When I first got access to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC lens (which we recently reviewed), I got curious about other potential lens options already available with the similar focal length range, build and fast aperture of f/2.8. After a quick search through our lens database, I found the Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX. This little gem has been available for a while now and although I have heard a lot of good things about it, I never had a chance to actually try it out. After receiving the lens along with a few other lenses like the Tokina AT-X 11-16mm f/2.8 Pro DX-II (which I will be also reviewing very soon), I headed off to Death Valley National Park. Although I primarily used the lens with my infrared-converted Nikon D800E, which as I painfully found out later turned out to be a bad choice for IR as explained further down in the review, I was really curious to see how it would do, given its extremely attractive price of $629. At this price, I was expecting the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 to be a poor performer, because the price just did not seem to be right for such a fast zoom lens with a “pro” label on it. After using the lens and testing it out in my lab, I realized that I was wrong – it turned out to be a hidden gem.
Although my experience with the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 was not as long and thorough as with the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC or my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G, I had plenty of time with the lens to assess its performance and its potential. Still, I apologize ahead of time for not being able to provide a more diverse set of image samples. If I get a hold of this lens again, I will definitely shoot some more and provide them here for our readers to enjoy. So let’s get to it!
1) Lens Overview
Being an ultra-wide angle lens, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is specifically designed for photographing architecture and landscapes. With its constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range, the lens is also a great candidate for low-light photography. The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 features a rather complex optical design, with 15 elements in 13 groups, 3 of which are of aspherical type. And despite its plastic exterior shell, the lens feels like there is nothing but glass and metal inside, as it weighs 950 grams – almost as heavy as the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G lens. At 90mm x 133mm, it is also not small by any means. The lens comes with a focus motor, so it will operate on all modern Nikon DSLRs, including entry-level models like the Nikon D5500. Being a professional-grade lens, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 should be able to withstand both cold, moisture and dust (see more about weather sealing concerns in the “Lens Handling” section of this review).
With its wide coverage of 16-28mm, the lens is specifically targeted to be used on full-frame (FX) cameras. While it also provides a pretty good coverage on cropped sensors cameras (DX), with an equivalent field of view of approximately 24-42mm, using such a lens on smaller cameras might not be very practical due to weight and size concerns. Unfortunately, just like its Tamron and Nikon counterparts, such a complex wide angle lens design resulted in a large protruding front element, making it impossible to mount regular screw-on filters. So if you want to use polarizing and GND filters, your only option at this time is to look at third party filter systems like the FotodioX WonderPana, which does have the right adapters for the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8.
In terms of optical performance, as you will see in the Optical Features section of this review, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 delivers excellent results in the center, often surpassing its competition, but needs a bit of stopping down to achieve good corner performance, which is its biggest weakness.
2) Lens Specifications
- Silent DC Motor with GMR Magnetic AF Sensor
- Aspherical and Super-Low Dispersion Glass Elements
- One-Touch Focus Clutch to Switch Between AF and MF
- Mount Type: Nikon F (also available for the Canon EF mount)
- Focal Length Range: 16-28mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/2.8
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Angle of View (FX-format): 107.11 – 76.87°
- Lens (Elements): 15
- Lens (Groups): 13
- Compatible Format(s): FX, DX
- Diaphragm Blades: 9
- SD Glass Elements: 3
- Aspherical Elements: 3
- Autofocus: Yes
- Minimum Focus Distance: 0.28m
- Focus Mode: AF/MF
- Filter Size: N/A
- Length: 133.35mm
- Diameter: 89.92mm
- Weight (Approx.): 950 g
3) Lens Handling
Being such a big and heavy lens, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 would be quite front-heavy with lightweight DX DSLR cameras, which is why I would only recommend it on heavier FX cameras for proper balance. If you have a DX camera and you want an ultra-wide angle lens, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 DX would be a much more suitable choice. I primarily used the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 on my infrared-converted Nikon D800E and my D810, and it handled quite well, similar to how my 14-24mm f/2.8G does. The zoom ring is located at the base of the lens, making it easy to zoom in and out. It is a bit stiff to rotate initially when the lens is brand new, but overtime it does get easier and smoother. At 16mm, the large front element extends out and moves all the way back at around the 24mm mark.
