TEST – Tokina SZ 500mm F8 Reflex MF
TEST - Tokina SZ 500mm F8 Reflex
Last September, I received the brand new Tokina SZX Super Tele 400 mm f:8 Reflex MF for a field test. This catadioptric lens was a surprise when the brand revealed it since this technology has not been used for a while. More recently, the brand released a nasty little brother reaching up to 500mm while keeping the same f/8 fixed aperture.The first surprise lies in the weight of this new lens. While the 400mm SZX was about 355g without adapter, the new SZ 500mm is even lighter, with an honorable 310g. However, the making does not seems less qualitative with its strong aluminium finish and the ring still is really smooth to use. In other terms, this 500mm is keeping the strengths of its big brother while also improving points such as weight, reach, and filters size. This time, you will need to use 72mm filters (to place between the lens and its lens hood), which are more common than 67mm ones.
It still provides a precise scale for manual focus that allows you to calculate with precision the distance to your subject. You can also choose to use it along with Tokina’s SZ Super Tele Finder to add a red dot on subjects to be even more precise. The biggest advantage of this equipment is that the red dot created is projected on a glass screen and not directly on your subject like a laser would do. This means you can use it on wild animals without disturbing them since it will make no difference from their point of view.
During my field test of the Tokina SZ 500mm, I was suprised by the sharpness of the pictures I was getting. Even if my EOS R does not include the IBIS stabilization system you can find on EOS R5 & R6 for example, I must say that lots of the pictures taken with the SZ 500mm were having a correct level of sharpness considering this is a catadioptric lens. As I said in my previous test, you can’t (and should not) compare this lens to telelens like 150-600, fixed 500mm f/4, etc. as it is clearly not the same range of equipment. You can buy the SZ 500mm for less than 400 euros while any 150-600 reaches at least 800 to 900 euros. And I will not even speak of the prices for fixed 500mm f/4.
This lens aims to provide with an unexpensive option for those wanting to practice wildlife or sports photography as a hobby. It appears to be very competitive if you compare it with other existing options among manufacturers such as Samyang or Opteka.
On the field
That being said, I really appreciate the compactness of this lens. It allows me to go for a nice quick walk near my place after work without carrying heavy equipment while still being able to get nice pictures from the surrounding wildlife. It will obviously be more complicated for moving subjects but with a bit of practice and a correct speed management in the camera settings even flying birds (Ok, maybe not swallows !) should not be a problem.
I found this lens to be particularly effective for still photography, when you lie on the ground for example and for subjects, -such as this swan- that are not very shy towards humans.
In this case scenario, the SZ 500mm will maybe give you the extra range that was lacking on the previous version. It also provides you with a much more confortable way of capturing pictures. The focus also tends to be more effective. While I was sometimes struggling with the 400mm and its very shallows depth of field, I discovered this new lens to be easier to use, even with moving subjects. Of course, modern hybrids provide focus peaking, which can be very helpful when the light is harsh or when you really need to focus on one precise part of your subject.
To capture this swan, I was for example lying on the beach few meters away from him and used my EOS R focus peaking function to highlight his eyes in order to make sure I will have this part perfectly focused. This can sometimes be tricky since a 500mm lens will have a very shallow depth of field and it will grow smaller and smaller as your subject is closer to you. But on the bright side, that also allows you to capture some very intense moments by drawing attention to wee parts of the animal.
Another thing that I noticed is that the electronic noise can sometimes be very visible depending on your ISO settings and light conditions. You might have to reduce it in post-production but it is really feasible and the result will be good if your settings are adapted to the situation. The lens is also very sensible to flare, which is why I would recommend to always use the lens-hood to help prevent it. A polariser filter could also be a good idea.
My conclusion for this test of the Tokina SZ 500mm will not be very different from the previous one. I think that Tokina really managed to improve the formula by adding some range to it and making focusing easier, which was not an easy task. You won’t be capturing a peregrine falcon diving with it but it will be perfect both for starting wildlife or sport photography. It would also be suitable for landscape photography to create a strong compression effect or even for portrait if you like to play with the donut-shaped bokeh to create a dreamy atmosphere around your subject. And if you don’t like the shape of the bokeh, their is always ways to “cheat” with the distance and get something more classic (like the birds at the end of this test).
Lots of different mounts are available (Canon EF, Nikon F and Z, Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds, Sony E and recently released Canon EF-M mount for mirrorless cameras) which allows almost everyone to use this lens. This definitely is a lens that is meant to be accessible to a large audience in order to allow amateur photographers to give a try to long range photography without selling their car beforehand (Even if you might consider doing so due to current gas prices). You will also get a resistant equipment that will follow you for a long time.
Should you buy it ? If you are looking for an affordable, compact lens that provides decent quality pictures at 500mm without spending much, the answer absolutely is yes.
Please visit Tokina’s website if you need more information about it. For my part, I’ll leave you with my pros and cons list.
Light and very compact (ideal to travel)
Extra range compared to SZX 400mm
Adapts to almost every brand (with adaptor)
Really smooth ring
The donut bokeh
Great results on full-frame and hybrid cameras
Vignetting appears if the light is not strong enough
Very sensible to flare
Filter has to be placed before putting the lens hood on
The lens hood cannot be inverted for transport
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