Tokina launches three tiny super-telephoto lenses

Super-telephoto lenses are typically large, unwieldy, and expensive pieces of technology. They can easily run you upwards of $12,000 and weigh more than five pounds. But Japanese lens maker Tokina aims to change all that and has announced three new ultra-compact super-telephoto lenses via an IndieGoGo campaign.

The three lenses are part of the company’s new SZ PRO lineup and include the SZ 300mmPRO Reflex F7.1 MF CF, SZ 600mmPRO Reflex F8 MF CF, and SZ 900mmPRO Reflex F11 MF CF. All three lenses are fully manual lenses with a catadioptric-type optical design, typically called reflex or mirror lenses. Tokina designed these exclusively for Sony E, Canon EF-M, and Fujifilm X mounts on APS-C cameras.

The new SZ PRO line includes three mirror lenses for APS-C mirrorless cameras. Tokina

What is a mirror lens?

A diagram of how mirror or reflex lenses work.
Mirror or reflex lenses reflect light inside the lens, which allows for a smaller form factor. Tokina

It’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of mirror lenses before. While companies have made them in the past, existing camera technology made them very difficult to use. As a result, they weren’t very common. However, as camera technology has drastically improved, specifically “better sensor performance, larger ISO ranges, and image stabilization and focus assist features,” according to Tokina, mirror lenses are now a feasible option.

The catadioptric system used in mirror lenses is the same type of technology used in NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope. In traditional lenses, light enters the front element and goes straight to the image sensor in the camera. But in mirror lenses, light enters the front element, bounces off two mirrors, and then reaches the sensor. Because the light is “folded” twice, “the focal length shortens, which allows for a smaller lens design,” Tokina explains. Thus, the benefit of this type of lens is that a much smaller and lighter lens size is possible compared to standard lenses. They are also much more affordable, making it possible for those other than high-end pros to experience super-telephoto reach.

This image, taken with the SZ 300mmPRO Reflex F7.1 MF CF, shows off the donut bokeh of mirror lenses.
While some may like it, the donut bokeh that results from mirror lenses isn’t for everyone. (Shot with SZ 300mmPRO Reflex F7.1 MF CF) Tokina

There are two downsides to mirror lenses, however. First, the bokeh takes on a donut shape. Some may like the look, but it does take some it gets used to and isn’t for everyone. And second, they are manual focus only. New mirrorless cameras make achieving accurate manual focus easier than before, but they still may not be the best choice for some. But, if you don’t mind focusing manually and like (or can grow to like) the donut bokeh, then they may be an ideal way to get a super-telephoto.

Tokina compact super-telephoto lens details

SZ 300mmPRO Reflex F7.1 MF CF

The Tokina 300mm f/7.1 lens is smaller than a 12 ounce coffee cup.
The mirror design allows for a ridiculously compact 300m lens. Tokina

Tokina’s new 300mm lens weighs a shockingly paltry 8.3 ounces. The lens is also only 2.9 inches long. That’s shorter than a 12-ounce cup of coffee and is plenty small to put in a pocket.

Since it is designed for APS-C cameras, it will provide a 35mm equivalent focal length of 400mm on Sony and Fujifilm cameras and 480mm on Canon cameras. The lens features a 46mm filter thread and a close-focusing distance of three feet. It also offers a macro ratio of 1/2.5.

SZ 600mmPRO Reflex F8 MF CF

The next step up in the trio is a 600mm lens. It weighs only 1.2 pounds and measures just 4.9 inches long. It provides a 35mm equivalent of 960mm on Canon APS-C cameras or 900mm on Sony and Fujifilm.

This lens offers a 77mm front filter size and a 34mm rear filter. It also delivers a 1/2.5 macro ratio and can focus as close as 5.75 feet inches.

SZ 900mmPRO Reflex F11 MF CF

The Tokina 900mm mirror lens in use.
The Tokina 900mm mirror lens is small enough to use handheld, or without extra fuss on a tripod. Tokina

The last lens in the lineup is the 900mm. It weighs a meager of 1.6 pounds and is only 6.6 inches long. Its 35mm equivalent focal length is 1,350mm on Sony and Fujifilm or 1,440 on Canon. That provides a lot of reach in a very tiny body, which makes wildlife photography much more approachable.

The lens utilizes 86mm filters. Like the other two, it provides a 1.2.5 macro ratio, but the 900mm can only focus as close as 8.5 feet.

Pricing & availability

All three lenses are available for purchase via Tokina’s IndieGoGo. The 300mmPRO Reflex F7.1 MF CF costs $425 for all three mounts. The SZ 600mmPRO Reflex F8 MF CF is priced at $638 for all three mounts. And finally, the SZ 900mmPRO Reflex F11 MF CF is $744. All of the lenses are currently 20% off as well, so if you’ve been thinking about a super-telephoto, or want to get a gift for a photographer you know, now is a great time to make the purchase. Just be aware that they are all estimated to ship in January of 2023, so you won’t have it in hand for Christmas.