Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M Initial Review – Beautiful Bokeh & Impressive Sharpness
We’ve got the brand-new Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M FE in the SLR Lounge studio for some testing, and we’re really liking it so far! We thought we’d present our initial thoughts and some sample images that demonstrate the gorgeous bokeh, impressive sharpness, and beautiful sunstars and flare capabilities that this standard portrait prime lens has to offer. Enjoy!
A full, in-depth review will be coming soon, in which we do a more thorough investigation of sharpness and autofocus performance, and hopefully, compare it against its closest competitors. (FYI, this lens is just $499!) Until then, let’s check out these initial samples…
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M (Sony FE) | Sharpness Sample
So far, we’ve only had a chance to try the Tokina 85mm f/1.8 on the Sony A9ii and A7iii. However, we’ll be taking it back out for a spin on the Sony A7Riv for our full review!
In short, Tokina’s first 85mm f/1.8 portrait prime lens seems to be in keeping with their long-standing tradition of incredibly sharp lenses, even wide-open at their maximum aperture.
We’ll be sure to do a sharpness comparison between this lens, which is $499 right now, and the Sony 85mm f/1.8, usually $598 yet currently $548. However, just based on general experience with the Sony, I’m inclined to say that the Tokina is indeed sharper! Stay tuned and find out our final verdict in the full review.
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M (Sony FE) | Bokeh Sample
As a portrait lens, the quality of the background blur is almost as important as the sharpness itself. In fact, many portrait photographers often choose a lens that compromises slightly on sharpness, but has “buttery smooth” bokeh.
Thankfully, the Tokina 85mm clearly offers beautiful bokeh, in addition to its biting sharpness. We tested it in some very challenging foreground/background situations, such as these backlit scenes with lots of little twigs and flowers, and it handled them very impressively.
Anyone who is just barely getting into portrait photography will likely wonder whether they should buy an 85mm f/1.8, or an f/1.4. When it comes to shallow depth and background blur, quite honestly, the quality of a lens’ bokeh is actually more important than the number on the lens. In other words, if you get an 85mm f/1.8 prime that has truly smooth bokeh, you might find that you don’t need a bigger, heavier 85mm f/1.4 or f/1.2. That is, as long as the light-gathering (exposure brightness) of the f/1.8 aperture is enough for your low-light or fast-action needs.
In short, we’re really delighted to see the overall aesthetic of this lens, since it will undoubtedly be used very often at its fastest apertures, for subjects like portraits and candid photography where background/foreground blur can play an important role.
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M (Sony FE) | Flare Sample
Flare is a very unique characteristic that is highly subjective; but for portrait photographers in particular, a little bit of unique flare can be a beautiful thing.
Indeed, that’s exactly what the Tokina 85mm’s optical formula (and glass coatings) seem to deliver: a unique, great looking flare, when you frame a shot just right with some elements blocking the sun or light source. Cool flare effects like this are a very love/hate subject, but for portrait photographers in particular they can be highly desirable.
Again, we’ll do additional testing to see if there are any of those truly undesirable flare “dots”, and report back again in our final review.
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M (Sony FE) | Sunstars
With so much emphasis on perfectly rounded aperture blades for smooth bokeh, a portrait lens can often render unimpressive sunstars or starburst effects when stopping down. Tokina lenses in the past have been hit-and-miss, some of them have gorgeously pointy sunstars, and others are a bit more dull.
The 85mm ATX-M definitely does not disappoint in this regard. Even when stopping down just a little bit, sharp pointy stars begin to appear when given the correct conditions. By f/8 or so, almost any pin-point light source will render a gorgeously prominent, 8-pointed sunstar.
There’s no need to investigate this aspect any further, this initial test is very conclusive. Great job, Tokina!
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 ATX-M (Sony FE) | Initial Opinion
Overall, the very first thing you notice is that it feels like a solid flagship lens. Tokina has always been known for making durable lenses with a lot of metal in their construction, and the 85mm ATX-M seems to take that tradition to the next level. Not only is the outer shell of the lens metal, including the focus ring, but also the focus ring itself feels incredible.
In fact, the smoothness of the focus ring feels more like a classic manual focus lens than any modern autofocus lens. Its dampened, super-smooth rotation, and decent focus throw, make it a delight to focus manually.
In our final review, we’ll do a more definitive comparison of the actual focus precision compared to other 85mm prime lenses.
Autofocus seems to be great on both the Sony A9ii, and A7iii, which is a truly exciting thing for a Tokina lens since as far as third-party options go, Tokina has sometimes trailed behind the competition. Now, as we transition from DSLRs and their off-sensor, optical phase-detect AF systems to mirrorless’ on-sensor, hybrid AF, it appears that Tokina’s autofocus technology could be on par with name-brand flagship lenses.
Honestly? We’re pretty excited to see Tokina working on more full-frame mirrorless lenses, especially these faster-than-2.8 primes that will surely be in high demand as more serious photographers get full-frame mirrorless cameras.
On that note, we hope that Tokina is working on more lenses like this. They’ve always been a great third-party optic maker, with some great image quality and overall durability. With any luck, they’ll make a killer 35mm f/1.8 ATX-M next! (We have no insider info, this is just speculation based on the popularity of various third-party primes!)
Stay tuned for our thorough, complete review coming soon. In the meantime, if you’re already convinced and ready to “pull the trigger”, we don’t blame you, it’s looking to be an incredible lens.