The Tokina SL / SD 400mm f5.6 is a compact super telephoto lens, featuring a rear focusing system and low dispersion glass.
|List Price when new|
|Angle of view||6°|
|Optical Construction (Groups / Elements)||5 / 8|
|Maximum Macro Magnification ratio|
No images available.
Background and availability
Tokina made – as far as I know – two versions of the 400mm f5.6: this superior SD version (which acknowledges it contains a ‘Super Low Dispersion’ glass element to reduce CA) and the RMC version (which I owned before buying this one). The lens is fairly light and easy enough to handhold for long periods – although a monopod is recommended for steady shots in all but the very brightest conditions. It was produced in the 1980s and was followed by a similar looking auto-focus version (not to be confused with the much better and more expensive AT-X APO version).
The SD version comes with a red stripe to indicate the extra SD element in the lens, it also has a different pattern on the rubber grip and different colour text used for the distance scales etc.
This SD version seems to receive fairly positive reviews from digital users although is suffers from purple fringing quite significantly in high-contrast areas – but it is regarded as a decent performer wide open and better when stopped down to f8 in terms of sharpness / detail. It is accepted that the SD version is superior to the RMC version – as will be discussed below.
The Tokina SD 400mm f5.6 appears to be quite rare. I have only seen one for sale on EBay and I snapped it up as an upgrade to the RMC version. With regards to price, the RMC version in good condition can be found for around £40-70 (sometimes price is influenced by lens mount), I have no idea how much of a premium the SD version holds. I was fortunate enough to find one being sold by a seller who had no idea what it was and I therefore paid very little for the lens (it turned out to be absolutely mint).
The lens has a deep, built-in metal hood, so you don’t have to worry about tracking down anything but the lens. They come in a range of mounts so check this as you might need to factor in another adapter ring for your mirrorless camera if it takes a mount you don’t have.
Performance and handling
The Tokina SD 400mm f5.6 is relatively compact for it’s length. Being a prime lens the quality should be decent and the weight is kept down – no need for a zoom mechanism or any of the accompanying glass. Certainly it isn’t too heavy and is easy to carry about and will fit in most decent sized camera bags should you be out and about and you want some real reach.
On the Sony NEX the crop factor makes this lens a 600mm f5.6 lens, so shutter speeds if hand-holding should be at least 1/600 of a second to stand the best chance of avoiding lens shake. This isn’t always easy, especially when stopping down to f8 to get better performance from the lens (or indeed, a greater depth of field to work with).
My experience of the lens has to be compared to the RMC version, about which I concluded:
[my experience] broadly falls in line with the information I have found online: easy to use, nice focus ring, reasonable image quality but better when stopped down and with the one negative that purple fringing is really evident in a lot of shots. Most of these shots can be sorted in Lightroom, but it’s still a bit of a pain. In my growing experience most older telephoto lenses suffer from significant purple fringing in high contrast situations – with the only exception to this rule being the excellent Canon FD 80-200 f4L and Canon FD 100-300mm f5.6L (both of which have two exotic extra elements to combat it).
Firstly, in my eyes and experience the SD version is better wide open and therefore offers better performance when the light gets lower as you don’t feel forced to stop down to f8 all the time. Image quality is better in general – as it should be – and the SD version should be sought out if at all possible over the RMC version. However, whilst the SD suffers from purple fringing less than the RMC version, it is still very evident in high contrast areas. This appears to be a common trait and my Tokina AT-X SD 300mm f2.8 also suffers from PF in the same situations (albeit it to a much lesser extent).
For the price and focal length of the Tokina SD 400mm f5.6 I would definitely recommend it to people interested in trying nature photography – or wanting extra reach in their nature photography. What you’ll soon realise is that in most situations even the 600mm reach of this lens on a Sony NEX isn’t enough for casual nature shots if you just wander around and hope you spot something (professionals stake out an area and wait for wildlife to come to them, which means they can get away with less focal length).
It also teaches you that whilst the ability of the lens is one thing, technique is equally as important at this kind of focal length – keeping the camera and lens steady, watching the shutter speeds, being careful with light and contrast and mastering the monopod / tripod if you use one.
Put it this way: the best photos I have taken with this lens have been limited by my photography skills / the unavoidable lighting situation, not by the inherent abilities of the lens itself. Often high levels of purple fringing indicate that the light is not ideal and whilst it is nice that some lenses can cope in such situations, it has made me consider more carefully how I try to take photos in light that is more conducive to good shots.