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Tokina AT-X 300mm f2.8 SD

Tested with a Canon EOS 20D

Tokina 300mm f2_8-5956

Tokina’s ATX 300mm f2.8 has always been something of a bargain, at less than half the cost of it’s Canon or Nikon equivalent.  Just how much of a compromise is it though when it comes to image quality,  autofocus accuracy, and, vital for sports photographers, autofocus speed. 

Lens tested:  Tokina AT-X 300mm f2.8 SD
There are also AT-X II and AT-X Pro versions.

Like all 300mm f2.8’s the Tokina is big lens

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Many people use 300mm f2.8 lenses for sport, so autofocus speed and accuracy are an important issue with this class of lens. With either Canon or Nikon’s current 300mm f2.8’s, or even with my old Nikon 300mm f2.8 AF-i, both speed and accuracy are superb, giving  almost instant responses. Unfortunately this is one area where the Tokina AT-X 300mm f2.8 DS is simply outclassed. Although autofocus speed is quick, it’s conventional AF motor is no match for AF-S or USM lenses.  This is an old style whrrr kind of autofocus lens.  Focusing is also where the lens has something of a handling issue.  Most pro lenses have conventional sized manual focusing rings, and the Tokina AT-X 300mm f2.8 has an excellent large ribbed focussing ring, just in the right place for those times you reckon you can do a better job yourself. The problem is that it’s also in the position your hands naturally fall to cradle the substantial weight of the lens, and when you are using autofocus the ring is still connected and turns as soon as you touch the shutter release. It’s a little disconcerting and means that when you use this lens you have to make sure you hold it farther down the barrel than normal - where there is a rubber grip for that purpose - or you’ll get a surprise as soon as you try to take a picture.  When I first used the lens this happened all the time and was really annoying - by the time I’d adjusted my grip the shot was long gone.  I’ve now learned to hold the lens on the wider part of the barrel, so it’s not a huge issue, just one that wouldn’t happen with either a Nikon or Canon 300mm f2.8.

That’s the bad news out of the way then, so lets look at the Tokina ATX 300mm f2.8 SD’s good points.  First off, this is a very well made lens - No lightweight plastics here - this is metal and glass, and built to last.  It comes with a large leather case, a huge lens hood and a 112mm UV filter, so it’s ready to go right out of the box. For a lens that is sold on value, this adds to the feeling of getting a lot for your money. It also has the essential tripod mount, so in terms of basic functions, nothing important has been left out. OK there’s no focus range limiter switch, no focus lock button, no image stabilisation and no clutch to disengage the manual focus ring, but at less than half the cost of a Nikon or Canon equivalent, you do get a lot of lens for your money. 

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© David Gold
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