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Note: We purchased the Tokina Atx-M 85mm F1.8 lens used in this review with our own money. This review is independent and is not sponsored by Tokina or endorsed by them in any way.
About Tokina Atx-M 85mm F/1.8
Lens model: Tokina Atx-M 85mm F1.8 for Sony E Mount ATX-M-AF85FE
Release date: February 7, 2020
At a glance: Tokina's new lens is a solid optical performer with many positive attributes including ultra fast and responsive autofocus, beautiful tantalizingly smooth bokeh, and a high quality minimalist design. This lens competes closely with lenses like the Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM and the recently released Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM Mark II. However, the Tokina comes with a $100 heftier price tag. That $100 does get you what I consider to be a superior customer service experience and 3-years under warranty versus the one-year that Viltrox offers. So for those who like having the assurance of 3-years under warranty and top notch support, I'd highly recommend opting for the Tokina. Also, for those wanting to throw down $100 more, there's Sony's own 85mm f/1.8 and Samyang's highly capable 85mm f/1.4 with a tad faster and brighter aperture.Our score: ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
|✅ Great build quality||✖ Currently, there is no mention of firmware updates on Tokina's website.|
|✅ Ideal focal length for portraits||✖ Autofocus resets to what appears to be a default focus point after every picture in Continuous AF mode|
|✅ Sony full-frame e-mount native||✖ No weather sealing|
|✅ Nice minimalistic appearance||✖ Flare resistance isn't impressive|
|✅ Excellent bokeh|
|✅ Beautiful image quality|
|✅ Fast ultra-responsive autofocus|
Alternatives to Tokina Atx-M 85mm F/1.8
- Comparable: Viltrox PFU RBMH 85mm f/1.8 STM Lens for Sony E ★★★★
Performance wise and optically, this lens is remarkably similar to Tokina's offering, but currently comes at a $100 cheaper price point. For that $100 you save, you'll currently only have a 1-year warranty from the manufacturer versus the 3 year coverage that Tokina offers. I've worked with both Tokina and Viltrox support in the past, and, while there's nothing intrinsically wrong on the Viltrox side of things, I did find Tokina to go a lot further in terms of responsiveness and tackling the issues I encountered. The Viltrox has a port at the mount of the lens for plug-n-play style firmware updates. As of right now, there isn't any way to upgrade the firmware on Tokina's 85mm f/1.8. The Tokina support person I spoke with appeared to allude to a docking station, perhaps similar to Samyang's, being made available at some future date. It's worth noting that if a docking station is ever made available, it will likely come at an additional premium that is above and beyond Tokina's already $100 higher price tag. For those willing to forgo autofocus, there's also an even cheaper manual focus version of the Viltrox 85mm f1.8 with virtually identical optics and a buttery smooth, mechanically actuated focus ring that runs $300 less than the Tokina.
- Comparable: Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 STM ED IF Mark II Lens for Sony E ★★★★
The M2 version of Viltrox's 85mm f/1.8 lens is essentially a slightly lighter version of the original that looks virtually identical to its predecessor with the exception of a petal shaped lens hood. Optically, it appears to be identical to the original as well although autofocus is a bit faster. In terms of how the new faster autofocus compares to the Tokina 85, I’d say they’re roughly on par based on my experience using both lenses. As with the Mark I version of this lens, Vtilrox currently only gives you 1-year under warranty versus the 3-year period offered by Tokina. If getting the rock bottom lowest cost is your top priority, I’d say go with the Viltrox, but if having long term quality support matters, go with the Tokina.
- Comparable: Samyang/Rokinon AF 85mm f/1.4 Lens for Sony E SYIO85AF-E | ★★★★
At its current price point of just $599, Samyang’s 85mm f/1.4 autofocus lens is currently $100 more than Tokina's offering. This lens offers a slightly less rugged build quality, a tad better sharpness across the frame, a bit more pop, a marginally wider aperture, and slightly blurrier bokeh. With the optional addition of Samyang's lens docking station, you can also update the firmware.
- Comparable: Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 Lens SEL85F18/2 ★★★★
The bokeh quality of Sony's original 85mm f/1.8 isn't quite as smooth as Tokina's new lens, the build quality isn’t quite up to par, and the autofocus isn’t quite as responsive, but it's a bit sharper, has better contrast, and can receive firmware updates in-camera - which is a nice plus. This lens will currently run you $100 more than the Tokina.
