The Tokina AT-X 14-20 F2 PRO DX was announced at the end of 2015 and is now finally for sale. A couple of months waiting time between announcement and introduction is quite usual. And yet I write “finally.” That is because this is a very special lens.
Both photographers and videographers who use an SLR camera with an APS-C sensor crave a bright wide-angle zoom lens. And the choice for them is very limited. The Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 Art zoom lens had the monopoly (if I do not count the Samsung 16-50 mm f/2.0-2.8) as a wide-angle zoom with higher brightness than f/2.8. This Sigma zoom is the world’s brightest wide-angle zoom lens and offers fabulous image quality. But, some critics quickly respond, it would have been great if the field of view had been a bit larger.
The Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 AT-X 116 PRO DX II SD, on the other hand, is also a popular bright wide-angle lens with the desired extra field of view. And this Tokina also offers fantastic image quality. The focal depth and bokeh of this lens correspond with a 17-24 mm f/4 on a camera with a full-frame sensor. But, some critics quickly respond, it would have been great if this wide-angle zoom would have had even higher brightness.
Is there no way to win?
Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 list price: 1099 euros
Tokina picked up the gauntlet and expanded their series of high-quality wide-angle zooms with a professional 14-20 mm zoom lens that couple a 1.5 zoom range at a colossal field of view with unprecedentedly high fixed f/2 brightness. With a 14 mm lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor, you get the same field of view as with a 21 mm lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor. This new and surprisingly bright Tokina zoom lens makes it possible for owners with an APS-C sensor camera to play just as much with background blur as an owner of a 21 mm f/2.8 lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor—but then with a more compact and lighter camera/lens combination. As far as photographing in the dark is concerned, you are even better off with a 14 mm f/2 on an APS-C than with a 21 mm f/2.8 on full-frame, because you need less light for a sharp picture at the same ISO value with a 14 mm f/2.
That is why this is a very special lens and why waiting for a couple of months seemed like a very long time before getting the chance to try out this new sensation in photo-land. Would the Tokina 14-30 mm f/2 be just as sharp as the other wide-angle zooms? Let the games begin!
Build and AF
The build quality of this lens is of professional level, although the exterior might look a bit less modern than some lenses from other brands The lens is also not extra well-sealed against dust and splashwater. With a diameter of nearly 9 cm, a length of nearly 11 cm, an 82 mm filter size and a weight of 725 grams, the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 is a sturdy lens for APS-C and is simultaneously a light dwarf in comparison with f/2.8 wide-angle zooms for a full-frame sensor camera. The lens design consists of 13 elements in 11 groups. A cast plastic aspherical lens and a cast glass aspherical lens are used. By applying the cast aspherical lens elements, Tokina probably avoids the onion ring bokeh that happens with lenses with a ground aspherical lens element. The lens makes use of internal focusing, so that the front element does not turn when you focus. That’s nice when using polarization or grayscale filters. And since we’re talking about filters: despite the large field of view, this lens has a surprisingly flat front lens element, so that you can actually also screw filters onto this lens. This lens has the familiar Focus clutch mechanism with which you can switch between AF and manual focusing. Automatic focusing with the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 on a Canon 760D is reasonably fast (within 1 sec from infinity to 1.5 meters) and reasonably quiet.
Sony A7 and Sony A6300 owners take note: 4K video with an f/2 wide angle!
This zoom lens is designed for Canon and Nikon SLR cameras with an APS-C sensor. But this is also a very interesting option for using with an adaptor on a Sony A6300 or even an A7S II/A7 II/A7 R II (in the APS-C mode). During this test, I made video recordings in 4K with the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 on a Sony camera, where the combination of a high brightness and a large field of view came in handy. For that reason, the Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 is just as popular with film makers. The Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 has no built-in image stabilization. But if you combine this lens via an adaptor with a Sony A7 II, A7R II or Sony A7S II, then you benefit from the in-body image stabilization of Sony cameras, so that you can shoot videos by hand, as in the video on this page.
Little vignetting, chromatic aberration or distortion
The shortest focus distance of the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 is 28 cm. A large aperture, despite the short focus distance and the relatively small APS-C sensor, makes it possible to isolate the subject from the background.
RAW files made with the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 show remarkably little vignetting: a maximum of 1.5 stops
A half stop of vignetting in RAW files shot at full aperture across the whole zoom range is very good for a wide-angle zoom lens. That is thanks to a good design by Tokina and not to lens correction in Lightroom or Photoshop, since because this lens just came out, there is not yet any lens correction profile available. And if you use the lens correction profile for the Tokina 11-20 mm f/2.8 for the time being, vignetting at all apertures is completely absent across the whole zoom range, without the signal-to-noise ratio significantly deteriorating in the corners.
