Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 EX DG vs Tokina 28-80 f/2.8 ATX Pro

I put together a quick comparison of these reasonably priced alternatives to modern standard f/2.8 aperture zooms. I've had the Sigma for a long time, ever since switching to Nikon back in 2012. I've really gotten great performance out of it, but occasionally look at close crops and wonder if I could get better sharpness and contrast. I've gone through a number of alternatives, and none have bested my original Sigma, so I'm still using it. In fact, it is my most used lens, and according to my lightroom smart collections I've taken almost 7,000 photos with it. The next nearest lens, unsurprisingly, the Nikon 70-200mm VR2 with around 4,800, and behind that the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 with around 2,000.

I've compared this particular lens with a Tamron 28-105 (far worse), another Sigma 24-70 EX non-HSM (this one was newer but much softer at 70mm). I also had a Tamron 28-75 2.8, but in Canon mount so I don't have any direct comparison images. I've also done some digging through the internet archives, and have read that this Sigma performs similarly or better than the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L (original version), which is high praise. It also performs better than the Sigma 24-70 HSM, especially at the long end. However, there is another easy to find review comparing the Sigma to the Tokina using photos of a newspaper page that points to the Tokina being much better. This is definitely not the case after my testing though, and I think that the testing performed on such an old body may have been more of an issue of phase detect AF needing calibration with their copy of the Sigma lens (at the time, AF Microadjustment was not readily available). It's worth noting that the Tokina has incredible construction quality - it's very tightly assembled, the AF/MF clutch mechanism, similar to the Sigma's, is smoother and better dampened, and the felt-lined hood is deeper. The Tokina also does not extend when zooming, and it's a little thinner and longer which personally I think looks nicer and probably makes it a little more resilient to dust and water. The Sigma zooms quite a bit towards the wide end, though it is a single cam mechanism (one barrel) and made from metal with a nice textured finish (though not as nice as the Tokina's).

The Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 EX DG for Nikon F

The Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 EX DG for Nikon F

And Tokina 28-80mm f/2.8 ATX Pro for Nikon F

And Tokina 28-80mm f/2.8 ATX Pro for Nikon F

I recently acquired the Tokina 28-80mm f/2.8 ATX Pro and after taking that lens out on a photo shoot, I did quick comparison in my office to see which lens was the better performer in a more controlled setting. In these shots, I used the D800 body on a tripod, fired on a 2 second timer and focused with live view contrast detection to ensure phase detect micro errors would not play a role in the results. Let's get into the samples.

↑ In the above gallery, the images are arranged left to right with the Sigma set to 28mm f/2.8 and f/5.6, then Tokina at 28mm f/2.8 and f/5.6. The Tokina has noticeably more barrel distortion on full frame than the Sigma does even at 24mm. It also has stronger vignetting, and a cooler color rendition (these images are all set to the same color temperature).

↑ Similarly to the first gallery, this one is arranged left to right starting with the Sigma at 70mm f/2.8 and f/5.6, then the Tokina at 70mm f/2.8 and f/5.6. The Tokina has an extra 10mm to zoom to as well here, though the FOV is similar enough that it would be easy to use either lens in the same situations. Both lenses exhibit a minor amount of pincushion distortion, though it is weak enough to really only be visible on critical subjects with straight lines near the frame edge. The Sigma appears to have slightly stronger distortion, but the Tokina also isn't at the extreme end of its range. The Tokina has some noticeable softness around the high contrast "Marshall" logo in the f/2.8 image when compared to the Sigma.

Sigma at 28mm f/2.8 1:1 center crop

Tokina at 28mm f/2.8 1:1 center crop

Sigma at 28mm f/5.6 1:1 center crop

Tokina at 28mm f/5.6 1:1 center crop

Looking at these 1:1 samples from the center, the Sigma definitely looks weaker than the Tokina. At f/2.8, the Tokina has much better contrast, and the brushed metal panel of the amplifier is much more visible. At f/5.6, the gap closes but the Tokina is still ahead, both in sharpness and contrast. However, the Sigma does have slightly better performance at the edges of the frame at smaller apertures (not pictured for the sake of space). Now lets look at the telephoto end of these two zooms:

Sigma at 70mm f/2.8 1:1 center crop

Tokina at 70mm f/2.8 1:1 center crop

Sigma at 70mm f/5.6 1:1 center crop

Tokina at 70mm f/5.6 1:1 center crop

Here, the performance flips in favor of the Sigma. Right from f/2.8, the Sigma is sharper and has more contrast than the Tokina, which has a dreamy haze effect. Closed down to f/5.6, the gap closes but the Sigma is still ahead. The Sigma's performance at the edge is also hard to ignore here, and it's so much different than the Tokina that I've included a sample of that as well below:

Sigma at 70mm f/2.8 1:1 Left Edge

Tokina at 70mm f/2.8 1:1 Left Edge

For my use, I more frequently require wide open sharpness at the long end of the zoom range for portraiture. The Sigma's performance stopped down at the wide end is good enough for me, and the lack of distortion makes it easy to work with in post processing. While I'm sure the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 (non VR) offers the best of both of these lenses as far as performance, it still runs double to triple the price of these lenses... so I'll be happy with the Sigma for the time being. If you're deciding between these, you'll have to identify where you need the stronger performance. The Tokina offers good sharpness right from f/2.8 at wider focal lengths but at the cost of noticeable barrel distortion. It is also very well built, and really feels like a premium item. The Sigma has better edge to edge performance, stronger telephoto sharpness, and less distortion coupled with a wider angle of view (at 24mm). It is also nicely built, just not as tank-like as the Tokina. Price is also a factor, with the Sigma hovering around $400 while the Tokina routinely goes for less than $250. With the remaining $150, you could purchase a lens such as the Nikon 85mm f/2.0 AI/S, which outperforms both of these lenses at the telephoto end with no distortion and a wider aperture, at the cost of requiring you to manually focus. I also own that lens, and it is truly exceptional for portraits.

