Extra telephoto or super telephoto lenses are lenses with an equivalent focal length exceeding 300mm. Typically, these optical devices cost a lot of money and are heavy. However, there is an exception to this rule – mirrored lenses. Today we have on review a modern representative of this design, a lens (Tokina 400mm f8) from a well-known Japanese manufacturer Tokina.
Mirrored lenses open up the world of ultra-long focus optics for beginners and photographers on a budget. Those scenes that can be obtained at such a focal length cannot be repeated with a lens with a standard focal length. This is not only a matter of zooming in on the subject, because it can be simulated, especially if your camera has a high resolution matrix. What you can’t get with electronic magnification is what’s called perspective compression.
Below is an example of a space compression effect. In reality, the lanterns hang at a distance of about two to three meters from each other.
With the right angle, you can get very unexpected results, but this is very difficult, because finding a location can take a long time. This is a price to pay for a unique shot, because not every photographer has such a focal length, as well as the desire and time to search. So if you want to experiment, then a mirror lens can be a great choice. However, there are some subtleties here. Let’s figure it out.
Before we go directly to our hero, it is necessary to understand the features of lenses with such an optical design.
Initially, the scheme was used in telescopic construction, and only later it was used in the production of photographic lenses. Perhaps the most famous lens that will be heard by many photographers is the Sony FE 100-400mm. Actually, my acquaintance with mirror-lens lenses began with that. In the optical design, mirrors are used, which makes it possible to reduce the overall length of the structure by approximately three times compared to a lens of a classical lens design with a similar focal length.
The design features are such that in all mirror-lens lenses there is no aperture block, so it is fixed and the exposure is changed only by shutter speed or ISO. Also, a mirrored lens is afraid of even a minimal hit of back or side light – this leads to a decrease in contrast, which is often mistaken for a low resolution of the lens.
Another important feature is exclusively manual focusing. However, there has been only one Minolta autofocus mirror lens in history. However, autofocus is quite expensive for mirror lenses.
Images from this kind of lenses are very easy to recognize by defocus flare. The light discs look like a circle or “donut”, this is due to the fact that a mirror is located in the center of the front lens. I find this kind of bokeh very artistic and if applied successfully, you can get really impressive pictures.
A unique advantage of the mirror lens system is the complete absence of chromatic aberrations. This is due to the fact that a small number of lenses are used here.
So, we have analyzed the main features of mirror lens lenses, let’s get acquainted with our hero.
Appearance and Characteristics of Tokina 400mm F8
It’s not my discovery that mirror lenses are compact, but when I took out the Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm F8 Reflex MF lens from the box, I was amazed at how compact it really is. It looks tiny even on a mirrorless camera, let alone a DSLR.
By the way, I tested the lens with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera. And it should be noted right away that it is imperative to enable shooting without a lens in the camera menu. The Tokina 400mm F8 is not equipped with a chip and contacts, so the camera does not realize that a lens is currently attached to it.
The peculiarity of the Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm F8 Reflex MF is that this lens can be mounted on almost any camera. The lens has a standard T mount, for which there are adapters for all systems.
The company itself sells a lens without a mount adapter or bundled with one mount adapter to choose from: Canon EF, Sony E, Nikon F, Micro 4/3 and Fujifilm’s the X. Nothing bothers you, having bought with a certain adapter, then purchase another one for another system.
Even in my bins I found an adapter for Micro 4/3, which I bought five years ago and here it also fits perfectly. Thus, I can install the camera not only on Fujifilm X-T4, but also on my old Olympus.
The body of the Tokina 400mm is completely made of metal, however, as already mentioned above, the optical scheme is simple here, so the total weight, due to the lack of a large number of lenses, is small. Only 355 grams, and dimensions 74×77 mm. Let me remind you that we are talking about a 400mm super telephoto lens!!! Impressive, isn’t it?
The build is very high quality, the lens barrel is scratch-resistant. On the body there is a marking of the focusing distance in feet and meters. The focusing ring occupies almost the entire body. Part of the ring has a rubberized coating.
The minimum focusing distance is only 115 centimeters, which results in a 1:2.5 scale – this corresponds to an object approximately 6×9 cm in size for the entire frame. Thus, you can even shoot macro. However, this will be very difficult, because the depth of field at the minimum distance is very small, and, let me remind you, there is no aperture block here. That is, it will not work to increase the depth of field. By the way, the aperture of the lens is set to f/8, which is quite good for a mirror lens. It has a proprietary anti-reflective coating to reduce reflections.
The focusing ring has a very long stroke and is actually convenient. After all, even setting sharpness on an object that is at a distance of 20 meters is quite difficult – you cannot do without a tripod, but we will talk about the features of shooting a little below.
Comes with a very deep metal conical hood. Remember, I wrote above that mirror lenses are afraid of backlight. Nevertheless, even such a hood design does not prevent the loss of contrast.
The hood is attached to the filter thread and, unfortunately, cannot be attached to the lens in the reverse position in order to obtain maximum compactness in the transport position.
The hood is so deep that when it is screwed on, it is quite problematic to install the lid, let alone work with position-dependent light filters. The filter thread is 67 mm here. By the way, the magnetic mount, which I showed above, greatly simplifies the installation and work with filters.
Mirrors tend to fade over time and lose their reflective properties. Here are the elements with a silver coating with a protective antioxidant layer on the back. Thus, a long service life is achieved.
