It is well known that Angenieux – before retreating to less cost sensitive markets like the movie industry and the military – made a final attempt to secure a place in the consumer market, with a now legendary Angenieux 28-70 F/2.6 AF zoom, launched in 1990. In 1994, the company was sold to its current owner, Thales, and left the consumer market for good. Tokina launched its own 28-70 f/2.6-2.8 soon after, and is widely rumored to have purchased the blue prints of the lens from Angenieux.
But in France, there are collectors who believe that Tokina had played a role in the design and the manufacturing of the Angenieux 28-70 lens. For them, Tokina did not have to buy the blue-prints, because the Angenieux lens was itself the result of a cooperation between Angenieux and the Japanese optics company.
After all, Angenieux had no prior experience with auto-focus lenses, and may have seen a cooperation with Tokina as a way to accelerate the product development and reduce the costs.
How similar are the various Tokina AF 28-70 lenses to the original Angenieux AF 28-70 F/2.6?
Just looking at the characteristics, the 28-70 f/2.8 lenses can be grouped in 3 generations:
- 1988 – 1994 – the 28-70 F/2.8 AT-X (the non-PRO model) predates the Angenieux by two years. The optical groups share a similar high level design: 16 elements organized in 12 groups. Apart from that, the Tokina and the Angenieux look very different: the Angenieux carries the brand’s very distinctive design language, and is beefed up in every dimension. It’s longer, wider and heavier. The AT-X requires 72mm filters. The Angenieux and all the other Tokina 28-70mm F/2.8 lenses need 77mm filters.
- 1994 – 1999 – the AT-X PRO 28-70 AF/2.6-2.8 (and PRO II) lenses are the ones whose main specifications are the closest to the Angenieux. The main difference between the Tokina and the Angenieux comes from the ability to disengage the auto-focus on the lens itself on the Tokina (by pulling the focusing ring): Angenieux never had such a feature.
On the Japanese Domestic Market, the Tokina were sold as F/2.8 lenses (no reference to F/2.6), but in the rest of the world they were marketed as f/2.6-2.8 zooms. [The Angenieux was sold as a F/2.6 constant aperture lens – in theory, a lens opening at f/2.6 lets 10% more light go through than a lens opening at f/2.8 – the difference is largely symbolic.]
The PRO II of 1997 was a significant upgrade over the first AT-X Pro, and benefited from one “High Refraction Low Dispersion” (HLD) optical element, from a better multi-layer coating, and from a faster focusing mechanism. The lettering on the lens’ body still reads AT-X PRO. The easiest way to recognize the PRO II: a bayonet hood mount that replaces the screw-on mount of the previous Angenieux and Tokina models.
- 2000-2002 – the 28-80 AT-X “PRO” of Year 2000, and the “Special Value” AT-X PRO SV 28-70 AF F/2.8 of 2002 are clearly 2 variants of the same model, but seem to have little in common with the earlier AT-X PRO models and with the Angenieux: significantly different dimensions, different minimum focusing distance, two aspheric optical elements, internal focusing.
|Angenieux||Tokina AT-X 270||Tokina AT-X Pro|
|AF 28-70 F/2.6||AF 28-70 F/2.8||AF 28-70 F/2.6-2.8|
|Elements / groups||16/12||16/12||16/12|
|closest focusing dist.||65cm||70cm||70cm|
|Lens hood||screw-on mount||screw-on mount||screw-on mount|
|Tokina AT-X Pro II||Tokina AT-X Pro 280||Tokina AT-X 287 PRO SV|
|AF 28-70 F/2.6-2.8||AF 28-80 IF f/2.8||AF 28-70 IF f/2.8|
|Elements / groups||16/12|
|Special glass elements||1 HLD||2 Aspheric, 1 SD||2 Aspheric, 1 SD|
|closest focusing dist.||70cm||50mm||50mm|
|Lens hood||bayonet mount||bayonet mount||bayonet mount|
Using one of those lenses today?
With the full frame digital cameras becoming more affordable, there has been a renewed interest in the Tokina 28-70 f/2.8 AF lens family in the recent years. They’re a far cheaper alternative to current luminous trans-standard zooms from the big camera makers. What do you lose if you use a lens from the nineties?
- compatibility: the lenses were designed for 35mm film, and are only a good fit with full frame digital cameras (on cameras with an APS-C sensor, their angle of view is similar to a 43-105mm zoom on a 35mm camera). The Angenieux was available in Nikon AF and Minolta AF mounts (both of the screw driver AF type), and in a Canon EF variant, with an integrated auto-focus motor. In addition to the mounts of the big three, the Tokina models were also available for the Pentax KAF mount.
