Quick Review: Tokina 35mm 2.8 Macro AT-X Pro DX

Introduction

Sony A7rII + Tokina 35mm 2.8 DX macro AT-X Pro
Sony A7rII + Tokina 35mm 2.8 DX macro AT-X Pro

The Tokina 35mm 2.8 Macro is an APS-C (DX) lens and actually quite old already (introduced around 2008). As I am using two cameras from the A7 series I am rarely interested in APS-C lenses, but this one caught my attention for several reasons:  I was looking for a moderate wide angle macro lens, it features 9 rounded aperture blades, it is quite small and cheap and I got word that it covers the whole full frame sensor at larger magnifications. Read on to find out whether my expectations were met!

Sample Images

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution
tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution
tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution

Quick Review?

I did intend to write an in depth review and to keep this as a special purpose lens for wide angle macro photography. Unfortunately there is one negative aspect that bothers me so much I won’t bother taking more time with this lens and instead send it back to the dealer.  I will nevertheless summarize my findings, so in case you are interested in this lens take this as a word of caution…

APS-C lenses on fullframe cameras

The Tokina 35mm 2.8 macro DX is an APS-C lens and designed with a smaller sensor in mind. When attaching and APS-C lens to a fullframe sensor this will usually lead to bad performance towards the border regions and/or even completely black corners.
Still: there are a few APS-C lenses that can be used with almost no limitations on a fullframe camera. This is often especially true for macro lenses near the minimum focus distance. So because of this – and also due to the lack of alternatives when it comes to wide angle macro lenses – I gave this one a try.

Specifications / Version History

Tokina and Pentax have a long history of working together and optically this lens is the same as the Pentax HD DA Limited  35mm 2.8 Macro. I didn’t get my hands on the Pentax incarnation so I can’t tell you if it is better made in any way. The Tokina version comes in Nikon-F and Canon EF-S mount but both seem to be discontinued.

I am reviewing the Nikon-F version here which has the following specifications:

    • Diameter: 60 mm
    • Field of view: 63° (diagonally, on fullframe)
    • Length:  73 mm
    • Weight: 340g (without adapter)
    • Filter Diameter: 52 mm
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (rounded)
    • Elements/Groups: 9/8
    • Close Focusing Distance: 0.14 m (measured from sensor)
    • Maximum Magnification: 1:1
    • Mount: Nikon-F

You can get one used at ebay.com* starting 200$ or get one of the few new ones left at amazon.com* for 320$ (affiliate links).

Handling / Build Quality

Sony A7rII + Tokina 35mm 2.8 DX macro AT-X Pro
Tokina 35mm 2.8 DX macro AT-X Pro

On my Nikon DSLRs I have used some Tokina lenses in the past and never find fault with their build quality and luckily this 35mm is no exception here. The outer casing seems to be made from high quality polycarbonate but the lens feels very solid nevertheless. It features Tokina’s “focus clutch” mechanism: you can pull the focus ring backwards for manual focus and forward for autofocus (on Nikon DSLRs with built in motor). I will of course concentrate on the MF experience here. The focus ring actually feels quite nice, especially for an AF lens, I am tempted to go as far and say this is one of the best focus rings on an AF lens I have experienced so far.  It takes roughly 150° from 0.14m to infinity. What is worth to mention though: it takes about 130° from 0.14m to 0.30m and only 20° from 0.30m to infinity, this makes setting precise focus in the macro range an easy task but one has to be more careful at distances between 0.5 and ~20m. For a dedicated macro lens this is not an unusual design decision and I actually don’t intend on using this lens outside the macro range (much), so this doesn’t bother me, but YMMV. There is also a focus limiter but for manual focusing using it hardly makes any sense.
The inner barrel extends quite a bit when focusing closer, at infinity it is recessed inside the outer barrel, at minimum focus distance it sticks out 19mm (without the small supplied hood).
As this is an G-type lens you will need a Nikon-G -> Sony-E adapter to control the aperture, see this article for further information.

Vignetting

infinity

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/8.0 | focused at infinity | full resolution

close focus

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | focused near minimum focus distance | full resolution

The Tokina 35mm 2.8 macro is an APS-C lens so one would expect completely black corners on a fullframe camera but this is only partially true: focused at infinity (stopped down) you get indeed black corners, but in the macro range this does not happen regardless of the aperture in use. It is a good idea not to use the small hood, as it makes things worse. Still, this is of course not a good choice for shooting landscape or architecture on a fullframe camera.

