Pros: Solid built, handling, optical quality
Cons: M/A focus clutch is clumsy compared to Nikon 80-200mm 2-ring, Screw-in hood.
When a good friend of mine read my review of Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D ED w/ Tripod Collar making comparison with the old Tokina AT-X 80-200mm f/2.8 AF, he insisted that I should try the new Tokina AT-X 828AF PRO. He is a real Tokina fan.
I accepted his offer and we switched zoom lenses (Nikon and Tokina) to shoot for a couple of months. For my two-week trip to the Everglades, Florida, I took the Tokina to try it out.
This is quite an awesome lens! My first impression of the Tokina AT-X PRO is its built quality and handling. It is far better than the old AT-X version that I have used previously. I must admit that Tokina AT-X PRO handles even better than my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D 2-ring zoom, because it is a little bit smaller in diameter and it fits very nicely in my small hand and feels good, too, for a secure comfortable grip. Even though it is a bit smaller, it weighs about the same as my Nikon zoom. In fact, it's a tad heavier based on the specs: Tokina weighs 47.25 oz., Nikon 45.9 oz. Its tripod collar is a little smaller than Nikon but seems to provide the same sturdiness. The texture, especially the zooming and focusing ring, is a little bit rough compared to the smooth rubberized feel of Nikon (but no big deal, just a personal flavor). The bottom line is that this lens is very solid and it delivers quite a performance. Its gold ring on the front of the barrel makes the lens look quite appealing. The non-rotating front barrel is much appreciated when using a circular polarizer filter.
During my shooting in the Everglades, I took care not to bang it around too much, since it's not my lens. However, its built quality will surely handle virtually any abuse; it's a tough lens. Its body construction is purely metal all around; even its lens hood is also made of metal. Its zooming ring is very smooth, but it uses a counter-clockwise turn (from 80-200mm) compared to Nikon's clock-wise method.
Autofocus is reasonably fast and quiet (but not Silent Wave). I can't seem to tell the difference in autofocus response between the two lenses on the Nikon F5. I mostly shoot with this lens handheld from an airboat in the Everglades and it's quite a pleasure to handhold. It balances very well with the Nikon F5 and very responsive. The lens also balances quite well with the Nikon N90 and F4, but autofocus response is on the conservative side. I assume it will also yield a nice balance with other Nikon bodies, such as N70 or N80, or even older models like N8008 series.
I have not tried it with Nikon F100, but I suspect it should perform well. Tokina's front glass element (that moves inside the non-rotating front barrel) is a bit smaller than Nikon. This means that Tokina does not produce as much counter-torque feel as my Nikon 80-200mm when used on a lighter and faster autofocus camera, like the F100. The F100 and 80-200mm lens combination produces this slight jerk or counter-torque feel when the lens focuses at minimum distance and then at infinity.
This lens features a "D" technology and it performs well with F5's 3D color matrix as well as N90's 3D matrix or F4's simple matrix, even with Nikon dedicated speedlights. In other words, the Tokina AT-X PRO is fully compatible with Nikon's electronics and metering system.
In terms of image quality, this lens produces very impressive picture definition. My slide images from the Everglades are very sharp and contrasty. The color is also excellent.
Back at home, I have decided to conduct a few test comparisons for sharpness and contrast in various situations. I have made test comparisons with my Nikon at 80mm, 105mm, 135mm and 200mm for close and far distance at almost all aperture settings. I am particularly interested in the f/2.8 and f/4 and also at f/16 and f/22 as well as light fall-off and distortion. One nice thing about Tokina AT-X PRO is that it can stop down its aperture to f/32 (compared to Nikon's f/22). This is quite handy in case an extra depth of field is needed beyond f/22.
My slides show that at f/2.8 at 200mm, both lenses produce the same amount of light fall-off. Stopping down to f/4 it disappears almost completely and gone by f/5.6. Both lenses display about the same level of barrel distortion and pincushion. The optical distortion is very minimal barely noticeable, not even worth mentioning, and nothing to be of any concern.
Also at f/2.8, 200mm, corner sharpness of Tokina is a bit soft, but overall very good. At infinity setting, sharpness of both lenses is indistinguishable. Center sharpness of both lenses at f/2.8 at 200mm is comparable. However, Tokina seems to produce a tiny bit lower contrast. At f/4, it is very very sharp. Tokina seems to produce sharper images at minimum focus compared to my Nikon. With my 8x loupe I can't seem to point my finger at which one is better; I like them both.
There is a new playground (just completed in Sept. 2002) in my neighborhood with excellent mixture of bright new colors ranging from red, pink, to yellow, white, green, blue, brown and even purple; a perfect color combination for testing the lens for color rendition (and also for its neutrality). I am very surprised and pleased to see that Tokina performs extremely well. I have made shots using both lenses set at 80mm and 135mm at f/5.6, f/8 and f/11. On my lightbox, I cannot distinguish images produced by these two lenses without a label. Both lenses produce brilliant colors and contrast on Velvia slide. Images are very sharp that I can even read the letter in the sign near the edge of the frame.
At f/22 at 80mm, images of a row of trees (from near minimum focus near the edge of frame to the last tree near infinity close to the center of the frame) produced by both lenses are equally sharp even to the edge. Contrast may be a hair lower in Tokina, but that may be due to a slight change of light while changing lens and mounting it back on the tripod.
