Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Review

The Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens is, essentially, a narrower aperture version of the Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens. These two lenses closely share many features and attributes including an ultra-wide angle focal length range with a fixed max aperture, a solid feel, full frame compatibility and important to most of us, a low price. You want the narrower f/4 max aperture version over Tokina's similar 16-28mm f/2.8 lens for a lower price, lower weight and ability to use standard threaded filters. But, the f/2.8 version has better image quality.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Sand Fence Shadows Sample Picture

I've been using the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens sporadically for exactly two years (to the date of this review). It has joined me on trips to some fun places including Island Beach State Park in New Jersey (above) and I can say that it has been a comfortable lens to use. Let's dive into the details.

The Focal Length Range

A 17-35mm lens has a modest range of focal lengths that, for most full frame DSLR camera owners, will extend the range already available in their general purpose zoom lens.

On an ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format DSLR camera, the 17-35mm range frames like a full frame 27.2-56mm lens. While still not a long focal length range, this angle of view is more in line with general purpose needs. APS-C owners have a much broader lens selection covering at least most of this focal length range available to choose from, making the Tokina 17-35 less differentiated within this group.

Here is a pair of focal length comparisons:

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Focal Length Range Example

Full frame DSLR camera owners will love the ultra-wide 17-35mm focal lengths and APS-C format camera owners will find the 27.2-56mm angle of view equivalent to be of value in daily use.

Use ultra-wide angle focal lengths to emphasize (make large) a foreground subject in front of a broad, expansive and likely in-focus background. Use ultra-wide angles of view to take in the grand view or to capture a smaller-but-still-big view in tight spaces.

The grand views are often desired by landscape and architect photographers. Those shooting in buildings, cars and other space-confined venues will need these angles of view.

Any lens can be used for portraits, but ultra-wide angle lenses are best used for loosely-cropped portraits and group pictures due to the perspective distortion-inducing close distances required for tight portraits.

An f/4 aperture is moderately wide and can be pressed into use indoors, but expect to be reaching for uncomfortably high ISO settings in low light if shooting handheld or shooting in-motion subjects. If only shooting narrow aperture landscapes, f/4 is wider than you need. That the f/4 max aperture is available over the entire focal length range is a very positive attribute of this lens. I can set a max aperture exposure that does not change as I zoom in on my subject.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Angled View

The right angle of view and max aperture are important, but another always-key attribute is image quality.

Image Quality

It's an inexpensive ultra-wide angle zoom lens and it doesn't come without image quality complication. To make your selection process as easy as possible, I will generalize image sharpness as follows.

Center of the frame image sharpness with a wide open f/4 aperture is very good from 17mm through 24mm and very slightly soft at 24mm, but strong softness sets in at 35mm. I consider mid-frame image quality at f/4 to be mildly soft at 17mm and it slowly degrades through 24mm, remains similar at 28mm, and becomes very soft at 35mm. F/4 full frame corners are rather soft throughout the entire focal length range.

At f/5.6, mid-frame image quality is noticeably improved and corners are improving, though the mid-frame and corners remain weak at 24mm. The center at 35mm becomes decent at f/4 with mid-frame remaining soft and full frame corners remaining quite soft.

Stopping down to f/8 from f/5.6 will make little difference in 17mm image quality. Corners remain somewhat soft. At 20mm, f/8 yields better full frame corners. At 24mm, f/8 yields noticeably better mid-frame sharpness and better full frame corners, but this focal length becomes the weakest at this aperture. At 28mm, f/8 again yields very slightly better full frame corners. At 35mm, f/8 yields better mid-frame sharpness and noticeably better full frame corners.

I'm not seeing any remarkable improvement at f/11. If you can shoot everything at f/8 or narrower, you should be mostly happy with your results.

As with all lenses used on their largest supported imaging sensor format, there is visible peripheral shading with a wide open aperture. The amount of shading delivered by the Tokina 17-35 is relatively low. Expect about 2.5 stops at 17mm quickly dropping to 1.2 stops at 20mm. Shading gradually decreases to about 1 stop in the extreme full frame corners at 35mm.

Stopping down to f/5.6 reduces vignetting by about 0.5 stops at 17mm and 0.3 stops over most of the balance of the focal length range. 17mm loses another .6 stops at f/8. Little other change will be noticed at f/8 and little change will be visible even at 17mm at f/11 where a just-noticeable 1.4 stops of shading remains. F/11 shading trails off through the focal length range with a minor 0.6 stops remaining at 35mm.

