Friday, March 19, 2010

Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8 AT-X SD - Performance

I took the new (used) Tokina 300mm f/2.8 out for a spin the past couple days during my daily travels. I didn't get the chance to make it to the zoo, like I wanted but summer's on its way. What I do have is a quick test I did on a tripod overlooking the local lake. The sun provided a beautifully rigorous set of variables for any lens to overcome. High contrast, strong highlights, flare, just about everything.

Let's Get To It

I have to say, although I don't have a lot of experience with other f/2.8 telephotos, I am rather impressed. You can make some beautiful images with this lens. Obviously this lens has its shortcomings. But for the money, I am very happy.

Below is the test key image. Being a bright sunny day, this high contrast situation will definitely showcase the lenses ability, or inability to handle CA. The lens runs through f/32 and runs 1/2 stop clicks until f/22 where it then is one click to f/32. Somehow I goofed and missed f/22 in this test. Not only that, despite having a tripod, I managed to get some camera shake at f/32. Diffraction was already degrading the image so much I hardly feel it necessary to worry about this. I don't know anyone buying an f/2.8 lens to shoot at f/32. So f/22 and f/32 are absent from these examples. Image info is posted lightly in the bottom left corner of each image as well.



First off, allow me to clarify something. A comment on a previous post brought to my attention, something I may have forgotten to communicate in these lens tests regarding performance. The comment was just that I was focusing on wide-open results heavily, despite the lens being able to deliver fantastic results at later apertures. To that, I just want to say this.

Let us assume as with almost all optics I have come across, optimal optical performance will be at some middle aperture of the lens. Typically lenses are at their best at f/5.6 or f/8. However, often times the difference between very expensive optics and cheap-o's comes down to how that particular lens can handle "the extremes". How does it handle in highly specular situations, how does it perform wide open, how do the peripheral factors of the lens such as bokeh look? It is those aspects of lens that I invariably explore. For it is through such scrutiny the great lenses can be found still performing.


So with that said, is this lens worth the f/2.8? Is it worth buying the f/2.8 to use at f/4 since buying an f/4 may mean you must use it at f/5.6 for usable results. I think the lens performs quite satisfactorily at f/2.8. It's a bit soft but retains a great amount of detail and after some post, can produce some very nice images. Edge sharpness looks pretty good. Near the corners the lens softens for sure. Definitely has an issue with CA, but again, many of the Tokina lenses I have used do have this issue. Perhaps a little post could improve this. At f/4 I would say the lens improves greatly, certainly in regards to the CA. There is some light fall-off at the early apertures but nothing abnormal. I tend to like a bit of vignetting anyway. By f/5.6 I think this lens looks great! After f/8 diffraction begins taking the image back down. Even at f/11 it is very evident.

Contrast is great. I find Tokina lenses to typically be a little more contrasty than their Nikon contemporaries. The 300mm MF is no exception. Contrast is an interesting issue relative ot the digital age. Primarily because I prefer to control this in post. I typically shoot RAW and worry about contrast when I get to the computer. Granted, the less post, the better. And a lens does need a certain quality of contrast. I am only saying, I don't feel it is "quite" as imperative as it was with film, though definitely still important.

All in all, a great lens for about half to a third the price of the Nikon. If you are looking for a lens for some serious freelance work that need to be technically very adept, I would recommend just buying the Nikon. According to those who use them, they're excellent. You (or your client) however, know your own needs better than anyone. For what I am doing right now, this lens will be just fine!

Just for the heck of it I made a few other images with this lens at ISO 3200 on the D700. Love that camera.

1/200 @ f/2.8 ISO 3200

1/60 @ f/2.8 ISO 3200

1/5000 @ f4 ISO 200

1/1000 @ f/5.6 ISO 200


I will continue to shoot with this lens and see what I can get out of it. I also just recently used a teleconverter, the Nikon TC-14A, just to see what happened and I actually got some very nice results. Likewise, I am happy with results from a used AF Tamron 1.4x TC I found for $30 at a local camera shop. It seems this lens is relatively conducive to TCs.

Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8 with Tamron AF 1.4x TC


  1. Excellent review.

    Does the Tamron AF 1.4x TC converts the Tokina into an AF lens?

  2. A honest & practical review on a legacy lens. Thank you!

  3. David, your reviews and this site are great. I'm shopping for a "budget" super-tele, can you tell me how this Tokina compares to the Tamron SP 300mm f2.8 60B?

    1. Hey Seth! Apologies for the lack of timeliness on this reply. I have actually never owned the 60B though I did own the 400/4, known in the Tamron product line as the 65B. It was very similar in performance and cosmetic design to the 60B. (I do own and still shoot with the Tamron 300/2.8 107B version, which is more "old school" so to speak, but I love it!) That being said, I have used the 60B a few times and the 65B a great deal. As well as the Tokina 300/2.8.


      The Tamron 300's and the Tokina perform very closely. Honestly, I think you might find the variation in sample, as with any lens, would literally be the difference in performance. Both will exhibit significant latitudinal CA, or purple fringing as they say, when used wide open under high-contrast situations (such as a water fall on a sunny day). Sharpness with both is very good in my experience, even wide open. I will say, in your search for a "bargain", the Nikkor 300/2.8 lenses have seemed to been selling for similar money to these third-party brands and while I have not used that lens, I don't think you can go wrong with those Nikkors. I would keep that one higher on the list, having used these other lenses.


      Like the Tamron SP 400/4, both the 60B and the 107B, have slightly more sluggish focusing. It's almost a viscous motion. Not a bad feeling, just needs "intention". The Tokina on the other hand, in my three copies that I have owned, has always had this SUPER responsive, fluid spin to it. You can place your pinky on the focus ring and roll it. I love that! So that would be a big pro.


      As I said, I don't think you will be disappointed with either to be honest. The toughest thing is trying to use them once you buy them. If you're shooting anything fast moving, the Tokina would probably be advantageous but MF with any long tele on fast moving subjects is just flat out challenging! So good luck.

      One last consideration. If you figure the 300/2.8 Tamrons and Tokinas go for between $500-800 depending on condition and accessories, and the Autofocus versions can be had for as little as $700 in some cases I have seen, you might consider that. Or if you can pony up the average $1000 for the Tokina AT-X Pro 300/2.8 that comes around now and then on eBay or something, that AF might be helpful. It's older AF so again, not lightning, but it might be beneficial. Just a thought! Thanks for reading!

  4. yo bro, your results for the closed aperture seem to have lens shake! 1/100 is too slow for this zoom without a gyroscope!

  5. I have been researching the SD and At-x pro 2 series of this lens, and i can't a definitive answer on what Nikon camera bodies the are compatible with. I have the following and wonder if the lenses will work. D800, d7100, d600. I would truly like a answer to this mystery. I can not find it any where.
    Thank you

    1. Works with D810 and Tamron 1.4x converter excellently - metering and autofocus retained.

    2. Works with D810 and Tamron 1.4x converter excellently - metering and autofocus retained.

    3. yes it works on my D7100. just need the tc now,hopefully will get some great results.though it's a heavy tbh

  6. Unfortunately, I cannot answer your question on compatibility of the Tokina AF 300/2.8 lenses because I have never used them. Is there a particular reason you believe the AF versions may not be compatible with your D800, D7100, and D600? In all my readings, and I did at various times consider purchasing the AF 300/2.8 versions, I never came across any discussions about incompatibilities. The Tamron AF 300/2.8 lenses however, are often noted as potentially needing some sort of upgrade to function with even the newer Nikons of the same period. I have not heard of the same issues with the Tokina 300/2.8. Though, again, that's just been my experience.

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  8. Interesting lens but definitely not on the same level as the Canon FD 300mm 2.8 which is razor sharp wide open so for most people I think saving a bit more or being patient for a good price/copy of the FD will be better.