In mid-2013, the Tokina 12-28 mm f/4 was introduced as a successor to the Tokina 12-24 mm f/4. The trend towards ever-larger zoom range is irreversible. It may seem small, the extension of the longest focal length from 24 mm to 28 mm, but this makes the Tokina 12-28 mm unique because now you also have the view angle of a standard lens.
Both Tokina zoom lenses, with a constant brightness over the entire zoom range, are designed for use on a camera with a DX/APS-C sensor. You can also use a camera with an FX sensor, but then you have to deal with extra vignetting and black edges at the shortest focal lengths.
This is a pretty compact zoom lens, even though I personally find lenses with a filter size of 77 mm or more pretty impressive. Would the image quality of this Tokina lens also be so impressive?
Tokina 12-28mm f/4 AT-X 128 AF PRO DX @ Nikon D7100
The Tokina 12-28 mm 4 has a versatile zoom range with an angle corresponding to the view angle of an 18-42 mm zoom lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. That makes this a great lens for street photography, journalism photography or landscapes.
The lens design consists of 14 elements – including 1 aspherical lens element displayed in yellow and two SD glass elements (purple) in the lens design by Tokina – in 12 groups. The lens is very solid, fits comfortably in the hand, and both the zoom ring and the focus ring have a good resistance. This lens does not have built-in image stabilization.
Tokina’s well-known Clutch mechanism makes it very simple to switch from AF to MF: you move the front ring on the lens towards you, or slide it away from you, depending on whether you want automatic or manual focus.
The Tokina 12-28 mm 4 features a new – and silent – AF mechanism. Because of internal focusing (IF), the front lens does not turn during focusing. Tokina says that they use a “GMR magnetic precision control sensor,” which is closer to the AF motor, making communication faster and more accurate between controller and sensor. The implementation of a new “SD-M” (Silent Drive Module) ensures that the AF is much quieter than its predecessor. AF accuracy is better than of its Tokina 12-24mm predecessor, but still on a lower level than the Nikon AF. For users of a Nikon D3200 or a Nikon D5200, it’s nice that, thanks to the built-in AF motor, they still have control of the AF if they use this lens.
Resolution Tokina 12-28mm 4
The center sharpness is already quite high from full aperture and increases after 1 or 2 stops stopping down. The sharpness at the edges is, in the Imatest measurements, less than the center sharpness. Probably we are dealing here with field curvature, meaning the sharpness is not perfectly in 1 plane, because in the practice shots, the differences in sharpness between the center and the edges were less great. Field curvature is not unusual for this type of wide-angle lens.
The RAW files scored very high in terms of sharpness in our Imatest measurements, while the jpg files scored slightly lower, but still high. We don’t have a real explanation for this unusual large difference. It may be due to the correction for chromatic aberration that we have applied with the Nikon D7100 to the jpg files.
With a minimum distance of just 25 cm it takes little effort to take a tasteful picture with the Tokina 12-28 mm f/4 (@ 28 mm, f/9.5, ISO 100, 1/350).
Vincent: You know what they put on French fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
Vincent: I’ve seen ’em do it, man. They fuckin’ drown ’em in that shit. (Pulp Fiction, by Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
If you compare the vignetting of the Tokina 12-28 mm 4 in jpg files compares with the Tokina 12-24 mm, then you might think that the greater zoom range has led to slightly higher vignetting. If you compare the EXIF information from jpg files, then the Tokina 12-28 mm reports: “Lens ID-unknown”, while the Tokina 12-24 mm 4 reports: “Lens ID = Nikon 12-24 mm f/4 or Tokina 12-24 mm f/4”. Possibly, the Nikon D7100 adds a correction for vignetting to the jpg files of the Tokina 12-24 mm, because the camera mistakes the lens for a Nikon 12-24 mm f/4.
If you compare the vignetting in RAW files from both Tokina lenses, then there’s no visible difference.
In particular, at the shortest focal length, the vignetting at maximum aperture is apparent. We’re showing the worst-case here. After 1 stop stopping down and at a focal length of 12 mm after 2 stops stopping down, you will find no more vignetting in practice.
This lens, given its zoom range, shows surprisingly little distortion. The course of the distortion of the Tokina 12-28 mm 4 goes like we have seen before with similar objectives: from clearly visible barrel distortion at 12 mm, via a complete lack of distortion around 25 mm, to light – and in practice not visible – pincushion distortion at 28 mm.
The picture here shows that straight lines at the bottom of image are clearly distorted at the shortest focal length. In such cases, you can correct the distortion afterwards easily with software.
Bokeh Tokina 12-28mm 4
The bokeh of the Tokina 12-28 mm f/4 is nice and round and comparable to that of similar zoom lenses. If there is a point light source present in the background, then you can see a clear edge in the bokeh. Most users will probably not take this too hard, because no one buys an f/4 wide angle to standard zoom lens for a camera with an APS-C sensor for the nice bokeh.
All the lens elements of the Tokina 12-28 mm 4 lens have a multi coating to prevent internal reflections. Tokina’s designers managed this well. In one test shot made without a lens hood, we came across a ghost in the form of a rainbow. With the use of the lens hood, this would probably have been prevented.
Only when the sun is directly in the shot can you, despite using the lens hood, get ghosts and flares.
In the design of the Tokina 12-28 mm 4, there are two kinds of SD (Super-low Dispersion) lens elements used to correct for chromatic aberration. Yet the Tokina 12-24 mm f/4 scores on this part a bit lower than its predecessor, the Tokina 12-24 mm, and you can still find in RAW files of the Tokina 12-28 mm lateral chromatic aberration in the form of green and purple fringing at sharp contrast transitions in the extreme corners of the image. In the black and white test charts, we saw clear blue and yellow edges.
Thanks to the in-camera correction of chromatic aberration by the Nikon D7100, you see none of this in the jpg files, but this correction seems to be somewhat at the cost of sharpness.
For a modern SLR camera with an APS-C sensor, a fixed brightness of f/4 in combination with a 12 mm focal length is more than adequate to take a sharp interior shot without having to use flash.
Conclusion Tokina 12-28 mm review
- Good image quality: high sharpness, low distortion
- Well-built, fits comfortably in the hand
- Built-in, silent AF motor
- No built-in image stabilization
- Visible chromatic aberration in RAW files
In terms of image quality, all the scores of the Tokina AT-X lenses are high, and that is also the case for the Tokina 12-28 mm f/4. These are very solidly designed lenses that would not look out of place in the bag of a professional photographer. If you already own a Tokina 12-24 mm f/4 lens, then you do not, for the image quality, need to switch over to its successor. But the greater zoom range and certainly the much quieter and faster autofocus would be arguments for switching anyway.