This Review is Limited to MACRO photo Level: Beginner, Advanced, Pro
A Few Words About This Review:
Previous reviews that I have written regarding this specific lens yielded many positive and encouraging messages from professionals, enthusiasts, and beginners around the world, asking to continue with the ‘eye-level’ writing, rather than using a heavily technical piece of article that says nothing really to the majority of them. As I have been doing things differently from others in my art, similarly, the way I have chosen to write the reviews is a bit different than the ‘norm’. As I illuminated on those previous reviews, I INTENTIONALLY decided NOT TO use heavy technical descriptions, precise measurements, degrees of curvature of the lens, or anything the like.
If you are somehow new to me, my art or my reviews, then a bit of a background on the guy who writes these lines could make you and I be now new acquaintances. I am Collins Ryàn, officially known as “Collins Ryàn – L’artiste”. I am based at Auckland, New Zealand, and am always eager to work both locally and internationally. I have been dealing with different types of art, art-photography, digital and manual graphics and professional photography for the past 25 years. I started with black-and-white art, acquired my own unique perception, technique and perspective; then proceeded on to more colourful art and art-photography.
People say that I know more than “one or two” things about those working tools like camera bodies, lenses, lights, filters and other hardware and software related to photography. But I must let you know that even after attending to 2 Master’s degrees, making academic research, doing my art on daily basis, reading and writing about it – life is a continuation of learning, and I learn every day new things in photography, too. I never stop learning and I reckon that facing that truth can make life much easier.
I believe that a person who defines oneself as “an expert” (in ANY subject of occupation) would probably be deemed a bit (or a lot actually) arrogant. Thus, I do not wish to be arrogant and kindly continue to read this review (and other ones I both have and will have written) accordingly. I come to assist here, give an impression, advice and inform you all on this Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO Macro lens what I, personally, as an artist and professional who is recognised internationally for my art, found on it on both full frame and APS-C (cropped) sensors, on Nikon system.
So here we go; no boring stuff that’s of interest to the orthodox nerds. I assume that you simply want to know if this lens is the right buy for that specific niche of photography. Not your usual review. My general and specific inputs… Just for you! (wink! wink!)
Macro Photography (and… why, the hell, do we even need this niche?)
In late 16th century, that’s what the nerd’s rumor says, a few Germans decided that the ability to see the ugly, sticky wax of the ears is fascinating enough in order to invent a special, designated tool for the mission. Well, this had probably not been exactly the real reason for the invention, but they had been actually desperate enough to see things that were smaller than a string of hair. So they invented a device currently globally known as ‘Microscope’.
Sitting back in the fancy DeLorean car and going 'back to the future', to our century, we now have some very cool people walking on the streets, backyards and the country-side, with big black tools and point them to things. Any thing. And yes, they click there on a button. Et voila! We have Macro lenses to see smaller things than a hair. So, why the hell do we need those lenses if we have already been using Microscopes for centuries upon centuries?! Why do we need those sort of microscopes mounted on our cameras?
NOTICE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE APERTURES OF THE SAME STATUE
I assume that the origin to the answer is coming from a very similar reason in regard to why some of us decide to leave our wives and kids at home get outside in the cold nights, mostly alone, and take shots of the night-sky, where they can actually do the same thing in a warm, lovely place called “Telescope” or “Planetarium”. So, scratching my frontal lobe of the brain, the reason may actually be originated:
1) because we can...
2) because we are interested to see different shapes that are not so-called “regular” shapes, and we do not have fancy microscopes at home that can document it all on a file or a paper
3) because we actually want to exhibit to everyone in this world how those miniature shapes or bodies, which we cannot possibly see in naked eyes, can be actually seen as a piece of art
The miniature world (note that from now on I am going to call it “Macro”) is in fact endless! This is a very promising niche in photography that can always yield a new art, day after day, year after year, without even repeating on the shapes we catch under the lens!
For those who begin thinking of this niche, getting your way into it can be very thrilling on one hand; however, even for those who are more experienced ones in photography this can be quite challenging and requiring a substantial learning curve, on the other hand. But fear not! You’re in good hands. Either with me or with another professional, learning the niche can be great. You’ll be surprised how beautiful things are where there is no politics in the miniature world. Bugs, flowers, fibers, fabrics, organic and inorganic materials – all are for you to explore and make an art from.
