A Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens review and my new love affair.

This Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens review is not sexy, which is fitting considering the lens itself it’s very sexy.  You don’t hear a lot of people raving about it on photography sites.  Like the proverbial nice guy, it often gets overlooked by its bigger, badder, more posh competition.  But the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens is a fantastic lens at a value price and might just be the lens you never knew you always wanted.

How I Met the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens

I love shooting macro.  There is just something fun about bringing out those previously unseen details.  Aside from the personal joy and creativity shooting macro allows me, I occasionally need to shoot it for a job.  As an occasional wedding photographer, having the ability to shoot up close images of rings and other details is a must.  I’d been making due with a pair of extension tubes.  But I was ready to invest in a dedicated macro lens.  The problem was spending $900 on a lens I only truly needed four or five times a year seemed foolish.

So I dated a few lenses.  I spent a weekend at a wedding with the Nikon 105mm and had a quick date with the Nikon 40mm.  We hit it off well enough but I was having trouble committing.  I hated the Nikon 40mm and our first date was our last.

I got introduced to the Tokina 100mm entirely by chance while watching a YouTube episode from a well-known portrait photographer.  He was describing his lens kit when he mentioned the Tokina.  Intrigued by this shout out, I took to the web to research.  Soon I was convinced this might be the lens I’d been looking for!  I bought the Tokina and we were indeed a match made in heaven.

What follows is why the Tokina 100 mm f/2.8 macro lens has become not only my go-to for macro shots but also one of my favorite portrait lenses.  This review is based on my experience shooting the Tokina 100 f/2.8 for Nikon.  The lens also comes in a version for Canon and I would expect similar performance with the Canon mount.

Not sure about what focal length is right for you?  We can help!

The Specs

Name: Tokina AT-X PRO 100mm f/2.8 D Macro for Nikon
Weight: 18.1 ounces or 1.19 pounds
Aperture Range: f/2.8-f/32
Macro ratio: 1:1
Filter Size: 55mm thread
Format: FX for Nikon
Price: Around $350 new from B&H Photo, Adorama and Amazon

Why I Love The Tokina 100mm f/2.8 lens

Build quality

Solid.  That’s the first word that comes to mind in terms of the build of this lens.  It is a combination of plastic and metal parts, feels substantial in your hands and fits my camera body easily and solidly.  The controls are tight but perform smoothly.  It handles perfect right out of the box.

The front lens element is actually recessed into the lens by quite a bit.  I like the protection this offers the glass from accidental nicks and dings.  It also helps the lens perform well in backlit conditions.  This feature is particularly hand when I forget the lens hood (which let’s face it, happens a fair bit).  Glare and haze in my images are eliminated even without the use of a lens hood.  And speaking of the lens hood, it has solid plastic construction and snaps on tightly to the lens.

Focus and Sharpness

If sharpness is what draws you into a relationship, have no worries.  This lens is sharp.  I mean it is SCARY SHARP, which you, of course, expect in a macro lens.  After taking some self-portraits with it, I decided it might be a little too sharp for a 40-year old mom that likes homemade ice cream.  All joking aside, this is the sharpest lens I’ve ever used.  Other thoughts:

  • Auto-focus does a great job of hitting the focal point exactly.  The focus was dead on straight out of the box and shooting this thing for a year now hasn’t changed that.
  • The Tokina is built with an autofocus clutch.  To switch from autofocus to manual focus, you grab the focus ring and pull it forward.  It does take some getting used to after shooting lenses with immediate manual focus override, but I find that I prefer it.  It prevents me from accidentally bumping the lens out of focus when I’m shooting.  Mastering the clutch mechanism does take a bit of getting used to and if I haven’t used it in a while, it takes me a moment to get my bearings.  But overall, I like the build.
  • A focus limiting switch on the side of it, which you can turn from full to limit. This locks the focus out of the closest focus making it focus faster when used as a moderate telephoto lens.

Price

A quality macro lens at less than $400 is what makes this lens such a great value.  When writing this review, the Tokina 100mm Macro is selling for around $350 at places like B&H Photo, Amazon and Adorama.  That’s about 1/3 the price of the Nikon and Canon equivalent, and about $150 cheaper than the Sigma lens.