Similar to other Tokina lenses, the 16-28mm f/2.8 features a push-pull ring design for switching between autofocus and manual focus operation. In all honesty, that’s one feature I am not a big fan of on Tokina lenses – I really wish Tokina engineers reworked its design and moved AF operation to a switch on the side of the lens, similar to what everyone else is doing. Why? Because it feels a bit clumsy and feels like it will break overtime. Also, when working in the field with the lens mounted on a tripod, one has to apply quite a bit of force to move from AF to MF or vice versa, which might result in messing up the framing. Although it is not an issue on a heavy-duty tripod, I had to move my setup on my lightweight travel tripod a few times, which was a bit annoying. Lastly, the push-pull focus ring is definitely problematic in dusty situations. Taking it out to Mesquite Sand Dunes and photographing during 50 mile per hour winds with sand and dust blowing all over was a big test, which the lens unfortunately did not pass. Sand made its way right under the focus ring and the lens has been making screeching sounds ever since. I tried to clean it up, but I am afraid the lens will have to be disassembled to get rid of the sand in the ring.
When the focus ring is pushed to “AF”, rotating the focusing ring has no effect, so you cannot easily override focus as you can on modern Nikkor lenses. To switch to manual focus, you pull the ring back to “MF” position, which then activates manual focus. Rotating the ring counter clock wise will move focus towards infinity and once the lens is beyond the infinity sign, there is a hard stop – the same goes for close focus. This design reminds me of the older Nikkor lenses with a screw-drive system and it even makes a similar sound. Speaking of which, I guess the definition of “silent” is quite different across brands. Although Tokina markets the lens with a “Silent DC Motor”, it is far from being silent.
The lens handles just fine in hands. Similar to many other lenses, the barrel is fully made from plastic and the zoom and focus rings have rubber for better resistance. The metal mount seems pretty durable and the lens features a rubber gasket on the mount, so it should help in reducing the chance of dust getting into the camera chamber. The front cap is pretty large and it does a good job at protecting the front element. I like how Tokina designed the cap, because it can actually lock in place and stay there, unlike the cap on the 14-24mm f/2.8 that comes off easily. Tokina also did a good job at protecting the lens in the rear – zooming in or out moves the rear element, but it does not expose the lens interior, so there should not be any concerns with dust and debris getting into the lens easily.
4) Focus Speed and Accuracy
The focus speed on the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is pretty average – not as fast as on the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 and not very sluggish either. In all honesty, focus speed is not that important for an ultra-wide angle lens, so it is not a big deal. On the other hand, focusing accuracy is far more important and that’s where the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 does not disappoint. I have taken many shots with the lens and there were very few moments when the lens failed to acquire focus on the D800E, D810 or the Nikon D5500. It acquired focus accurately each time and my copy did not need any micro-adjustments in the camera to deliver good results. The good news is, just like Tamron, Tokina also licenses Nikon’s mount and hence should have less AF reliability issues.
5) Lens Sharpness and Contrast
We have already shown in our previous reviews how good some of the ultra-wide angle lenses such as the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G and Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC are, and it is not easy for any lens to compete with such legendary optics. When testing the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8, I was curious to see how the lens would stand against such lenses in sharpness performance. To my surprise, the lens did quite well and in some regards even beat the much more expensive Nikkor and Tamron counterparts, as seen below. The biggest weakness of the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is rather poor wide open performance when compared to other lenses.
Let’s see how the lens did in my lab at different focal lengths. Here it is at its widest focal length of 16mm:
The lens starts out pretty average at f/2.8, but its sharpness is greatly increased once the lens is stopped down to f/4 and smaller. Notice how high that blue line gets at f/4 – that’s as good as it can get for center sharpness, indicating stunning performance. However, this is sadly compensated by the relatively poor corner performance. The lens seems to perform the best at around the f/5.6 mark, although you might need to stop the lens down to f/8 to get the best corner sharpness.