In future articles regarding Macro photography I am going to go through a few necessities you may consider to acquired prior starting the journey. Those necessities are both physical materials AND previous photography skills. But, please, do not be discouraged by those necessities; your own will to get into this wonderful miniature world is the only issue that eventually determines whether you will succeed in it, or not. You have what to wait for!
Why bother buying a Macro lens?
You can hammer a nail into wood with a rock, but you would probably rather buy the right tool for the project (real hammer, that is) than use alternative tools. Same thing here; Macro lens is for Macro photography usage (this specific one is also a great one, as we saw earlier, for portraiture.) You may have the best portrait and/or wide-angle lenses, as sharp as Satan’s teeth, as beautiful as Bar Rafaeli, and as expensive as Trump’s airplane, but this still does not give you the best tool to see the miniature world.
Macro lenses, GENERALLY SPEAKING, are supposed to be very sharp. They tend to let you magnify the subject almost without distortion (although, there are some units that do distort). They also seem to be a bit expensive.
Some manufacturers have produced lenses, advertised and promoted them as “Macro”, despite they are actually NOT as such. OK, so yes, I use and love Nikkor (Nikon’s owned company that manufactures lenses for Nikon cameras). Their lenses have been USUALLY good in many areas of photography. We can most definitely find that they are also pricey while we are hunting for a new lens; that happens more frequently than rarely. Now, I honestly do not want to crucify Nikon/Nikkor here. I use their cameras and have many lenses they produced. But the latter have that weird tendency to produce so-called Macro lenses that are not really magnifying the photographed subject to the desirable measurement. They market their Macro lenses a bit differently – they call it “Micro”. As you probably know, I have a very, very broad background in Medicine, chemistry and biology. And I know one thing for sure: when someone says the word “Macro” and another person says the word “Micro”, there is no doubt at all that “Micro” means smaller than “Macro”.
Micro would show a huge magnification of the subject, and macro would show less than that. This concept is well accepted academically and outside of the academy or research institutions. If the very last sentence confused you a bit, allow me to give you an example from the real-life. If we found a typical fly on the wall and we tried to take a shot of it so it shows on the sensor at the very same size it is in real life, then a proper Macro lens would produce the desirable result, and Micro lens would produce even bigger result (bigger size on the sensor).
Hence, I strongly disagree with the definition that Nikkor tend to relate to those lenses. In my opinion this is a sort of pseudo-macro, rather than real-Macro.
You see, for the widely-acceptable definition in photography, real Macro lens is supposed to reproduce the object at its real size (like the fly I mentioned above.) This is a ratio known to be written as 1:1. If the ratio is less than 1:1, than it is actually NOT really a Macro lens. For example, “Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8 D Micro” is a BRILLIANT lens that is a fantastic one for both landscape and portraiture work, around the "Normal" focal lengths. Its sharpness and usability is beyond anything I am able to describe in here. I truly love this lens (despite its nasty push-pull function.) All good with the lens, but my apologies Nikkor, this is absolutely NOT a Macro lens, obviously not Micro. It’s highest magnification is 1:4, meaning that the object in real life can, at best, be reproduced on the camera’s sensor at one-fourth of its size.
Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO 1:1 Macro
At the time that I got this Tokina 100mm lens for an international-level project here in Paradise (New Zealand) I had already had enough experience in Macro photography. Indeed, I mostly do macro photography for specific requirements these days, but the project is important, and I wanted to show results that are in line with the quality of photography and art I have always aimed to supply. No less!
This Macro lens is a 100mm focal length. That focal length means a lot in Macro photography. This is an important component in the production of a successful result. Yes, despite the niche is Macro, and its requirement to come closer to the subject we shot, the longer the focal length is – the farther we can be from the subject in order to produce sharp and bright results.
Think about this as the difference between a wide-angle lens on one hand, and a telephoto lens on the other hand. When you would like to take a photo of, say, a cellphone, with the wide-angle lens you’d need to come closer to the phone and then shot. With a tele lens you can get the same size of the phone on your camera’s sensor by taking a few steps back. This goes similarly in Macro photography. In addition, the chance of dropping a shadow on the object when shooting very close to it is much greater when you use a lower focal length (wide-angle or normal focal lengths.)
Accordingly, Macro lenses with higher focal lengths like this Tokina 100mm allow us to shoot the object further away, and bring great, bright results without the need to compensate with undesirable high ISO (and by this risking more colour and luminosity noise) or use special lighting tools. Another reason is that many Macro photographers are sort of unofficially recognized entomologists (bug lovers.) Have you ever tried to come closer to a wasp or a bee without risking yourself being stung by it and its whole gang?! The further you are - the better. Are we now on the same page in it?
