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A Follow Up on the Tokina SZX f8 400mm and other Big Guns

The last articles have always been about Luts or Recipes, so now it’s high time to talk about gear, more specifically lenses, and even more specifically : the Big Guns !
Long focal length lenses, I usually speak of them as if they were weapons, and that’s because long focal length lenses are usually large and heavy, and can “shoot” things from a long distance.
Some lenses have also been labeled bazookas by others in the past, but the same can’t be said of the tiny Tokina SZX 400.

It wasn’t the first time I experimented with long focal lengths.
In 2015, and still on my old website, I had done a review of my Sigma 150-500mm for Pentax, and the Russian Tair S3 300mm f 4.5 – sometimes referred to as the KGB lens.
The problem I had was basically the same back then -> getting (enough) good shots of birds or other moving subjects at great distance with autofocus. It wasn’t easy, when it really shouldn’t be a problem. With the old Tair S3 300mm, just by manual focus, I had more perfect shots then with the Sigma on auto.
In the beginning I thought the problem was the Sigma, then maybe it was the camera that wasn’t fast enough to focus. Eventually, I saw a few problems that made focusing difficult.

Shooting with many disturbing objects close to the main subject – like photographing a bird through a canopy of leaves, even a few leaves close by could cause problems. Birds or other subjects beyond your focal length range. Actually, everything that is disturbing in the nearby area and everything that is too far for the lens,
and the autofocus gets into trouble.
The solution was: manual focus.

The shots above here where made with the USSR Tair S 300mm f4.5, and are crop screenshots of the originals, saved in low resolution. I can assure you that the originals are much better, they are just here to show that you can still take good pictures with a very old manual telephoto lens. Focusing was done with the large aluminum knob on the bottom of the lens – and it worked surprisingly fast and well, kind of autofocus by brains and muscles. The TAIR 300mm used here costs about €100 to €150 max.

Six years later we are still dealing with the same problem. And I am not the only one, a while ago Omar Gonzalez was testing the Fuji XF 100-400mm and he experienced the same problem.
You would think today’s lenses would be better, but the problems have actually remained the same, interfering objects, light, moving subjects, just to name a few.

It’s not that those lenses are bad, far from it, because the Fuji is great and super sharp. The question is whether you are willing to spend €1500/2000 on a lens that is – heavy and may require manual focus.
I would like to add that if you learn to use the lens better and adjust your camera accordingly, you will also take better pictures in the long run – so you can speak of a learning curve.
For a certain group of photographers – real nature photographers who do almost nothing else than shooting birds or wildlife, it’s a very good choice, but for photographers who do this type of photography sporadically, I would personally go for something lighter, cheaper and manual.

And not only the price is a reason, portability is perhaps the most important reason. A large and heavy lens like the Fuji 100-400mm isn’t a lens you’re going to carry around on all your outings just in case it comes in handy. Something small like a Tokina SZX 400mm that fits in your pocket would be much better – smaller, lighter and cheaper.
But I want to warn you, if you think you will be able to shoot SOOC, forget that. However, if you can adjust your camera’s contrast and color settings, or make a recipe to use with this lens, then you could shoot SOOC, otherwise there is still some work to do afterwards on computer, so RAW, possibly next to Jpg is recommended.
Also recommended and if possible, a filter – on one hand for protection – but also to improve the contrast (a skylight filter for example).
A monopod, especially if you don’t have in-camera stabilization.

Fujifilm X-H1 – Tokina SZX 400mm – Developed in Rawtherapee, exposure corrections – sharpening – denoising – crop 16:9, full width – shot @ 1/2048 f8.0 iso 800
Fujifilm X-H1 – Tokina SZX 400mm – Developed in Rawtherapee, exposure corrections – sharpening – denoising – crop 16:9, about 40% of total image – shot @ 1/128 f8.0 2500 iso
Fujifilm X-H1 – Tokina SZX 400mm – Developed in Rawtherapee, PictureFX Velvia – crop 16:9, almost full width (90%) – shot at 1/1520 f8.0 iso 800

For me the choice is clear, I used to be happy with the results of the old TAIR, but now that I have found a super small and light alternative in the Tokina SZX 400mm, I am very satisfied.

So satisfied that I went one step further – I recently found out that Samyang – besides the existing 300mm – also had a new 500mm f8 mirror lens on the market, I don’t need to say more I guess 🙂
The review of this lens will come as soon as I have the chance to take some long distance pictures somewhere.
Of course I will also compare it with the Tokina.

Then, what I have written here below completely contradicts my writing above, and probably some will call me crazy.
As some already know, I am someone who likes to go to air shows, shooting is usually done statically in one and the same place. Especially for such an occasion I recently made a very modest investment in glass, more specifically old glass.
It is a 40/50 year old, five (5) kilogram, Meyer-Optik Görlitz Orestegor/Pentacon f/5.6 500mm – she is about 450mm long, filter diameter 120mm ! – completely mold and dust free and in perfect working condition, in fact she looks brand new ! – €160 – she reminds me of an old war movie : the Guns of Navarone 🙂
It will be used from a tripod.
I’am very curious whether the lens can deliver better results than the modern mirror lenses.
But that is also for later.

In Partnership With Mark G. Adams

Check out his latest article Here

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Published by Marc R.

Belgium Based and Retired Photographer, IT specialist, Technician and Bushcrafter - not necessarily in that order. A few years back I got a message on my PC : "The box said 'Required Windows 11 or better'. So, I installed Linux Kubuntu" :-) My Photography software : Linux Kubuntu 22.04 LTS, RawTherapee, Darktable, Digikam, Luminance HDR, Hugin, Gimp and many other. My camera Gear in 2022: Olympus E-M1 Mark II & Mark III for bird, wildlife, architecture and landscape photography. Olympus E-M5 MKII for lightweight and travel photography. Olympus E-M1 silver edition for Vintage lenses . Olympus E-M10 MKIII and an E-PL 7 for fun. For realy rough adventures an Olympus TG-3 ! Development on an old 17" Dell Studio 1749, Core i5 - 8Ram - and 3TB. Well, I guess it's all about rough and tough !

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