TEST – Tokina SZX 400mm F8 Reflex MF
TEST - Tokina SZX 400mm F8 Reflex
After reviewing the new Kenko Instant Action Filters few months ago, I was lucky to received the Tokina SZX Super Tele 400 mm f:8 Reflex MF for a field test in September. This catadioptric lens was a surprise when the brand revealed it since this technology has not been used for a while since the arrival of digital photography. Its main strenghts are that you can get a 400mm lens that only weights 340 grams for a lenght of 82mm while keeping a nice image quality. It also uses a T-mount, which allows you to put it on any camera as long as you have the correct adapter (around 20 euros).
The downside is that you will have a fixed f/8 aperture, which still allows you to get really nice pics in broad daylight or when there is a reasonable amount of clouds. And let’s not forget the cost : 259 euros here in France, not a single competitor can top this for now !
In comparison, my Tamron 150-600 G2 weight 2 kilograms for a minimum length of 26 centimeters and cost around 1099 euros. These two lens obviously are not competitors as they won’t aim for the same target audience, but when you like to take images of subjects in the distance (landscapes or animals for example) while hiking, it is worth comparing since a heavy gear can quickly become a bummer.
What catches you first when you receive this lens is the quality of the making. Although it does not contain any electronics whatsoever and is made to be unexpensive, you still feel like you are holding a strong quality equipment, something that will last for years if you take good care of it. This is the very first point I always check when I get a new lens. You obviously don’t want to fall in love with a lens that will only last few months. Now, let’s test the Tokina SZX 400mm on the field !
On the field
At first, the lens can be very surprising to use. If you don’t use a camera that provides in-body stabilization (like the IBIS system), you will often find yourself getting images that lacks sharpness at first. With more time, you will most likely choose to use a tripod/monopod and take more care in focusing precisely. Finally, most of the images you capture will be surprisingly good. The images in the gallery below have been taken on my first try with the lens on my Canon 7D Mark II. Quite promising !
To test the Tokina SZX 400mm, I first tried it on my Canon 7D Mark II which is an aps-c camera with no body stabilization. I found it more difficult to use on this one than on my friend’s Canon R6. Even if you can obivously get really nice pictures with an aps-c sensor and this lens, using a full-frame camera will be a huge step forward in terms of quality. Moreover, camera’s such as the R6 have a system that emphasize the area were you are focusing on the screen, showing red patterns where it is focused. This also work with manual focus and is of great help to get the perfect shot with this lens. With a bit of practice, you can focus really fast on your subjects (even moving ones like the heron on the picture to the right of this text) and still get nice and sharp shots.
This is why I think Tokina made a good choice betting on an old technology such as the catadioptric lens. Nowadays, almost every reflex/hybrid from an entry level is able to perform correctly at an acceptable amount of isos compared to what cameras did ten years ago. Therefore, the weakness of this kind of lens are compensated by technologies like the In Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) most hybrids now include.
A subject of disagreement between photographers is the bokeh of this kind of lens. On catadiopric systems, you will get a donut-shaped bokeh which is, in my view, really nice to use in compositions as long as you think of it during the making of the image. I found it interesting to use in many of my images but it is also very simple to avoid getting this bokeh if you don’t like it at all. It will just take a bit more thinking when you choose the distance to your subject and the orientation. But if you like to get creative, I think this is definitely something you should give a try to. I particularly like it on picture of birds at ground level or flowers in the middle of the vegetation.
As you can see on the pictures on the left, the rings appear to be really soft on a correctly exposed picture. It gives an atmosphere to the background we are not used to see everyday and to me, this is something any photographer should look after : create a different image. I am now looking forward to trying this lens during winter on the snow because the sparkles on the ground at this period could be a real improvement both for my landscape and wildlife photography. Let’s talk about that again in few months on Kenko Tokina’s social medias !
To me, this lens is the perfect companion if you want to carry light equipment or give a try to wildlife photography without investing in high-end lens like 500 f/4 that cost more than my car (Ok, my car is
old). I enjoyed testing the Tokina SZX 400 mm and I can tell that it gives you access to a range that really few lens offer nowadays without being extremely expensive, particularly if you just want to choose photography as a hobby.
Sharpness is definitively a point that worries photographers when it comes to catadioptric lenses. With this one, Tokina has enhanced the quality of this system and, with the addition of bodies new technologies such as IBIS, you can take time to focus precisely and get sharper pictures than expected at first. With correct settings, every picture taken with this lens will be 100% usable as long as the light is good.
However, If you are a professionnal wildlife photographer, winning prizes and wanting to make exhibitions with huge pictures on the walls, this lens might not work for you. In any other case, I am pretty sure you will find joy using it as much as I did ! Even if I will still keep using my 150-600 G2 for most of my wildlife photography, the Tokina SZX Super Tele 400 mm f:8 Reflex MF will be my companion everytime I go hiking, spend some time in nature without wanting to carry heavy equipment or even just go for a nice proxi-photography session near my place. Living in the Alps, I love to have the opportunity of only carrying 350g with me. This will clearly makes a difference when I will leave for few days hiking in search of wildlife.
In the end, as I already said, it is meant to be accessible to a wide audience, compatible with most equipments while delivering nice quality pictures. Mounts are in fact availables to be purchased independently for Canon EF and RF, Nikon F and Z, Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds, and Sony E. And let’s say Tokina did not disappoint with this one, you might just need a bit of practice to adapt as we are all used to fully electronic lens these days. But definitively give this lens a try, you will be very surprised with what you will be able to get !
Light and very compact (ideal to travel)
Adapts to almost every brand (with adaptor)
Really smooth ring
The donut bokeh
Great results on full-frame and hybrid cameras
Focusing can sometimes be a bit tricky
Vignetting appears if the light is not strong enough
The lens hood cannot be inverted for transport