I also made a few handheld test shots of my son playing in the playground in sidelit and backlit situations. I am particularly looking for flare and ghosting in this type of situation. Again, Tokina handles extremely well. At f/2.8 and f/4 around 80-135mm, it does not produce any soft outlines around the subject like my Tokina AT-X 280 PRO 28-80mm f/2.8 does. Images are very sharp with outstanding detail. Flare is very well controlled with its deep metal lens shade, which must be put on at all time. Without the hood, the lens is prone to produce flare. Ghosting may be visible depending on the intensity of the sun's ray in the frame. I can also see this effect in my Nikon lens, anyway.
Images of my son shot with both lenses at 135mm f/2.8 (both using F5's 3D color matrix in A-mode and in Continuous autofocus, particularly for testing Tokina's metering compatibility) is so sharp and contrasty that I can hardly believe they are produced by different lenses. Under a close inspection, Tokina seems to produce a better contrast than my Nikon in this particular shot. Pleasing out-of-focus elements at f/4 and even f/2.8 are identical. Both lenses use 9 blades.
My test comparison is based on mounted slides viewed using an 8x loupe. However, based on my experience, an image resolution can change dramatically when enlarged to, say, 11X14 print. I have seen images produced by my Nikon at 8X12, and based on comparison of slides I suspect Tokina will not degrade at all. I am very satisfied with the results I found based on slide-to-slide comparison. Its optical quality is as good as my Nikon lens throughout its 80-200mm focal range and at all apertures. This is a very sharp lens indeed.
I really enjoy using the Tokina AT-X PRO 80-200mm. It is quite a wonderful lens, but it's not a lens without any flaws. After using it, I have two complaints about its practical usage or feature:
1. Unlike the quick twist-lock lens hood of the Nikon 80-200mm, Tokina utilizes a screw-in method. This type is an old style and I personally favor the twist-lock one, both for quick mounting and easy storing. Also I use a Hoya ultra-thin circular polarizing filter that does not have the top screw-in thread, and therefore I can't screw in the lens hood on it.
2. Its M/A clutch system is rather awkward. If you own the Tokina AT-X 280 PRO 28-80mm f/2.8, you know how wonderful its M/A clutch system is. You can switch autofocus to manual by just pulling the focusing ring backward and start fine-tuning the focus without having to switch the focus mode on the camera body. Well, the Tokina AT-X 828 PRO does not have that luxury. You can't just pull back the focusing ring at any setting or at will. There is only one slot or clutch to engage or disengage the focus ring. You must remember where it is or try to find it by turning the ring while at the same time push or pull until it clicks out or in, and thus requires some practice. Throughout my short period using this lens, I have discovered that it is easier to turn the ring all the way to minimum or infinity setting then disengage or engage the autofocus. However, this is not the problem I'm complaining about. The lens does not disengage the focus gear or clutch in M mode. You must also set the focus mode on the camera. If you don't, autofocus is still engaged and the focus ring will turn (you cannot fine-tune your focus), thus retarding the camera's focus motor due to heavy damping.
This is such a wonderful lens, if you can live with the above shortcomings. The problem with the lens hood is okay, but the inconvenience with the manual/autofocus procedure is a pain, especially if you intend to switch focus from auto to manual a lot.
Without these two flaws, it would be a perfect lens. In other words, if it uses a twist-lock style for mounting and for storing its hood and incorporates an instant M/A focus clutch system like its new member AT-X 280 PRO 28-80mm f/2.8, I don't think my Nikon can beat it, both in terms of price and handling. I believe both lenses produce the same optical quality.
Even with these two flaws, I still think this lens deserves a five star rating. I view them as flaws (not optical or mechanical flaws), but really they should be merely an added luxury that Tokina AT-X 828AF PRO does not have. My point is I really like this lens. It handles very well in the field and delivers outstanding optical quality. A comparison of lenses using a scientific instrument or examine it under a microscope to see which one is better in terms of image resolution, in my opinion, is nonsensical. We should examine its optical quality by photographing subjects that we will likely photograph. And the results of my slides show that Tokina produces such a commendable picture definition.
If you cannot afford Nikon's pricey product, Tokina AT-X 828AF PRO is very hard to dismiss. There is no reason why you should pass it up, if brand name is not your main concern. In my opinion, brand name is immaterial as long as the product is durable, reliable, dependable and most of all it produces uniformly high image quality; and Tokina meets these criteria. It is true that Nikon may retain a higher re-sale value, but that doesn't matter if you intend to keep the lens. It would be great if Tokina finally releases the AT-X 828AF PRO II that utilizes the new instant M/A focus clutch system. But even with the current model, the lens offers so much for the competition at a good price.
Tokina AT-X 828AF PRO 80-200mm f/2.8
Mount: Canon, Minolta, Nikon (D), Pentax
Lens Construction (Elements/Groups): 17/11
Closest Focus Distance from Film Plane: 1.8 meters
Aperture Range: f/2.8 - f/32
Filter Size: 77mm
Dimensions (Diameter): 84mm
Dimensions (Length): 184mm
Weight: 1350 grams (47.25 ounces)
Lens Hood: MH774