The conversion of the RAW file in the Canon 760D test camera does create visible more vignetting. In the jpg files, vignetting amounts to 1.5 stops at full aperture; that is 1 stop more than the RAW file that was stored in the camera at the same time. With Nikon cameras, this problem probably does not occur, or does to a lesser degree. That is because with Nikon cameras lens corrections such as chromatic aberration and vignetting can be done regardless of the brand of the lens. With a Canon camera, lens corrections can unfortunately only be performed for shots made with Canon lenses.
Barrel-shaped distortion is clearly vision at focus distances below 17 mm. I had not expected anything else for such a short focal length. At 20 mm, the distortion is low (less than 0.4%) in comparison with other wide-angle lenses for APS-C and about the same focus distance. Without the use of lens corrections, the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 stands in the best half of the 80 APS-C lenses that have reviewed with a focus distance under 35 mm (converted to full-frame) for all the tested focus distances. As soon as a lens correction profile becomes available in Lightroom or Photoshop, distortion at all focus distances will be absent.
Bokeh & Flare
It goes without saying that a flower-shaped lens hood for combatting unwanted reflections from bright backlighting is included. There is also multilayer film coating applied to prevent internal reflections. The video above is deliberately made with the bright sun shining directly in frame, in order to test the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 for flaring and ghosts. In order to make ghosts more visible, shots are over-exposed and the shadow areas are subjected to extra lightening in post-editing. The Tokina put up a brave fight, but there is still some room for improvement here. You sometimes see some ghosts, which videographers who want to use this lens might even see as good news. I notice on TV how crazy videographers are about backlit shots with ghosts, while photographers try to prevent that. There are few (perhaps no) wide-angle lenses that are completely free of ghosts and flare under such extreme conditions.
Practically all wide-angle zooms for APS-C are less bright than f/2.8, so that they already deliver a lot of focal depth at full aperture and it is difficult to isolate the subject from the background. The bokeh is then usually not that great. That is different with the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2. With this lens, despite the short focus distance, it is still possible to create a beautiful background blur, even though you always have to creep up close to the subject. Click here to see an example of a shot made at f/2 or f/4: the water in the background creates a much more restless image at f/4.
Tokina has done everything possible to achieve a great bokeh: The Tokina has an aperture with 9 rounded lamellae for a beautiful bokeh. A cast plastic aspherical lens and a cast glass aspherical lens are used. By not applying any ground aspherical lenses, Tokina prevents the onion-ring bokeh that occurs with lenses with a ground aspherical lens element. The bokeh is indeed beautifully round. I did not find any onion rings, but there is a light ring around the bokeh.
Anyone who follows the reviews from DxO at all will not be surprised that this lens, just as other Tokina wide angle zoomlenses on DxO Mark, scores well on the point of sharpness. At the shortest focus distance, the sharpness is the highest. At all all focal lengths, the sharpness in the center is maximal after stopping down two stops, and the sharpness in the corners also increases further above f/4 . The sharpness is, even at full aperture, high. And that is unusual for an f/2 lens. let alone a zoom lens. This lens actually delivers sharp pictures across the whole range, although you do see differences if you place shots made, for example, at f/2 and f/4 next to each other for direct comparison. Click on the shot above for an enlarged comparison of the sharpness at f/2 and at f/4.
Conclusion Tokina 14-20 mm f/2.0 review on a Canon 760D
Use the Lens Comparison or look in our list of reviewed lenses to compare this lens with other lenses.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
The test was done with a Canon 760D. Canon does not make it possible to do in-camera lens corrections. Because a Nikon camera does correct for chromatic aberration and a correction for vignetting on a Nikon camera is possible, those scores are higher if you have a Nikon camera.
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens if the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. We open the file without converting it in Photoshop or Lightroom. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of lens correction profiles in DxO Optics, Photoshop or Lightroom for converting RAW files, then the RAW scores for vignetting, chromatic aberration and vignetting are (even) higher.
The Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 holds a unique position with its exceptionally high brightness. As far as sharpness is concerned, it is evenly matched with its family members, but it knocks them out at f/2. And that is unique. Together with the Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 Art, which more or less starts at the focus distances where the Tokina stops, the Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 is the world record-holder when it comes to bright wide-angle zooms for cameras with APS-C sensors. Due to the higher brightness, they deliver just as nice a bokeh as the less bright wide-angle zooms on cameras with a full-frame sensor. The Tokina 14-20 mm f/2 is without any doubt a winner for photo and video.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.