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Lens Reviews

Tokina AT-X M100AF Macro lens review

J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)


Keywords: tokina, lenses, non_nikon, macro

Show pages (6 Pages)

INTRODUCTION

I had long yearned for a true micro lens. The great pictures of bees, butterflies and detailed exotic flora had me wanting. Because of an accidental misfortune I could not buy the 105mm f/2.8D Micro Nikkor when I was out there looking for it several years ago. So, no Nikon that time around.
 

Click for a view of the boxed F5A

The Tokina AT-X M100AF 100mm f/2.8 AF Macro

I had admired the Tokina lenses for quite some time, so an alternative was there. Allow me to explain why.  

THE

STORY

 

You may not believe it but there was a time when the prime (fixed focal length) lenses reigned. A zoom lens was not at par with them, neither in sharpness nor in contrast; not to mention a series of aberrations they suffer from.

Nikon pioneered the effort to develop the required new optical and mechanical formulas and as early as 1959, at the time of the introduction of the Nikon F, there were the 85-250mm f/4-4.5  -the first Nikon design-  and a 35-85mm f/2.8. Three and a half years later the not handheldable 200-600mm f/9.5-10.5 made its appearance in the marketplace, along with the 43-86mm f/3.5. However, despite how awesome these zoom lenses seemed at the time, quality was rather poor when compared to the prime lenses, reputation that haunted zooms a long time.

 

 

An unconfirmed rumor was that, annoyed because of internal disagreement on what would be the future importance of the zoom lenses and how to improve those designs, a group of Nikon engineers and managers left to establish their own shop and try out their own ideas. Hoya was asked to produce the glass under their strict specs. 

The other part of the rumor was that they left with an OEM outsourcing contract with Nikon; hard to believe although plausible with other brands.

You must remember that life-time employment was the rule in Japan until very recently. Failure was not an option. It must have taken true grit to try out on their own.

So I made a consultation to THK (the USA distributor for Tokina, Hoya and Kenko), for them to either confirm or deny the Nikon engineers' origin of Tokina and the Hoya glass participation. They confirmed it as follows:

"........ It is true, Tokina was established by a group of Nikon optical engineers and executives that wanted to concentrate on zoom lens design at a time when there were only a couple zoom lenses on the market and they were of rather poor quality. 

Tokina started out as an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and made products under other brand names and then, in the early 1970's, the Company established their own Tokina brand name. 

The glass in Tokina lenses is made by Hoya Corporation to Tokina spec, the worlds largest manufacturer of optical glass. Hoya makes glass for several Japanese camera manufactures, including Mamiya, Bronica, and Tamron. They also make virtually half of the world's glass used in eye-glasses. Besides filters and optical glass, Hoya also makes the substraight material for hard drives and semiconductors. 

Thank you 
webtech@thkphoto.com"

So there you have the connection between Tokina and Nikon engineering. For me, enough darn good reason to trust it. Furthermore, reviews have been very good, most raving, specially on their AT-X Pro line.


NIKON MICRO AF LENS OPTIONS

For those of us interested in doing up close close-up's, there are several options: reversing rings, attachment close-up lenses, extension tubes, bellows, macro couplers for stacking lenses, zoom lenses with a macro mode and true macro lenses. Since not all lenses work well on reversing rings and you loose a lot with most attachments, let me concentrate in the true macro lens options, micro in Nikon terms, all of them now with CRC, Close Range Correction technology.
 

 The very specialized and razor sharp 85mm f/2.8 Perspective Control Micro Nikkor Manual Focus lens
 

 

Micro Nikkor lenses have magnification ratios between 1:1 and 1:1.3

Nikkor zoom lenses with a macro mode have magnifications of 1:>1.3

 

The 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX lens is the second DX lens appearing in the Micro Nikkor lineup, yielding the same field of view on a DX body of the classic 60mm f/2.8 and a magnification ratio of 1:1. Its depth of field though is greater. Very light and small, it will also be the least expensive option for a new lens for DX camera users. Its minimum focusing distance is 6.4 inches.
 