Zooming in definitely helps with improving the overall sharpness, but only when stopped down. As you can see, at 20mm, the lens struggles at f/2.8. However, at f/4, the sharpness drastically improves to excellent levels in the center and fairly good levels in the corners. The best overall sharpness is reached at f/5.6, with corners looking really solid.
At 24mm, the lens again starts to weaken a bit. Wide open performance is quite poor, but center performance stays really good stopped down. The corners get a bit worse, but stopping the lens down to f/8 makes them much sharper.
And lastly, when the lens is zoomed in all the way to 28mm, we still get pretty solid performance when stopped down to around f/5.6-f/8.
Overall, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 seems to be a very solid lens optically, particularly at f/4 and smaller. But how do the above numbers compare to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC and the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G? You will find the answer further down below.
Although the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 has a 9 blade diaphragm to yield good-looking bokeh, unless you get very close to your subject and shoot wide open, forget about it – such wide angle lenses are not meant to be used for extreme subject isolation and pretty background highlights. While the constant f/2.8 aperture is quite wide, keep in mind that it comes at a cost of reduced sharpness on this lens, so you would be much better off with a good f/1.4 prime lens instead, like the Sigma Art series lenses.
Vignetting on the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 starts pretty strong wide open at 16mm at close focus, reaching over 3 stops of EV in the corners. Focusing at infinity cuts it down a bit, but it is still strong at f/2.8. As usual, stopping down the lens will certainly help with reducing vignetting and at f/5.6 we can see practically no traces of it. You can see that zooming in also dramatically reduces vignetting and at the longest end of the zoom range, the lens has practically no darkening of the corners, even wide open:
In the above chart, “CF” stands for “Close Focus”, which is when the lens was set at its minimum focus distance mark, while “IF” stands for “Infinity Focus”.
Here is a a graph that shows the spread of light falloff across the image frame at close focus, 16mm, f/2.8 (worst vignetting levels):
To the right of the graph is the actual image from which the graph was derived. You can click on the image to see a larger version.
8) Ghosting and Flare
The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 handles bright sources of light fairly well, even stopped down to f/16. You will see some ghosts and flares at such small apertures when including bright light sources in the frame, but those should not destroy the rest of the image. Here is a shot captured at 21mm on an APS-C camera:
Be extra careful with the Sun at incident angles, because you might be surprised to see ghosting and flares in your images – don’t forget that the front element is huge, so sun rays can reach it easily at odd angles.
Note: We received a report from one of our readers, Jeremiah Pierucci, about possible flare issues with this lens when photographing bright sources of light at night. In many cases, the lens seems to show a rainbow-like flare in images close to light sources. At smaller apertures, when including a bright source of light in the corners of the frame, there is a potential for heavy flare with defined semi-round lines to appear in the opposite side of the frame. If you are planning to use the lens to photograph at night, you might want to keep this in mind and potentially look at alternative options.
Distortion on the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is a bit high starting out at 16mm, reaching 2.32% of barrel distortion. Zooming in to 20mm cures the problem and distortion is almost non-existent from there, which is impressive, as seen below:
Although distortion is relatively easy to fix in post, looks like this lens does not need much correction once you zoom in!
10) Chromatic Aberrations
Lateral chromatic aberrations are a bit stronger at 16mm, but not bad by any means when compared to other similar focal length lenses. The lowest levels of Lateral CA are registered at 28mm, as seen below:
Similar to distortion, chromatic aberrations are also relatively easy to deal with in post-processing, so I would not be overly concerned about the above numbers, even at pixel level.
