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Review: Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO Macro for Nikon F-mount Street Art Photography Perspective

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

Level: Begginers, Enthusiasts

Photo 1:  Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 3200, f/8, 1/125s. ©Collins Ryàn 2019
Photo 1: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 3200, f/8, 1/125s. ©Collins Ryàn 2019

Just a Few Words About This Review:

I am going to “apologize” you all, I am not going to write this review with heavy technical descriptions, precise measurements, degrees of curvature of the lens, or anything else that is necessary for professionals like myself, photography enthusiasts like many of you there, or starters in photography like the rest of the pack. Well, I am not going to fill you up with those so-called “professional numbers” just in order for you to decide whether to purchase the lens. No. I won’t do that.

If you are genuinely interested in a review that gives you information at the eye level – you got yourself to the right place. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with a few photographers. They all agreed that when they started their journey they were so afraid with regard to what lens to purchase. Lenses are not a chocolate bar and they cost a lot. They made their research both online and offline and occasionally found themselves in a very confusing position that led them nowhere. I must admit that I can sympathize with them. The market is saturated with lenses and even more saturated with reviews. Sometimes the latter contradict one another. Those photographers told me that they would love to read my review on this lens in simple words. Like when you talk to your good friend and ask for advice. “Don’t write down any boring numbers, mate! We know you, and we count on your experience.” So here we go; no boring stuff that’s of interest to 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. Let’s begin already…

Could You Be a Street-Art Photographer?

Take a point-and-shoot camera, aim on a subject, half-click the shutter button and… here you go, you got a nice photograph. Now you can make it a work of Art. Right? Well, not really!

Let’s just say that the whole process requires more than that. Much more, probably. A great photo-art requires a bit (and most of the times – a lot) of preparation of the space that one would like to capture. Yes, some people are "natural" to it; and yet there are people who study it sometimes for a very long time until they get substantial artistic results. Saying that, however, the preparation mentioned earlier means thinking of the entire composition that the final photo-art will look like, predicting the movements of the subject, catching the subject at the right place and in the appropriate height in relation to the camera, and finally - pressing the shutter button only at the right time, not before, not after. This is Street-Art Photography.

Me, myself and I:

Hi, I am Collins Ryàn, and I am a professional photographer, digital and manual graphics savvy, and a fine-art artist. I am based at Auckland, New Zealand. I have been doing Art for about two and a half decades now. I have been in many places across the globe, living, traveling, sketching, painting and photographing. I had been doing my art for many years in parallel with being a clinician in hospitals, but in the past decade I am a full-time artist and photographer. The very long years in University and the academic degrees that were done there never killed my passion. In the past I had been using the Canon system, however, I weighted-up the DSLR market, had some thorough research and found out that for my demanding artistic and high-quality photography needs I should have moved to and used the Nikon system instead. Now, please do not get me wrong; I am not saying that Canon (or other systems for that matter) is not good; for myself – Nikon is simply the best camera system and technology in Full-Format, and in the wider photography niche I am shooting.

Photo 2: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/640s. ©Collins Ryàn 2019
Photo 2: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 400, f/3.2, 1/640s. ©Collins Ryàn 2019

Introduction to the Street-Art Photography Niche:

Sharp turn back to the topic. To be able to see the outcome composition in photography-artist’s minds before pressing the shutter button is not a walk in the park. This is a task that requires A LOT of practice and experience. My own background in the Art is Black-and-White. So I build the whole environment as if it were made of Black-and-white. I look at trees and see grey trees… The picture below was imagined as black and white in my head, and is actually the exact outcome I was willing to get.

Photo 3: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/250s. ©Collins Ryàn 2019
Photo 3: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/250s. ©Collins Ryàn 2019

Our eyes have the capability to see much, much better than the camera sensor does. I am not going to drag you to numbers and ranges, but some nerds will talk about High Dynamic Range, abbreviated as HDR. If we use the latter term, it simply means that our eyes (and brains) have much better HDR capabilities than the cameras we all use, especially when there are such extreme differences between the brightest and the darkest areas at the same frame we take.

