In days of yore, Tokina was the option most associated with the affordable and budget class of optics. The type of lens you would plump for to gain the best value before anything else. But just like other third-party lens makers, Tokina is now producing glass which is a viable alternative to same-as-camera-make offerings.
Today’s focus will be on the best Tokina telephoto lenses under $1000. Telephoto lenses are a big ask for any lens maker as long lenses need lots of optical correction to provide the sharpest of images. However, Tokina does have some quality examples in this camp that still provide high-end quality, without the top-end price tag. All the options below will get you into the telephoto zone, but there will be caveats along the way.
1. Tokina AT-X 70-200mm f/4 FX VCM-S (Overall Winner)
When you need to dive into the telephoto zoom zone, the 70-200mm focal length has always been a reliable option. On crop sensor cameras, the Tokina AT-X 70-200mm f/4 FX VCM-S comes in with a 105-300mm focal length, which hits the super-telephoto range, with a very usable f/4 aperture.
Internally, the optics comprise three Super-Low dispersion elements wrapped around an arrangement of 19 elements in 14 groups. All the elements have a multi-layered coating to reduce the likes of lens flare and ghosting.
An image stabilization system has been included with three stops of compensation, which will help out at the longer focal lengths. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus motor provides fast workings and is quiet enough for video use.
If you’re lucky enough to be on the Nikon platform, then this lens is a viable alternative to Nikon’s own very expensive version. At f/4, the Tokina is sharp in the center of the frame, being most effective between 70-135mm. This lens from Tokina is a very good value 70-200mm zoom that will work in all scenarios apart from the very lowest of light conditions.
2. Tokina AT-X 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 AF
If you need a zoom lens under $1000 that has a huge scope of range, then the Tokina AT-X 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 AF may just fit the bill. On crop sensor cameras, the viewpoint comes in at a good 120-600mm, which is a remarkable range for a lens that only weighs 1080g.
Optically, the lens comprises 16 elements in 10 groups, with each element having an advanced multi-layer coating to reduce the usual amount of lens anomalies. In good lighting, this lens can be very sharp from f/5.6 and upwards, providing a nice degree of color and saturation.
On the negative side, the lens can display chromatic aberration at 300mm+, but this can be easily corrected in post-processing. The other downside is that a lens this long really needs image stabilization, but that would surely bump up the price considerably.
3. Tokina FiRIN 100mm f/2.8 FE MACRO
The Tokina FiRIN 100mm f/2.8 FE MACRO can stretch to 150mm on crop sensor cameras, while still bringing in prime lens quality. This lens can double up as a macro lens, with a full-sized 1:1 maximum magnification and a close focusing distance of 30cm.
Multi-layer coatings have been applied to all elements to increase image quality and sharpness, and the autofocus system is respectably quick for the price point. As a standard 100mm lens, the f/2.8 aperture works very well in low light conditions and the macro mode produces plenty of detail where it counts.
The 100mm viewpoint isn’t exactly stretching into the super-telephoto zone, but the quality and sharpness of the end result more than make up for the deficiency in focal length. In other words, it’s much better to have a pin-sharp lens at a shorter focal length, than one that is a bit longer and produces softer results.
4. Tokina Reflex 300mm f/6.3 MF Macro
The Tokina 300mm is built specifically for the Olympus and Panasonic Micro Four Thirds format, while also offering a macro mode. The lens has a very compact design that uses internal mirrors to achieve the long 300mm focal length. With the lens also having a fixed aperture of f/6.3 and a macro ratio of 1:2, which is not full-sized, but good enough for occasional use.
As with any lens that uses this particular design, it’s a very lightweight and compact way to achieve 300mm, but the results will not be as sharp as it’s very expensive counterparts. But if you want the most cost-effective way to own a 300mm prime lens, the Tokina Reflex 300mm f6.3 MF Macro may be worth a second look.
5. Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF (Budget Winner)
If you’re on a really strict budget, but need super-telephoto capabilities, then the Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm f/8 Reflex MF is a lightweight solution at a very affordable price point.
The reason why Tokina can cram a 400mm focal length into such small dimensions is by using a catadioptric optical design. This is solely for creating a compact lens, without having the heavyweight attributes of a typical 400mm prime lens.
The lens itself is fully manual focusing. It has a fixed f/8 aperture and comes with a very substantial lens hood to keep out any stray rays of light.
This is a lens that needs a good deal of light to work at its optimum. Sharpness levels from the lens are just average compared to the options above, but one unique feature is the donut-shaped bokeh balls in out of focus areas, which can be appealing if you like that sort of thing.
This is a lens that is a better concept on paper than in reality and is really a solution for those who want the lightest possible lens solution. It would also suit those who want the length of a telephoto lens at the smallest price point and in the smallest package.
Narrowing the Focus on Tokina Telephoto Lenses Under $1000
Tokina simply doesn’t have many options in the telephoto area under the thousand dollar price bracket, but the options above will cover this focal length zone while also providing good quality results.
If you want the best possible image quality, you can’t go wrong with the AT-X 70-200mm for its overall sharpness levels and rounded features. The 80-400mm focal length provides the longest reach with a nice balance of quality and functionality.
But if you’re on a really tight budget and the longest of focal lengths are your only option, then the 400mm f/8 Reflex MF will get you to your required focal lengths, but it is a lens with a very limited output range.