11) Infrared Performance
Unfortunately, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 turned out to be a poor performer when it comes to infrared photography – I did not realize how bad things were, until I viewed images on my computer and tried to do a few conversions. Although most of the images in this review are from my IR-converted D800E, I struggled quite a bit with post-processing and trying to reduce hot spots in the center of the frame. I ended up converting all images to black and white, because colors were simply impossible to salvage from shots. Because of these issues, I gave a “Bad” IR ranking to the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 in our lens database. If you are looking for a good candidate for infrared, the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC is the way to go.
12) Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 vs Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G
Let’s take a look at how the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 compares to the legendary Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G in terms of sharpness. Although there is a 2mm difference of coverage in favor of the 14-24mm (which is big, accounting to 7° of angle of view difference), we will still take a look at both lenses at their widest focal lengths:
The Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 is very strong wide open at 14mm and the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 obviously cannot compete with it. However, things change drastically at f/4, with the Tokina taking over in both center and mid-frame performance, as seen above. At the same time, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 struggles with corner performance, while the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 already reaches good levels at f/5.6. Now let’s see what happens when we slightly zoom in towards 20mm:
I only had data for 18mm on the 14-24mm, so we are not looking at identical focal lengths here. Still, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 shows very impressive performance when stopped down to f/5.6 – it surpasses the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G in both mid-frame and corner performance. It is obviously not comparable wide open, but at smaller apertures, its sharpness is outstanding. Lastly, let’s take a look at 24mm on both:
Aside from the repeated poorer performance at f/2.8, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 does very well at apertures of f/4 and smaller. Here, once again, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 proved to be a bit better than the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G in terms of mid-frame and corner sharpness.
13) Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 vs Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G Summary
The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is a rather weak choice for shooting at f/2.8 when compared to the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G, which outperforms the Tokina at every focal length at that aperture. However, once stopped down to f/4 and smaller, performance differences diminish greatly. The Tokina is pretty weak at its widest focal length of 16mm, but at 20mm and longer, it actually outperforms the 14-24mm f/2.8 in the mid-frames and the corners, which is very impressive. However, keep in mind that there are a few important differences between the two lenses. The Nikkor is 2mm wider, which is roughly 7° wider in angle of view (a big difference) and it is fully weather sealed, while the Tokina is not. The Tokina’s weakest focal length is 16mm, where it struggles to reach good sharpness in the corners, whereas the Nikkor is very strong at 14mm. This makes the Tokina not as practical for ultra-wide angle photography. Also, the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G has a much better build, thanks to its metal construction and side switches, versus the clumsy push-pull focus ring on the Tokina.
So it all depends on what you are looking for in a lens. If you want a pro build, 14mm coverage and excellent wide open and stopped down performance, the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G is the way to go. If you rarely go that wide, do not care for wide open performance and prefer a lens that excels at 20mm and longer, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is of amazing value.
14) Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 vs Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC
How about our recently reviewed Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC? We really loved that lens and praised it highly for innovative features like image stabilization. The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 obviously cannot compete with that, but the two lenses have somewhat similar focal length coverage, so we can still compare their sharpness. Here are the two at their widest focal lengths of 16mm and 15mm:
The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is a stellar performer wide open, crushing the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 in terms of sharpness. But once stopped down to f/4, the Tokina strikes back with its superb center and mid-frame performance, outperforming the Tamron. But as we have seen before, the Tokina cannot keep up with the corner performance, where the Tamron comes out on top at every aperture.
Zoomed in a little, both lenses show very good sharpness in the center when stopped down. However, the Tokina performs a bit better in the mid-frame and the corners here. It is no contender at f/2.8 though, as seen before.
The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 gets a bit weaker at longer focal lengths and we can start to see its fall at 24mm. The Tokina is still pretty strong, reaching superior sharpness across the frame at f/5.6 and smaller.
Lastly, it is clear that the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is visibly better than the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC at its longest focal length. The Tamron struggles with sharpness, while the Tokina is still really good…
15) Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 vs Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC Summary
Once again, just like with the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G, Tokina showed solid performance when compared to the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC stopped down. As you can see from the above charts, both lenses are optimized differently, with the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 being weak at 16mm and stronger at longer focal lengths, while the Tamron is the other way around. As a result, there is a pretty big difference in performance between these lenses at similar focal lengths – the Tamron outperforms the Tokina at 16mm (particularly in the corners), while the Tokina destroys the Tamron at 28mm. The Tokina is obviously not very usable at f/2.8 at longer focal lengths, while the Tamron amazes with its strong performance at the same aperture.
