Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X Macro - The "Bokina"

More than a decade after Vivitar's release of the Series 1 90mm f/2.5, Tokina unveiled their AT-X line's macro lens (1986). According to a review written by user on, Tokina denies any relation between the Vivitar S1 90mm and their AT-X 90mm. That review, by the way, is a great in-depth look at this spectacular lens. As is the case with these more popular lenses, due to a good amount of info already available, this post will attempt to serve as a hub of as much info as I can gather, my personal experience with this lens, and some detailed images!

Above, the Tokina 90mm and the Vivitar 90mm side-by-side. The size difference is only cosmetic as the Vivitar has a slightly longer barrel and thus more shaded front element.

So despite Tokina's reluctance to reveal their 90mm's true origins, it is accepted these two lenses share their optical formula. It was, after all, Tokina who manufactured the original Vivitar Series 1 90mm. Speculation that Tokina either purchased Vivitar's design (perhaps near or after their demise) or adapted it to their own, abounds. As far as records, dates, and other empirical data proving any of these allegations is sparse at best. Whatever the truth may be, it doesn't change the fact that the Tokina 90mm f/2.5 AT-X macro is one of the best macro lenses ever made.

Look and Feel

The AT-X 90mm f/2.5 is slightly smaller than the Vivitar Series 1 90mm and in a way feels as if everything in the S1 has merely been packed into a slightly smaller package. It is a dense hunk of metal and glass. The AT-X is also slightly shorter as the front element is not quite as recessed as the S1.

The ridged rubber grip pattern used in the AT-X line is the same as I found on the Tokina MF 300mm f/2.8. It's rigid and perfect for grabbing quick focus. This 90mm also has macro reproduction ratio markings on the barrel, same as the Vivitar.

One thing I appreciate about the Tokina 90mm is the small ridge near the top cut specially to accept a dedicated clip-on lens hood. These 90mm lenses definitely need it. The hood does not interfere with the front thread so you can keep a filter on the lens, the lens cap, or even flip the hood backwards for stowing in any order you want. Simple.

Just like it's Vivitar cousin, the Tokina 90mm was designed for a 1:2 macro reproduction ratio but originally came with a 3-element macro extender the brought the lens to 1:1 while correcting for aberrations. The Tokina extender lacks a rotating tripod socket like the Vivitar S1. It also does feel considerably lighter and bit less rugged. Also, it should be noted, I used the Tokina extender with the Vivitar 90mm with great results however, the Vivitar extender cannot be used with the Tokina 90mm due to a fitted metal ridge at the top of the extender (at least in terms of the Nikon AI mount lenses).

This lens originally came in a 2-part black leather cylindrical case which included a smaller, leather compartment specially crafted for the extender. The interior was a red felt. Prices on eBay as of May 2010 have been between $360-500+ USD for these sets. They truly are worth it as they are capable of phenomenal images and sharpness.


Focal length: 90mm
Angle of View: 27°
Max. Aperture: f/2.5
Min. Aperture: f/32
Min. Focus (from film plane): 15.3" (390mm)
Filter size: 55mm
Aperture blades: 8
Elements/Groups: 8/7
Weight: 530g

Specs and MTF data can be found at This lens is ranked their 4th sharpest lens ever tested.


How does the Tokina 90mm fair? I think it's safe to say by this point, you know, this lens is incredible. I really cannot say more. This lens is sharp wide open. And not consolation-sharp, tack sharp. I consistently use this lens wide open. The bokeh is just as a lens nicknamed "The Bokina" should be: beautifully soft, smooth, and aesthetic. The coatings provide great optical performance and contrast. I love the color I get from this lens. Of course there is a hint of CA wide open, ever so slightly in extreme highlights. But I honestly have no cons with this lens. If you have the chance at one, buy it. You cannot beat the performance for the prices of some of these (I say some since due to the hype, the prices have been on the rise. $550 can buy modern macros with AF and newest technology coatings).

Below is the full-frame image and then a crop at about 200% of a jumping spider made with the Tokina 90mm f/2.5 wide open. I was holding the little guy just above the grass on a bright day. ISO 200 on the D700.

>>See some samples utilizing CombineZM image-stacking software.

Tokina 90mm AT-X VS. Vivitar Series 1 90mm

If they truly are the same optical design, then is there much difference in performance? If so, which one is better/should I look to buy?

