Tokina AT-X 17-35mm f4 Pro FX (Part 1)

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Kevin carter takes a closer look at Tokina’s new lightweight, ultra-wide 17-35mm zoom for full-frame cameras…

Description: Tokina AT-X 17-35mm f4 Pro FX

Tokina AT-X 17-35mm f4 Pro FX

SRP: $700

After considerable success with two notable designs for ultra-wide angle zooms for APS-C format cameras, Tokina has turned its attention to full-frame recently with the introduction of the AT-X 16-28mm f2.8 Pro FX, and now this lens. As a full-frame lens, it doesn’t make sense on an APS-C-format camera and as it’s available in just Canon or Nikon mounts, clearly targeting the Conon EF 17-40mm and the new Nikon Nikkor AF-S 16-35mm f4G ED VR. The thing is, Tokina’s 16-24mm f2.8 is cheaper than the Nikon 16-35mm f4. Although competitively priced, perhaps the biggest problem with the existing AT-X 16-28mm f2.8 is the size and weight. Admittedly, you lose a stop but without the bulbous front element and at just 600g, as opposed to 900g, this new lens is just two-thirds the size and weight of the f2.8 version.

Besides the relatively compact dimensions, it also offers a wider zoom ratio. The 103.9-degree angle of view is not quite so wide at its widest, but with a longer maximum focal length of 35mm it’s more suited for everyday photography. This lens also addresses another shortcoming of the faster lens. Like the extreme Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 which the more modest 16-28mm f2.8 hoped to pinch sales from, filters can’t be directly attached. That’s not the case with new 17-35mm, though the accessory thread is a whopping 82nn, so you may need to upgrade your filters, leading to further expense.

Description: Tokina AT-X 17-35mm f4 Pro FX

Like rival offerings, it has the characteristic ‘trumpet’ – shaped design of Tokina’s APS-C-format wide-angle zooms with separate zoom and focus-control rings. Both are heavily damped, the rearward zoom control especially, but if you don’t mind that, it feels well-made all the same.

Zooming and focusing are both internal, so then lens doesn’t change length nor does the front rotate. That makes it suitable for various filter systems, though if you intend to use the lens for movie clips, don’t expect it to stay in focus when zoomed in. Autofocus isn’t silent either, producing a high-pitched rasping sound making it noisier than anything from Nikon or Canon.

Reducing the range of focal lengths on ultra-wide angle zooms is one way of keeping image quality acceptable, so how well does this lens perform optical? Can it match the AT-X 16-28mm f2.8? Almost, especially at the wide end, but the edges never really get close to the performance of the centre and spherical aberration at 35mm, noticeable as slight blurring when wide open but disappearing when stopped down, is somewhat disappointing. Still, you don’t buy a lens like this for the longer focal lengths. Admittedly, wide-open at 17mm the edges are a bit soft but the centre has excellent sharpness. Best of all is the remarkable contrast and colour rendering. It’s particularly noticeable at 17mm and the wider focal lengths, but less impressive at 35mm.

Another area where this lens scores highly is in its control of distortion. Ultra-wide angle lenses like this usually have quite obvious barrel distortion, or worse, waveform distortion, that can be impossible to remove in post-production software. That’s not the case here. There’s some slight barreling at 17mm and a hint of pincushion at the other but it’s lower than most rivals costing much more. Apart from the slightly soft edges wide-open, this lens has some other weak areas though. At first sight, the lens has some other weak areas though. At first sight, the lens appears to hold up well against ghosting and flare with the sun in the frame, bit strong indirect light can produce unsightly veiling glare, reducing the contrast right the way across the frame.

It would also be quite an achievement in an ultra-wide zoom if there was no chromatic aberration either, but there is some lateral fringing towards the borders. This would be removed from JPEGs on current Nikons and some of the latest Canon bodies but it’s a different story with RAW files. It isn’t bad, but would still need to be cleaned up in post-production. Another area that might need some attention depending on the camera’s built-in correction abilities concerns vignetting. Although slightly less than the ATX 16-28mm f2.8 with its huge front element, it still equates to around 2EV into the corners at maximum aperture when set at 17mm, though it pretty much falls away when zooming out.

Description: Resolution aperture

Resolution aperture

Optically, the 17-35mm is a strong performer especially at wider focal lengths. If viewed on budget alone, it makes an easy choice when compared against the pricey Nikon option. However, it is by no means as straightforward when view against the Canon offering. That lens is a only few pounds more than the Tokina, but while it has the superior AF system and better performance at longer focal lengths, it still can’t match the 17-35mm at the wider end.

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