It has always been a good idea to invest in a prime lens when you’re on a limited budget. The main reason is the extra level of definition and sharpness that comes with a prime lens. That’s not to say zoom lenses aren’t equally capable in the right hands in this budget range, but a prime lens generally ensures that all the optical quality has been piled into one focal length. As we are looking at the third-party variety today, we are narrowing the focus down to the best Tokina prime lenses under $500.
Tokina is just one of the third-party lens makers now producing extremely affordable, good lenses, which some consider viable alternatives to same-as camera versions.
1. Tokina atx-m 85mm f/1.8 FE
The 85mm focal length has always been a favorite of portrait shooters, providing just the right amount of compression and viewpoint for flattering images. Tokina’s version of this focal length comes in the form of the atx-m 85mm f/1.8 FE, which has an overall weight of 645g, built specifically for the Sony E-mount. The lens is equally capable on crop sensor cameras, providing an overall focal length of 127.5mm.
The lens features a fast and bright f1/.8 aperture, which is ideal for portrait work. To maintain the overall image quality, an SD low dispersion element has been included, along with a super low reflection multi-coating.
Considering that this lens has a cheap price tag compared to other top-quality 85mm primes, it provides a wonderful amount of sharpness throughout its aperture range. Images are defined with neutral color and contrast and the bokeh is as high quality as you would expect from a good lens covering the 85mm focal length.
2. Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro
While the lens above shows favoritism toward the Sony camp, the atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro can be attached to both Canon and Nikon mounts, making it one of the top choices of Tokina prime lenses under $500. This lens stretches into the short telephoto zone, with the addition of a macro mode providing a full-size 1:1 reproduction of a subject with a close focusing distance of 30cm.
A multi-layered coating has been applied to all lens elements to maintain optical clarity. With the lens comes a few unique features, such as the one-touch focus clutch mechanism for swapping between auto and manual focusing and the focus range limiter switch.
As a macro lens, the atx-i 100mm fills the frame with a subject with fine detail. And as a regular 100mm prime lens, the best results come in from f/4, providing wonderful sharpness across the frame. In essence, this is a very cost-effective lens with respectable optics. It’s a good solution for those who need a viable macro lens.
3. Tokina FiRIN 100mm f/2.8 FE Macro
Another good lens for the Sony platform is the FiRIN 100mm f/2.8 FE Macro. This lens is a well-priced alternative to the 100mm Sony lenses on the table. Just like the lens above, the FiRIN 100mm has a fast f/2.8 aperture with a macro mode providing a 1:1 life-size reproduction and a 30cm close focusing distance.
The same multi-layer coating can be found on this lens, with the addition of a printing magnification scale on the lens barrel which helps enormously for macro shooting.
The autofocus system may not be as rapid as some of the Sony variants, but the optics deliver in sharpness and definition across the frame from f/4. Also, the Tokina FiRIN 100mm f/2.8 FE lens will be mostly eyed up for its macro capabilities, where it delivers very good image quality and at a considerably lower price than some of the Sony options. The f/2.8 aperture also works very well in low-light conditions and for producing creamy bokeh for portrait images.
4. Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF (Budget Winner)
The Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF is the cheapest option on our list of Tokina prime lenses under $500 and needs the most explanation. The lenses above are quite straightforward in what they offer, being traditional prime lens designs, while also offering additional facilities such as a macro mode in some cases.
The SZX SUPER TELE 400mm is unique in offering such a compact and lightweight lens at the 400mm focal length. A Canon 400mm lens, for example, is usually a monster of a lens, but the SUPER TELE 400mm achieves its compact size and weight of only 355g using a catadioptric optical design. The system works almost like a regular telescope, using internal mirrors to achieve the 400mm focal length.
To maintain overall image quality, a multi-layer anti-reflection and silvered coating has been applied to each mirrored surface. Also included is an antioxidant layer to extend the longevity of each internal mirror. This lens is manual focusing only, with a fixed aperture of f/8, which means it needs a good deal of light to perform at its best. Unique to this design is the way the lens renders out of focus areas. The results come out as donut-shaped highlight balls, which can look very surreal in the right circumstances.
Considering that this lens costs less than $350, it provides reasonable image clarity for the price, but you can’t expect it to compete with a very high-priced 400mm prime. Where the Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF fits into the grand scheme of things is providing an ultra-compact lens solution at a very competitive price. This price point is also extremely reasonable when compared to the thousands you would need to spend on a traditional 400mm prime lens.
Are Any of These Tokina Prime Lenses Under $500 Right for You?
As is usually the case when working with a limited budget, the choice of lenses is far fewer than if we had all the money in the world. But these Tokina prime lenses under $500 still provide good quality glass at very competitive prices. If your main subject matter verges on the very small, then you’re in luck with the macro versions, as they provide heaps of quality for the money.
If you need a traditional prime lens under $500 with a short telephoto reach, either the atx-m 85mm or the atx-i 100mm are good candidates. The SZX SUPER TELE 400mm is an interesting concept at a remarkably low price. This means for a very long lens in the most compact form possible, this lens will fit the bill, especially if you prefer its rather unique way of rendering out of focus areas.