40mm micro Nikkor DX lens

The 60mm f/2.8 in both non-D and D AF Micro Nikkor versions is a wonderful lens, capable, as all true AF macros, of a magnification ratio of 1:1. That means that it can reproduce on the frame an image the same size as the original. Incredibly sharp and contrasty, the one with the most DOF (depth of field).  The working distance from the front of the lens to the subject is really small to achieve those results (about 2"), yet good good for flowers and still objects. The lens performs extremely well also as a non-macro, doubling as a portarit lens on DX DSLR bodies. This lens has been updated with a darn good G ED AF-S version, with a similar small working distance. It has a minimum focusing distance of 7.3 inches.
..

Click for larger view

The 85mm f/3.5G ED IF VR AF-S DX Micro Nikkor is relatively new and the first DX lens in this category.

Compact and lightweight, with 1:1 maghnification and better working distance than the 60mm, plus VR, it has already found a good number of followers within the DX format DSLR bodies users. On a DX body it yields a field of view equivalent to about that of a 127mm lens on FX. It has a minimum focusing distance of 11.3 inches.

 

The 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro Nikkor, on the other hand, has a more manageable working distance while aqlso giving a 1:1 magnification ratio. It is much better if you want to deal with animated (stinging/biting) subjects and/or use lights. Thinner DOF than the 60mm micro of course. This lens is also reputed as a great portrait lens. It has a length of 3.3" and weights 19.6 oz; a minimum focusing distance of 12.4 inches.

This 105mm f/2.8 lens has also been updated with a superb G ED IF AF-S VR version (shown at right), having a longer working distance than the 40, 60 and 85mm Micro Nikkors.
 

Click for larger image

The 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D ED AF Zoom Micro Nikkor is another very interesting lens capable of very close to life-size magnification ratios, the maximum being 1:1.3; however, 1:1 is feasible with a 6T close-up lens. Many Nikonians like it precisely because it is a zoom lens, allowing for quicker framing with fast moving macro subjects. Street price when brand new was ~US$1,050 in the USA.

Hard to find since it was discontinued and owners don't seem willing to let go.

 

Click for larger image

The 200mm f/4D ED IF AF Micro Nikkor is the one lens providing the longest available working distance by having a mnimum focusing distance of 19.4 inches at 1:1 magnification.  A good friend of mine has one and it is his standard general purpose lens. Incredibly sharp throughout the focusing range, its smaller field of view allows for better subject isolation. Not that big (7.6") and not that heavy (41.8 oz.) as it may look here.

As many pros, our much admired nature photographer John Shaw swears by this lens. Not that hard to find used and available new as it is still in production.

 

Click for larger view

 

Great manual focus Micro AI and AI-S lenses are available, like the 55mm f/2.8, the 85mm f/2.8 PC, the 105mm f/2.8 or the 200mm f/4.0 IF. From what I've read and the images seen, they are all superb. AF is not necessarily the best for focusing macro shots, so a good majority of macro hard core practitioners use manual focus instead of AF and some still use manual focus lenses.


Craving for a micro lens

I craved for a true micro lens for a long time. Yes the "macro mode" in some of my zoom lenses allowed for closer focus, but that was that. So one good day I had the day off for myself. On a holiday and in shopping mood in Paris, I could have done a lot of damage to my credit cards. But it was January 1st and "The Nikon Temple" store in Paris, La Boutique Nikon at 191 Rue de Courcelles as well as all of the other local Nikon photo shops at Boulevard Beaumarchais, Boulevard Voltaire and Rue Des Bourdonnais were doing their year-end inventory behind closed doors. Early next day I had to return home. Fortunately other stores were open.

