Updated: Nov 7, 2021
About the new king of full spectrum, Infrared, and UltraViolet photography
I am not sure when and where you read this article/review. By the time that I publish it, there is a nasty pandemic roaming on planet Earth. The year is 2021, and here in New Zealand the Delta variant (mutation) of the COVID-19 virus is raising its head. We have been under restrictions for the past few months, and I do hope that the humanity gets the top hand over the pandemic.
Truly important to read this:
A disclaimer for those who read my content. I am Tokina's global brand Ambassador. As such, I obviously seem to be biased regarding any of Tokina's products. Well, I am not. I constantly advise any party, including Tokina, that once I write my review, I stand behind my words. I am not to going to beautify bad areas, if found during my work with the gear that I review. I am as honest as one can be!
All rights of the content, including the photos belong to Collins Ryan, Auckland, New Zealand.
By the way, the lens above is not blue in reality. It is black. I simply took the photo with a UV light on!
Okay, let us start the engine. The aim of this article in which I combine knowledge and review is not to providing another well washed-up wordings regarding the lens. I am sure that if one would like to read such content then they can find this elsewhere on the net. The review that I write is different. I write in order to advise you that as a professional photographer, photography tutor, author, and artist I wanted to take this newish Tokina lens for Sony mirrorless full frame cameras, and check its limits like no one ever checked before!
What limits? Well, those limits that are truly important for those who take their art very, very seriously. Photography is the art of capturing the light. To the laymen, photography is as simple as pressing on a shutter button or clicking on the phone's dedicated app. To those photographers who demand much more from their gear, like myself (not bragging... but that's true), lenses are probably standing up there with the highest importance.
Brief Introductory to Special Light Photography:
When one captures the light on their camera, they view the world, usually, within a specific stretch of wavelengths. The photons that we catch are based on the electromagnetic radiation. Each colour has its own stretch of wavelengths on the electromagnetic radiation, and our cameras are great devices that are able to capture the light signals through the lens and translate those to electric signals and from there it is all depicted as visual image.
"Regular" cameras, those ones that one is able to purchase off the shelfs, are magical instruments, but the manufacturers limit the sensors capabilities by adding physical filters onto them. The role of those inner filters is to allow only those colours that are seen by the HUMAN EYES. Other stretches of colours, namely - infrared (IR) and Ultraviolet (UV) are omitted and hence you are unable to capture those with your off-the-shelf cameras, no matter whether this is a beginner piece or a totally high-end one. You simply cannot capture it.
Modification of the cameras (and by this action this means voiding their warranty!) is needed in order to take those limiting filters out. Once they are out, the cameras are able to view from UV through human visible light, to IR. This is a LOT!
Modified cameras that are capable to view the entire stretch are called Full Spectrum cameras. They do have cons of course, but this is truly a material that should be discussed elsewhere. Modified cameras that are capable to view light from specific wavelength are usually called IR cameras. For example, from wavelength of 720nm (nm = NanoMetre) and beyond the cameras can view only the IR wavelengths. All of the visible light that we - humans - normally see through our eyes are omitted. But to be honest, 720nm is not truly IR, but as they call - Near IR (or in short - NIR), it allows wavelengths that are at the border between visible dark red and the beginning of true IR. For the sake of marketing purposes, 720nm is called IR. Those who seek only IR photography would look to modify their cameras to about 800nm and above.
On the other side of the spectrum we have the UV. Without getting into the medical meanings of the three types of UV radiation (UVa, UVb, and UVc), I'll just generalise it by saying that any camera that is capable to capture only wavelengths under the 395nm is called a UV camera. UV cameras are specialty, and they tend to be expensive or unusable to many photographers, simply because the pure UV radiation tends to be trickier to capture without the appropriate gear, let alone protective gear, unless one wants to hurt their own eyes.
UV radiation, only a bit of it, can still be captured by regular cameras, however, the image seems to be a bit contaminated and hazy. Capturing so-called "regular" images with that leftover UV results in hazy shot, when and where applicable. UV photography means to capture that haze. As an artist I do use such cameras or use specialized physical filters to reach only the pure UV radiation onto the sensor.
