Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Review

Yesterday was pay day I got paid a couple of months ago. That’s not to say that I haven’t gotten paid since then, but since this is just barely getting posted and I originally started this back in January, I thought I’d clarify. You know … for all you millions of followers.

 

ANYWAY, pay day in and of itself is cause for a rousing round of applause. That particular day got exponentially better as I stopped at the local Jamba Juice to meet up with a kid who was selling his Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 lens. His reasons for selling aren’t germaine to my point. What is germaine is that I now own it.

 

“Why, exactly, did you feel the need to drop good cash on this lens?”

 

Good question. Indeed, it’s a bit of a gamble, considering Canon’s propensity for not playing nicely with all 3rd party lenses. However, it’s hard to ignore all the positive reviews it’s received, and for the price that this guy was selling it, I figured the risk was worth it.

 

My main reason for needing wanting it is plain and simple: night sky photography. I take pretty good pictures of the sky. I have a stellar (see what I did there …?!) picture of the constellation Orion, setting in early May in 1995. When I developed the film, I noticed a bright pink dot in the middle of the “sword.” My astronomy professor said, “Oh, that? That’s the Orion Nebula.” WHAT?! I’ve been hooked ever since. I’d like to get a telescope at some point, but for now, I’m happy getting pictures of “the big picture.”

 

And the picture doesn’t get any bigger than capturing a jaw-dropping picture of the galactic center. I swear, I will capture a good an amazing picture of this thing someday. All with practice, right?

 

Oh. And patience, since it doesn’t even begin rising until about March (edit: Hey! That’s NOW!!!), and even then it’s at like 4 am. That’s *just* about the time that the eastern sky is starting to get that pre-dawn haze of the rising sun. I’ve consulted Starry Night enough to know that the optimal time to start getting pictures of the galactic center is around the middle of April. Especially if you want to do this:

 

 

So to the review. Please keep in mind that I’m shooting with a Canon T2i, so the reality is that my crop-sensor is going to actually yield the 16-24mm equivalent of a full-frame sensor camera (I’m eyeballing you, Canon 6D).

 

Build

 

This thing is built like a tank. It feels solid, as you would expect a metal-body lens to feel. It has some quirks to it, definitely. The widest aspect to the lens is achieved by rotating the zoom ring clockwise. With all of my other lenses, minimum focal distance is achieved by rotating the zoom ring counter-clockwise. But whatever. It’s not a thing at all. Interestingly, the autofocus vs. manual “switch” is an entire ring that’s located toward the very front of the lens. So really, it’s not at all a switch in the traditional AF/Manual switch sense. Maybe it’s my limited exposure to it, but after playing with it extensively yesterday and part of today, yah … it’s cumbersome at best. Not a big fan. Maybe as I become more used to it, I’ll like it. We’ll see.

 

Picture Quality

 

It really depends on how well the autofocus wants to work. Nothing tack-sharp as of yet, but I’ve been shooting at the widest aperture on the widest angle. If I zoom in to 16mm and shoot at 3.5, pictures become noticebly sharper. The problem I have with that is that I already have a 17-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens. 1 extra mm is not justification for buying a whole new lens, in my book. However, only having it less than 24 hours is also not a case for writing off the lens as a lost cause. I have some ideas that I want to try later in the day that will test the lens further. That should help me get a better feel for what its capabilities are

 

Now … if I’m using the manual focus, the story becomes definitively different. I can get pretty sharp pictures by tweaking the focus a hair each picture, until I get a desirable shot. I also tweak them in Photoshop and DXOptics for fun, just to see how the in-camera jpg pics compare to what I see in my mind’s eye for post-processing.

 

Conclusion

 

 Like I said, there’s some playing to still be done with this thing. In the couple of months that I’ve had it, I’ve become more familiar with how it likes to focus, and what its strengths/weaknesses are. Also picked up some invaluable general night sky photography tricks (e.g. using a laser pointer to help focus in relatively pitch black conditions; setting focal distance to infinity also helps; MANUAL focus; etc).

 

Overall, this lens is a keeper. I’m also looking at upgrading my camera body from Canon T2i to a Canon 6D in the near future. From all reports and reviews I’ve read, that should help a lot with the focusing and noise reduction on images shot at ISO 1600 or greater. We’ll see … but that’ll be a review for another day.

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