Quick Inexpensive UV Filter Flare Test

Since becoming interesting in photography, I've religiously had UV filters on the front of all lenses I use. In fact, it's become somewhat of a compulsive purchase for me - I'll buy a vintage lens from somewhere and immediately jump on amazon and order a multi-coated UV filter, making the best of my prime 2-day shipping. Some of the filters I have are no longer available as brands and products change, and I've never really seen it as worthwhile to spend close to a hundred dollars on a filter, so my experience is limited to lower budget options. In my opinion, it is worth the few dollars for scratch protection alone out in the field shooting, and a minute loss in sharpness or contrast is forgivable.

So below, I've just done a quick comparison of the various filters I have on hand. I used a Panasonic G85 on a tripod, two Yongnuo YN-300 LED lights (one directly at the camera), and the Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens (46mm diameter). Not all of the filters I have on hand are the 46mm size, so I used step up rings to mount the larger filters to the lens - these are immediately discernible by the fading out of the reflection at the bottom left of the image. As such, when comparing a larger filter to a smaller filter here, it's best to look at the flare strength closest to the center of the image.

Please note that the dim purple flares around the light source itself may actually be related to the camera's imaging sensor itself, and not directly related to each filter's performance.

The filters compared:

I've just gotten a Hoya HMC filter, but its 43mm so not present on this test (for now). So, on to the comparisons. Diagnosis text is just below each image.

↑ AGFA 46mm. Here the reflection is noticeably defined, with a green tint, at the bottom left. Brightness around the light source is natural looking, with some dim purple ghosting around each of the four reflectors on the light.

↑ AGFA 55mm. Similar qualities to the smaller size, but a little more definitely to each individual LED in the reflection. Reflection has faded out away from center. This is just to illustrate the differences between the same filters but in different sizes. We can extrapolate this information to visualize the other filters if chosen in different sizes.

↑ Altura 52mm. You'll notice that this filter's reflection is noticeably brighter than the AGFA filters, and the purple ghosting near the light source is stronger (especially visible if looking at the prism of the Olympus OM-1 body just below the light).

↑ ESDDI 58mm. This filter appears to perform on a similar level to the AGFA filters, but with slightly more purple ghosting near the light source. I really love the construction of this filter, the rim is glossy metal instead of matte, and has nice ribbed grips spaced out in four groups around the diameter. It is also one of the easiest to screw on smoothly and securely without getting stuck, so this particular one usually lives beneath a variable ND filter for video, and the variable ND is easily unscrewed when taking stills.

↑ Fotasy 52mm. This one definitely has a different tint to the reflection at the left, still green but with more white mixed in compared to the AGFA or ESDDI. It doesn't actually seem to be much brighter of a reflection, but it seems more noticeable because of the color.

↑ Polaroid 58mm. This filter is described as multi-coated, and even has a "MC" etched into the side of the filter ring. However, I don't see any evidence of coated glass and the reflection is a strong white color.

↑ Rainbow 52mm. This surprised me - this filter seems to be discontinued (I have a few, one as large as 82mm) and replaced by the Fotasy Pro-1D. However, this older model is definitely better than the new Fotasy. In fact, I would probably call this the best performer in this set, with the AGFA very close behind. It has the dimmest reflection, the most natural color tint, and doesn't exacerbate the purple flaring issue near the light source.

↑ Vivitar 55mm. I purchased this on Adorama to go along with an Olympus 35-70mm f/3.6 and immediately regretted not doing more research. It's definitely not a multi-coated filter, and has a strong white glare. It serves its purpose as a protection filter but that's it. Comparing it to the Polaroid filter, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that these are made in the same place to the same specifications.

↑ No filter. Hashtag no filter. The lens itself handles flare exceptionally well, with the reflection basically eliminated to a patch of slightly green haziness. The purple ghosting around the light source remains present - so this is definitely related to the lens or sensor and not an effect of mounting a filter.

So overall, I think the AGFA provides great bang for buck in this segment, but the Rainbow is probably the best performer if you can still find one. For utility, the ESDDI is nearly as good as the others but has the nicest physical construction. The only negative to the ESDDI is that I can only find it in three sizes, 58mm, 67mm, and 77mm. I'd love to add Zeikos, Tiffen, and Hoya to this test in the future, but this comparison was really designed to focus on the ~$10 filter segment. I'd expect an uncoated Tiffen or Hoya to perform worse than any of these, and the coated filters from those companies generally come in at double to triple the price of the others in this test.