Realizing that I’m likely to be shooting a DX camera body for a long time I’m starting to ask questions about my lens line up. When I shot 35mm film, I used a Tamron 20-40mm for nice wide angles. There were moments where I’ve wanted a slightly wider field of view but on the whole it’s been an excellent companion especially at the price ~$800 Canadian (1998). But now I’m shooting on DX camera body and am stuck with the limitations of my 18-70mm (~= 28 – 105 in 35mm terms) – so I decided to research what my options are.
- $914.95 Nikon 12-24mm f/4G
- $558.72 Tamron SP Autofocus 11-18mm f/4.5-5.6
- $481.11 Tokina 12mm – 24mm f/4.0
- $449.95 Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6
As much as I enjoy filling Nikon’s coffers paying $900+ is currently just a bit rich for my blood. If you’ve got the cash then skip this post buy one. (If you buy any lens clicking on the link above then Amazon will give me 4% of the proceeds.)
After that I decide to do what any good developer would – research the topic to death. Now I take pictures in the real world, don’t care much for lens charts or pixel peeping. But I won’t have a chance to do any testing before I buy a lens so I need all the reviews I can get.
The nutshell – all of these lenses would make good choices – each has its limitations – but all will do a very good job.
I found three round up reviews that covered all the lenses:
- Nikonians has the some excellent notes on each lens and says as part of its summary: “It should be apparent by this time that all four lenses produce images that are very satisfactory. Each of us felt we could use any one of these lenses on a shoot and come away pleased with the results. Interestingly, the three reviewers who participated in this test own three of the four lenses, and we would each make the same choice again.”
- Shutterbug reaches a similar conclusion: “Any digital SLR owner who is frustrated by the inability to make true ultra-wide angle images with existing lenses would definitely appreciate one of these zooms.” Also that these lenses maybe better than their 35mm brethren: “When compared to my older 20-40mm zoom (designed for 35mm systems), they produced images with noticeably less purple fringing around subject edges, more snappy contrast, and greater edge sharpness at wide apertures.”
- Ken Rockwell has a very long report. Basically he prefers the Tokina (over everything but the Nikon) because “It’s the only one that feels solid and professional. It has the fastest focus, the fastest aperture and has the best handling of all third party lenses. The Tokina is the heaviest lens of the four. It has no weak points.” Of the Sigma he says : “Unfortunately it feels cheap, even though it’s reasonably heavy. It makes funny noises when focusing, has crummy lens caps, a weird, ugly painted finish and doesn’t inspire my confidence. It’s warranty is only one-third as long as the next shortest warranty. If Sigma isn’t confident that it will last more than a year, I’m not either.”
If you’re going to buy one of these lens then take the time to read all of those reviews.
I also found a number of individual reviews. The largest number going to Sigma
- Jason Janetzky says “The lens is both sharp and offers more than acceptable contrast and saturation. Chromatic aberration could be an issue for those who choose to shoot wide open most of the time. Stopping down will control CA somewhat. The same can be said about vignetting.”
- Juan Parmenides says the distortion is good, vignetting is typical for the type and resolution is good to great.
- Fredrik Rasmussen doesn’t like its IR performance, complex distortions and variable aperture. Basically he’s not a fan
- Photozone.de does an exhaustive test with no pictures. They measure the distortion, vignetting, etc. In summary they say: “showed a good though not stellar performance on the Nikon D200. The vignetting and distortions are quite comparable to the rest of the gang but the border resolution, specifically towards the long end of the zoom range, leaves a little to be desired compared to its direct competitors. This is a bit unfortunate because the center resolution is exceptional at all focal lengths.”
- For the pixel peepers PopPhoto has it SQF charts. The upshot you get a wider lens with more linear distortion than the others.
- What Digital Camera is slightly disappointed in general and with corner sharpness in particular.
- Photodo has a number of user reviews. Very informal reviews – most like the lens. Some of their observations contradict earlier reviews. YMMV.
- Fredmiranda.com has pages of user reviews. A common theme comes out most are happy with, but Sigma has (or had) QC problems. If you buy one of these test it a lot, find out if its lemon quickly and get Sigma to take care of you.
- Finally Thom Hogan uses one as his primary lens. NB this isn’t a review although he promises one merely a comment when he describes his current kit. To my mind Thom’s implicit vote for it is a good sign – its good enough for a well known working pro.
I’ve also discovered that Sigma has a worldwide warranty (wow), but it only lasts one year (bummer).
I own, love and have abused more than a few Tamrons over the years however there is one surprise with this lens: When its being auto focused the focus ring moves – if you’re holding on to it – you might damage the lens. Caveat Emptor.
- A quick look from June 2005 Luminous Landscape says: “The price is attractive and the lens is capable of producing high quality images.”
- What Digital Camera notes that “there are plenty of examples of fringing, especially in the corners of the frame at 11mm. Similarly image sharpness falls off at the corners more than similar lenses from Canon or Nikon.”
- Bob Atkins says (in the conclusion): “Sharpness is consistent across all apertures and focal lengths, flare is very well controlled and vignetting is very slight. There is visible chromatic aberration and barrel distortion, especially at the shorter focal lengths. However in extreme wideangle lenses of this type such aberrations are probably to be expected.”
Interestingly the user forums (photo.net, fredmiranda etc.) seem silent on this lens. That means either its perfect and everyone is just out taking pictures or it hardly sells at all.
Finally we have the Tokina, which disappointingly is not available in Canada. You can buy but you’re responsible for shipping it back if there are warranty problems.
- Bob Atkins says (in the conclusion): Overall I can say that I liked the Tokina 12-24mm f4 and I’d have no hesitation in recommending it if the focal length range meets your needs.
- Soren Hese has produced a great review that actually features pictures. (You mean we take pictures of real things and not walls and MTF charts with these things – strange).
- Photozone.de with the exception Chromatic Aberration they’re impressed with this lens.
- Jim Strutz has another excellent review with images on photo.net.
- Radu Grozescu likes the image quality, constant aperture and build quality.
- Finally there are a few quicky reviews at Photodo.
When I buy one the choice will be between the Sigma and Tokina. The Tokina seems to be slightly better overall, but 9.5 mm (in 35 mm terms) than my kit lens. The Sigma would be 12-13mm – those extra few mm will amount to quite a field of view.
Hmmmmm, time to go and think.