In 2005, the Tokina 100 mm 2.8 Macro was released. There are many lenses from 2005 for which the image quality was immediately exceeded by more modern versions. That is not the case here. It is precisely because of the high image quality that this is still a popular lens. After an extremely enthusiastic Tokina 100 mm macro review by Ken Rockwell in 2015, this lens was even sold out worldwide for a while. That seems to us to be a very good excuse for devoting a short review to this macro lens, to alert our readers to this potentially great buy.
This Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro is a fantastic lens. It's optical performance is as good or better than the best from Nikon and Canon. Ken Rockwell
Our conclusion? Ken did not go too far in his enthusiasm over the Tokina 100 mm f/2.8 macro. The optical performance of this lens is sublime. That is good news for macro photographers, but also for portrait photographers. This macro lens is namely also very well suited to portrait photography. On full-frame cameras, you get an excellent image: beautiful background blur and simultaneously sharp to the corners. No field curvature at all. The lens properties and large aperture offer a lovely, almost enchanting blur. In the macro area, it is a magnification of 1:1; that is really big. Because you can work from a greater distance, this lens lends itself outstandingly to photographing smaller, easily startled animals, like butterflies.
Build and AF
The Tokina 100 mm macro lens feels solid and is very nicely finished. The housing is made of plastic, and the mount is metal. The lens hood is very large and attaches sturdily. On the product photo above, you can clearly see that the front lens is deeply recessed in the lens housing, so that you will not have trouble from backlighting, even without the lens hood. The filter does not turn during focusing. The focus ring is covered in rubber and feels nicely stiff. If you slide this ring backwards, then you can focus manually. The focus ring turns very smoothly, and the focus arc amounts to nearly 180 degrees. For manual focusing, often needed with macro, that is sufficient. The lens has its own AF motor of the conventional type. For focusing from infinity to close up, the lens becomes a good bit larger. Automatic focusing is a bit slower than what we are accustomed to with more modern lenses, from 15 meters to 1.5 meters in 0.35 seconds. Just as with the AT-X M35 PRO D, the focus area of the lens can be limited (Full or Limit) for faster focusing. The focusing of the Tokina 100 mm macro is reasonably quiet, and the camera wanders a little bit in low light. The AF is accurate, even in the close-up area. This macro lens can be used for both full-frame cameras and APS-C cameras. The focal length is perfect for a portrait lens. The Tokina 100 mm 2.8 Macro is less expensive than most other 100 mm macro lenses. Some macro lenses have image stabilization, while the Tokina 100 mm 2.8 Macro does not.
Vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion on the Tokina 100 mm macro
Distortion is absent. That is usually the case with macro lenses. Vignetting of the Tokina 100 mm macro, expressed in stops, is strikingly low. Even at full aperture, f/2.8, this is less than half a stop. You rarely find that with full-frame. Lateral chromatic aberration—colored edges at sharp contrast transitions in the corners—is absent. Not because of a software correction, but because of a good lens design: the RAW files also show no lateral chromatic aberration. Longitudinal chromatic aberration—colored edges in the bokeh, a lens error that you can encounter with lenses that have a brightness of f/2.8 or better—is pretty much entirely absent. Perfect!
For a macro lens, great blur in the foreground and background due to the limited focal depth is very important. The Tokina 100 mm macro does very well on this point: blurred circles have even coverage, and the image remains very quiet.
Tokina 100 mm macro @f/2.8
Tokina 100 mm macro @f/8.0
The front lens of the Tokina 100 mm f/2.8 is recessed in the lens housing, and that prevents not only damage, but also provides nicer shots in bright backlighting. The sensitivity to backlighting is very well suppressed for the Tokina 100 mm macro. Ghosts are rare. The practice shot, backlit through the leaves, looks remarkably good. The Canon 100 mm 2.8 IS Macro has, both in practice and in the test studio, more trouble with flare.
Sharpness of the Tokina 100 mm macro
The resolution of the Tokina 100 mm macro, expressed in lines/sensor height, reaches a high value at all apertures. At least as important is the limited difference in resolution between the center and the corners. If you place the Tokina next to the Canon 100 mm 2.8 IS Macro, then you see that the Canon (tested on a Canon 5DsR with 50 megapixels instead of a Nikon D810 with 26 megapixels) renders just a bit sharper. The differences are small, and in practice will seldom be visible. A strong point of macro lenses is the absence of field curvature: when you photograph a flat surface, there are many lenses that are less sharp in the corners because the focal surface is not completely even. In practice, that does not stand out (and we therefore also take field curvature into account when testing lenses), but for reproduction photography, field curvature can be very troubling. But not with the Tokina 100 mm f/2.8. Field curvature is absent.
Conclusion Tokina 100 mm 2.8 Macro review on a Nikon D810
Use the Lens Comparison or look in our list of reviewed lenses to compare this lens with other lenses.
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens if the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you make use of lens correction profiles in DxO Optics, Photoshop or Lightroom for the conversion of RAW files, then the scores for vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion are (even) higher.
Insensitive to backlighting: higher contrast and no ghosts
Also perfect as a portrait lens: great bokeh
Very favorable purchase price
No built-in image stabilization
Auto focus is a bit slow
Uncompromising sharpness and a fabulous bokeh/background blur with an extremely practical focal length make the Tokina 100 mm f/2.8 Macro into the ultimate portrait and macro lens.
The Tokina 100 mm Macro, because of the focal length, can be used as both macro lens and portrait lens. The lens is beautifully finished and feels solid. The resolution is high at all apertures, and the difference between the center and the corners is remarkably small. There is no field curvature. This is also an outstanding lens in the area of vignetting and distortion. The bokeh of this lens is really very beautiful. As minus points in comparison with more modern (and more expensive) lenses, you have the slower auto focus (usually not a problem for macro) and the lack of image stabilization. The much more expensive Canon 100 mm 2.8 IS Macro is the direct competitor. The Canon renders a fraction sharper at full aperture but is more sensitive to backlighting than the Tokina 100 mm f/2.8 Macro. The price-to-quality ratio of the Tokina 100 mm Macro is very favorable.