Other issues that are involving photography of those very special wavelengths (i.e. either IR or UV) are related to manufacturers of lenses. These days, only a handful lenses are capable to brilliantly and effectively capture UV light. The lenses are built of optical glass, and in each lens there are numerous glasses attached together to achieve the desired focal length and focus. Each of those glasses inside the lens has its own limitation in regard to light transference. For example, similar lenses from different manufacturers may show variation of colours of the resultant images, despite those lenses are marketed with the same characteristics. The variation in colour is related to the glasses inside the lens, which block or lower some colours and raise others.
The Tokina atx-m 85mm F1.8 FE is a lens that I personally have been waiting for (for) quite a long time. I do a lot of my art in special wavelength. I do black and white, and sometimes I combine black and white (binary) meaning onto colourful artworks. I collect and appreciate those special lenses that allow the IR and UV light to pass through them and onto the sensor. The more UV and IR light per unit of time - the better!
The next image series shows the very noticeable differences between full spectrum, IR and UV photography. That glass bottle is a wonderful material to emphasise the understanding of the different wavelengths. When you continue with the article you will notice how the differences are further giving us clue about transparency and opacity of materials when we shoot in a single mode (either IR or UV).
Nikkor had manufactured in the past a dedicated UV lens, but that one is unavailable anymore, and the second hand market has them available very rarely; when you do find one - you'd be surprise how expensive they can be!
I have checked the Tokina atx-m 85mm F1.8 FE for quite a while now. The restrictions of the COVID-19 held me from travelling afar to do the checks. But I still wanted to do this review based on long term use, not just testing it for a day or a week. I am sure that you can see the signs of my usage up there at the review's first image.
the lens feels robust. I wanted to have clean mind and I asked Tokina to NOT give me details about the lens body's materials. I am a bit confused whether it is a robust plastic or metal, but this indeed feels as if it was crafted out of very strong material. It feels like a pro, if you will.
The lens is prime. That mean no zooming in or out. The focal length is only 85mm with acceptable/negligible focus-breathing. This is good if you are after video capabilities, too! In this time and era, I do not expect less from Tokina to create such a prime-lens with such a prime characteristic. Well done!
Focus ring is not quick to role. The entire stretch from the closest focus point to the infinite focus takes the entire ring. That means more accurate focusing.
The lens is really (but really) sharp! I love my Tokina opera 50mm F1.4 for the Nikon F system, and this atx-m 85mm F1.8 FE reminds me the joy that I have when I use the former. This is another issue that I genuinely expect from such a wonderful lens manufacturer. The sharpness on higher end cameras is a king.
This lens transfers UV light wonderfully! I cannot emphasize this enough! The entire package of sharpness and capability to allow the UV and of course the IR wavelength is super impressive. I made my tests harder and harder and in the studio I used only with special UV and IR emitting lights. Because under the sun we know that we have all types of radiation. But in the studio, under surgical measurements, the lens truly proved to do the job. It delivers clean, sharp, and wonderful images.
Many other seemingly good (however expensive) lenses that I have been working with in this specific artistic arm of photography have fallen shy. Not this one! I am going to show you some photos in this article to allow you to get what I mean.
Chromatic aberration is controlled nicely in general; however, one needs to know that IR and UV photography is different to visible-light-only photography. Regular shots with the lens across the aperture grades were nicely controlled.
Just a bit off-topic: this era of mainly digital photography the chromatic aberration is less and less an issue, as post-processing apps are quite effective in eliminating this physical-optical occurring phenomenon. If there is enough demand from readers for dealing with and explaining this phenomenon in more academic facet, I would positively consider to write for you a separate article.
