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[Article] Digital Wide Zooms


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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.

Click an image to get it from Adorama. Also try Amazon. It helps me if you get yours at either one.


Executive Summary: Get the Nikon if you can afford it, otherwise go for the Tokina.

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 of all pages.

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 (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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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.

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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. Becasue 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.

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

The Tamron works well and goes a little wider than the Nikon or Tokina. 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.

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.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Recently I bought Sigma 10-20 and I love it, I've read so many reviews and personal opinions they were all good but this article kind of puts me down on my purchase.. eh oh well. Im glad with what I have maybe when I save more money I can purchase nikon wide lens.

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Less than the Nikon and comparable to the Canon 10-22mm. The Zeiss truly sets the benchmark for WA lenses.
ohh didn't know that. But in the first time, I thought you were talking about a Leica lens hehe
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