictures, no contrast or saturation adjustments applied.

Bokeh/Background Blur

With ultra wide angle, it is hard to assess bokeh as in point of lights like the ones you see from 85mm or 105mm lenses. Talking about background blur is more relevant since it is easier to produce than those fat, round point of lights. But blur characteristic is a very subjective matter, so I'll let you draw the conclusion yourself on this one. But if you asked me to describe the characteristic of its background blur in one word, I would probably describe it as 'tidy'.

Somewhat within the same subject, what I like about this lens is the style of "stars" it renders from light source. This lens has 9 blades, so 9x2=18 (at least that's what I learned). I took the shot at f/22 so that you can see the effect more clearly. with that kind of rendering, I can tell that long exposure street shots will look nice indeed.

100% crop

Flare Resistance

I am delighted to inform you that this lens is not prone to flare at all, even wide open. I used it under very bright sun without the hood, and I really had to do something out of the ordinary in order to create flares.

I didn't do a flare test because flare is also a relative thing - it can depend on the angle of your lens, aperture, the intensity of the source of light, etc... So the following sample is just pretty much to show you what it looks like when I shoot wide open but no flare present and the other one is when flare is present. Mind you that the lens won't always create tidy flares like that. Sometimes you just get one or two annoying blobs of flare around your image.
Under normal shooting condition with the use of hood, I doubt you will have flare problem, unless you deliberately do it.

Chromatic Aberration/Purple Fringing

CA, is it a problem?
- No.
Not even wide open?
- Not even wide open.

Geez, I sound more and more as if Tokina is paying me to write this review, haha.. But really, wide open and during normal shots, I don't really notice any unsual amount of CA/purple fringing compared to my other lenses. Actually I think my Nikon 85mm f/1.4 has more CA wide open compared to this Tokina wide open. But then the Nikon is f/1.4 (I'm not sure, but maybe that's why the 85mm has more CA/purple fringing?)

Anyway, with this lens, I only notice purple fringing when I shoot something that involves high contrast and only if I pixel-peep the picture at 100% view. Photoshop will be handy for removing CA on your RAW files if you really have to. But my secret trick to deal with CA is, if I noticed that I have a shot with excessive CA, I'd just Black&White the picture. So easy, haha..


Any noticeable vignetting with this lens? Not in normal pictures. The only time I can notice the slightly dark corners is when I am shooting a blank white wall. Luckily I don't shoot blank white walls that often.



Yes it does meter with D80, but with this lens I usually leave the exposure compensation setting at -.3EV or -.7EV, then it will usually give the correct exposure. i think this really depends on your camera as well. Maybe metering will be more accurate with higher end cameras like D300. I know my D80 tends to overexpose at times. So it is good to know how your camera usually behaves so that you can adjust the camera accordingly in relation to this lens.

Compatibility with Nikon's iTTL Flash System

How well can this lens work with Nikon's flash system? Don't know. I don't own a flash. Never used the built-in flash either. Don't really like flash. I like fish though.

The DX Factor

This lens is designed for Nikon DX, so if you use it with full frame Nikon/Canon, you can only use it at 16mm; but 16mm full frame is very wide, so you are not missing anything. But then with full frame, you will miss the opportunity to utilise the very smooth zoom mechanism.


The Range

11-16mm. A lot of people mentioned that this might as well be a prime lens with such limited range. I know on the paper, 11mm -16mm seems puny, but actually in real life performance, there is a big difference of field of view between 11mm and 16mm, and I am actually glad that this is an 11-16mm zoom lens not 11mm prime.

I actually use the zoom quite a lot. You might say that you just need to walk a few steps to cover the zoom, but sometimes it is useful to have that 16mm reach especially if you want to take a one-person picture. At 11mm you will need to get awfully close to the person, but zoom it to 16mm instead, and it will ease up some personal space between you and your subject. Plus at 16mm the distortion level is very low, so it's more suitable for people's face (unless it's for your evil mother-in-law).

How about wider zoom coverage? Do I wish that this lens was an 11-24mm zoom instead? Maybe yes, maybe no. I am not a lens engineer but I think to add that extra 8mm, the lens would have to be designed differently? But what would be the trade-off? More expensive? More barrel distortion? Bigger size? Who knows, but I am happy with this zoom range. I actually use 11mm, 16mm, and everything else in between.

By the way, the sample picture below shows the difference of field of view between 11mm and 16mm. It's a lot of difference isn't it? Heck, the 11mm is so wide, you can pretty much take a self-picture of yourself sitting down, taking a dump at the toilet (not that I practice nor recommend this though).

The 2.8 Factor

Early in this review, I mentioned that the main reason I got this lens was because of the constant 2.8. I know you can handhold at much lower speed with ultra wide angle lenses, hence making f/4 even doable in low light. But for some people, an extra F-stop is a lot. It can be the deciding factor whether you will have a focused picture or a blurry picture, it can also give your ISO a breather, meaning with the extra stop gained, you can lower your ISO so that you can have cleaner and more detailed pictures.

You most probably won't need the f/2.8 all the time, but when faced with a situation that really requires you to have a low light lens, you will be glad that your lens is a constant f/2.8 lens, not an f/4 or even worse, f/3.5-5.6 lens. :)

the good thing about this lens is since it's only 11-16mm, I can still handhold it at 1/10th second and still produce a sharp image. With my 85mm, I'd be laughing if I could do a 1/40th and get a similar result of sharpness.

