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Full review of the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens

JUNE2011/tok1116boxa.jpg
Box and contents

 
 
The Sony A580 was used for this review.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.
 
 
The usual center, mid-section and corner crops are located at the very bottom of the page.
 
  
 
Introduction.
 
As of this review, Tokina only makes one lens for the Sony "alpha" mount, and that's the Tokina AT-X pro SD 11-16mm F/2.8 (IF) DX.  That's a long and fancy name, and here's what I think all the letters stand for; AT; advanced technology; X means "extra" maybe?  Pro means is has a solid build quality, and can take abuse.  SD means Super-low dispersion glass is used (dubious claim), IF means the focusing is done internally, and doesn't move anything on the outside, (but see focusing section below for caveat).  Finally, DX, which means this lens only works properly on APS-C sized sensors.
 
The Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 has a very good build quality, with a mix of metal and plastic, and a spattered satin black finish, unlike anything from Sony or Sigma.  This lens sports a focus distance window, (no DOF scale), a rubber ribbed manual focusing ring at the front that doubles as an AF/MF switch, and a rubber ribbed zoom ring at the back with focal length marks at 11mm, 12mm, 13mm, 14mm, 15mm and 16mm.  Oddly, the focal length index mark is an off-yellow color, see first and second product shots.  The lens has "aspherical" and "77mm" printed in white on the underside, and uses a cheap sticker for the serial number and "Japan" label.
 
Zooming from 11mm to 14mm causes the front optical group to retract about 2mm, and slightly extends from 15mm to 16mm; this has no effect on filter use, but using a UV filter would keep dirt from entering the gap created by this action. 
 

Works on full frame sensors without APS-C size capture on, but clips corners hard between 11-14mm, although not bad at 15-16mm stopped down some.

 

There is no "distance integration" with this lens, and who cares?  The entire focal length isn't covered by the camera's pop-up flash, so don't use the flash with this lens, otherwise you'll see a bright middle, and dark sides, along with a big shadow at the bottom from the lens at the super wide end.  You'll need to get an accessory flash to cover 16mm, and use a wide angle diffuser for the 11-15mm range.  Also, if you absolutely need a little flash, use pre-flash TTL instead of ADI flash in the menu, otherwise the flash won't work right.

 

The 11-16mm focal length covers roughly the same area as 16.5-24mm on a 35mm film or full frame digital camera. 

 

EXIF focal length data reads correctly at the index marks for 11mm, 12mm, 15mm and 16mm.  At the 13mm mark the data reads 12mm, and at 14mm the data reads 13mm.  There is no 14mm reading in the EXIF data, which is normal for a super wide zoom, don't ask me why.
 
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, plastic petal type hood, and owner's manual.  
 
Focusing.  This lens uses the slot-screw focus drive type system that was standard for older lenses from Minolta and Sony, it's a little noisy but fairly quick, however, accuracy will depend on your camera's focusing system and calibration.  Unfortunately, my copy is not very accurate on the Sony A580.  All focusing is done internally, so your polarizer and graduated neutral density filters will stay in the position you originally set them in.  There's an AF/MF switch integrated into the focusing ring (see product shots), and when the ring is pulled towards the camera, it allows you to manually focus the lens.  You have to turn off the camera's AF system first, otherwise you may damage the lens.  Warning; when the focus ring is pulled back in the Manual position, the ring will turn when the AF is still engaged, just so you know.  The focusing ring turns about 85°, which doesn't really allow enough movement for precise manual focusing. 
 
 

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Requisite product shots.

JUNE2011/tok1116sd.jpg
Side shot showing AF/MF slide ring
JUNE2011/t0k1116ft2.jpg
Moving front group
JUNE2011/tok1116bk.jpg
Back side, only five contacts

 
 
General information and specifications.

Lens

Box contents

Front cap, rear cap, hood, and users manual.

Cost

Approximately $659 

Build quality

Very good.

Additional information

Shorter zoom range than its rivals.  

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

13 elements in 11 groups

Angle of view

104˚-82° APS-C 

Aperture

9 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Made for APS-C cameras only, but will work on full frame using APS-C size capture.

Depth of field and focus scales?

Focus distance scale in window.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

About 11.5"  (292mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

About 6"  (152mm) 

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No.

Length changes when focusing?

No.

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

77mm.

