A few years back in Japan, I was out in Akihabara shopping for a telephoto lens to continue my birding habit in Japan. I had left my 300mm prime in Singapore since it was too heavy to bring over so I figured I wanted something to me over in case.

While shopping in the second hand shops, I spied a very good condition Tokina 100-300mm f/4 for the Nikonmount. After testing it on my Nikon D750, I felt that it was sufficient for my needs. I paid about US$400 for this lens and went on my way.

Over the next few years, I was able to use this lens for simple sports events as well as casual birding. I was not able to use this under serious conditions (for paid events) but after having used it for an extended period of time, I felt that I was somewhat qualified to review this lens.


Being an older lens (released in 90s I believe), the AF is definitely on the slow side. One would need the higher grade Nikon bodies in order to have the AF work. I suspect that the AF would be faster if a professional series grade body was used, with their more powerful screw drive mechanism. In any case, the AF works reasonably well in good light but in low light, there was an issue with the AF when I was trying to photograph a squirrel running about on the forest floor. At that time, it was truely challenging conditions, with an overcast day and the thick forest canopy. I had to go back to manual focus in the end.

Build quality/ weight

This is definitely not a light lens. At more than a kilogram (about 1.2kg), you will feel it if you carry it the whole day. Handling is smooth, with a dampened zoom ring (in the opposite direction of a normal Nikon zoom). Focusing is also quite smooth, and the focus throw is rather short as well.

The entire lens feels like you can use it as a bludgeon, and I’d wager that dropping it from a short distance would not do much damage (still, don’t drop your lenses, there’s glass inside after all)


I was able to do one test using a Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII at 100mm and 200mm, as well as using a Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4, to compare with the Tokina at 100, 200 and 300mm, all at f/4 apertures.

Left: Nikon 100mm f/4, right: Tokina 100mm f/4 both at 100% zoom
Left: Nikon 200mm f/4, right: Tokina 200mm f/4 both at 100% zoom

To my eye, it was no surprise that Nikon 2.8 lens trounced the Tokina in terms of sharpness and contrast at f/4. The 2.8 lens has the benefit of being stopped down. Also, there is at least 15 years of lens development advances, resulting in better optical design and coatings which should all contribute to better results.

Left: Nikon 300mm f/4, right: Tokina 300mm f/4 both at 100% zoom

It was also the same story with the Nikon 300mm. The Nikon prime in this case beats the Tokina flat, with noticeably better contrast and sharpness. This is especially noticeable when you look at the leaves and the railing.

Taken at 250mm f5.6.

I have included a few sample shots taken with the lens. In one of the samples, it looks sharp enough for simple birding, especially since I stopped it down to f5.6.

Taken at 300mm f7.1

In another sample shot, I was going for a landscape shot. Here you can see the the picture as a whole looks reasonably sharp, this was shot at f7.1.


From this very limited test, the old Tokina lens does not fare well in comparisons with the Nikon lenses. However, do consider the price.. Both Nikon lenses are at a combined price of US 2000 (I bought them both second hand), while the Tokina lens was bought at $400.

Considering the price and that you have a lens that offers a good zoom range as well as a relatively wide aperture, the Tokina 100-300mm f/4 offers good value for birders or sports shooters on a budget. But being relatively weak wide open and with no image stablisation, just be sure to use it in good light.

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