If I were looking at both lenses and thinking which way to go, my personal preference would be the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC. It is wider, has superb sharpness at short focal lengths (which I use a lot), has better build and above all, it has image stabilization. But if budget is an issue and you need an ultra-wide lens for landscape photography, I would not hesitate with the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 either, as it does many things very well and at half the price of the Tamron, represents amazing value.
16) Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 vs Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR
The last lens we will be comparing the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 to is the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G VR lens, which I also really like. Let’s take a look at both at 16mm first, then we will compare them at 24mm and at the longest ends:
At equivalent apertures, the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 scores significantly better than the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G throughout the frame and particularly in the center. Stopped down to f/5.6, the Tokina looks better overall, but at f/8, the 16-35mm f/4G does better in the corners. Here are both lenses at 24mm:
Zoomed in to 24mm, we can see that the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G struggles with its performance a bit more in comparison, especially outside the center frame. By f/8, both lenses do well, but the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 looks visibly better overall.
Lastly, the 16-35mm f/4G shows its biggest weakness at the longest end, showing pretty average center figures and below than average mid-frame and corner figures. Now keep in mind that we are comparing 28mm vs 35mm here, so the above comparison is not an ideal one. However, it is clear that the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is a much better candidate at the longer end – you can see that the 16-35mm f/4G VR cannot reach similar levels of sharpness in comparison.
17) Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 vs Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR Summary
The Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is without a doubt a strong lens when compared to an enthusiast-level lens like the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR. It showed better overall performance at almost every focal length, so there is no argument that it would be a better choice in terms of sharpness. However, there are several big considerations to keep in mind here, in favor of the 16-35mm f/4G. First, it is a much lighter lens to handle, at 680 grams. Second, it has image stabilization, which can really help when hand-holding gear. Last, but not least, is the ability to mount regular screw-on filters – something you cannot do on the Tokina, thanks to its huge front element. These are very important considerations to keep in mind, especially the last point – you could save quite a bit by going for the Tokina, but once you add up the cost of a filter holder and a set of high-quality filters, you might get pretty close. And that’s not even looking into space and time considerations for carrying a large filter holder system and setting one up. As I have previously said, for most landscape photographers, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4G VR would probably still make more sense overall, primarily because it can work with normal screw-on filters and filter holders – just less hassles to deal with. If filters are not an issue, my personal favorite from the whole group is still the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC.
Considering that the Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX came out in 2010, way before any of the high-resolution cameras started hitting the market, I was pretty surprised to see such impressive optical performance from this lens when I tested it on the Nikon D810. Although it struggles to deliver at f/2.8, the lens is insanely sharp when stopped down to f/4 and smaller, often surpassing most of its ultra-wide angle counterparts. It is big and heavy, and definitely feels like a professional-grade lens in hands. But the best part is its price – the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 is one of the cheapest ultra-wide angle zoom lenses you can find today for a full-frame camera. At its current retail price of $629 (actually $589 after a $40 mail-in rebate), it is of amazing value and it certainly delivers at that price.
The lens is far from being perfect though and there are a few important factors one should consider, such as its weaker performance at 16mm and at maximum aperture, a poorly designed push-pull focus ring, lack of image stabilization and poor infrared performance. The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC addresses these issues, which is why I would personally recommend it over the Tokina. But that comes at a much higher price premium, which can be a tough pill to swallow for someone who is just starting out or has a low budget to work with…
Overall, I really enjoyed shooting with the Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX lens and would certainly recommend it to our readers. I am looking forward to testing and reviewing more Tokina lenses, as they seem to be great performers and solid alternatives to Nikon lenses.
19) Where to buy and availability
20) More image samples
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Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
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