 

After window shopping up and down Boulevard Beaumarchais, at number 89 I entered with high hopes; it had the not so ingenious name of Euro Photo

 

It looked like a very small treasure cave, cluttered with lenses and film bodies of all formats, both inside glass counters and shelves, on all sides and on top of them. Behind a tiny counter there was a short man of clear Asian genetics. He looked very tired, as if he just had landed from the ever so rocky, slow and long cruise from Singapore to Marseilles, aboard a sampan. It never occurred to me that it could just be a nasty hangover from the previous night, New Year's Eve.

The man seemed most happy to see me. Yes, I know, I know ..... I should have run away immediately; but those shelves, filled with so many treasure pieces behind the glass, both new and semi new of known and unknown brands, had me hypnotized. And the price tags here and there did not look that wild. After all, it was Paris.

 

 

Of course I asked him about the AF 105mm f/2.8D Micro Nikkor. He told me at once he did not have it, with a very sunken heart. Amazed at his knowing so well what merchandise he had, I then proceeded to ask for the 105mm f/2.5 AI or AI-S. Of this lens, he produced three used specimens in a cinch. Overly battered for my taste, I imagined them having being at Dien Bien Phu in the hands of some war correspondents, but rapidly discounted the thought of buying them for their possible "historical" value.

Just by watching my expression, the shrewd salesman and probable owner went again into his shelves and turned to me with a brand new shinning black Tokina AT-X M100AF f/2.8 with Nikon mount; I guess I was so mesmerized that I did not stop to think he did that many times a day for a living; perhaps since he was just a boy. Besides Nikkors, there were very used Rokkor, Soligor, Sigmas, Tamrons, Vivitars and even a Phoenix, but somehow he knew I might have pooed at most of them.

I asked for the price and he quoted some outrageous figure, but with the expression in his face of someone needing the money for the ransom of his entire family, great-grandparents included, from a cruel and merciless triad. How could I make a fuss? He must have guessed I hate to haggle.

Without taking my eyes off the lens, I took out all of the francs on my left pocket and placed them on the counter. A UV filter? Here you have this multi-coated Hoya. A shade? Apparently the original was gone, however, in about 28 seconds, a 55mm Hoya rubber hood came out from a long string where about 50 of several sizes were tied together. The box? Here it is. Does it have a case? And the leatherette case was produced at once, from under the counter, with the Tokina name imprinted. From up his sleeve a warranty came out. He was a magician!. My change? After an instantaneous hesitation he gave me back some francs, just enough to get back to my hotel not on foot.

 

So, please don't ask me how much I paid for it. I don't even want to guess. But I traveled back to my hotel at Place Vendome with the huge smile I am still wearing when I remember that I was finally the proud and satisfied owner of a macro lens, the Tokina AT-X 100AF. And for sure I don't regret it. I well know now that as one grows older, there is not much need to avoid temptations, temptations begin to avoid you by themselves.

Using the AT-X M100AF for the first time

As soon as I had a minute back home, I went into the backyard. No flowers at this time of the year, therefore no butterflies. But I remembered the clay angels my wife has by the doorway. Made a shot of one of them at close distance and then went for a close up. The results on Konica Centuria 200 film, with a Nikon F5, are shown below.

Click for a larger view

 

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The Tokina AT-X M100AF, 100mm f/2.8 AF Macro at work. 
Nikon F5, Konica Centuria 200

 

 

 

Soon I had another chance to try this lens again. Every year, at Christmas time, friends of mine laboriously build miniature villages and scenes of the City of London. An incredible collection they painstakingly increase by attending Christie's and Sotheby's auctions. They were in a hurry to get to a travel agency to pick up some plane tickets before they closed. So no time to setup the tripod. I shot in a hurry, handheld, with the SB-28 on a SC-17 held in the other hand. I really did not expected something that crisp and contrasty. A few samples of the results are shown below.

 

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All I can tell you is that now my friends have asked me for an appointment as soon as the villages are rebuilt next year-end holidays. I am looking forward to oblige. The Tokina AT-X M100AF did not let me down and deserves a tripod next time around.