As far as I know, Canon and Minolta-Konica-Sony have never altered the bayonet mount of their auto-focus lenses, and Sony Alpha bodies still have the motor required to focus automatically with a “screw–drive” lens: any of the Tokina AF lenses should work on a Canon or Sony camera. The case of Nikon is more complex. All those lenses behave like Nikkor AF lenses of the first generation, which means they won’t auto-focus on Nikon bodies deprived of an auto-focus motor, such as the D3x00 and D5x00 series, as well as the new D7500 (there should be no issue with Nikon’s full frame cameras, as they still have an in-board auto-focus motor).
- Performance of the 28-70 f/2.8 lenses compared to modern offerings
- It’s difficult to assess – few of the tests conducted by paper magazines in the nineties are still available today (most of the magazines are gone, and the online archives of the survivors don’t often go that far back). Shutterbug is a good source of information: they’re one of the few surviving US photography magazines, and the articles they published in the nineties are still available on their Web site.
- Tests were made with film cameras, in reference to equivalent zooms from Canon, Minolta and Nikon. A few tests published on the Web 10 years ago were conducted with digital cameras with a smaller APS-C sensor and a lower resolution, and are of little value with today’s high resolution full frame sensor cameras.
- on the forums, as usual, there is a lot of hear say, wishful thinking and self re-inforcing opinions, but little in terms of facts or serious tests.
That being said,
- there is not much information about the original 28-70 AT-X (non-PRO) of 1988 on the Web. It got a good review from Ken Rockwell in 2011 (obviously as a “used” lens option for cost conscious buyers). He liked its price, its relatively small size and weight, and its sharpness at the center, even at full aperture. In his opinion, you needed to stop down to f/8 to get to excellent levels in the edges or at 70mm.
- the 28-70 AT-X PRO 2.6-2.8 (the so-called “Angenieux” design) generally got great reviews. Reviewers were impressed by its built quality and its sharpness (with a few restrictions): the review of Peter Burian on Shutterbug is very positive (it was originally published in 1999, and Peter was shooting with film). He rates the image quality as exceptional in the center of the frame at full aperture, and excellent even in the edges at F/4 and above, with a sweet spot in the 35 to 60mm range between F/5.6 and F/11 where it’s as good as a prime lens.
Maybe because he tested the lens more recently on a digital full frame camera (a Nikon D700), Eric Tastad in ERPhotoReview is not as enthusiastic. In his opinion, the lens is very sharp in the center at 28mm and full aperture, but needs to be stopped down to F/5.6 to reach excellent levels across the frame and above 50mm. And it will remain relatively weak at 70mm even when stopped down. To summarize, you could say that in his opinion the lens should have been sold as a 28-60 f/2.8-4.
- the 28-80 AT-X Pro F/2.8 IF – there does not seem to be a definite opinion about this lens – according to some of the reviews, it’s inferior to its predecessors, while others (Peter Burian at Shutterbug in particular) say it’s the best of the bunch (which would be logical considering it’s more recent, and that it does not seem to have been designed with aggressive cost cutting in mind). The fact is that it had much serious competitors than its predecessors: lenses such as the more recent Nikon 28-70 F/2.8 AF-S are significantly better at full aperture, and focus faster and silently thanks to an integrated auto-focus motor.
- the 28-70 Pro SV is a budget version of the 28-80, and is generally considered inferior in performance to the 28-70 AT-X Pro II.
The Angenieux is a collector’s item. Its value on the market has little to do with its usage value. It can not be found for less than $1,500 – much higher than more recent Canon, Minolta or Nikon 28-70 f/2.8 lenses.
The price of the Tokina lenses does not necessarily reflect the reputation (good or bad) of a specific 28-70 model – poorly regarded AT-X PRO SV lenses are often proposed for prices as high as the AT-X PRO II ($250 to $275 for perfect copies). The AT-X Pro 28-80 tends to be even more expensive (up to $400.00), but at this price it’s getting dangerously close to the cheapest lenses f/2.8 zooms of the Big Three (the Nikon 28-70 f/2.8 AF-S zoom can be found at $500.00).
More about the Tokina 28-70 AT-x PRO II f/2.6-2.8 in a few weeks…
Reviews by paper Magazines:
Tests by Web sites:
Ken Rockwell (the Tokina 28/70 AT-X from 1988): https://kenrockwell.com/tokina/28-70mm-f28.htm
Opticallimits.com (formerly known as photozone.de) : the AT-X Pro II from 1997 review in photozone.de
erphotoreview (AT-X Pro II from 1997): http://erphotoreview.com/wordpress/?p=987&page=5
Tokina’s archived Web pages:
To learn everything about Angenieux, there is no better source than a French writer and collector named Patrice-Herve Pont, who is the author of an extensive history of the French optics company (Patrice Herve Pont : Angenieux, made in Saint-Heand (Loire, France).
Unfortunately, his book (written in French) was never translated and seems currently unavailable (I ordered it from Eyrolles a while ago and they’re still trying to fulfill my order).
Angenieux is primarily serving the movie industry now. One of their corporate publications: http://fdtimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/FDTimes-Angenieux-Special-Aug2013.pdf