Sharpness

infinity

Many macro lenses are optimized for closer distances and somewhat struggle when focused at infinity. This seems not to be the case here, but as you get black corners when focusing at infinity on a fullframe camera – and I didn’t intend to use this lens for landscape shooting at these distances – I also didn’t evaluate this in detail.

close focus

Sony A7rII + Tokina 35mm 2.8 DX macro AT-X Pro
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | 100% crop

Excellent already wide open. Simple as that. Take a look at the crop above. This is a 100% crop from a 42mp A7rII file shot wide open. Does it get any better than this?

Flare resistance

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/4.0 | full resolution

The coatings are the achilles’ heel of all Tokina lenses I have used so far. Each and every one I have used showed disastrous behaviour with point light sources inside or near the frame and unfortunately the 35mm 2.8 macro is no exception here. To be honest this might even be the worst lens I have ever used in this regard. Ghosting is rather well behaved for a Tokina lens but sill nothing to write home about compared to newer lenses with better coatings. But what has really ruined many images is that in contralit situations you can quite easily experience glare and very strange artifacts all over the frame. Even the slightest hint of light from behind the subject will easiliy suffice to ruin your shots.
A small change in perspective won’t help. Using the very small hood makes no difference. Further shading the lens won’t help. I even thought it might be the adapter’s fault but I can easily recreate this behaviour on a Nikon D5100 APS-C DSLR.
Just in case I wasn’t clear enough so far: this is not the usual one shot in a thousand that is ruined because of a lens flare, this is a constant problem I experienced in so many shots I stopped counting. Performance against bright light is simply the worst.

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution

Distortion

Very minor barrel distortion, not an issue for anything but reproduction work.

Bokeh

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution

When it comes to macro lenses bokeh is very important to me. Because of the very shallow depth of field in the macro range also the bokeh when stopping the lens down is important for me and the number and shape of the aperture blades is the most significant factor here. Luckily Tokina didn’t chimp on the aperture blades (as Sony did with their new FE 50mm 2.8 macro lens) and decided to go for 9 rounded aperture blades. Because of this the light circles stay pretty much round until f/5.6 and don’t distract from the subject, as I think the hexagons from the C/Y lenses or the heptagons from many other lenses with 7 straight aperture blades do.
The quality of the bokeh is highly dependent on the focusing distance here: near minimum focus distance I can hardly find any fault, but in case your subject is farther away the background can be a little less smooth (take a look at the ship in the background).

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution

Chromatic aberrations

longitudinal

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | 33% crop

There are some traces of magenta before and green behind the focus plane. Ok performance here.

lateral

Towards the borders and corners you can spot some lateral CAs which can be corrected in post, as can be seen in the example below (100% crop).


Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/8.0 | CA 100% crop before/after border

Alternatives

The problem is, there isn’t really an alternative to this lens I know of (in case you know of a ~35mm macro lens which covers fullframe with 7+ rounded aperture blades: please tell me in the comment section).
So you are pretty much “stuck” with the 50mm lenses.

Sony FE 50mm 2.8 Macro
This one is pretty new and a bit more expensive but seems to be a good performer from what I have read in Phillip’s review. Unfortunately the 7 rather straight aperture blades will keep me from buying this one.

50/55mm legacy macro lenses
You can find 50mm and sometimes 55mm (D)SLR lenses from many manufactureres including Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Zeiss and many more. I didn’t yet test any of them as they usually feature 7 straight aperture blades.

Conclusion

good

  • bokeh (at close distances) also stopped down thanks to 9 rounded aperture blades
  • sharpness/contrast already at f/2.8
  • build quality
  • distortion
  • price (used)
  • size/weight
average

  • correction of CA
  • vignetting (rating based on APS-C frame)
  • bokeh (at medium distances)
not good

  • flare resistance

The table above is pretty good as describing what bugs me so much here: the Tokina 35mm 2.8 is a great lens, it is small, it is sharp and contrasty, it doesn’t cost a fortune, when focused close shows very smooth bokeh (and even focuses down to 1:1 without an extension ring). If it just weren’t for that abysmal performance against bright light.  This is pretty much the only real flaw I can find with this lens but such a big one it will keep me from keeping this lens.
There are many aspects of a lens I could turn a blind eye on but this has really proved to be a showstopper for me as it can and will ruin your shots no matter what.

