I recently reviewed the new Tokina ATX-M 85mm f/1.8 lens and while I was looking at the optical composition, I immediately recalled reviewing the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 manual focus lens last year and saw a distinct similarity in the formula.
Upon comparing the optical design, I saw that the two lenses share a nearly identical composition. A quick internet search revealed that I wasn't the first person to have this thought. In fact, there's quite a lot of speculating going on. Some seem to think that given Tokina's a long history of allowing other companies to re-brand their lenses, that the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 is actually a re-branded/re-badged Tokina design, while others speculate that because Vitlrox released their 85mm f/1.8 first, that Tokina that is re-branding/re-badging Viltrox lenses.
If you compare the optical design of the Viltrox with that of the Tokina, it's not hard to see why people are talking about this:
The MTF results looks pretty similar too. Tokina says that they've used a "proprietary coating" on the 85mm ATX-M, which could account for the moderate resolution difference, along with normal deviation between each individual lens tested.
Then there are some pretty noticeable physical similarities as well. For example, the metal focus rings both looks pretty similar, with the Tokina's cutting off a bit sooner and leaving more dead space for whatever reason. Both rings appear to be at the exact same height starting point wise.
From the front side, it's anyone's guess as far as which one is which.
Stacked head-to-head, these two lenses look almost like a mirror image of each other, with the most substantive differences being in how the lens barrels taper to the mount and the width of the focus rings.
This single 85mm lens release isn't the only reason people are wondering about Tokina lenses being made by Viltrox (or vice versa), the 2020 lineup that both companies have announced is looking pretty similar too.
The basic specs of Tokina's new ATX-M lens lineup appear to match the Viltrox lens linenup and so far, Viltrox is releasing their lenses ahead of Tokina. For example, the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 was originally made available on May 6th, 2019 whereas Tokina didn't begin shipping their 85mm lens until around 7 months later on February 7, 2020.
|23mm f1.4 (APS-C, e-mount)||Summer, 2020||f1.4 (APS-C, e-mount)||March, 2020|
|33mm f1.4 E (APS-C, e-mount)||Summer, 2020||33mm f1.4 (APS-C, e-mount)||March, 2020|
|56mm f1.4 E (APS-C, e-mount)||Summer, 2020||56mm f1.4 (APS-C, e-mount)||March, 2020|
|23mm f1.4 E (APS-C, x-mount)||Autumn, 2020||23mm f1.4 (APS-C, x-mount)||March, 2020|
|33mm f1.4 E (APS-C, x-mount)||Autumn, 2020||33mm f1.4 (APS-C, x-mount)||March, 2020|
|56mm f1.4 E (APS-C, x-mount)||Autumn, 2020||56mm f1.4 (APS-C, x-mount)||March, 2020|
|85mm f1.8 E (FF, e-mount)||February, 2020||85mm f1.8 STM (FF, e-mount)||May, 2019|
|35mm f1.8 E (FF, e-mount)||Autumn, 2020||-||Not yet announced|
|50mm f1.8 E (FF, e-mount)||Autumn, 2020||-||Not yet announced|
Feature wise, there are also quite a few similarities between the two lenses. In fact, the only non-identical spec I found was Tokina's 0.125x magnification versus the 0.12x magnification listed for the Viltrox. It's worth noting that BH Photo currently lists the Tokina as having a 0.13x magnification ratio, which differs from other specs cited throughout the web. What's hard to understand is how these two lenses could both have identical minimum focal ranges, macro reproduction ratios, and angles of view and not share identical magnification ranges. It may be that they are indeed identical and that one company simply rounded down from x0.125 and the other rounded up.
|Feature||Viltrox 85mm f1.8||Tokina 85mm f1.8||Match|
|Aperture blade no:||9||9||✅|
|Macro Reprod. rt:||1:8||1:8||✅|
|Angle of view:||28.5°||28.5°||✅|
|Optical formula:||10 Elements in 7 Groups||10 Elements in 7 Groups||✅|
|Focal distance:||2.62'/80 cm - Ꝏ||2.62'/80 cm - Ꝏ||✅|
|Filter thread size:||72mm||72mm||✅|
Interestingly enough, both Tokina and the Viltrox 85mm lenses currently display as the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 in CaptureOne Pro (which obviously neither of them are). The Zeiss identifier appears to be embedded in the EXIF data, since it continues to show up as a an 85mm Batis on sites that reference EXIF information like Flickr and 500px.
Wondering if the similarities I was seeing could be purely coincidental, I reached out to Tokina Japan for an official response as to whether they were allowing Tokina to re-brand their lenses or if Viltrox was manufacturing their new 85mm for Sony. In response, they said that I can attribute the following statement to them:
Tokina lenses does not have a relationship with Viltrox.
If you want my opinion, knowing what I do about the Chinese lens market, my best guess would be that Tokina and Viltrox are both working with a well established 3rd party Chinese lens manufacturer that creates prototypes and allows other companies to customize and sell their lenses under their own brand names.
So there you have it! Tokina and Viltrox apparently have no business relationship whatsoever. If you want my opinion, knowing what I do about the Chinese lens market, my best guess would be that Tokina and Viltrox are both working with a well established 3rd party Chinese lens manufacturer that creates prototypes and allows other companies to customize and sell their lenses under their own brand names. This makes oodles of sense if you think about how fantastically well Viltrox did with releasing their first ever lenses for Sony and Fujifilm last year.
Working with a 3rd party manufacturer doesn't mean a company isn't bringing their own ideas to the table or that two products are going to be identical just because they're based around the same raw design. In fact, this isn't too dissimilar from, say, what Nikon, Panasonic, and Pentax do when they work with Sony to design and produce some of their image sensors.