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Digital Wide Zooms
© 2006, 2008 KenRockwell.com

Nikon 12-24mm Tokina 12-24mm Sigma 10-20mm Tamron 11-18mm

Nikon 12 - 24 mm f/4, Tokina 12 - 24 mm f/4, Sigma 10 - 20 mm f/4 - 5.6 and Tamron 11 - 18 mm f/4.5 - 5.6.
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This compares all known DX-format wide zooms as of 2006.

In 2008, Tokina introduced the best lens yet, the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, which for about $500, is better than the best lens below, the Nikon 12-24mm. Read the rest of this if you like, however as of 2008, just get the Tokina 11-16mm. Its only gotcha is that it won't autofocus on a Nikon D40, D40x or D60; for those least expensive Nikons, get the most expensive Nikon 12-24mm or Sigma 10-20mm for autofocus.

2008 also saw the introduction of the Tamron 10-24mm, which isn't very good.

NEW: Comparison chart of Digital Ultrawide Zooms 02 January 2009.

The rest follows from 2006.


Executive Summary

As of 2008, the very best wide zoom lens for DX and Canon 1.6x formats is the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, which for about $500, is better than the best lens below, the Nikon 12-24mm. The rest of this article and subsequent pages is from 2006.

All these work on all Nikon digital cameras, except only the Nikon and Sigma will work on the new Nikon D40, D40x or D60. The Tokina and Tamron are manual-focus-only on the D40 and D40x.

That's four weeks of research condensed into one sentence. I have 100 pages of details indexed here. if this is your first visit, read to the bottom of each page and click the NEXT links. In the future you can refer to the index.

I don't worry about lens cost, so I'd buy the Nikon again today. If I was still a student I'd get the Tokina and never look back.

The Nikon is easily the best lens if you split hairs and have a high resolution camera like a D2X or D200. It had better be for twice the price.

The optical differences between the Nikon and the others are subtle. These differences won't be seen by most people. You'll make better pictures by spending the extra money on a photo trip instead of the Nikon lens.

People read me because I'm direct. The weird thing about this review is the three other lenses can be pretty close. I would get the Tokina myself. If you have a special application the Tamron or Sigma might be a better choice than the Tokina. Read on if you have a specific need for weight or angle of view.

All of these are fine. I doubt I could see any significant difference in 12 x 18" (30 x 45 cm) prints from my D200. I only see differences by blowing the files up to 100%, which is similar to a 3 foot (1 meter) wide print on my monitor. If you're shooting a D50 or D70 I doubt there'd be much visible difference. Any of these third party lenses will make far better images than dreaming about a lens you can't afford yet.

Nikon 12-24mm

Nikon (see also my earlier stand-alone review here)

The Nikon lens is the best and most expensive. None of the third party lenses can outperform it. Drat; I was hoping to find a bargain. This all goes to prove that Nikon, who has been making optics continuously for almost 100 years, still knows a trick or two. Nikon also makes $10,000 pairs of astronomical binoculars and the extremely expensive (about $1,000,000) lenses used in manufacturing the chips inside your computer. They don't squander their resources making copy machines or printers.

The Nikon has the best optics, the best focusing and the best everything. What more can I say? If you have the money get the Nikon. It's future proof because it's good enough for higher resolution cameras than my D200.

The price at Adorama is $920, or $100 less than I spent in 2004. This is only a $400 - 450 premium over the others. if you'd rather see that $400 difference in your wallet then the other three lenses are fine. If you can afford it then go for the Nikon.

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Tokina 12-24mm


This is the easy choice among third party lenses. 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.

Get the Tokina if cost is an issue. If I didn't already have the Nikon and didn't have $1,000 then I'd buy this Tokina. The only way you'll see any of the subtle optical superiority of the Nikon is if you're one of those people who worry more about snapping test charts than making great images.

I prefer the Tokina because it's the only $500 lens that feels durable and professional. It's also faster in f/stop and focusing than any of the other third party lenses. The Tokina is the heaviest and feels great. You get your money's worth. It feels like a well made solid lens and it is. It works well and handles well, too.

Warning: Forget it for the D40 and D40x, since AF won't work. It's manual-focus-only on those cameras.

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Sigma 10-20mm

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The Sigma goes to 10 mm, the widest of all. It really goes to an honest 10 mm. When comparing lenses the difference is obvious. Unfortunately the Sigma feels the cheapest (which it is), even though it's the second heaviest. The Sigma's build materials and quality do not build confidence. Like it's focal length, it also has the shortest warranty. It's also the least sharp if you look too closely. Here's my dilemma: the whole point of all these lenses is to go wide. Sigma is clearly the winner for the widest of the wide, however its optical and mechanical quality scare me. If you treat your gear well and are more concerned with impressive images than test charts I'd suggest the Sigma.

I was considering this Sigma to replace my Nikon because it goes wider. It really does go wider and is a ton of fun.

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.

The Sigma is also the least sharp. You won't see this unless you look hard. If you do then get the Nikon. If not, the Sigma can make spectacular images, especially at 10 mm. Because it's not as sharp at the sides my D200 won't always focus properly with any other than the center AF sensor.

This Sigma holds the record for the widest angle lens for a digital still camera. I don't trust it, so I hope Nikon will be introducing a 9mm f/2.8 DX at PMA instead.

Tamron (see also my earlier stand-alone review here)

The Tamron works well and goes a little wider than the Nikon or Tokina lenses. It weighs less than any other, or only 2/3 the weight of the Tokina. If I was a backpacker who cut the handles off his toothbrushes worrying about weight I'd get the Tamron. The Tamron is light and almost 100% plastic, but good plastic. It's focusing is slow and noisy, not much of a problem with a wide lens.

The Tamron costs 10% more than the other third-party lenses and has the slowest f/stop and narrowest zoom range. Therefore I discounted it as the worst choice before I tried it.

After using it I realize that it has optics as good as any other third party lens, not that you'll be likely to notice for normal 12 x 18" (30 x 45 cm) prints.

It's also the lightest by a large margin. It's made almost entirely of plastic. Surprisingly it's made of very good plastic and handles well except for slow focusing. This is the best choice for minimum weight backpacking. It also goes wider than the Nikon and Tamron, and even works as wide as 14 mm on a film camera.

I suspect you can get a lot of life out of it, so long as the AF gearing doesn't gum up or wear out. This is an old-fashioned mechanical (screw) focus lens. It has a six year warranty, so I wouldn't worry.

Warning: Forget it for the D40 and D40x, since AF won't work. It's manual-focus-only on those cameras.

What About Canon?

I'd buy the Canon 10 - 22 mm lens in an instant if I had a Canon digital camera. The Canon 10 - 22 mm is better than any of these four lenses, including the Nikon.

What makes the Canon so superior is its vanishing low distortion. What little distortion the Canon has is completely fixable in PhotoShop CS2. The Canon also has a wider zoom ratio than any of the Nikon, Tamron, Sigma or Tokina lenses.

If you own Canon and want the best just get the Canon lens. it's not much more expensive than the Tamron, Tokina or Sigma lenses and costs less than the Nikon.

See my full review of the Canon 10 - 22 mm for more information.

What About the Sigma 12 - 24mm f/4.5 - 5.6?

This Sigma is a huge, older lens intended for 35mm film cameras.

It's too darn big and heavy for use with digital cameras. See my review of the Sigma 12 - 24m f/4.5 - 5.6 for more. Any of the lenses reviewed here are better choices for digital cameras.

NEXT: Introduction and Explanations


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