I’ve been using a Nikon 55-200 F4.5-5.6 VR as my tele zoom, and while it’s optically very good it’s kind of slow and the VR is a bit hit or miss. It’s particularly annoying for shooting people and other things that move in anything less than full daylight.
I decided to look into an upgrade, and settled on the Tokina 50-135mm F2.8. I was originally thinking about a used Nikon (or possibly a new Sigma or Tamron) 70/80-200 F2.8, but upon further consideration that wasn’t going to work. I shoot the 55-200 at 55mm a *lot* because I don’t typically carry a midrange zoom any more (the other lenses I usually have are 12-24mm, 28mm f1.8, 90mm macro and sometimes a 300mm F4). That would have meant not only adding a giant F2.8 zoom to my bag, but my 18-70mm as well. I didn’t like that idea, and so that really left two choices: Sigma 50-150/2.8 or the Tokina.
The Sigma has HSM for fast focusing, which was a plus, but it lacks a tripod mount, is a bit more expensive, and got distinctly mixed reviews and reports of QC problems.
I’m pretty happy with the Tokina so far. It’s solidly made, focuses fairly fast for a screwdriver lens, and is pretty sharp wide open (very sharp stopped down a bit). I actually like the MF/AF clutch mechanism in the focus ring better than the manual override on AF-S/HSM lenses, as it guarantees you aren’t fighting the AF system.
Here it is next to an old Tamron manual focus 70-200mm F2.8, you can see how much smaller it is (also 67 vs 77mm filters and about 2/3rds the weight):
(the Tamron isn’t zoomed out all the way, btw, it’s a push-pull that doesn’t extend for zooming)
I’m not sure this is a lens for everyone, though. It definitely doesn’t have the reach of a 200mm, but I have my long tele needs more than adequately met with the 300/4, so the loss of 200mm doesn’t bother me much.