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

No
 

Max magnification

1:11.6 or 0.09x

Min. F/stop

F/22  

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

No

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3.3" x 3.6"   84mm x 91mm, widest at filter ring.

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

3.6"  (91mm)                                           

Weight bare (my scale)

19.2oz  (546g) bare

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Below average control.  Multi-colored ghosts and red arcs show up depending on zoom length and the position of the light source.  Control seems a little better towards 16mm.  See examples below.
 
Light fall-off.  Excellent control at all focal lengths.  See samples below.

Color fringing (CA).  Lateral color fringing control is about average for a super wide zoom.  I see mostly purple and cyan along the edges of the image at all focal lengths.  Axial color fringing is controlled well.  See color fringing example farther down the page.  
 
Bokeh.  Harsh at F/2.8, but looks a little smoother at other apertures and focal lengths, see examples below.
 
Color.   Seems about the same as Sony lenses.
 
Close up filter.  N/A    
 
Coma.  A tiny bit at F/2.8, 11mm, gone at F/4.
 
Regular filters cause a very small amount of additional light fall-off at 11mm, F/2.8, but not noticeable in real pictures.  
 
Filter size.  77mm, the standard for wide angle zooms.
 
Distortion.  Minor to strong barrel distortion at all focal lengths, see samples below.
 

JUNE2011/tok1116dis11.jpg
Strong barrel distortion at 11mm
JUNE2011/tok1116dis12.jpg
Moderate barrel distortion at 12mm.
JUNE2011/tok1116dis14.jpg
Minor barrel distortion at 14mm.
JUNE2011/tok1116dis16.jpg
Minor barrel distortion at 16mm.

 

There is barrel distortion noticeable at all focal lengths, being strongest at the super-wide end, and quite minimal near 16mm.  This barrel distortion has a simple curve, and can be straightened well in post processing.

 

 

Bokeh samples.

 

          11mm   F/2.8

            11mm   F/4

JUNE2011/tok1116bok28w.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116bok40w.jpg

           16mm  F/2.8

             16mm  F/4

JUNE2011/tok1116bok28t.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116bok40t.jpg

 

Bokeh looks harsh at F/2.8, and somewhat smooth at F/4, 11mm, but still harsh at all apertures as you zoom out.  It's really hard to get any background blur (especially at 11mm!) unless you focus on something very close.  Bokeh is out of focus highlight blur, and not simply how far out of focus the background is.

 
 
Light fall-off samples.
 

           11mm  F/2.8

              11mm F/4

JUNE2011/tok1116vigw28.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116vigw40.jpg

           16mm  F/2.8

              16mm  F/4

JUNE2011/tok1116t28.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116t40.jpg

 

Light fall-off is not something to worry about with this lens.  Adding a regular thick type filter makes the corners just a hair darker at 11mm, F/2.8 only, but not noticeable in real pictures.

 

 

Full image light fall-off.

 

JUNE2011/tok1116vigover.jpg

 

This image of my backyard shows light fall-off at 11mm, F/2.8, which is very minimal.  Specs, 11mm, F/2.8, ISO 200, 1/2000sec, +0.30eV.

 

 

Flare and  ghosting.

 

Red arcs and other ghosts  11mm, F/5.6.

Ring and pink/blue spots near center, 16mm, F/5.6.

JUNE2011/tok1116gst11.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116gst16.jpg

 
Ghosting control is generally not very good.  I see red arcs and multi-colored ghosts depending on the focal length and position of light source in the frame.
 
 
Coma samples
 

11mm, F/2.8.

11mm, F/4.

JUNE2011/tok1116bok28.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116bok40.jpg

 
Coma takes the form of weird, smeared blobs at points of light in the corners of the image, especially in super wide angle lenses.  The Christmas tree lights here show just a small amount of coma at 11mm, but it clears up quickly by stopping down the aperture.  100% crops from the far corners.
 

 
 
 
Let's check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 580 16.2MP camera, so don't compare it with some others that were taken with the 12.2mp A700.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case about 6" (152mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
I see a small (0.09x) reproduction size, which is poor by today's standards, so don't plan on using this lens for close ups.  No larger image, what you see is it.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.  
 

JUNE2011/tok1116mac6082.jpg
As close as you can get, F/5.6. No larger image.

 

 

Lateral color fringing.

 

JUNE2011/tok1116cf.jpg
Color fringing crop from far right side, 11mm, F/5.6

 

This crop is from the last 700 pixels on the middle right side.  I see some moderate purple and cyan color fringing along the wall openings, but is mostly removable in RAW using CA sliders.

