Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wide Angle Lens Shoot-out: Canon 16-35mm vs Tokina 16-28mm vs Nikon 14-24mm

After several painstaking minutes hours of Google searches and no direct comparison of the big three lenses(Canon 16-35mm II, Tokina 16-28mm, and Nikon 14-24mm), I convinced my wife I needed to do the showdown myself. So $4400 later I now own all three... Ha! Actually the plan was to rent each lens for a week at a time from BorrowLenses and see which one is the best...

First, my totally scientific and completely thorough sharpness test in the awe inspiring location of my front yard. There is actually some science that comes in from the fact that I am to lazy to set up a true sharpness test and my front yard allows me to shoot from the exact same place, with the exact same settings, and focused on the same spot each week for each lens(well pretty close anyway). I shot all the lenses set at f2.8 and then all at approximately f11 for these photos. I said approximately f11 because the adapter ring for the Nikon didn't have f-stops marked and I had to use my camera's light meter to give me the appropriate stops down. I shot everything at 16mm to keep it as close as possible. The Nikon still looks a little bit wider.

First Round f2.8.
1. Canon 16-35mm 2.8L MkII at f2.8 and 16mm

2. Tokina 16-28mm 2.8 at f2.8 and 16mm

3. Nikon Nikkor 14-24mm 2.8 at f2.8 and 16mm

Now I did adjust these shots in Lightroom and why wouldn't I. I don't usually post pics or sell any prints that haven't been adjusted in Lightroom first so why wouldn't I fix these too. Ignoring the slightly different times of day and the cloudiness causing varying degrees of contrast the Nikon blows the other two out of the water at f2.8 for sharpness. The reason I wanted to shoot wide open is predominately for night photography, where f2.8 and f4 are normal stops I use, add in the fact the Nikkor reaches 14mm and it's a clear winner here. The Canon is OK and the Tokina while sharp with what's in focus had a unusually shallow depth of field for a wide angle lens. More on that later.

Now for the second round and a stop of f11.

1. Canon 16-35mm 2.8L MkII at f11 and 16mm

2. Tokina 16-28mm 2.8 at f11 and 16mm

3. Nikon Nikkor 14-24mm 2.8 at f11 and 16mm

At f11 all three lenses sharpen up quite well, shocker I know. But when
inspecting the image closer the differences start to really stand out. The Canon shows considerable softness in the top corners as seen in the tree leaves on the right. Oddly the Canon also had the most lens flare, but that could just be from the sun's angle on that particular time of day. The Tokina looks really good at f11 and I feel rivals the Nikon in overall sharpness stopped down from f8 to f11. Between the two though, the Nikon still looks just a bit sharper and has a just a little less distortion overall. One side note: The focus point on the Nikon was a few feet farther out than the other two lenses. My aim was off slightly(manual focus only due to the adapter). The small pine in front looks sharper for the Canon and Tokina because of this.

And the winner is...

Well based on this test it would be the Nikon, but for the actual photography I do, the Nikon doesn't justify the cost. I don't mean just the huge price tag either. I had this lens with me on a recent trip to Arches National Park and I ended up shooting just as many pictures with my trusty Canon 24-105mm lens as I did with the Nikon. The reason is, I tend to run and gun a little when the light is constantly changing and I want to try different compositions to follow suit. For instance, I was at the end of the park one evening and realized the light was going to be really good for a shot I had been planning at Park Avenue, which is at the front of the park. I used my Canon lens just to make sure I didn't miss the last bit of light messing around with zooming in, manually focusing and adjusting the aperture ring on the Nikon. The second reason is I shoot at f11 most of the time for maximum depth of field without diffusion kicking in too much. I wouldn't even use the Nikon at anything between f2.8 to f8 most of the time. The only exception is for night shots where depth of field isn't as important since everything is dark anyway.

With that in mind the Tokina actually is the winner for me. I know about the limited filter options(same as with the Nikon) and I've heard it could take a couple copies to get a really good one, but for the price it can't be beat on a Canon DSLR anyway.