- Better: ZEISS Batis 85mm f/1.8 Lens for Sony E 2103-751 Our score:★★★★★
While significantly more expensive, this lens outperforms Tokina's lens optically with a tad better sharpness, noticeably punchier contrast, more vibrant colors, and a bit better flare resistance. It's also got a nifty OLED display that might be useful to some photographers in low-light situations and it's the only 85mm lens for Sony FE that currently offers built-in image stabilization. That said, in my experience, Tokina’s lens gives you 90% of the performance at nearly a 3rd of the cost.
- Better: Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM Lens SEL85F14GM ★★★★★
Sony's 85mm GMaster is one of the best prime lenses you can get at this focal length and, besides being wider and faster, it does outperform Tokina's lens in sharpness across the frame, flare resistance, bokeh quality, color, contrast, features, and handling. It's currently about $1300 more though, so I'd only recommend it to serious pro photographers and enthusiasts who know why they need it.
- Better: Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Sony E 321965 ★★★★★
*While heavier, much larger, and a lot more expensive, Sigma's no-compromise 85mm f/1.4 outperforms Tokina's lens and rivals Sony's GMaster 85mm f/1.4 while costing significantly less than it. While I think that the the GMaster does have a bit better autofocus performance, I still consider Sigma's offering to be among the best 85mm e-mount lenses that money can buy. In fact, I personally prefer it optically to the GMaster. I also love that it's hand crafted in Japan to some seriously high standards and rigorous quality control. *
Tokina Atx-M 85mm F/1.8 first impressions
Tokina's new lens represents an excellent balance of performance, quality, and support. While the first copy of their 85mm f/1.8 that I received was defective, Tokina's support team did an amazing job communicating with me and replaced the lens free of charge. I was genuinely impressed with how handled everything from start to finish. What was even more impressive is how they went to the trouble of carefully checking the new lens. The replacement copy I received was sent out to mecare of their facility in Japan and and had to pass through rigorous quality checks to ensure I received a perfect copy that was carefully shipped out to me. I've now had a good deal of hands on experience with the lens and I've got to say I'm really pleased with it. It's a genuinely fun lens to shoot with and it has a charachter that's unique to it.
Tokina's new 85mm offering has excellent optics and is a capable performer as well. While a bit more expensive than the remarkably similar Viltrox 85mm f/1.8 and f/1.8 Mark II, this lens comes with 3 years of support (versus 1) and sports a design that is a bit more refined and sophisticated in my opinion.
The packaging and design of the lens are both very nice.
The packaging and design of the lens are both very nice. On taking the lens out of the box, it feels solid and appears to be well constructed. The gloss black finish is tasteful, and the overall appearance is extremely minimal with no tactile controls to speak of beyond the metal focus ring.
Flipping the lens over, I see a charcoal gray colored sticker with the Tokina logo printed prominently on it and right below that the words "made in China." I guess, at least for this lens, Tokina has gone the route of Tamron in outsourcing their once Japanese manufacturing. Most people probably won't care about this, but I'm a massive fan of the quality and excellence of Japanese glass, and it was a bit of a letdown, to be honest.
Fast and responsive autofocus experience
I found the autofocus on this lens to be very fast and responsive. In fact, I'd say that perceptually it seemed nearly as fast as Sony's GMaster and faster than most of the other competition. Viltrox released a new Mark II version of their 85mm lens that I've been reviewing and I'd say it's right on par with that.
Eye autofocus works phenomenally well
Eye autofocus on this lens worked every bit as well as I'd expect from one of Sony's own native lenses and I was able to grab quick focus on the eyes of moving subjects effortlessly.
The majority of images I captured were bang-on in focus
I shot a ton of images of various subjects ranging from people to animals and tried to really run this lens through its courses. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the vast majority of my images were exceptionally well focused, even in cases where the subject was moving.
The focus ring is a delight to use
Turning the focus ring, it feels firm yet smooth and the extremely long throw is useful for being able to fine tune the focus with exceptional precision that almost makes you forget that this is a focus-by-wire lens like most modern lenses are.
