Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tokina 12-24mm f4

I've blogged frequently over the last couple of years about my desire to own a 'super' wide angle lens for my landscape work. In the past I have owned the Sigma 15-30, which is about as wide as I've ever gotten - until recently, of course, having just purchased the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye zoom. But this is a fisheye lens in the true sense of the meaning, and I don't for a moment consider it to be my one and only landscape lens.

So in a moment of weakness (or should that be bravado?) I bid on a Tokina 12-24mm f4 ATX-Pro wide angle lens, and won it!

Of all the third-party lens offerings, I have gravitated towards Tokina for a couple of reasons. Firstly, everyone raves about their quality and finish, some even suggesting that their lenses are better made than the manufacturers own offerings. And I can confirm this with my recent purchases. They really do make beautifully solid lenses.

And second, the quality of their glass is also impressive - which is, after all, why you buy a lens in the first place - right? I believe that the glass in their lenses is manufactured by Hoya, who have always been my preferred filter makers. I like the quality of Hoya glass, which always comes at a pretty decent price.

And thirdly (and perhaps least importantly), I also heard that Tokina was started by lens engineers who left Nikon to start their own company. They wanted to make more 'exotic' glass, but couldn't get it happening through Nikon, so they went out on their own. And certainly if you look at Tokina's range you'll find that they offer a lot less choice than the likes of Sigma. But I think the saying "Quality, not Quantity" aptly describes Tokina's mantra for business. And it's a mantra I'm willing to support.

Anyway, the lens turned up the other day and it is indeed a solid, well made lens. The autofocus action is  quick and quiet, the manual focus is incredibly smooth (like butter), and Tokina's unique 'clutch' mechanism for engaging manual focus work easily and has just the right amount of grip to make the transition obvious (but not forced).

Above is a photo taken at 24mm, at f8 - around the sweet spot of the lens and where I'm most likely to shoot with it for landscapes (maybe going to f11 or 16 on occasion). The image is very sharp almost all over - only degrading very slightly at the extreme edges. Distortion is kept well under control at 24mm (and even at 12mm), and the colour/contrast is crisp and accurate - at least to my eyes.

The 100% crop above shows the sharpness boost you get going from f4 to f8 - this is not a lens you should use wide open a lot. But since this is my landscape lens, I'm not going to use it at f4 at all - so no big deal, right? People get so hung up on sharpness nowadays it's ridiculous. For what I want to use the lens (predominantly) for, f8 is about where I'll always be - and this lens is super sharp at f8. For the times that I may want to shoot an environmental portrait, I'll want to be at f5.6(ish) anyway, and it's also plenty sharp enough there too. And from what I've read on other sites, the Tokina at f4 is a match for the manufacturers own offerings anyway - at half the price!

The range from 12 to 24mm is about right for my landscape style. I don't feel the need to shoot at 10mm, so the Sigma wasn't really a consideration. 12mm (18mm equivalent) is plenty wide enough - seriously. Once upon a time (in film days) 24mm was plenty wide enough for most people and 20mm was considered crazy wide.

Nikon's equivalent is also the same focal range and f-stop (constant f4), but is considerably more expensive. Even second hand, they go for twice the price that I paid for the Tokina. Is image quality twice as good on the Nikon? No it's not. And as described, you don't sacrifice construction quality with the Tokina either.

I'm very happy with the Tokina 12-24mm f5 ATX-Pro - well worth the money, and I'm looking forward to many years usage creating some outstanding images with it. Will post some landscapes taken with the lens when I get around to giving it a serious workout. Good times.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Nikkor 50mm f1.4 quick thought

My 50mm f1.4 arrived yesterday and I managed to take it out for a couple of quick shots to test its open aperture capabilities.

First quick thought - yes, it is made of 'better' materials than my 50mm f1.8, but I wouldn't necessarily say that it's therefore better made. My 1.4 has a bit of wiggle and a little jiggle when shaken - something that the f1.8 has to a slightly lesser degree. I'm sure this is normal, however, and not the optics shaking around inside!

Focus speed on the F1.4 seems about as fast as the f1.8 too - certainly not noticeably faster. And focus motor noise is also on par for both lenses. So really, it's in the optics that the f1.4 needs to shine.

Does it shine there? Well, as yet I haven't made a direct comparison, but initial testing with the f1.4 confirms what I've been reading from others. At wide open (1.4) the lens is all-over soft. Not unusably soft - for portraits the softness is kinda nice - but it is soft nonetheless.

You can see from the above portrait of Emily and the 100% crop in on the eye that, although soft, the image still works as a soft portrait. The background is beautifully blurred, and the depth-of-field at f1.4 is just enough so that facial features remain reasonably sharp, but get increasingly blurred out from about the cheeks backwards.

Change the f-stop to f2.8, however, and things improve 100%. The focus point (on the eye) becomes stunningly sharp. Although as you can see, you do gain more depth of field. Lips and chin are now also in focus using my D300 cropped sensor body.

So from about f2 the 50mm f1.4 is super sharp. Again - not sure how comparable that is to the 50mm f1.8, but I'll make that comparison soon. In the meantime, I will use the f1.4 at a wedding this week and see how it performs. Might post a couple of images from the day as well.