While the vignetting amounts discussed here may seem strong in an overall lens comparison, they are very good when compared against the similar and very popular Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens.

APS-C/1.6x format DSLR camera owners will see no shading from this lens.

You can expect a moderate amount of flare when using this lens with a bright light in the frame, especially at 17mm where you might prefer me to call it strong.

Full frame owners are going to notice CA (Chromatic Aberration) in the mid-frame and corners. CA is most noticeable at the wider angles, but still present in the corners through the balance of the focal length range. APS-C owners will notice CA in the corners when full frame owners see it at mid-frame (especially 17mm). Use the "Image Quality" link at the top of the page to see the colors being added to the black and white ISO 12233 test chart.

The bokeh (background blur quality) I am seeing from this lens appears fine – similar to what I see from the Canon 17-40 L in narrow aperture comparisons. At f/4, the Tokina shows a modestly stronger blur than the Canon in a direct comparison. But, an ultra-wide angle lens with an only modestly wide aperture does not deliver a big amount of background blur most of the time. And the ability to keep an entire scene in sharp focus is sometimes why wide angle lenses are selected.

The Tokina's distortion pattern is one I could copy from many other zoom lens reviews. Expect modestly strong barrel distortion at 17mm. By 24mm, that distortion is essentially cleared up with slight pincushion distortion becoming visible at 28 and 35mm. But notable is that this lens easily outperforms Canon's 16-35 L II and 17-40 L in this regard.

So, overall, this lens delivers mediocre image quality. Relatively low distortion and vignetting are perhaps the highlights.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens on Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III on Tripod

Focusing

I always maintain that accurate focusing is a requirement for good image quality.

You will know that the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens is at work by the sharp clicks and chatter heard during autofocusing. A modest motor whirring sound is apparent with a full extent focus distance change. While minor focus distance changes (especially at longer distance) happen with adequate-for-most-purposes speed, this lens does not have fast AF. This fact is, as usual, most apparent when focusing from one extreme to the other. Due to relatively slow auto focus performance in addition to an only modestly-wide aperture, this lens is not the best sports lens available.

While ultra-wide angles and narrow apertures hide AF accuracy issues nicely, I am still not pleased with the AF accuracy performance I'm seeing from this lens. Mostly I see a mild front-focus issue (that can be resolved with AFMA), but a bigger inconsistency problem occurs far too often with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III I am testing with. When focusing on unmistakable subjects, I sometimes see focus off by a significant amount – usually toward the front.

FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is not supported in the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens. Also lacking are any conventional switches including one for manual focus mode.

Exactly like the Tokina 16-28, the Tokina 17-35 utilizes a push/pull focus ring clutch to shift into and out of manual focusing mode. Tokina refers to this design as their "exclusive One-touch Focus Clutch Mechanism". As I said before, just because it is exclusive does not mean that I like it. And this is indeed not my favorite design.

When pulling rearward on the focus ring to engage MF mode, the gear teeth must be aligned. This means that the focus ring sometimes must be rotated slightly – and that you will often inadvertently rotate the focus distance setting slightly with the shift process. The shifting also results in a loud "snap" if you are not carefully avoiding this. This shift is going to garner attention in a quite venue.

The ring itself exhibits some tilt/wobble, but there is no adjustment play when locked into MF mode. This lens manually focuses very smoothly. A focus window provides the usual ft and m distance information over the 77° of focus rotation.

This lens is internal focusing – your circular polarizer filters will not rotate during manual or auto focusing. Videographers will appreciate that subjects remain similarly size as they go into and out of focus.

If not parfocal, this lens is close to being so. This means that you can adjust focal length after focusing without the need to refocus. Videographers can easily zoom in or out during recording without the need to adjust focus at the same time (otherwise, very challenging).

Again like the Tokina 16-28, the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens is not going to win any awards for its mediocre close-focusing performance. While its MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and MM (Maximum Magnification) specs place it behind the two Canon counterparts, only the Canon 17-40 L has a higher MM of significance. The 17-40 is of course the direct competitor to this lens.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens11.0"(280mm)0.22x
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens11.0"(280mm)0.25x
Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens11.0"(279mm)0.21x
Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens11.0"(280mm)0.19x

Design and Build

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Product Images

Select View:  MFD |    MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    MFD |    Rotated        Compare >

In common Tokina fashion, there are no normal "switches" on the 17-35 f/4. Notice the focus ring forward/rearward shift demonstrated using the MFD | 8 mouseover labels above. Also notice that the front lens element extends/retracts within the fixed overall lens size during zooming. It is most-retracted at approximately the 21mm position.

