Lens Test: Tokina AT-X 16.5–135mm f/3.5–5.6 DX

Canon and Nikon users have a versatile new zoom option.

tokina 16.5-135mm main
tokina 16.5-135mm main

Tokina’s three AT-X digital-only zooms together span focal lengths from 10mm to 400mm. This lens ($450, street)—comparable to Canon’s stabilized 18–135mm and Nikon’s discontinued 18–135mm kit lenses—is equivalent to about 26–216mm or 25–202mm in fullframe terms, depending on the DSLR. Its 8X zoom range and wide 16.5mm starting point suited almost every subject we aimed at.

Available only in Canon and Nikon mounts, it has three aspheric elements (one glass molded, two plastic/glass hybrids), and two elements of Super-low Dispersion (SD) glass. Autofocus is quick though slightly noisy. Because the lens focuses internally, it’s good for lens-mounted accessories. Its lenshood is nicely velvet-flocked.

The ample manual-focusing ring, which locks in AF mode, has a very short turning travel and a slightly underdamped and noisy turn. The zoom action was ungainly and uneven, but we encountered no creep.

Another beef: The MF/AF switch is very close to the mount, and, marked in black-on-black, is hard to see with the camera at head- or chest-level.

In the Popular Photography Test Lab, the optics performed well. Sharpness, light falloff, and distortion control were, on the whole, slightly above-average for the class. On our lens bench, its SQF numbers at 11x14 nearly matched the comparable Canon and Nikon zooms, but this lens clearly beat both in distortion control and light falloff.

Maximum magnification of 1:5 was okay, but not up to the Canon or Nikon scores of about 1:4.

For most shooters, the best thing about this Tokina is that 8X zoom range. Starting wider than almost any of the superzooms, it carries you deep into tele. Scenics, travel, portraits, interiors, you name it: There are few subjects it can’t reel in.