Overall, testing this lens was highly enjoyable and I look forward to reviewing further lenses from Tokina in the future
Overall, this is a solid new addition to the already highly competitive 3rd party lineup of 85mm primes for Sony full frame e-mount cameras. While it'll run you a bit more than its cheapest competitor, Viltrox, it also comes with a generous 3-year warranty period and excellent support which I've experienced first hand. To me, this justifies the additional cost.
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 image quality
Image quality is an area that this lens really shines and, as you'll see in the test images, the sharp foreground and creamy background defocus are hard not to appreciate. Tokina is calling this the "bokeh monster," and it's not an unreasonable title for this lens. At this price point, this lens does delivers wonderful bokeh and great optical quality overall. You can see a full gallery of high resolution images captured with this lens here.
Tokina 85mm f/1.8 sample images
Tokina 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III RXD Bokeh
Bokeh is about as smooth and creamy as you could ask for with this lens and it's definitely one of its strongest assets. While at closer distances it can get just a hair busy, overall its exquisite and really lends a sense of pop and dimension to the subject of images.
Tokina Atx-M 85mm F1.8 Build Quality
The Tokina ATX-M 85mm f/1.8 lens delivers excellent build quality, featuring solid metal housing and a textured metal focusing ring, which is contrasted by a rather average looking plastic lens hood.
The Tokina ATX-M 85mm f/1.8 lens delivers excellent build quality, featuring solid metal housing and a textured metal focusing ring, which is contrasted by a rather average looking plastic lens hood. It feels substantial in the hand, and definitely comes with a overall appearance that's a bit above it's price point. I'd say its design looks a tad more polished overall than the similar Viltrox 85mm f/1.8. On the negative side, unlike the similar Viltrox, the markings on the lens are just painted on rather than being embossed, which I think makes for a more premium look as well as better durability. To be fair though, as of the Mark II version of the 85mm lens, Viltrox has begun printing settings information as well.
Aside from exuding a clean appearance that's sure to delight minimalists, this lens is marginally heavy for it's size, but that heft gives you a sense of reassurance. I didn't personally find it burdensome to carry around during the many hours of test shooting I did in the field. On the up side, it's not a terribly long lens and it balanced well enough on my Sony A7riv.
As I mentioned previously, the focus ring on this lens is firm, but very smooth to turn and that makes it very precise, especially for a focus-by-wire system.
Tokina Atx-M 85mm F1.8 Autofocus
Aside from freezing my camera constantly, the poor and unpredictable autofocus performance was one of the hardest things to overlook about this lens.
Autofocus on this lens is really, really good. Especially if you consider the fact that Tokina, like other 3rd party lens manufacturers, essentially has to reverse engineer the technology to get it to work with Sony camera bodies. In this sense, it's incredible that this lens seems to perform better than many of Sony's own lenses. While it's not quite GMaster level in this department, it's really not far off either and the difference is barely noticeable.
I tested AutoFocus in every mode and am happy to report that the stellar performance I described earlier appears to carry over into all of them. The focus motor itself is STM, so it's not only quick, but it's quiet as well, making it a great choice for videography applications.
Tokina Atx-M 85mm F1.8 Features
Aside from a metal focus ring, there really aren't many features to speak about here. There are no tactile buttons or switches, it doesn't have any sort of weather sealing, and there's no internal stabilization or anything like that. Of course any sort of settings can be changed via the setting menu of your Sony camera, or via a pre-programmed custom function button.
Tokina Atx-M 85mm F1.8 optical construction
While looking at the grouping and number of optical elements in a lens alone doesn't really tell you much about its potential image quality, it is an integral part of the physical composition of each lens and what makes it unique. I created the chart below based on the information that Tokina has posted on their website to provide a visual demonstration of the optical composition of this lens.
As you can see, the Tokina 85mm f/1.8 features a 10 optical element design with a single Super-low Dispersion (SD) element made using FK01 and FK02 optical materials. This should help to reduce chromatic aberration. Tokina says they've also treated the glass with their own multi-coating (MC), a transparent chemical film that is applied in multiple-layers to help maintain accurate color reproduction as well enhance the overall sharpness capabilities of the lens.