From the Perspectives of Art and Landscape Photgraphy
As Always – A Few Words About the Review:
To understand this review thoroughly, I recommend that only those who actually studied optics and physics to the highest level, preferably with adequate higher academic degrees in the aforementioned topics should endure reading it to the end. I am going to give you so much unusable data, objective stuff, and boost the article in so many numbers and measurements that only photographers with a Ph.D. may understand the logic.
Well… not really! I am NOT going to do this. Not at all. I must admit that I am so (, so, so) tired of reading those boring types of articles in regard to the so-called “quality” of a lens, a camera body, this gimmick, or that new feature! TIRED!
I do honor knowledge, and even and especially academic (I made my fair share of two Master’s degree routes and research so you bet I love knowledge, do not get me wrong), but I honestly cannot stand that for this art (hmm… photography), to which many people are drawn out of genuine, pure interest, they need to face with so much data that does not provide them with real knowledge or functionality at the very moment that they hold the camera in their hands. I of course refer to those “farting” (apologies for the word) articles and reviews of every second photographer or a pixel-peeper that their interest is merely finding the DRAWBACKS rather than the ADVANTAGES of the gear they review. On the way, those reviews also use such boring graphs, numerical tables, and exploding technical words that leave people so confused (in the better case) or deter people altogether from purchasing good or even great products.
Well, listen up. For those who know me either personally or professionally, I am known to be very direct. So, just as they know, I am going to advise you now that I am going to leave in this article the unimportant stuff aside, and concentrate on the functionality. I do not like to put up “farting” technical words (oops… sorry again!) just so you all know that I have a substantial knowledge in the profession. I do not need this. You judge me if I’m wrong. Okay?
Great! Let’s begin!
What is this review going to touch on?
I tend to split into (and then combine any article or review that I do to) two topics. The first topic is what I, Collins Ryàn – L’artiste, do in my work both as a professional photographer and as fine-art artist. The second topic would be the gear I use or practically review for the mission. I can promise you that I professionally check the reviewed gear in the best practice that I can and test it on both Full Frame and Copped Frame cameras. For this review, Full Frame was tested with D850 and especially the “beast” D810. The Cropped Frame was tested with the beautiful D7200.
The brief history of the reviewer (I repeat on this part in my reviews for those who, shockingly, still do not know me 😊):
Hi, I am Collins Ryàn, and I am a professional photographer, digital and manual graphics savvy, and a fine-art artist. I am currently based at Auckland, New Zealand, but work all over. I have been dealing in different faces of the 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. Not at all. It is simply that for me and my demanding needs – I found that Nikon simply serves as the best camera system and technology in Full-Format. No, Nikon does not pay me ANYTHING to say that. Neither Tokina for this review.
My Way Regarding Art and Landscape Photography:
As a recognized professional photographer, appreciated by Kenko-Tokina and appointed to represent this wonderful renowned professional camera optics company worldwide, I happen to be in constant contact with people all around the world, discussing about and recommending those fellows on many issues, not merely gear. I particularly love to discuss on the artwork I do, my methods, my perspectives, and my passion in photography. I sell my printed artwork internationally, and I sit, literally sit, in front of the camera sometimes for very long minutes until I decide to press on the shutter button. Why? Because I truly see photography as a fine-art work. I am known to be a rule-breaker, as I do not always appreciate conforming to certain set/s of rules that dictate/s me of how I should take photo, what to frame and what to leave outside, what position of the lens, and what lighting condition to shoot. I do my art differently. And I love it that way…
In order to succeed in my "bizarre" way of doing my art, I rely on the best possible achievable gear. In my life I happened to buy, try and disappoint of some gear, and from the moment I understand that an item is not up to my demanding needs, I ditch it altogether. To save both you and myself some disappointment and especially MONEY when buying a seemingly “promising” lens (that is, promising by the marketers of the gear) I write reviews and discuss with people.
In this article, kindly allow me discuss with you on the things you should know about the Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 lens before buying it.
I believe that you are expecting to the bottom line. Please take some five more minutes of your precious time and continue reading. All fully copyrighted artworks in this articles were taken by me using Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4
Understanding the 50mm Full Frame Focal Length
(On a Full Frame camera) a 50mm lens is sometimes called “Normal lens”. The ‘Normal’ nickname comes from the angle of view that the 50mm tends to show when you frame your frame. This focal length reflects the normal “medical” or biological understandings regarding the human eye angle of view. To save you from boring degree numbers and in order to be a bit more precise, the range between 42mm and 50mm focal lengths is, basically, the range that mimics the human eyes’ view.
