Tokina 19-35 - the "Plastic Fantastic"

Sunday, May 03, 2009 ·

Inspiration, for a variety of reasons, has been hard to find lately - as you'll have noticed by the dearth of posts. The muse can be a flighty bird and sometimes it just takes off, finds a perch somewhere out of sight and forgets to come back. However, there are signs that I'm beginning to get some enthusiasm again - and I hope it's not all down to the new lens I picked up off Ebay.

I've been using the D700 with two Nikkor zooms, the 28-105 and 70-210 (non-D version) and two primes, the 35mm f2 and 85mm f1.8. I'm quite happy with the performance of all of them. When I was at the thinking stage with the D700, I checked out the forums trying to decide what lenses would fit in with my limited budget. Time after time posters would say the same thing: there's no point in getting a D700 unless you can afford to put the best (i.e. most expensive) Nikon glass in front of it. OK, in an ideal world that's what you would do but in real life that was beyond my fiscal reach.

The four lenses mentioned above, which cost in total about £550, have proved very useful and I've no complaints. They cover a good range of focal lengths and the two primes offer the speed that the zooms lack and are just a bit sharper.

My intention all along was to get something a bit wider than 28mm and the plan was to convert my non-AI 24mm to AI so I could use it on the D700. I was going to get my old 35mm f2.8 and 105mm f2.5 Nikkors done at the same time.

A couple of weeks ago I was nosing around Ebay when I saw a buy-it-now for a 19-35mm Tokina. The seller was a camera shop offering a six month warranty and the lens looked in great condition so I thought I'd give it a go. There are two Tokina 19-35 zooms: one made by Cosina and sold under several different names and the so-called "plastic fantastic" lens which was the one I bought.

The Cosina-built one doesn't have the best reputation being a bit variable in quality. My zoom gets a good name, despite the somewhat derogatory plastic fantastic moniker.

It's hard to criticise the Tokina as it's as well built as any of the AF Nikkors I have and very usable. The zoom's range makes it a very convenient walk about lens. We spent a lovely afternoon at St Cyrus yesterday, a beach and nature reserve on Scotland's east coast about a 40 minute drive from my home in Carnoustie, and it was the only lens I used on the D700 until we'd finished our walk when I slotted on the 70-210 to pick out some beach patterns from the cliff tops.

The Tokina seems sharp enough over most of the frame when stopped down although the extreme corners are still a little smeary. I didn't shoot with it at wide apertures and probably wont in future mainly because I want lots of depth of field when using a wide angle but also because, with the D700's great high ISO performance, there's just no need.

I haven't done any testing but the lens seems to exhibit some of the complicated, moustache-type distortion. I seemed to notice a slight waviness to the horizons on a couple of sea shots. It's nothing drastic and I've yet to find if it appears only at certain focal lengths. Overall, though, it's definitely earned a place in my camera bag.

But that's enough of the lens. I'll tell you a bit about the photographs now. All but the image looking down on the beach (taken with the 70-210) were shot with the Tokina. They are all scenes I snapped after negotiating the steep path down to the beach. The white building that appears in a couple had something to do with the fishing industry I believe but I'm not sure what it's used for now. It sits on the landward side of the dunes.

The posts in the last photograph are used to support the fishing nets that are sometimes erected a short distance out into the water. The most interesting photograph is the second one from the top. It shows some of these posts that have rotted away but the unusual thing is the "X" type of composition I've employed. If you've been around photography for a while, you'll know about the way S-curves and diagonal lines can be used to lead the eye into a pic. I took this one because I liked the X shape that the posts and the sand seemed to make.

The two lines of posts form the top part of the X and the lines in the sand the bottom half. I can't remember seeing a photograph that used an X as a form of composition so I claim this as a world first!