Depth of field wise, it's not easy to isolate subject with this lens, but with f/2.8, at least I can still do it providing the object is close enough. So that's also another advantage of f/2.8 over f/4.

PS: If you wonder why I was such a tight-arse by not leaving any tips on that tray, that's because it was happy hour. I personally think giving tips during beer happy-hour kind of defeats the whole purpose of happy-hour, don't you agree?
And that bartender didn't say thank you. Writing thank you on change tray doesn't count.

The "Third Party" Issue

I know a lot of people are very skeptical when it comes to third party lenses, and they usually associate such lenses with either poor build quality, poor optical performance, high rate of sample variations, low resell value, doesn't make you man enough, etc..
I can understand that because I personally prefer to stick with Nikon as well. But if you can get past that notion, those third party brands actually produced some great lenses too.

Nikon and Canon snobs may think that their proprietary lenses are much superior, but this Tokina is not your regular third party lens. As a matter of fact, it's actually one hell of a lens. It is compact, ultra wide, and it has a constant f/2.8. And no, there is no sacrifice in optical performance in order to create this unique lens.
Also, unlike many third party lenses, this lens actually has similar, if not superior build quality than some of Nikon's pro lenses. Sometime I wonder how much buzz this lens would create had it been a release from Nikon or Canon instead of Tokina.

The Price

So basically, what we got on offer is an ultra wide angle lens at constant f/2.8 with excellent optics and pro build quality. If I didn't know the price and you asked me how much I think this lens would cost, I would confidently say it wouldn't be any lower than $1,000 for sure.

To think that people in the U.S. can actually get this lens for $576, that is one bloody steal, especially if you consider that in order to get Nikon's freak of nature lens (14-24mm f/2.8), you have to pay almost three times the price of the Tokina.
I know that the top of the range Nikon has superior optics, but honestly, how much difference will you notice in real life, especially after you factor in possible human errors such as camera shake, exposure imperfection, etc.. and after you post-process the image?

I think even if I had the money to spend on that Nikon 14-24mm, I'd rather get the Tokina and use the remaining to buy a Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF or something equivalent to that instead. Even then, after buying those two, I would still have enough change to get a new, decent tripod or more memory cards, or more burritos - whatever floats your boat. Honestly, even if they increased the price of the Tokina for a couple hundred more, I would still get it because for what it can do, it's really worth every single dollar you paid for it (or every single day of doing the laundry and ironing in oder to make your wife let you buy the lens).


So, finally, As a whole, what do I think of this lens? I must say that this is easily one of my favourite lenses (as if I have that many, haha...). Compared to the 85mm, I think this lens is completely the opposite of the 85mm. I would consider the 85mm as a classy, attentive lens; whereas the Tokina is more like a very dynamic, involving lens.

Is this lens for everyone? Well, if you already have a very, very good 17mm zoom lens and you rarely use the 17mm end, maybe this lens is not really necessary. But if you actually use the 17mm and you think that it is wide enough, make sure that you are aware how much wider 11mm is, because once you get used to it, you will never feel that your 17mm is wide anymore.

Since this lens is not a fish-eye, I can confidently say that this lens can actually benefit a wide range of photographers. It is not that specific-purpose as many people think it is and it's not a one-dimensional lens. You can actually even use this lens as your walk around, street lens.

For example, you can use the 11mm to capture a row of items or shops, taking pictures of big objects that are difficult to cover with normal lens, taking picture of your friend eating in front of you, or when you are sitting in a cramped area (eg. plane, bus, train) you can use this to take picture of your friend sitting next to you, etc...

The 16mm can be useful for taking closeup shots of what you eat (you can get as close as 30cm from the subject). And providing you can get close, you can use this lens to take picture of an individual person like how you do with a 50mm lens. It won't give you funny-face result as long as you know how to take it.

So if you are asking yourself: "should I get this lens?"

I think you'd better ask your wife first, because your decision worths squat without her approval.

But seriously, if you really like what it offers, by all means go and get it and don't let the brand-snob in you prevent your purchase. By supporting smaller player like Tokina in daring to be different from the competition, I hope at least we can encourage and let Tokina and other companies know that a nicely build, great-performing lenses are always welcomed even though they are not from major brand names.
Kudos to Tokina for bravely bringing this unique, high performance product to the market without compromising the quality.


What I like:

- Excellent build quality, the kind you usually find only from pro lenses
- Very comfortable to use: zoom and focus ring move smoothly
- Compact size and does not attract that much attention (unless you yourself are good looking to begin with)
- No moving, rotating part
- Excellent optical performance accross ALL aspects (sharpness, contrast, distortion - the list goes on....)
- Underpriced
- Still made in Japan (I don't mean that Made in China/Thailand is crap, but honestly, if you had the choice of the same product but one is Made in Japan and the other is Made in China/Thailand, you'd pick Japan too, wouldn't you?)
- Pictures taken have this 'photojournalist' feel to them.
- Constant f/2.8

What I don't like:

- Filter thread is not metal
- Lens hood feels cheap
- Extreme corners wide open are not as sharp as centre sharpness - but then again, the only lens that I know can perform better than this is the super expensive Nikon 14-24mm.


To end this review, below are some finalised pictures that I took using the Tokina 11-16mm. I hope that you enjoyed reading my review as much as I am writing it (no actually there's a lot of hassle writing it and so time consuming, haha..) Please feel free to share your thoughts about the lens if you want to and thank you for reading.

Sample Pictures Taken From Tokina 116 At-X Pro DX