What about this Tokina opera 50mm lens? Well, this 50mm is actually VERY close to the normal human eye angle of view. The frame that is seen through it is almost a copy-paste of the picture you will see when you look without the camera, giving you a great feeling of being there at the place where the photo was shot, as if you are really living that moment. Good work, Tokina, because there are a few ‘normal’ focal length lenses on the market that do not really mimic the normal angle of view. Nikkor, for example, developed their AF-S 58mm f/1.4G lens, and despite the substantially higher focal length than 50mm, that Nikkor lens is still standing on a wider angle than the human eyes. Not saying that their lens in question is bad or unusable; however, if you wish to get the human eye feel – that Nikkor unfortunately does not provide that.
Another characteristic of real (or adequate) ‘Normal’ focal length lenses produce better, “real” sensation of the subject photographed and less curvature of the lens. This also means much less post editing work.
Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4
So the opera 50mm f/1.4 is probably one of the quietest lenses I have happened to shoot with! No kidding! Tokina writes that the lens is silent. I cannot fault them for this. This treat is indeed such a joy to shoot with such a lens in a few environments or types of photography. For wedding photographers, some event photographers and for some portrait professionals this is a wonderful delight. Could you imagine yourselves shooting the groom and bride in that quiet ceremony where quietness is the one thing you must keep on, but then your camera starts to make noises?! Guys, you will enjoy this one! In one of my Master’s degrees I had a joy of researching dB (decibels). Decibel is the measure of sound stress. The higher the Decibel – the stronger the sound in your ears. So what I found here with this lens? Around 10dB. That is SUPER QUIET.
Let’s Talk About Physical Dimensions and Weight:
The Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 lens is NOT the smallest 50mm I have seen and took photos with. If you are one of those who tends to appreciate a small camera-body and a lens complex – then you should think twice. Perhaps a mirrorless camera is your "thing"?
This lens is quite large comparing for a “typical” 50mm f/1.4 lenses. But, on the other hand, what is “typical”? We deal with photography. The way that one presents their photo is basically either online, on screens, or printed. When you see a great photo, do you really ask yourself what was the measurement of the lens and/or the camera that produced that artwork? I doubt you do. In my humble opinion, the size of the lens (in this specific lens) reflects the advancement of the technology of our time. Different manufacturers utilize different set of glasses inside their lenses. The number of sets can be fewer or larger, depends on the company, and the technology and features they want to invest in the gear.
When I touched earlier on the extreme quietness, I believe that the size of the Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 is related to the quietness and AF speed (will discuss about this later on), hence, overall, I do not really refer to the lens size too much of a problem. Not at all.
Same verdict I relate to the weight of the lens in question. Yes, if I compare the beloved portraiture lens Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D to this Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 I can absolutely FEEL the difference. The Nikkor’s is smaller and lighter. (I’m not even starting to discuss on the newer version of Nikkor, their 50mm f/1.4G, which I tried but will never use again. Sorry, the latter feels too cheap, so plasticky – like a very cheap toy to a 7 years young boy.)
On the other hand, I never forget that these days the optics and high-tech are not having only one small step at a time, but bursting in a giant leap (thanks Neil Armstrong…) and in this case, this opera 50mm lens’ precision, speed, quietness and feel come with a “price” of a bit heavier lens. To whom this may make any real issue? I believe that if you are in the business of photography, at least for a while now, then you already know that professional (or even enthusiastic) photography requires you to lift at least that 1Kg of camera+lens in your hands for long periods of times. Does it deter you from taking photos? Nope. Does it control/balance your Full Frame camera body? Yes, absolutely. This opera 50mm serves as a perfect balance to the professional Nikon D810 and the D850 bodies!
I personally and professionally LOVE heavier lenses. Why? Because in my work I many times use tripods. Heavier complexes deal much, much better with breezes and movements. The photographs turn to be much sharper. No joke in here. Your artwork is being judged not by the size or weight of the lens/camera, but by the end product – the photograph. This is why I, like most of the professionals, keep on taking photos with a full frame DSLR, rather than those mirrorless cameras that weigh nothing...
Fast Auto Focus (AF)
Since this article and review is related primarily to art and Landscape photography, a few colleagues around the world who saw the “pre-released” issue of this review asked me the required question: why do you even mention AF?
