Tokina SD 17–35mm f/4 (IF) AT-X PRO: The Expensive Crown
Tokina has always produced excellent wide angle lenses, but does the Tokina SD17–35mm f/4 (IF) AT-X PRO live up to the legacy? Raj Lalwani finds out.
Over the years, Tokina’s wide angle lenses have always been as good as, or even better than proprietary lenses. Be it their lenses for cropped-sensor DSLRs or the 16–28mm f/2.8 for full frame cameras, the optics have been excellent and the pricing, far lower than what the camera manufacturers offer. This was why the Tokina SD 17–35mm f/4 (IF) AT-X PRO seemed to be an interesting lens to test.
The focal length offered by this lens is actually perfect for anyone who enjoys wide angle photography. 17mm on a full frame camera is extremely wide! Anything wider than this, as we saw in the Sigma 12–24mm lens reviewed in this issue, is only for a specialist user. Also, the convenience offered by the 35mm end of the lens is invaluable. When you are tired of images with exaggerated perspectives, you can zoom in and produce ‘normal’ looking, distortion free photographs at 35mm. Whether you enjoy shooting landscapes, architecture or travel, this lens has something for everyone.
A constant aperture of f/4 may not seem too impressive, but the smaller lens elements makes the lens more lightweight and convenient. Landscape photographers, for instance, usually shoot at narrow apertures only, and would prefer a lighter f/4 lens, as opposed to a heavy f/2.8 one.
I tested the Canon mount-version on the EOS 5D Mark II and the combination of the lens and body balanced perfectly. The overall construction is quite good, but it lacks the rugged feel of the weather sealed Canon 17–40mm f/4L.
Another disappointing thing that I noticed when I first got the lens, was the absence of a depth-of-field scale. That said, the focusing distances are marked clearly and I found it quite convenient to set the camera to manual focus and shoot. The push-pull mechanism of the lens allowas you to switch between AF and MF instantly. The focusing ring does not need a large rotation to cover the entire range, but it is quite smooth and easy to operate.
I think the true value of a lens can be calculated by checking two factors—usability on field, and overall image quality. The Tokina 17–35mm scores highly on both counts. I used the lens as my general walk-around lens for a few days and made photos at a circus, inside a church and also at some interesting forts and monuments in Pune. I was quite pleased when I reviewed the pictures. The images show some purple fringing, but that apart, the optics are excellent. Centre-to-edge sharpness is very good at f/4, and stopping down to f/5.6 and f/8 gets you optimum performance. The control over distortion is class leading. In fact, whether I was shooting the architecture at Shaniwarwada, Pune or capturing a portrait of a fruit seller, I did not have to worry about the lines being straight. The Canon and Nikkor equivalents are certainly not as good in this aspect. The control over flare is quite good as well.
The Tokina is an excellent performer. But my problem started once I got to know the Indian pricing. There is no doubt that the lens delivers in terms of quality and performs superbly. But would you really spend Rs. 45,000 for the Tokina 17–35mm, especially considering that both Nikon and Canon have cheaper options? The old Nikkor 18–35mm f/3.5-4.5 is equally sharp and costs almost Rs. 15,000 lesser. Even the high-end Canon 17–40mm f/4L costs slightly lesser than the Tokina. I would rather not compare it to the Nikkor 16–35mm f/4 VR because the Nikkor is in a different price range and also features optical stabilisation.
The main reason why one would want to buy a third party lens is the fact that it is usually cheaper than a Nikkor or Canon equivalent. The Tokina is an excellent lens on its own, but we do not see anyone spending extra for a product that has a much weaker service network in the country. Buy this lens, but only if and when the prices go down.
Useful zoom range, no VC
Excellent distortion control, quick AF and visible fringing
Sturdy, but not as good as L-series lenses
Push-pull mechanism, no DOF scale
Warranty & Support
Value For Money: 2/5 stars
Tags: Raj Lalwani, January 2012, Tokina SD17–35mm f/4 (IF) AT-X PRO, full frame camera lens, fixed aperture