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This new AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 lens shines bright, outperforms pricier competition

Third-party lens manufacturer Tokina made a name for itself several years ago with the venerable 11-16mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens for APS-C cameras. The company went on to carve out a niche making high-end, low-cost, wide-angle zooms for both crop sensor and full-frame formats.

Tokina aims to recreate its earlier success with a new midrange zoom: The AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 just made it through the gauntlet of DXOMark testing with flying colors.

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Available in both Canon and Nikon versions, the Tokina aims to provide professional quality optics at a fraction of the price. And unlike Tokina’s wide-angle offerings, which were often built around unique focal lengths not directly present in first-party lenses, the AT-X 24-70mm f/2.8 mirrors both the zoom range and maximum aperture of lenses from both Canon and Nikon.

It’s a staple professional lens, a workhorse of photojournalists and event photographers. And according to DXO (which so far has tested only the Nikon version), the Tokina is now the best 24-70mm lens available for Nikon, beating out both the Tamron and Nikon’s own version.

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This is no small achievement. The new Nikon 24-70mm costs $2,400, while the Tokina is just about $900. Yet, the Tokina posted better scores across the board: greater sharpness, higher transmission, less vignetting, and (slightly) lower distortion. The sharpness score is perhaps most surprising, but it does come with a caveat: While the Tokina performs very well at midrange apertures, it was weaker at f/2.8. Wide open, it falls behind the Nikon and Tamron.

That’s a critical note, because many photographers purchase an f/2.8 lens for the purpose of shooting at f/2.8. Sharpness at other aperture values may not be important at all, depending on the individual. The Tokina also doesn’t offer image stabilization, which is a feature found on both the Tamron and the Nikon.

As always, this shows how a lens that performs well in a technical analysis is not necessarily the right one for every photographer. That Tokina delivered such a capable lens for less than $1,000 is an admirable achievement nonetheless.