Tokina SZX 400mm f/8 Reflex Review: A Challenging But Fun $250 Lens

Do you remember when lenses had personality? Tokina is still there. It released the SZX 400mm F/8 reflex lens last year. This lens oozes personality and is small but powerful.

Tokina initially announced the lens in July 2020. However, it recently added support for Nikon Z and Canon RF mounts. This makes it available in almost every popular lens mount, except L-mount.

The Tokina SZX400mm f/8, as a preface, is what you would call a mirror or reflex lens. Or, if youre really geeky: a catadioptric. The general design of this lens has been around since the 1800s, when it was first used for microscopes. Regular photography lenses allow light to enter and travel down the optical path until it reaches the sensor. Reflex lenses have an internal mirror that folds the path, which allows for long focal lengths in a small housing.

These lenses, except the SZX 400mm, don’t have autofocus. They are all manual-focused. All lenses have a fixed aperture. This means that the f/8 lens can only be stopped down by external neutral density filters. The mirror system inside makes them look strangely odd with their front glass element. The lens’s round shape, which is located in the middle of the lens, can be seen in the out-of-focus areas of photos for a distinctive look. We’ll discuss this further below.

Design and Build Quality

A 400mm lens is usually not suitable for all situations. It wouldn’t be a good idea to take the lens on a casual walk with your dog, where photography is not the main focus. To me, the Tokina SZX400mm is not a burden at all. It is small, about the same size as a standard 24-70mm F/4 lens. It also weighs just 12.5 ounces (354 grams). This lens is lightweight and portable, yet it has a 400mm reach. It’s an amazing combination.

The lens is a simple, metal construction. The entire lens acts as the focus rings, although the rubber strip on the outside allows for better grip. You’ll either love it or hate the focus ring. It twists at a smooth 270 degrees. It allows for precise, gentle movements but it also slows down the focus to greater distances.

It was a hassle to focus on wildlife because I had to twist the lens so many times to get the right focus. I couldn’t sweep the focus range with one hand, while keeping the camera steady in my other. The physical length of the lens extends to 0.75 inches (1.91 cm) as the focus moves closer to infinity.

The lens hood design is also a problem, which I believe many people will agree on. The lens’s 67mm filter threads are screwed onto the metal hood, which causes a few problems. To save space in your bag, the lens hood can’t be reversed or attached. It will have to be wrapped around the lens unattached. The supplied lens cap cannot be clipped onto the lens hood. The third reason is that filters and the lens cap cannot be used simultaneously as they both require the same threading.

Tokina has made the SZX 400mm positive by offering interchangeable mounts for its camera mounts. The camera mount end can be removed and replaced with any other supported mounts. This review was done using the Sony Emount version. If I decide to go Canon mirrorless, I can simply buy the $29 RF mount and swap them out. The lens will then be mine. Mounts can be purchased separately for Canon EF, RF, Nikon F, Z, Fujifilm X and Micro Four Thirds as well as Sony E.

Image Quality

The lens has six elements in five groups, and multi-layered antireflective coatings. The image quality was excellent for a $400mm lens. This lens is not sharp, clear, or with great contrast. Despite this, the Tokina SZX400mm is very durable for the money spent. It can be edited to restore contrast to photos with minor editing, but that’s about all you need.

The reflex lens design eliminates chromatic aberrations. This 400mm lens is unlike other low-cost photo lenses that suffer from excessive color fringing.

Image sharpness was more about achieving accurate focus. With 400mm at f/8, it can be difficult to achieve critical focus manually. It is also difficult to see the lens clearly because it lacks clarity.

It was easy to find the best way to maintain sharpness. I used the focus magnifier setting, mapped to a button on my Sony camera, and digitally punched in on the image to adjust the focus while I fire away on the shutter. This is not the best way to handle constantly moving subjects such as birds, but it does the job better than eyeballing or focus peaking from the full frame display.

The bokeh is the last thing we should mention when discussing a reflex lens. The lens has a circular opaque structure in the middle that creates matching bokeh balls in areas out of focus.

It’s loud, it’s unusual, and it’s distinctive. However, it can also be fun and unique, which can help photos stand out in a positive light. It’s something I enjoy personally. But the trick is to embrace the look and really let go of the camera. It doesn’t look very flattering if I have the sun behind me and there isn’t much lighting in the out-of-focus areas. Photographing backlit with the intention of finding out-of-focus backgrounds or foregrounds with high contrast light scattered around gives photos a unique, original look.

The greater the challenge, the greater the reward

Although this lens isn’t easy to use, it’s not a terrible lens. You can have fun finding situations where this lens can make your photos pop. The results are amazing. The compact size and light weight make it easy to carry around, so you can keep it with you wherever you go.

What are the Alternatives?

The Rokinon Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS is $300 and can be bought new for select mounts. This lens has a shorter focal length, but a fixed aperture of f/6.3 instead of f/8 like the Tokina.

You can also go to eBay to find older mirror reflex lenses and convert them to modern mounts. There are many options for inexpensive 500mm, 600mm and 800mm f/8 lenses.

Should You Buy It

Yes. The Tokina SZX400mm f/8 Reflex lens is $250. You can also swap out your camera mounts down to the end. This makes it a great value for money if you are up for a challenge.