Good portrait lens

The lens also performs well for portraits; so it seems, although it remains to be tested thoroughly at the backdrop ....
 

Click for enlargement

A simple quick snapshot of my wife snorkeling. Tokina AT-X M100AF 100mm f/2.8 Macro
with a step-up ring (55 to 62mm) and a Nikon Soft 1 filter, SB-28 TTL fill flash.
 

 

Click for enlargement

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Deep into the tropical jungle. Soft 1
 Mid shot at Chichen Itza with Soft 1 filter
   

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As she emerged from the ocean. Soft 1
Long shot at El Garrafón (UV filter)
   

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Tokina AT-X M100AF & the perspiring author
Macaw at Isla Mujeres (UV filter)

 

 


Well constructed

The lens performs well and it seems and feels very well constructed, promising durability.
 

Click for larger image

 The Tokina AT-X M100AF 100mm f/2.8 Macro at work with Nikon 5T

SPECIFICATIONS

 Lens construction    11 elements in 10 groups 
 Diagonal angle of view  
24°30' 
 Closest focusing distance   
1.1 ft (0.35m) 
 Magnification ratio  
1:2 
 Aperture range  
f/2.8~f/32 
 Filter size  
55mm 
 External diameter  
2.7" (69mm) 
 Length  
3.2" (97.5mm) 
 Weight  
550g (19.2oz) 
 Tokina hood  
SH554 
 Street Price, new   
~US$300 
 Nikkor 105mm f/2.8D AF Micro   
~US$650 

 

It seems a sweet lens for both portrait and macro photography. Internal focusing and floating element systems provide very high resolution and contrast, from infinity to its minimum focus distance (1/2 life size), as in the picture above. 

Its internal focus system does not cause the lens to extend while focusing, thus it should work well on SLR cameras with built-in flash. Also, since the front element does not rotate when focusing, polarizing filters are easily accommodated.

 

 

Despite of not using a tripod, images were very sharp. Film speed was not that high on all the samples here (ISO 200). Sorry, no record of f/stop but depth of field was as expected for a macro lens: rather shallow. Auto Focusing was very fast on my F5 when prefocused and I felt no need to make final adjustments manually.  When the image was a bit crowded I simply locked the focus and moved back and forth, just a little, to get the exact plane I wanted.

 

click for larger view

 

click for enlargement

 

I have yet to fully try it for portraits with lights and at the backdrop, maybe with a Nikon soft 1 filter to avoid excessive detail, but I expect it to behave very well. I now have purchased an inexpensive step-up ring to screw on any of my 62mm filters on this 55mm lens.

 

Being about half the price of the 105mm f/2.8D Micro Nikkor, I could not expect it to have the same magnification ratio, 1:2 as against 1:1.  

 

However, with the aid of a the Nikon 5T/6T diopter lenses you can get it, like in the case of the 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D ED AF Zoom Micro Nikkor. 

At right, coupled with a 5T Nikon close-up attachment lens, an almost life-size handheld shot of coins.

..

US quarter and 2 pesos Mexican coin

 

If you like this alternate Tokina lens, the trick is to find it, since it has been discontinued, but the search will be worthwhile. And for sure you will locate one for a lot less than I did.

Although I am now the proud owner of the 105mm f/2.8G ED IF VR AF-S Micro Nikkor, the Tokina lens has been updated with a newer version allowing for 1:1 magnification that might be of your interest, the Tokina AT-X M100AF Pro D Macro lens

In the meantime ....... 

Have a great time 

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Show pages (6 Pages)

Originally written on April 4, 2011

Last updated on April 28, 2016

J. Ramon Palacios J. Ramon Palacios (jrp)

JRP is one of the co-founders, has in-depth knowledge in various areas. Awarded for his contributions for the Resources

San Pedro Garza García, Mexico
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