Tokina 90mm AT-X
  • Better/newer coatings - Handles flare better, performs very well even when using strobes
  • Less CA than the Vivitar S1 90mm
  • Notched for dedicated hood. User will definitely need to use the hood for optimum performance
  • Larger grip for fast and easy focusing.
Vivitar S1 90mm
  • Heavier build, more rugged design. The Vivitar is a tank and will probably take more abuse than the Tokina if you're thinking of taking it to war.
  • Macro Extender has a built-in rotating tripod collar. This is very handy for close-up work given the weight and length of this lens. It's possible the Tokina does not have this because it is a bit lighter. Both lenses can be cumbersome at 1:1.
Ultimately, I would recommend the Tokina 90mm AT-X. I prefer the ability to shoot under strobe over the cosmetic amenities of the Vivitar. Purchasing a lens is essentially purchasing a tool. The Tokina offers the more capability. Also like tools, more capability typically costs more money. The Tokina 90mm often goes for a much higher price than the Vivitar 90mm. Keep in mind though, both lenses perform extremely well relative to other macros and are very sharp wide open.


eBay member, Malak, was kind enough to acquiesce to my request for images of packaging as he listed a beautiful sample on eBay. I love cut-away images. Also, if interested, the auction ends June 21, 2010 and can be found here. It's for a rare Pentax KA mount. You won't see these very often, and especially not in this type of shape.

Nesster has a cool upload of an original Tokina Ad featuring the AT-X line which included the 90mm.'s review with MTF's write-up of the Tokina 90mm

Some very beautiful images posted in a Chinese forum made with the Tokina 90mm.

Another Chinese forum with samples.

Short post with images of the lens and some examples from a Japanese site.

Good examples of bokeh produced by this lens in a Russian blog.


  1. I surmise you outbid me in one of the auctions earlier this month ;-) How does this compare to the Series 1 version? Shouldn't be too much different, but Tokina seemed to have used different coating on their own brand. Wonder if that improved on the flare aspect much, if at all? The Series 1 loses too much contrast with just a little contra light.

  2. I have actually noticed the Tokina is considerably better concerning flare! My first indication was how well it performed under strobes. The Vivitar S1 tends to flare easily when I attempt to shoot into a light tent or using any strobes really (always with a Hood, I use the Tokina 90mm hood via a home-made adapter). The Tokina on the other hand performs more closely to my newer macros like the Tokina 100mm. The images are bold, contrasty, and sharp as ever!

    And I actually got this one from KEH! But I was bidding on those as well, so we both lost, haha!

  3. I love the dog getting peed on. And your spider of course. It goes without saying that your exceptional knowledge impresses me, too.

  4. I too got curious regarding the relation between Tokina and Vivitar 90mm Macro lenses. One way to tell is through the Vivitar manufacture serial numbers. If the number starts with a 37XXXXXX then it is manufactured by Tokina. Here is the link reference to Vivitar's serial numbers
    David, great web site.

  5. How did you find it on KEH? I've looked there regularly an never seen one, yet. eBay's normally high, but it's still possible to get good deals on it. I've got the S1 for $120 and the AT-X for about $200 (I even forgot to bid on one that sold for about $225).

    I found out the low contrast and veiling flare of the S1 was caused by at least two thick layers of dust on the inside elements. Under lower light levels, the two lenses have pretty close contrast quality. CA seems to be the same for JPEGs on the D300, but highlight bokeh is definitely different at f4 only where the AT-X aperture blades are shorter and do not come completely together to create a full octagon but star shape-ish. This result in a distinct non-round highlight bokeh while the S1's is much smoother, rounder. Mechanically, the AT-X is no match to the S1. Beside built quality, the S1 operates much more smooth and precise while the AT-X's focusing ring is a little over dampened, not as precise and a bit uneven. At least my (mint) copy does. May be I'll look for another one ;-)

    BTW, do you use any manual focusing screen?

  6. TNT -

    I must have checked KEH at the right time because one was listed and it arrived promptly after clicking "add to cart".

    Regarding your comment on the dust, it seems this is a common issue with the Vivitar S1 90mm. I have owned 2 copies and while being in excellent physical condition, both contained a layer of dust. The copy I used for the test shots doesn't have a thick layer, but it is definitely more present than extremely minute dust that resides in a "clean" lens.

    Thanks for adding your thoughts and experiences! I concur that the Tokina's build is no match for the Vivitar. Though the dampening on my Tokina is nice and smooth, it still doesn't feel as precise as the S1.

    I don't use a manual focusing screen...yet. I am looking forward to getting one. Any suggestions?

  7. I've just received the K3 screen from for couple of days. With fast lenses, it seems to be brighter than the standard screen for the D300 and has pretty even illumination between the focusing aid center and surrounding area. This helps with calibrating the light metering system. But with slow lenses, the center areas stay brighter while the surrounding gets darkened more causing complication with light metering. In any case, manual focusing is really heaven! You can actually see the real bokeh of the lens as well as the pop when subjects going in and out of focus.

    I decided to buy this K3 screen after trying out one of the pretty much useless - dark, uneven illumination and inaccurate focus indication of both the focusing aids and the whole screen - cheap Chinese screens on ebay. You can check out some reviews/opinions here. I actually tried to buy the Canon Ec-L screen, but they ran out of all Canon ones for the D300. For the D700, I'd get one of the F6 screens as they were design by Nikon for their matrix metering system.