Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tokina 28-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro - A Performer

Tokina continues to impress. Among the third party lens manufacturers, I feel Tokina provides some of the best rival lenses on the market. In some cases, their optics even exceed the performance of the big manufacturers. Not only is the optical performance merit-worthy, but their industrial design is particularly appealing. Their "armalite" finish, also known as crinkle-finish, is among my favorite textures in the world. Tokina just seems to do many things right! The Tokina 28-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro is no exception.

I was first introduced to this lens while working at a mall portrait studio. My supervisor used it as his primary lens on a Fuji S3. I remember immediately being drawn to the physical "presence" of the piece, if you will. It was solid, hefty, and felt like a real tool. I even liked how the front element recessed so deeply as the lens zoomed. I already wanted it, and my knowledge of the lens was purely aesthetic.

At the time, I was shooting the Nikon AF-S 28-70mm f/2.8. Yeah, I know, that lens is no lightweight itself. After shooting bargain glass for a few years and feeling disappointed, I had decided to go out and pick up a couple of the best lenses available. I grabbed the 17-35mm and 28-70mm AF-S Nikkors. People always told me "you get what you pay for" so I payed.

My supervisor was no stranger to the tech side of things. One day while we were slow we decided to do a quick lens test. His Tokina vs. my "top-of-the-line" AF-S Nikon. If you have this lens or trolled the web for info on it, you'll find quite a few examples of this exact same comparison (thus I feel no real need to post ANOTHER). Needless to say, the Tokina did well...TOO well in fact. I was a little taken aback and even feeling suckered a bit. Here I had spent some time being thrifty with lenses, attempting to make due with what I had. Now, after finally biting the bullet and picking up the best I could get, I find I could have spent a third that cost and gotten similar quality. Later, I even did some lens testing and discovered the AF-S not to my liking in sharpness, at least not for $1000 lens. I sold the lens.


Focal length:
Max. aperture: f/2.8
Min. aperture: f/22
Elements/Groups: 16/15
Minimum focusing distance: 2.3' (0.7 m)
Filter size: 77mm
Aperture blades: 8
Dimensions: 4.25" x 3.30" (108mm x 84mm)
Weight: 1.6 lbs. (720 g)
Hood: Dedicated, BH-773

Price (As of October 2010)

These lenses run between $200-300 used, nearly one third the price of the Nikon AF-S equivalent and provide an excellent alternative.


As previously stated, Tokina uses what they call an "Armalite" finish, or crinkle-finish on the exterior of the lens to give it a rugged feel. I love it! The front lens element recesses inside the barrel of the lens as it is zoomed from 28mm to 70mm. Also the manual focus can be engaged via a clutch mechanism. The zoom ring must be turned to a certain point, however, to employ the clutch. Newer Tokina lenses can swiftly move from auto to manual focus no matter what the position of the zoom ring.

Model Variation

It seems there are a few variations of this lens floating around. All told there are 5 or 6 versions of this 28-70mm:

Tokina 28-70mm f/2.8 - I have seen this "first version" listed on a couple sites but I personally have no idea which model is being referred to here.

Tokina AT-X 28-70mm f/2.8 - This version has the Yellow ring and a smooth satin black exterior. You'll recognize this version as unlike later models, it has a much smaller focus ring, about 1"-1 1/2".

Tokina AT-X Pro 28-70mm f/2.6-2.8 - (There may have been some labeled f/2.8 only. Some speculation states this denotes a Japanese sold version but it open to debate) - The image below is of this first version which can easily be identified as being the first to use the clutch feature. Also it has a satin finish and a thread-based hood (MH-773). Later models accepted a bayonet hood. This lens was somewhat of a beater I picked up for a great price in hopes of just shooting it against my Pro II model. This model is reportedly sharper and a little better optically. Unfortunately the lens I received was broken and although MF was still possible, I can't say I would trust the results. I quickly returned it.

Tokina AT-X Pro 28-70mm f/2.6-2.8 Pro II - (Also a f/2.8 labeled version. I own this one. Possibly originally marketed in Japan). This model stands out as it possess the beautiful armalite finish, that crinkle metal. All the reviews I have seen rate this lens very well, just below the original AT-X Pro 28-70mm. Accepts BH-773 bayonet hood.

Tokina AT-X Pro 28-70mm f/2.8 SV (Super Value) - ...If the lens is actually labeled "Super Value" one has to wonder. Needless to say this version was not the best of these lenses. Uses BH-776 bayonet hood.

Tokina AT-X Pro 28-80mm f/2.8 - Not sure if this lens came before the above version but it is a different focal length so I am listing it last. This version was also relatively less of a performer as far as I have read but have never used it.

I have been attempting to get in touch with someone from Tokina since I cannot seem to find any more than speculation on a few of these model variation questions. The model pictured here, is labeled f/2.8 and is the AT-X Pro. Interestingly enough, I have never seen another model like it. Every other version that looks identical to this, is labeled as an f/2.6-2.8 and sometimes with the designation "AT-X Pro II". From what I have found this lens design is actually from Angenieux, a famous french optical company. There is an AT-X f/2.8 model (no "Pro" designation), however this is the older, lighter-built version and does not have the armalite finish. Also, a newer 28-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro "SV" model exists but this version is claimed to possess a different optical formula (and from most reviews performs less favorably than the previous models). The SV model, while similar in build and size to the pictured model lacks the armalite coating. After these models, Tokina even sold a 28-80mm lens but from what I have heard, this len isn't optically as good as any of the 28-70's were.


Here is a great link recently posted on another blog regarding the Tokina 28-70mm lens variation! And this is the blog from whence that link came! A well done review!

Nelson Tan has a lens test geared more towards the Nikon AF-S 28-70mm but uses the Tokina as a comparison lens. Also results in a good show from the Tokina. His blog is here.

Photozone has an evaluation here with some good technical data including distortion as well as MTF curves.

It shouldn't be too hard to find a lot of examples of imagery from this lens as it is a well-known performer. I just wanted to add my two cents and I will indeed post some shots I have taken as well.

1 comment:

  1. I owned the 3rd version of this lens (Smooth finish) used on a series of Minolta autofocus film cameras and found the performance to be very good, but I only appreciated just how good it was when I switched to digital with a Sony 850. The performance at f4.0 is just incredible. Michael J Edwards