A photography artist that prefers to be more with the camera on the hands as opposed to spend a lot of time on the computer keyboard, as I see and practice it, needs to overcome such obstacles related to the poor HDR capabilities that cameras have. To many people the word ‘Photoshop’ will pop in their minds. So, yes, Photoshop is a great, heavy software (let alone some other ones on the current market), but even Photoshop cannot possibly do everything. If it does, this will require in many cases to pixel-peep your photograph. This is a time-consuming process and when one has quite a high number of those pieces of work to do in a short period of time, the artist/photographer will most probably have to compromise on something. You do NOT want to be there! Being an artist means primarily through the camera and LENSES, and only apply some minor touch-ups in post editing.

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO 1:1 Macro

Just before we continue further, I will drop the bomb and let you read the bottom line right here, right now:

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO 1:1 Macro is a mind-blowing, GREAT, sharp, robust lens. Period! Any Art photographer who purchases this gem will be the happiest man (or woman) around!

Wanna know why?

A short anecdote on a different Tokina lens. I have loved using my piece of Tokina 16-28mm AT-X PRO in so many of my wide-angle artworks. While some pixel-peeps tend to scrutinize, rant and complain just about every lens on the market, the Tokina 16-28mm AT-X PRO wide angle is a true marvel!

Having said that and based on my vast experience with the aforementioned Tokina 16-28mm AT-X PRO lens, to be frank with you all, I was absolutely surprised to find out a much sharper lens like this Tokina 100mm gem!

Once I finally got a hold of the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO 1:1 Macro lens I was eager to try and compare it to the sharp Nikkor pieces I already got. I promised Tokina that despite my stance as a Global Brand Ambassador, my reviews are and will always be genuine and honest – for better or worse – and I would not share with the public any information that will actually be inclined. So please continue to read this lens review as one that’s being given more like a colleague rather than a brand ambassador.

Photo 4: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/640s ©Collins Ryàn 2019
Photo 4: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/640s ©Collins Ryàn 2019

Back to the future, since we obviously cannot genuinely compare two lenses that have different focal lengths, (despite being made by the same manufacturer, Tokina) I assume that the best comparison would be between this Tokina 100mm and what I have used and loved to take photos with in such focal length. So, as a direct comparison, I add to the equation the 105mm Nikkor and 80-200mm f/2.8 D, as they are more than capable to capture amazing shots.

In both Nikkor lenses the ability to produce saturated colours and a great contrast is clearly displayed. I do not even start to write about chromatic aberration and fringe, as if and when those happen (and they are happening!!) they are handled well in post-edit. Sometimes, in art photography, I would actually seek those colour fringes, but this is a story for a different article. Verdict - out and loud: Nikkor did a very good job in both lenses above! As an artist and photographer who appreciates the colour rendition, the necessity to get such lens characteristics right out of the camera (without even retouching or applying a long hardcore post-editing alterations) is substantial. Nikkor did a lovely job, however, when conveniently shooting with 80-200mm the focus is a bit slow and the lens is hell so heavy. When you see my muscles – promise you – it is this lens!

Funny enough, just when I (ridiculously) thought that there may not be any possible contender to the 105mm or 80-200mm Nikkor, this Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro simply left me speechless! The ability to shoot my photos focused so fast on the subject, so sharp and so clear was beyond comparison! I am now super happy photographer. The Tokina 100mm is winning the above characteristics without a doubt!

Fast Focus. Why?

Some will probably ask why a Street-Art photographer needs such a fast focus lens such like this beauty, Tokina 100m Macro. Indeed, the fast focus is not actually always crucial in the general niche of Art Photography. Definitely not. But to my photography needs, using focal lengths around the 100mm (80-135mm) is most particularly for Street-Art portraiture, rather than the aforementioned general niche.

To illuminate the issue a bit further, I do street photography as in the meaning of art, not as street photography per-se (catch whatever you see), and obviously not photojournalism. Meaning, I build up the composition in my head right before it happens. Yes this takes time to profess and a lot of experience is never a bad thing. And as described briefly above, I wait up for the background to get the feel and the shades, then patiently wait for the subjects to voluntarily pose in such way that fits my both frame and the feel that I would like to add to the end-product.