 

 

 

  
Conclusion. 
 

The Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens has some really nice features, like a great build quality and constant fast aperture.  It also has some areas that need serious updating. 

 

The Tokina performs superbly at the shorter focal lengths, with sharp centers that nearly match the mid-sections and corners when stopped down.  It has some of the sharpest corners of any super wide zoom I've ever tested, and that's saying something!  Light fall-off is almost non-existent, even with a wide open aperture!  Build quality is first rate, and it uses standard 77mm filters, another plus for this lens. 

 

Unfortunately, this lens has some problems, and one of them is a deal breaker for me.  First, the smaller problems; at longer focal lengths like 15-16mm, overall sharpness is only average, not great like at shorter lengths.  Ghosting control is below average for a super wide zoom of the twenty first century, so keep strong lighting out of the image if possible.  Color fringing is about average for this type of lens, but it is manageable.  Next is the focal length, it's awfully short, and almost too short for interior and real estate photographers, where you need to be around 15-16mm for most shots (see first problem above), any wider and the image just looks wrong.  Finally, the deal breaker; Tokina's AF system on my copy is extremely inaccurate, and easily the worst I've ever encountered.  It's not my camera, but it could be Tokina quality control.  You could focus manually, but why should you at the price of this lens?  Usually, I've found that setting the focus to the infinity mark and stopping down to F/5.6-8 gives great results on Sigma super wide zooms, but not the Tokina, it's not reliable at infinity, sometimes you need to run it to the hard stop past infinity for a sharp shot.  Reviewing the image and confirming that it's sharp after taking the shot is the only way to use this lens in my opinion.

 

More than likely Tokina isn't paying a licensing fee to Sony to be able to use its AF protocol, therefore, Tokina has to back-engineer Sony's AF system.  Apparently, they don't know how.  They should probably try to get a Sigma engineer to jump ship and deliver a good working copy of their ass backwards designed AF System for Sony, because it's much better than Tokina's!  

 

Check out this comparison test between three super-wide zoom lenses.

 

Last thoughts; this is a good lens for someone that will use it at the widest focal lengths, (where it performs with unmatched excellence in sharpness), and check their shots for the proper focusing.  For all others; forget this lens and get the better Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 for the same price, or the Sigma 10-20mm F/4-5.6 for substantially less money.

 

 

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Sample crops from the centers, mid-sections and corners.

 

11mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr28.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid28.jpg

JUNE2011/tok1116corn28.jpg

F/4

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr40.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid40.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn40.jpg

F/5.6

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr56.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid56.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn56.jpg

F/8

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr80.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid80.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn80.jpg

F/11

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr11.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid11.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn11.jpg

 

Wow!  I see a sharp frame at F/2.8, and super sharp frame at F/5.6, that's excellent performance, and about as good as it gets with a super wide zoom.

 

 

14mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr28m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid28m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn28m.jpg

F/4

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr40m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid40m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn40m.jpg

F/5.6

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr56m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid56m.jpg

JUNE2011/tok1116corn56m.jpg

F/8

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr80m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid80m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn80m.jpg

F/11

JUNE2011/tok1116ctr11m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116mid11m.jpg
JUNE2011/tok1116corn11m.jpg

 

Things here look very similar to the 11mm crops, and that's great.  As a side note; I'm not sure if the above crops were taken at 14mm or 13mm.  There is no 14mm EXIF reading at this focal length, but the data says 13mm, however, I think I took this set at 14mm. 

 

 

16mm.

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

JUNE2011/tokina1116ctr28.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116mid28.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116corn28.jpg

F/4

JUNE2011/tokina1116ctr40.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116mid40.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116corn40.jpg

F/5.6

JUNE2011/tokina1116ctr56.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116mid56.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116corn56.jpg

F/8

JUNE2011/tokina1116ctr80.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116mid80.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116corn80.jpg

F/11

JUNE2011/tokina1116ctr11.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116mid11.jpg
JUNE2011/tokina1116corn11.jpg

 

The centers are very sharp at 16mm, but as you move away from the centers the image softens noticeably, especially the corners.  Stopping down the aperture helps, but overall sharpness is still not as good as the shorter focal lengths provide.

 

Please check out the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 AT-X pro at B&H Photo and help support the site!