In some sort of understandings, they seem to be right. Why should one be bothered with AF when shooting landscape? Yes, this is easier to go with the stream of other millions photographers, and simply stick to f/11 or f/16, focus on a distant mountain and then press the shutter button. Simpler indeed. But since I am a rule breaker, and my art has my own style, I find that hard to go after the pack. Individuality has always been my guide. Especially in artwork. Hence, landscape photography for me doesn’t always mean extreme depths of field (DoF). I more frequently than not, shoot in shallow DoF. I need to focus on one thing, separate it from the surrounding environment. Many times, this could be a bird, a person, a moving car or tree. I NEED fast auto-focus for this.
Mounting and shooting through this opera 50mm on my cameras in AF mode is a sheer pleasure. The immediate (extremely fast!) focus mechanism is beyond compare. The precision of it leaves people like me awe inspired with the technology and punctual engineering work that was poured into this lens. I swear to you that the manufacturer does not pay a cent for my reviews, but I simply adore Tokina’s blessed movement to show the world such jewel of premium technology in this series of opera.
The 50mm focal length is suitable for so many photography situations that one may deem it as the ultimate focal length. No wonder that both landscape and portraiture professionals have one. Those who are even more serious buy such a ‘normal’ focal length lens with wide aperture. f/1.4 aperture is a professional grade speed. Even if one does not shoot in f/1.4, the way that the optics works in such lens benefit any speed. That is true to this Tokina opera, too! The photos yielded through the lens are of a superior quality. The sharpness of the focused area, and on the other hand – the wonderful out-of-focus (Bokeh) are dreams come true to the most serious photographers around!
“Is this lens the ultimate ‘Normal’ lens? Should I buy this?”
To be honest, I cannot really give an answer out of my sleeve. I have to be very cautious in answering this question since I do have connections to Tokina as their Global Brand Ambassador professional photographer. I am an international photographer and Tokina respects me thanks to and because of my professionalism; they also know that my reviews cannot be bought for anything in the world, and I swear they did not even try to!!
As a professional, especially with followers, I have to be truthful with you guys. I would not want to buy a lens based on a review, which eventually the lens (or other gear) ends up being unusable. So, if you bear this whole issue in mind, only then I feel that I can actually answer the question in the sub-title.
With your permission, I would like to split the questions. Is this lens the ultimate normal lens? For me – YES, absolutely! In the next 10-15 years of using my Nikon Full Frame DSLR gear, I am not going to need to purchase any substitute normal lens. I totally ditched the Nikkor f/1.4D thanks to this opera lens. And to be honest, to ditch such a great lens such as the latter Nikkor is a big step for someone like me. This opera is simply SUPERIOR to any normal focal-length Full Frame lens. Tokina’s engineers manufactured here the ultimate 50mm lens that the only phrase I can relate to it is: Premiere League. This is no more the “Third Party” lens, but actually the real-deal for everyone who is in professional photography and art photography.
The second question is “should I buy it?” My answer would probably be split into two: if you come to photography just to stay average, or in a beginner level, then this is probably not your cup of tea. The lens is of a PREMIUM quality, a super-duper professional level and hence the price will not be the price that one pays for the second hand lenses out there on eBay or the like websites. You can probably get some cheaper, old, second hand for 2/3 of the price, but that will also be seen in your photos, your artwork. The technology poured into this lens should be discussed further and this is not a cheap technology of past times. The quality of the optics, the colour separation, the Bokeh and the sharpness, the sturdiness of the lens body and the entire feel leave no chance to the contenders. Thus, this lens should not even be a second thought to anyone who wishes to touch in the top that a 50mm focal length can bring. You pay for this lens for a fraction of the price that you usually pay to Nikon or Canon, but get a much superior product in each and almost all comparable categories!
I left the big surprise till the end:
Another treat that should be definitely mentioned here is the weather and dust sealing that the lens has. I mount it on my weather sealed full frame DSLR’s bodies and I am so, so happy. When I shoot here in New Zealand, I always need to bear in mind that there is always a chance for rain. Always. Rather than hiding from the rain in the car and lose splendid shots, I go there in pouring rain and do it like a winner (like the photo down below!)! Did I already mention premium quality lens?
This normal lens is a true treasure. Kenko-Tokina (and Hoya) are renowned to build great optics (such as the perfect 100mm AT-X Pro Macro D lens), and this opera 50mm f/1.4 lens reflects their ambition of not only selling immaculate gear that they have been doing for so many years, but also and especially reaching into the premium gear market!
I absolutely love the lens, and despite the negligible issue with the measurement, the lens get a mark of 9.9 out of 10.
© For all photos and content of this article all rights are reserved to Collins Ryàn – L’artiste, 2019