So this Tokina Macro lens is a 100mm focal length (telephoto focal length), which means it is a great focal length to take the shots without risking ourselves or risking losing the bug because it would run away due to our proximity to it.
The aforementioned 100mm is true when we speak about a Full Frame camera sensors, such as in Nikon D850, D810 or D800 (and others). However, this is getting even a better choice to shoot Macro with this lens when it is mounted on an APS-C (cropped) camera sensor. “Why”, some of you would probably ask. Kindly allow me to illuminate for you the issue without getting too much into the boring numbers and technical stuff. The whole issue is related to the ratio between the size of the sensor and the measurements related to the lens; and am not digging to much further. But it is important to know that Full Frame sensors are substantially larger than the cropped ones, hence the ratio between them and the lens changes accordingly.
This is called “The Crop Factor”. On Nikon the crop factor stands on 1/1.5; the simple meaning is that on a Full Frame the focal length exactly as is specified on the lens, but on a cropped sensor (such in Nikon D3400, D5500, D7100, D7500, D500 etc.) you would need to multiply the lens' focal length by 1.5. So, when we mount, for instance, a 50mm lens, it is actually deemed as 75mm focal length on an APS-C. Accordingly, with this Tokina 100mm lens, instead of 100mm focal length on a Full Frame, photographers with a cropped sensor can shoot as 150mm! This is just making your whole life much, much (, much) better, especially for those who begin Macro photography (or those who actually begin photography altogether.) By mounting on an APS-C unit, yes, you obviously have a lot less space on the sensor, but hey – the ability to shoot from further away is priceless. I promise you this!
This Tokina 100mm lens is a prime lens. Despite the advancements in zoom lenses in the past decade (or a bit longer than that), the prime lenses are known to be having some better characteristics when we refer to sharpness. Again, if we are omitting the use of that unwanted, nasty technical language, this can be summed up that since prime lenses have much less complexity of moving parts the concentration is primarily on the glass quality, rather than on inner mechanics.
Now that we know that important detail, there is no wonder that this is an extremely sharp lens! But honestly, I cannot express this better than this: sharpness is absolutely CRUCIAL to yield amazing pieces of art. Think about those tiny properties you can find in flowers, bugs, or skin, mentioning only a few. The tiny strings of so-called hair on a flower petal are amazing when brightened in the sunlight. The overwhelming sharpness this lens has does absolutely a huge justice in this regard! I never had better results than this.
The fast aperture it has makes a wonderful work in a low light environment. With aperture of f/2.8 there is no wonder it yields such great results. The photos are wonderfully showing extreme sharpness even with f/2.8, and mind-blowing out-of-focus (Bokeh)
However, since we speak here explicitly on Macro functionality, that is important to make it clear that any use of smaller aperture openings (slow apertures of f/22 or beyond) naturally deteriorates the ability to catch light effectively, and you might want to add a designated macro light ring around the front of the lens, or any other, similar lighting arrangement. I am not saying here that it is not possible to catch sharp and bright photos without the designated lights (flash/LED). To prevent under-exposed results, the high-end cameras like D810 and D850 and others can use their amazing ISO capabilities in order to compensate. Their ISO and noise reduction systems work hand in hand while compiling the photo and this leaves gorgeous, clean photos (with very limited, if at all, luminosity or color noise). This sets aside the necessity to compensate the exposure level with slower shutter-speed in those wonderful units.
But those super-capabilities are missed in most of the other cameras models, and to be fully honest, most of the readers would not possess those expensive high-end units. In such case the compensation mechanism of slower shutter speed may come into action (provided you take the photo in Aperture Mode). In Macro photography you DO NOT want to rely on slow shutter speeds in order to compensate the exposure levels (since elevating ISO will increase noise.) Why? Because, as opposed to shooting portraiture or landscape, we may face a few issues with the object we take photo of. Macro object usually mean TINY objects or characteristics of a bigger object that we would like to magnify and show. We want to show them clear/clean and sharp. Similar to high ISO usage that naturally impinges on the cleanliness, slower shutter speeds might result with object being too blurry. We do not wish for it. In my experience, Macro photography exposure levels rely primarily on the aperture rather than the ISO and shutter speed.
