Thursday, December 30, 2010

In-Depth Review: Tokina 100mm f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro

The Tokina 100mm f2.8 ATX-PRO Macro

Tech Specs
Focal Length: 100mm
Dimensions: 3.75” x 2.9”
Weight: 19 oz.
Maximum Aperture: f2.8
Minimum Aperture: f32
Diaphragm Blades: 9
Front Element: non-rotating, extends about two inches
Optical arrangement: 9 elements in 8 groups
Autofocus Mechanism: Micromotor (Canon version)
Closest Focus: 11.6 inches
Maximum magnification: 1:1
Filter Size: 55mm

For people who like to get up close and personal with their photography, the 100mm macro is the Goldilocks of macros in that it allows more working space than the 50mm versions and costs a lot less than the 150mm and up lenses. Besides having the perfect balance of performance and price, 100mm offers great potential as a portrait lens, too. In short, because of their usefulness, mid focal length macros are very popular lenses.

Build Quality: 4
Tokina is a company known for its high standards of construction and the 100 f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro doesn't disappoint here. Yes, the lens is plastic, or in Tokina lingo, polycarbonate, but it is built very well for a lens made of such materials, having a very dense feeling to it. As is the norm for most maro lenses, the front element is deeply recessed into the lens barrel. Moving into the mechanics, it's all good. The focus ring is absolutely buttery smooth in its movements and there is no slop to speak of at all. To switch from AF to MF, simply snap the ring to the indicated position at any time you like as there's no need to find the “window” as was required on some old Tokina lenses. Well, snap may be a bit of a misnomer, as the ring can be moved virtually silently. When it comes to focusing, the lens will extend about two inches when focused at its closest distance. As a final touch, this lens incorporates a distance window. In all, the lens is very solidly put together, especially for one in its price range.

The lens extends about an inch at closest focus. Here it is with the hood, too.

Autofocus Operation: 5

The Tokina 100 f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro does not feature an ultrasonic drive, but the conventional micromotor/mechanical drive, depending on your make. Yes, while it may not be a sonic drive, the Tokina is still an extremely good performer when it comes to AF. On my Canon 30D, focus is always spot-on, even with fast moving subjects like flying birds! Oh yes, speaking of birds, the tracking abilities of this lens are stunning as well, especially considering that macros are often bashed for the tendency to have slow AF. In terms of sound, the lens is extremely quiet for a micromotor and should be inaudible except to people standing right next to the photographer using it. All in all, when it comes to the AF capabilities, the only thing the Tokina macro lacks is its ability for full time manual override, other than that, this lens is almost as good as a sonic lens in terms of speed, accuracy, and sound. As an added bonus, Tokina was good enough to equip this lens with a focus limiter switch.

Focus limiter switch, AF/MF clutch settings, and distance window.

Despite being powered by a micromotor, AF is speedy enough to do birds in flight without missing.

Optics: 5
One advantage of a fixed focal length lens is that the job of the optician is easier because performance at only one focal length is of concern, which means that cheap primes often outperform expensive zooms. Because macros need to focus so close, they have a reputation for containing some of the finest optics on the market. Let's see how the Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO Macro does.

Center sharpness is wonderful. 

Corner sharpness on APS-C leaves nothing to be desired.


When it comes to sharpness, the Tokina is a top performer right out of the gate. Wide open at f2.8, the lens is as sharp as it will get and this sharpness extends from corner to corner, to boot. Stopping down will only extend depth of field, which is vital at macro distances. On a crop camera, the lens starts to hit the diffraction limit by f16. Unfortunately, not owning a full frame camera, I can't provide any insight as to how this lens would perform there.

Being a fixed focal length, and on top of that, a macro, the Tokina has no distortion whatsoever.

A pleasant surprise: no vignetting whatsoever!

There is no vignetting on APS-C.

Chromatic Aberration
Tokina lenses have a reputation for having high-levels of chromatic aberration when shot wide open. The 100 macro lives up to this trend, with the CA being the weakest link in the optical chain. However, even in the most extreme situations, the CA virtually disappears by f4, which is good.