I can only recommend this lens in case you merely intend to use it under controlled lighting where you can completely rule out any contra light.

You can get one used at ebay.com* starting 200$ or get one of the few new ones left at amazon.com* for 320$ (affiliate links).

If this review was helpful to you, please consider using one of my affiliate links. I will earn a small commission on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything. Thanks!

Sample Images

tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution
tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution
tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | 100% crop | full resolution
tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution
tokina macro makro 35mm 2.8 sony a7 a7rII a7rm2 close backlit flare sharpness
Sony A7rII | Tokina 35mm 2.8 | f/2.8 | full resolution

I have also set up a flickr album which contains many shots taken with the 35mm 2.8 macro.

About me

My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses.
My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time. You may follow me or take a look at my flickr-account http://www.flickr.com/bastian_k or visit my homepage http://www.fotoworkshop-bw.de  (only available in German).

Further Reading

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My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

Latest posts by BastianK (see all)

10 thoughts on “Quick Review: Tokina 35mm 2.8 Macro AT-X Pro DX”

  1. Great review! Always been curious about the lens, so I appreciate you posting this. Wanted to toss in a recommendation as well, it’s a 50mm but the newer versions of the Minolta Maxxum 50mm 2.8 (RS or D versions) have rounded aperture blades and sell for under $200

    1. Right now I am trying to find out whether the Pentax version of the 35mm 2.8 (especially the newer HD version) has better coatings,
      but thanks for your input, much appreciated!

  2. I wonder if there is something wrong with that copy? It really is catastrophic. Of course also a larger hood designed for full frame might help a little bit.

    It’s a pity, because like you, I have long wanted a short focal length macro for certain botanical images (but not as extreme as the 15mm laowa!)

    1. Dear David,
      I have of course checked with other sources before publishing the results.
      I found a few flickr shots from other people show the same behaviour:
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/rubenalonso/25717950644/in/pool-1293329@N25/
      https://www.flickr.com/photos/rubenalonso/26227136576/in/pool-1293329@N25/

      And same goes for the lenstip test sample: http://www.lenstip.com/158.9-Lens_review-Tokina_AT-X_M35_PRO_DX_35_mm_f_2.8_Ghosting_and_flares.html
      Albeit I am drawing a completely different conclusion based on my experience in real world use with that lens.

      So I think I have kinda ruled the possibility of a single defective lens out…

      But it seems the newer incarnation of the Pentax version (HD DA 35mm 2.8 Macro limited) has way more effective coatings and also 9 rounded aperture blades (older SMC version: 9 straight ones).

      So I might give that one a try albeit it is way more expensive.

      By the way: I share your thoughts on the 15mm 4.0 Laowa, to wide for a macro for my taste as well.

      1. I look forward to your conclusion about the limited! My worry is that the lens is so bad with flare that just improved coatings may not be enough, the design may not be optimized to prevent non image forming light from hitting the sensor.

        But let’s hope that’s wrong!

        I like the idea of using an APSC lens here – nice and small, even illumination at macro distances, and even if there is some sharpness penalty in the periphery when does that matter for macro subjects? (it’s ironic that macro lenses ar traditionally optimized for a flat field and good corners because of their use in reproduction which has long been taken over by photocopiers and scanners!)

  3. Thanks for the review. That flare almost looks as if it belongs in the IR wavelengths but those rounded blades sure are a boon.. re: legacy macro lenses, 50mm, without straight blades, well, there’s the Volna 9 and Industar 61 L Z : )

    The Volna epitomizes “soft wide open, sharp stopped down”.

  4. Hi Bastian,
    did you consider the Nikon AIS 2.8/28 for your purposes (wide macro)? It’s not a true Macro but it focusses down to 20cm (1:3.9 or so magnification) and there might be Nikon-FE adapters with “built-in” extension tubes to bring you even closer if needed.
    It also covers full frame at infinity, has good coatings & seven straight aperture blades…

    Greetings from Munich!
    Felix

      1. Hm true. Maybe there are some old versions of the CZJ Flektogon 2.4/35 with a crazy number of blades (15+) but I doubt it on a wide-angle.
        Another option would be a modern wide-angle + helicoid adapter but that probably rules out G-type lenses. Tricky one 😉

  5. Get the Pentax-Version, either HD or the older one. Both have great coatings and great color. Maybe the HD-Version is a little better, but i had two Versions of the non-HD 35mm Macro and both were great.

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