Sharpness is not an issue at all! Any photography type is fabulous with this lens
The lens is not light, and I refer to weight, of course. Some individuals may presume that this is a bad thing. But I strongly oppose to this notion. The days of the silly marketing tricks to deem some lightness to mirrorless camera bodies are over! When that all started, and I refer to the entire mirrorless saga, a strong trick was to tell potential buyers that "mirrorless is light weight photography". Some even went farther and promised "mirrorless is small". While those were indeed perfect marketing manoeuvres that were thrown upon all of us since the early days of this technology, in reality they are not necessarily maintaining any substantial stronghold these days. The mirrorless technology has advanced over the recent years, and so the demand of the market to supply the-like premium qualities of the bodies and of course lenses. With the justified demand came heavier and bigger gear that basically is not too far from some popular DSLRs. The fact that the mirror was taken out of the camera bodies creates more forgiving flange spaces, and with it the requirement of smaller lenses than those of the DSLR counterparts. Back to the Tokina atx-m 85mm F1.8 FE, this lens' weight is suitable for the Sony mirrorless alpha bodies. The balance between the body and the lens is overall well maintained and based on the fact that many photographers are not shooting only portraits with a 85mm focal length, when the body + lens are mounted on the tripod the entire issue is dissolved, naturally.
Yes, it is made in China, not Japan. I know that for some that may mean something, but I truly ceased on paying attention to this stuff. I count on Tokina's Japanese quality-assurance even though they produce the lens off-shore. Chinese products during the past few years became truly good. So, do not negate the lens if this issue bothers you. Nikon, by the way, has made for years off-shore (like Thailand) and their cameras are brilliant.
Tokina's lenses, especially those made during the past decade, are wonderfully crafted. Optically, one can really never go wrong when choosing Tokina over a MUCH MORE expensive rivals' lenses. I am not going to denigrate any other rivalling manufacturer, if that what you get from me. I also use some lenses made by rivals. Everybody knows it! However... I hear what people ask me about one issue and I need to specify this matter herein. This lens is of premium quality optically. I already mentioned this above and keep on telling this. This is my professional non-biased opinion. One thing that I reckon that engineers are probably needing to give the thought to is harnessing a water-resistance quality to such amazing optical premium products. Other manufacturers, usually Fuji and friends, do provide such qualities to their own cameras and this may be a major issue for professional photographers who shoot in humid environments or under unstable weather with rain all year long, like in the tropics, sub-tropics, and oceanic areas. The Tokina opera 50mm F1.4 (link provided to my review) is one of the best lenses I used on full frame cameras to date and it DOES indeed have great protection in this regard. I would really want to see this feature more and more by all lens manufacturers.
About my tests.
As I mentioned above, I made the tests to verify whether this is the actual Golden Goose - lens with premium quality in areas where most of the other lenses on the market fell shy. Many lenses in combination with the camera sensor create "hot spots" when shooting IR or full-spectrum. But NOT this Tokina! Beautifully unified cover from edge to edge. The vignette is minimal, but expected.
Shooting with full-spectrum camera has an immense benefit of gaining a few more steps/stops of light compared to other "regular" off-the-shelf cameras. The vignette is essentially unnoticed in this case. The full-spectrum photography also requires the advanced understanding of reflections and direct light cons. But this is not related to this lens or any other lens that is used for this type of photography.
I tested the lens both indoor (my studio) and outdoors, still under the constraints of the COVID-19 repeating lockdowns. Do not be bothered by the amount of shadows in my artworks. I am known to be a rule breaker in my art.
In general, there are some issues with good IR and full spectrum lenses, but the hardest issue is genuinely with UV photography! This is because UV radiation is much weaker than the IR. If there is even a tiny leakage of light that is not regarded as UV, then the image becomes totally contaminated. Hence, UV imaging is truly hard to craft.
The meaning that apply to regular cameras:
UV photography with the lens was a HUGE WOW for me! I honestly cannot explain how strong this lens is in this type of photography! As I explained before, the UV is a nasty perpetrator that creates haze. When it is allowed to get into the shots when one would like to shoot 'regular' visible light material. However, gladly, the issue is solved with this lens, and the capability to be shooting very sharp shots with o without the UV light gives it my final score of 95 out of 100.
Tokina has proved here that the notion that one needs to break the bank in order to get a great, sharp UV lens is crashed. Tokina atx-m 85mm F1.8 FE is an absolute treasure for ALL types of photography. As I said - this is premium quality lens.
I will be very happy to hear from you.
Feel free to make a contact and ask about the material. If you require workshops in photography, both online and in-person (currently in-person workshops are only available in New Zealand), kindly send me a message. I'd be happy to assist you to improve your photography.