Try as I may, I can't get the lens to flare even without a hood.


When it comes with the ability to resist flare/ghosts, the Tokina macro has two things going for it: a recessed front element and an included hood. Even without the hood, try as I may, I just can't get this lens to flare.

The deeply recessed front element undoubtedly helps prevent flare/ghosting.

Unlike Canon lenses, the Tokina comes with a hood included. As an added plus, note the pinch style front cap, you can remove it with the hood in position, unlike the crappy Canon front caps that require hood removal.

Value: 5
Going to show that you can get more than what you pay for, the excellent performance and $400 price of the Tokina 100mm f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro make it an absolute steal. As of this writing, the Tokina is the cheapest 100ish macro on the market, edging out Sigma and Tamron lenses and blowing away the manufacturer versions in terms of price. Really, the only question for anyone who has even the slightest money concerns is why one should not buy this lens. Unless sonic-drive AF is a must-have feature, there's simply no reason to buy anything else.

In the Field:
With its 100mm focal length and fast 2.8 aperture, the Tokina 100 f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro has a lot of photographic potential. First and foremost is the true 1:1 macro capability, whose results must be seen to be believed. If you've never shot a macro before, be prepared to be blown away as small spiders transform into hairy beasts, yarn becomes rope, and scuffs on coins become deep gouges. Thanks to its fast AF, this lens also has potential for indoor sports and anywhere portraits, provided that a faster focal ratio isn't required to separate subject and background. As a last bit, the short telephoto length can be great for general walk-around shooting, too.

All photos are the original image (top) and 100% crops (bottom). Oh, yes, those pictures of the fiberish material is a closeup of yarn. If you ever wondered what 1:1 reproduction plus all of those pixels on a modern digital camera can do, here's your answer.

Set the focus to infinity and forget it! Note: no CA at f4, either.

The Tokina 100 f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro is a great astro lens as infinity is infinity. So, no need to fiddle with the focus, just manually focus to infinity and enjoy the tack-sharp stars!

In terms of competition, the 100ish, f2.8 macro is a very common lens as just about everyone makes such an optic. Needless to say, competition is fierce, especially considering that the optical differences in macro lenses are pretty much nil in that all of them are good. So, when it comes down to the basic 100mm macro, the only real deciding factor will probably be price, in which category the Tokina is king. Now, when it comes to add-on features, choosing could be more difficult as some of the latest macros incorporate sonic drive motors and/or stabilizers. Unfortunately, these add-ons demand a major price increase that will leave many people asking “do I really need that?” When it comes to the sonic motor, my advice is to skip it as modern micromotor lenses perform very well and for the reason that manual focus is best when shooting macro as it allows the photographer ultimate control over the point of focus. The stabilizer? Well, that can come in handy, especially when lighting is not good. However, if you want the stabilization so you can shoot narrower apertures, consider this: the diffraction limit of the lens itself. Most lenses will start to soften between f11 and f16. So, think about it, is that you need or just want that stabilizer? Unless you're loaded, my advice is this: skip the stabilizer, too.

Conclusion: 4.75/5
In conclusion, the Tokina 100mm f2.8 AT-X PRO Macro is an excellent lens in itself that gets even better thanks to the unbeatable $400ish price tag. The build, AF capability, and optics are all pretty much top-notch and the focal length and fast aperture combine to turn the macro into a great all-around lens, too. The bad, well, there really isn't any. The addition of a metal barrel and sonic motor are really the only things this lens could use, but, these additions would undoubtedly jack up the price a bit, though. In conclusion, this lens is proof that it is still possible to get more than what you pay for. So, for anyone considering a macro lens, I would highly encourage you to look at this one first!

Tokina 100mm 2f2.8 ATX-PO Macro + Camera = Loads of Fun!

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  1. Thank you for this review. I can't believe you can get this quality at such price. I will research more on this lens

  2. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  3. Thanks for the review, I ended up getting the lens and I love it. As you mentioned it really is a decent walk around camera too. I find myself leaving it on over my other lens often. When shooting macro I bring along two speedlights and the results are awesome. It's been a good lens for getting my passion back into shooting for the fun of it.