At this focal length I would not want to shoot slower than 1/300sec (yes, I know that a few of you would argue that I may have gone to far, but this is the experience and the movement of the object those tiny objects that dictate the higher shutter speed requirements). Think about a spider that is moving in the middle of the shot. Slight move in Macro, and the entire photo is lost. Believe me, this happens more than you could ever understand.
Conclusively, just bear in mind that for those situations you may need some lighting arrangements.
The lens does not have any stabilizers in it. While some others may relate to it a bit of a negative point, I actually do not see any bad in it! When you shoot Macro, you usually shoot while the camera is mounted. Macro is not a hand-held practice. This does not mean that you cannot shoot Macro that way, but one needs to be prepared to compromise on clarity and sharpness. Thus, this is a requirement (more than just a professional suggestion) to mount the camera on a good, heavy, stable tripod, prepare the composition, and take the shot with (preferably a distant shutter control. You can buy those cables cheap on eBay, Amazon or elsewhere).
Alternatively, turn the shutter-select control on your camera to time-control (so when you press on the shutter button the shot is not taken immediately but after a few seconds). This time-control function is great since after the press on the shutter button the camera moves very slightly and this take some 2 seconds until it stabilizes back to standing still, just before the photo is taken.
I see it a necessity to touch a little bit on the weight of the lens. Around 500grams – this one is absolutely not a heavy one. The relative light weight may pose a bit of issues to some beginner DSLR cameras, such those from the Nikon D3xxx series. The latter are small and light and when they are mounted on the tripod, this MIGHT not be heavy enough for the tripod to stay standing-still when there are slight breezes around.
I admit that for this review I have not tried the lens on such beginner cameras but on the high-end ones; however, I assume that if you are considering purchasing this beautiful lens, and holding a D3xxx (D3400, for example), then consider adding one or two nice (and cheap!) sand bags to stabilize your tripod better. Remember, the main issue here is the chase after the sharpness of the photo. Mounting the camera firmly to the tripod and adding weight to the tripod will do the job for you and overcome the D3xxx weight issues.
Now that we touched on the beginner series of DSLR cameras, one more thing comes to my head. Shooting through D3xxx and/or D5xxx with this lens needs to always be in MANUAL MODE. I am uncertain with the automatic mode, as those beginner series do not have internal motors inside like the high-end ones and hence they lack the ability to shoot automatic with the lens. On the other hand, I do not shoot Macro in automatic mode with my high-end either!! One needs to understand, Macro focusing is a very delicate action. If you rotate the focus ring just a bit more than a mere 1 millimeter – you may find that you are totally out of focus. Oh hell yes, using automatic-mode will probably locate somewhere to focus on, but most of the times I tried (and not only with this specific Macro lens), it simply focused on a different area of which I did not wish to focus on. Therefore, remember, Macro is done in manual focus. Always. On ANY type of DSLR - beginner, advanced or hogh-end. If you master manual focus, you would not have any problem to also use this amazing lens for portraiture!
Sum-up & Verdict
Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO Macro is a dream comes true for all the Macro dreamers, the sharpness lovers, the brightness hypers, and to those in general that wish to buy a product that will last for life!
This lens is built to stay with you for many, many long years. The one click focus ring system that Tokina implemented with this lens (like other lenses they manufacture) is brilliant. The focus ring turns smoothly and softly on my piece. The results are much, much better than any Nikkor Macro I used by now. The longer focal length (moderate telephoto), as mentioned above, is a super-duper positive point, and this gets even better when you mount the lens on an APS-C (cropped sensor), say, Nikon D7200, D500 or D7500; focal length turns from 100mm to 150mm and the photos I could create from this have already dropped people off their chairs!
If you ask me today whether to purchase this one for Macro or to buy an equivalent from other manufacturers, I would answer go for any manufacturer if you are simply just after practicing Macro for fun. Honestly, there are some very nice ones out there on the market. But please do not fall into the pothole of “Micro” lens that provides results less than 1:1
On the other hand, if you do appreciate extreme sharpness that other Macro lenses cannot supply – this is the ONLY Macro lens I would ever advise to buy in this focal-length domain. This Tokina is the sharpest I used so far! It is built to stay with me for the next decade or two, or even more, and that means A LOT since lenses are not cheap. Sigma’s 150mm is also a good offer, but is much heavier, but cannot match, quality-wise, this Tokina’s sharpness whatsoever!
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© All rights on the photos published here reserved to Collins Ryàn - l'artiste, 2019.
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