Photo 5: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/200s (no, it is not upside down) ©Collins Ryàn 2019
Photo 5: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/200s (no, it is not upside down) ©Collins Ryàn 2019

Since in my country one is allowed to photograph anything that is clearly shown on the streets (and I hope that in most of the world this is the same,) I do not need the permission of the subjects to capture them. Most of the times the subjects are not actually aware of the fact that they are the heroes in a work of art. I actually want them NOT to look at the camera. Some of them may not be camera shy, but in substantial cases – they may be, and then they may possibly refuse posing. Hence, waiting for the right moment, preparing the whole composition and focusing very fast on the subjects is crucial. For me, as an artist, missing out a great shot because the focus is not fast enough to catch the very brief moment and composition can honestly bring up the blues! I got the feeling that many of the readers relate to what I try to convey here. Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO is the perfect lens for the task.

Sum-up of the Needed Characteristics and How This Lens Fulfills Them:

I promised to avoid in my reviews any mentioning of and dealing with numbers, statistics, pixel-peeping, or anything crazily technical. Accordingly, I aim to reach out to every photographer out there – both the novice and the savvy. After all, what really matters us all is that we use great tools in our job. Having said that, I would like to illuminate some characteristics and how this Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO Macro superbly fits to my demanding needs:

1) A fast aperture lens: yes, the creamy out-of-focus (“Bokeh”) is divine here. The lens takes the subject and set it up extremely well. I did not find any issues with any of my favourite Bokeh apertures: f/2.8-f/5.6

2) Fast Aperture: I also and especially need the aperture to be wide enough in low light situations as most of the shots on the streets, at least to me, are done hand-held.

3) A lens that’s light enough for hand-held shots: refresh your memory from the above mentioned Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8 D lens; it is heavy. A barrel made of metal. On the contrary, the Tokina 100mm we deal with in here is MUCH lighter in weight and is not going to press on your vertebrae anytime soon. You can attach the lens to both Full Frame and APS-C sensor cameras (those with in-camera motors) and you’d be the happiest photographer on the planet. Simple as that!

4) Sharp focus: this is true when I aim onto a subject that is a person or a monument. As explained earlier, after I build the composition in my head, I need the lens to allow me to catch the exact moment when the subject does the manoeuvre. Sometimes this will be a fraction of a second.

A Bit About Macro:

Macro Capabilities of this lens will be discussed in another article, but kindly allow me to mention one or two things with this regard. The Macro photographs that I made with this lens are beyond compare. Honestly. The creamy Bokeh is actually one of the best I have had, ever! The focused area is extremely sharp and in Macro photography this is exactly what we want it to be – extreme sharpness.

Photo 6: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO Macro, ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/500s
Photo 6: Tokina 100mm AT-X PRO Macro, ISO 3200, f/6.3, 1/500s ©Collins Ryàn 2019

One anecdote perhaps that is also worth mentioning. I shot using both full-frame (Nikon D810) and APS-C (Nikon D7200). Both are superb cameras for Art photography and Macro. However, if you are all new to Macro photography, I would suggest you shoot with an APS-C camera before moving up to the pro level full frame ones. This is because on Nikon this specific lens’ equivalent focal length is 150mm. This might not say a lot to many, but in Macro the higher the focal length – the better. Opportunities for natural lighting for Macro are endless in higher focal lengths, just because one does not need to be so close to the subject. The closer you are to the subject, the more shade you might leave on it. Take this into consideration.

Verdict and A Bit of Repetition:

Overall, I cannot emphasize enough how useful this lens is. This is simply one of the BEST ones I have had under my hands, in both systems Canon and Nikon. I could write to you a lot about numbers and show you graphs and all that academic, boring stuff just to make it “objective” and persuade you to buy. I decided to give you an honest, subjective opinion based on my experience and the needs that the Street-Art Photography niche requires, at least for me and my demanding needs. I assure you won’t regret having this in your arsenal!

Collins Ryàn - L'artiste
Collins Ryàn - L'artiste

© For all photos and content of this article all rights are reserved to Collins Ryàn – L’artiste, May 2019

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