While Sony has been racing to bolster its lens inventory to make its system more attractive to the working shooter, having third-party lenses available further justifies investing in a platform. Naturally, Sony has a vested interest in creating lenses for its products, but it’s not until a customer base reaches a certain level that other companies will take on the expense of creating lenses for the platform.
Tokina clearly has been watching as its compatriots Sigma and Tamron move into the high-end market with increasingly impressive results. While all three companies have long made entry-level kit lenses, Tamron and Sigma have successfully cracked the pro market. The Sigma 85mm “Art” lens, for example, has recently received some of the highest marks possible on the independent analysis site DxOMark.com. Recent reviews—including ours—have found these pro lenses from the third-party companies to be on par with anything released by the camera manufacturers.
This new Tokina 20mm F2.0 FE MF uses a new lens design for Tokina, which the company says, “delivers a sharp edge-to-edge image and greatly reduces exposure fall-off for a crisp, clear image.” While the lens lacks autofocus, it features electronic communication with the camera body, allowing it to use the in-camera 5-axis stabilization, manual focus assist and aperture settings.
The closest direct competitor to the Tokina 20mm is the Zeiss Batis, which does feature autofocus, but at $1,500 is almost twice as expensive as the Tokina lens. We have both lenses available for testing, so we were able to directly compare the two head to head.
The Tokina 20mm F2.0 FE MF feels like a professional lens, with a solid metal construction and smooth aperture and focus rings. At just over a pound, the lens feels substantial without feeling bulky. The lens hood is wide and rectangular, reminiscent of a classic cinema lens, and thanks to the “de-clickable” aperture ring, which can be set to either click at each ƒ-stop or move smoothly between them, helps make the lens a good choice for video work.
Internally, the lens has 13 elements in 11 groups, and coatings to reduce flare and ghosting. The diaphragm has nine blades, which produces excellent “bokeh,” also called background defocus. The lens has a 62mm filter thread for standard filter use.
Despite the lack of autofocus, it was surprisingly easy to focus the Tokina 20mm F2.0 FE MF. The smoothness of the focus ring combined with the ability to do both focus peaking and focus assist with the Sony body made it easy to dial in crisp focus. Obviously, the 18mm Zeiss Batis, with its built-in autofocus, provides faster focusing, especially when used with face detection, but a super-wide lens like the 20mm and the Batis 18mm are more often used for landscapes and other uses where the manual focus isn’t as much of a handicap as with a portrait lens.
Tokina’s claims of a wide-angle lens with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness and lack of falloff proved true when shooting the new 20mm lens. We had the opportunity to shoot against clear blue skies—a great way to look for vignetting—and in urban environments—great for determining sharpness. In all conditions, the lens lived up to its marketing.
In harshly backlit situations the lens has a tendency toward reduced resolution, though that’s the case with many lenses. (It’s just easier to have backlit situations when you’re shooting against such a wide swath of sky.)
It’s impressive to see a new entrant in the high-end market produce a lens with such admirable image quality. Rivaling an image produced by a legendary master of optics is no small feat, and as such, Tokina should be complimented for its efforts.
The new 20mm F2.0 FE MF is a great lens for the Sony shooter who’s looking to shoot wide and who doesn’t need autofocus. At around $800, the lens is an affordable specialty lens, and it bodes well for the future of the Tokina FiRIN lens lineup.
You can follow Editor David Schloss on Twitter and Instagram @davidjschloss