The adequately-sized, well-positioned and strongly ribbed zoom ring on this lens is very smooth, but quite tight. It rotates in the opposite direction of the Canon standard. There is a very small amount of play in the zoom ring gearing.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Angled View with Hood

The modestly-sized Tokina BH-821 Lens Hood is included in the box. This is a plastic hood with a ribbed interior to avoid reflections into the lens. A center-and-side-pinch lens cap is included. The angles on the center releases make the cap somewhat hard to hold on to.

Tokina's ultra-wide f/4 lens enjoys a significant weight reduction over the Tokina f/2.8 option. But, it is nearly as heavy as Canon's f/2.8 option and heavier than Canon's f/4 option.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens22.6 oz(640g)3.5 x 4.4"(88.5 x 111.6mm)82mm2007
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens16.8 oz(475g)3.3 x 3.8"(84 x 97mm)77mm2003
Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens21.2 oz(600g)3.5 x 3.7"(89 x 94mm)82mm2011
Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens33.5 oz(950g)3.5 x 5.2"(90 x 133.3mm)n/a2011

For many more comparisons, review the complete Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

You will feel the 17-35's large 82mm filter size in your wallet (larger filters cost more), but being able to use a filter is a big upgrade from the Tokina 16-28.

Like most lenses made today, the 17-35's body is made from a quality-grade plastic. It feels solid in your hand and the weight seems modest. You are not going to get tired carrying this lens around for long periods of time.

A rear-gasket reveals the fact that this lens has received some weather sealing. How much sealing is the question that remains. Tokina's press release states: "...designed for better seals around moving parts making the lens more water-resistant than lenses of the past" and then notes "The AT-X 17-35 is only water-resistant, not water-proof and is not designed to be submerged or used unprotected in heavy rain."

Not surprising is that f/4 lenses are smaller than their f/2.8 counterparts. Here is a visual demonstration of this fact.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens
Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX Lens
Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states with their lens hoods in place.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Without hoods in place, the Tokina f/4 is slightly wider than the Canon f/4. Add the Canon f/4's extreme hood and the sizes reverse. I have to admit that I've stopped using both the 16-35 L II and 17-40 L hoods due to their size. I shade the lens with a hand, hat or something if necessary.

Compared to the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens

There are not many direct competitors to the Tokina 17-35 from a full frame perspective. The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens is the most logical lens to alternatively consider. I spent a lot of time shooting comparisons between these two lenses, but with complicated image quality, making these comparisons is not so precisely easy. But, the Canon delivers better sharpness on average in any equivalent comparison – sometimes significantly better. The Canon would be my easy choice for sharpness, but there are some other differences to consider.

To the Tokina's advantage is less vignetting and less distortion.

To the Canon's advantage is less flare, lighter weight, a higher maximum magnification (0.25x vs. 0.21x), a modestly smaller but more common filter size (77mm vs. 82mm) and more focus and zoom ring rotation – 77° vs. 95° and 43° vs. 53° respecitvely.

The Canon has significantly faster AF and has a much nicer manual focusing implementation that includes FTM focusing. It also has the longest focal length range by comparison and an overall nicer design.

The price is a big deal

I'm sure that you are not surprised that the Tokina costs less than the Canon. And this savings may be the biggest reason to select the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens over the Canon.

If you can make use of an f/2.8 aperture, the Canon and Tokina alternatives are worth considering. Selecting either of those will set you back more in cost.

As I mentioned early in the review, APS-C format DSLR camera owners have many other options to consider (and I recommend doing so). Many of these lenses offer image stabilization.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Artistic View

The Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon mounts. My standard disclaimer: There are potential issues with third party lenses. Since Tokina reverse engineers (vs. licenses) manufacturer AF algorithms, there is always the possibility that a DSLR body might not support a (likely older) third party lens. Sometimes a lens can be made compatible by the manufacturer, sometimes not. There is also the risk of a problem that results in the lens and body manufacturers directing blame at each other. Tokina 3-year warranty is 3x longer than Canon's 1 year warranty.

My evaluation lens was purchased retail, as I said before, exactly two years ago.

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens Top View

Overall, this is a nice quality lens with mediocre image quality and mediocre AF accuracy. I have carried it to various destinations and while its image quality has not blown me away, I do like the lens. The price of this lens is quite low – and that is going to be a deciding factor for many. If you need an ultra-wide angle, full frame compatible lens, the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X Pro FX Lens is currently your least-cost option.

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