Review of Tokina AT-X 300 mm F2.8 SD

Here is a little review of my Tokina AT-X 300/2.8 that I have used for wildlife photography for about 1ャ? year now and... I love it!
You will not find any resolutions or chromatic aberrations test here, I will rather tell you what my impressions from using this lens are and I'll illustrate my points with a couple of real photos.

Purchase

It is a late copy of the manual focus model (before they became AF) with OM-mount. I bought it in mint condition for どィ800, actually from FTP forum member jan56 in South Africa who had bought it new in Germany, I think in the end of the 90's. Here's the sales thread. It was the first time I purchased something of that caliber from overseas via the Internet and I can only say that I am verty satisfied with everything regarding that transaction.
I'd like to acknowledge jan56 for this excellent picture of the lens that he posted in the sales thread:





どィ800 was admittedly a bit steep and even though he paid the shipping from SA, and added items for almost どィ100 it was still about どィ100 more than what the Tamron SP 300/2.8 usually sold for. However, I had looked up some tests of this lens and it had gotten the best rating of all MF 300/2.8 so I was prepared to pay a little bit more - and I have not regretted that I did for a second. Since these lenses are quite rare in OM-mount, I decided to get this Tokina AT-X, now that I had found one and since I already had the OM-adapter. (A Tamron SP 300 need two adapters; an Tamron Adaptall-OM and an OM-4/3 adapter which, in my oppinion, isn't exactly ideal for a large and heavy lens like this.)


The Lens

As you see in the image above, the lens is a solid black all-metal lens with a rubberized focusing ring and also a rubber ring around the front lens barrel, where I often support the lens with the left hand's fingers. Behind the enormous hood (12 cm in diameter and more than 14 cm long) is the original Tokina 112 mm UV filter (originally supplied with the lens) mounted and it is stated in the manual that this filter (as well as the drop-in filter) should be mounted at all times in order to get the highest image quality. Due to the enormous hood, the whole lens looks very impressive when it is mounted, as seen in the image above.

However, the lens is 1 kg lighter and a couple of cm shorter (without hood) than the ZD 300/2.8 and it is a bit slimmer on the focusing ring. This suits me fine as I, believe it or not, used to belong to those who liked tiny and light gear (read OM). I still do so but I also realize that small lenses does have a very limiting effect on what kind of images I possibly can capture in low light.

To Use

I think the 2 kg lens is too heavy for extended shooting without a support so I have mounted a lens plate on it that attaches to my Slik EZ-pod (monopod) and I have the monopod supported by my belt via a home-made leather 'pocket'.
Howeer, handholding is by no means impossible. I took this handheld shot of a flock of Bohemian waxwings about one year ago:

1/1000 sec., f/2.8, ISO100 (klick to expand)

Shooting with the lens is a breeze since the viewfinder image is so bright and clear. As you may know, I have a KEO screen with predecessor to the "Optibrite" treatment. I bought that before I got this lens. I was then shooting with an OM Zuiko 300/4.5 or a Tamron SP 350/5.6 (mirror) but I'm not sure I would have bought the KEO if I knew how nice and bright the viewfinder would be with this f/2.8. Probably I would because the DOF is very limited at fully open aperture and that makes accurate focusing very critical.
The focusing ring runs from infinity to 2.4 m over only a 1/2 turn which was unusual in the beginning. However, now I find it very convenient when shooting action since I can manually follow-focus very easily without having to change the grip on the focusing ring.
Here is an image of a running rhoe buck taken at dawn:

1/320 sec, f/2.8, ISO400 (klick to expand)

Actually, I don't even have to have any 'grip' on the focusing ring because it runs so easy that I can operate it with one finger only. I would say that this may be the only slight drawback with the lens. Since the focusing ring is hardly damped at all it is very easy to inadvertedly happen to change focus by a slight touch of the ring.

Image Quality

I have used it for 1 1/2 year now and I am very satisfied with the image quality, it is really sharp wide open and gets one notch more contrast if stopped down to f/4. I am also pretty sure that, wide open, it is even better with the Zuiko Digital EC-14 (1.4x teleconverter), which then gives aperture f/4 - of course.
Here is a picture of a mink that I took last winter in low light with the lens wide-open and the EC-14:

1/125 s., f/4.0, ISO200 (klick to expand)

I am shooting with the 50-200 most of the time during daytime in the summer and when I am 'among people' (I get very 'long looks' if I bring my 300/2.8...). However, as soon as I get out shooting wildlife, this is the lens that goes on! I have noticed that the background is much more nicely rendered with the 300/2.8 than the ZD 50-200.

I have heaps of excellent images from the lens that I could show you but I suspect that it is not only due to the lens.
All I can say is that this lens will not be the limiting factor for a wildlife photographer who is willing to learn how to use his gear.

Ratings

If anything, I would not rate this lens less than truly excellent with respect to image quality, function, and usefulness so I give it the highest marks 5, with the motivations just given above. I don't consider the lack of autofocus as any reason to mark it down because it many times manual focus would be the choice anyway. It is often used in low light and then, an AF-lens may suddenly go hunting for focus. I can't afford that to happen when I stand 10 meters in front of a skittish deer. Also, with manual focus, I am free to compose the shot and focus simultaneously - a capability lacking with the current crop of 4/3-bodies with only 3 AF points. (I don't even want to think of my frustration trying to capture those flying waxwings with an AF lens...) The fact that it is a stop-down metering lens is not a problem either as l find it more consistent to shoot in manual exposure control mode - in a 'Sunny-16' kind of style.

For its built, I gave it only rating 4 for the lack of weather proofing. Weather proofing is essential for a wildlife photographer IMO although it is, admittedly, less important for an all-manual lens without electronics.

Although the lens is very cheap for what you get, I gave it a '4' for the price. The reason is that the Tamron SP 300/2.8 usually have lower prices. However, I don't know how they would compare in a side-by-side test...

Happy Shooting!

Jens.