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 sample images

Macro Magnificent

The Tokina 100mm Macro is a fantastic macro lens.  It has a macro ratio of 1:1, which means you are depicting a subject on your digital sensor in its actual size, so if you printed an image the same size as your digital image, your subject would appear life-size.  The 1:1 ratio makes it a true macro lens and allows you to capture tiny details and magnify them in stunning detail.  Rocking the ring shot is no problem with this lens.  Neither is capturing insects or other tiny details.

With a minimum focusing distance of just under 12 inches, you can be almost a foot from your subject and still get the benefits of a macro lens.  Shooting insects, small mammals or other critters is easier (and safer) when you don’t have to be all up in their business.  It also helps keep me from being so close that I block all my light.  Compare this to when I was using a set of extension tubes and I had to be less than an inch from my subject to achieve focus in some instances.

My auto-focus can hunt some when shooting macro.  This isn’t a big deal for me as most of the time I’m in manual focus for optimum results.

Quality is evident across the image, with no field curvature and very minimal distortion and vignetting.  With my macro tubes, for example, I was fighting softness at the corners of my images.

If I was making my living shooting nothing but macro shots, I would probably invest in something with a longer focal length like a 200mm.  But for my needs, the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens is an ideal mate.

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 portraits

Portrait Perfection

No Tokina 100mm f/2.8 lens review would be complete without discussing it’s ability as a portrait lens.  Honestly, the Tokina surprised me with how much I love it as a portrait lens.  Sort of like when you’ve been dating someone for a while and you find out he or she is an amazing pastry chef.  Bonus!  That’s how I felt after shooting this during a practice portrait session.

The Tokina has great color, dreamy bokeh and is crazy sharp.  Many portrait shooters love having the 1.4 aperture to render beautiful bokeh.  My own preferences are to shoot a little more stopped down and allow the compression of my lens to help render backgrounds out of focus.  That’s exactly where this Tokina shines.  At a 100mm focal length, I am able to stand well back from my subject, shoot at f/4 for sharp portraits and have that creamy, beautiful background as well.

A 9 bladed-diaphragm, so you get amazing 18 point sun stars as well.

If I’m shooting portraits in the field or in the studio and have the room, this is the lens I reach for every time.  I like that I have the benefits of a telephoto lens in a small, lightweight, sharp package.

The Tokina’s Shortcomings

Like with any significant other, there are some downsides to this partner of mine.  Good news is, it doesn’t track mud into the kitchen or leave its dirty towels on the floor.  The bad news (relatively speaking) is as follows:

  • The Tokina’s autofocus motor is a bit on the slow side, is slightly noisy and has a hard time grabbing focus in low light.  Knowing this, I don’t use the Tokina for shooting any action shots.   I also avoid it inside a quiet church or any quiet event where I’m trying to go incognito.  For low light conditions, I either switch to manual focus or leave it in my bag.
  • The Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens does not have any kind of image stabilization system.
  • As you focus more closely, the lens is built such that the barrel of the lens extends.
  • Bodies like the Nikon D40, D40x, D60, D3000, D3100 or D5000 will not support autofocus with this lens.  You’ll need to use manual focus.
  • With third-party brand lenses, there’s always the chance that the lens will not be compatible with future Nikon camera bodies.

None of these are deal breakers for me, though, nor are they truly significant in terms of the performance I require of this glass.

Wondering how this lens compares to it’s brand-name counterpart?  Read our review of the Nikon 105 f/2.8 VR Macro Lens!

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens bokeh

Happily Ever After?

I’ve always been skeptical of third-party lenses.  I’ve shot a number of them over the years and until recently never felt like they truly compared to quality of Nikon or Canon.  So I was skeptical of how much I’d really like this one.  But the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 macro lens stacks up in performance to it’s Nikon counterpart in every way that’s important to me, including build, sharpness, color and compression.  I’m not one to name drop, but believe me when I say some very high end portrait and wedding photographers use this lens and love it for all the reasons I just mentioned above.

When you factor in the price, one review I read sums it up best…stop thinking about it and just buy this lens already.

So yes, stop thinking about it and buy this lens.  You won’t go wrong with the Tokina if you’re looking for a dedicated macro lens, or if you want a macro lens that will double as an amazing portrait lens.  Believe me, you’ll love it so much you may just want to marry it.