Shooting with Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm F8 Reflex MF
This was probably the most difficult lens test for me, but at the same time one of the most interesting. I tested it on a Fujifilm X-T4 camera, and as you know, this is a crop camera, which in equivalent gave me a whole 600 mm. With this focal length, it was incredibly difficult to find an interesting subject. Plus, the lack of autofocus, reduced contrast and a fixed aperture made it impossible to shoot any fleeting events. Even passers-by on the street was difficult to photograph.
The first scene that immediately came to my mind was the shooting of the moon. And it so happened that a full moon was to take place in a few days. The most spectacular pictures of the moon are best taken either during the full moon or when it is in the form of a thin month. I spent about three days searching for the location.
In addition to choosing at least a high position, in order to avoid flare from city lighting, it was necessary to understand where the moon rises. To make a picture of a celestial body as interesting as possible, it should not be taken just in the sky. Foreign objects must be present in the frame so that there is a visual comparison – in my case, it is at home. Such a large focal length of 600 mm made it possible to make the moon very large against the background of buildings and create really spectacular pictures. The place has been found according to the forecast, I understood where the moon would be and what time, I could only hope for a clear sky. And everything worked out. The shoot was only 20 minutes. Below is the result of my work. Uncropped footage with minor contrast and color adjustments in Lightroom.
Of course, it is better to take pictures of celestial bodies in frost and somewhere far outside the city, preferably in the mountains. In the city, and especially in New York, there is not only light pollution, but also constant smog, which inevitably degrades the quality of the result. Therefore, it is important when filming in the city, it is advisable to climb as high as possible. In our case, the shooting took place from the roof of a 20-storey building.
The location I successfully found turned out to be an excellent position for shooting the sunset. And this was a serious test for our hero, because, as I wrote above, mirror-lens lenses are very afraid of backlight. For the shots below, I used a Manfrotto ND8 ND filter, which attenuated the light output by 3 stops. Without the filter, shooting would be simply impossible, because even at the minimum ISO and shutter speed of 1/8000, the frame turned out to be overexposed.
For shooting with the Tokina 400mm F8, as well as with any other lens with a similar equivalent focal length, a tripod is simply required. Shooting handheld at a shutter speed of 1/600, which meets all the rules for a crop camera, even with a matrix stabilizer does not give a satisfactory result. Moreover, even when shooting on a tripod, I recommend using the release delay timer, and preferably as long as possible in order to maximally dampen all vibrations from camera movements and button presses. In my case, I used a 10 second timer.
By the way, about the matrix stabilizer. Since I tested the lens on a Fujifilm X-T4 camera, it should be noted that it is necessary to adjust the stabilizer operation for maximum efficiency.
In the menu item “IQ” – “Setting the adapter” in one of the slots, specify the focal length of 600 mm and save it. For convenience, you can add a lens name. Why 600 mm? We shoot on a crop camera with an APS-C sensor, so the focal length is increased by 1.5 times.
Mirrorless cameras, thanks to various manual focus assistants, can be said to give a second life to manual focus lenses. When shooting with the Tokina 400mm F8 with a DSLR camera, achieving maximum sharpness through the optical viewfinder would be very difficult. Yes, in DSLR cameras there is an assistant in the viewfinder that signals the correct focus, but it has a large error, and in our case it would be completely useless. Shooting in LiveView becomes the only way out for DSLRs, and with the obligatory use of electronic zoom. However, mirrorless photography is much more convenient and efficient.
Almost any modern mirrorless camera has a so-called focus peaking. The most advanced cameras have advanced settings from sensitivity adjustment to peak highlight color. Moreover, this assistant works both through the main screen and through the viewfinder. But even with such an assistant, I still recommend using electronic zoom for perfect accuracy.
In the Fujifilm X-T4, in addition to the focus picnic, there are two more assistants – micro prism and double image. I cannot say that they are more convenient than identifying peaks, nevertheless, their presence is unnecessary in any case. But what is really convenient is the dual screen.
In this display mode, the display simultaneously displays the complete image for compositing and the selected area with magnification for precise focusing.
With the Tokina 400mm F8, I shot not only with a tripod, but also with my hands. Exposure in this case was approximately 1/1500. The focusing ring travel is very smooth and moderately tight. Combined with the aforementioned advantages of mirrorless cameras, working even with such an extremely long focal length is not difficult. So don’t be afraid of manual optics.
Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm F8 Reflex MF gallery
The Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm F8 Reflex MF is more of a creative lens, however it can also be used in some commercial shooting scenarios. Working with this lens is incredibly interesting. Plus, its incredible compactness and light weight make it possible to take this lens for walks or trips without additional stress, which cannot be said in the case of a standard telephoto refractor lens. And another important plus is the very affordable price compared to the same focal length of classic telephoto lenses.
To work with the Tokina 400mm, there are a few things to consider. First, be sure to understand the camera settings – gimbal settings, electronic zoom, manual focus assistants. Second, be sure to use a lens hood and avoid side and backlighting. Thirdly, pictures taken with this lens require post-processing – a minimal increase in contrast makes the picture much better, this should not be neglected. And finally, fourthly, get ready to walk a lot and do not be discouraged if your shot did not work out the first time.
This lens is for creative, thoughtful photography. With the Tokina SZX SUPER TELE 400mm F8 Reflex MF you can get some truly unique footage. So if you are not afraid of difficulties and are ready to develop, then this lens will be a great challenge.