Photography / Hands-on Review

In the Field with the Tokina FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF lens

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According to Tokina, “FíRIN” is a variation of an old Irish word Fírinne, which means “truth,” “what is real,”or “being true to someone or something.” Unlike the consumer-targeted offerings previously marketed by Tokina, FíRIN-series lenses are designed, manufactured, and marketed as premium-quality lenses that equal or surpass their name-brand counterparts in terms of build and image quality. (Think Sigma ART-series lenses.)

Photograps © Allan Weitz

Produced exclusively for full-frame and APS-C Sony E-mount cameras, the Tokina FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF is a manual focus lens. (According to Tokina, all future FíRIN-series lenses will be autofocus designs.)

If forgoing autofocus puts you out of your comfort zone, keep in mind the FiRIN 20mm’s 92° AoV, meaning that if you stop it down to f/8 or smaller and set your focus to 6', everything from about 2.5' to infinity will be in focus. Problem solved.

The FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF is most interesting to use wide open at close focusing distances. Whatever lies within the limited depth of field is sharp while background and foreground details seemingly melt away.

While it lacks AF functionality, the lens does have electronic contacts for transferring metadata to the camera and providing MF-assist functionality, 5-Axis image stabilization, and an EVF distance scale.

When stopped down to smaller apertures, the FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF holds its own against competitively fast 20mm and 21mm lenses.

I personally found the MF-assist magnifier to be invaluable for fine-focusing at wider lens apertures. Wide-angle lenses—despite their greater perceived depth of field—can be dicey to focus, especially in dim light. Even with the bright viewfinder afforded by the FíRIN 20mm’s f/2 maximum aperture, the DoF at f/2 is so thin you have little choice but to trigger the focus magnifier when shooting at maximum aperture.

Pointed-star fans won’t be disappointed with the way the FíRIN 20mm’s 9-bladed aperture turns the sun and other pinpoint light sources into dazzling star patterns.

Measuring about 2.7" wide by 3.2" long, with a 67mm diameter, the FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF lens sits comfortably in one’s hands. As for weight, Tokina’s engineers had to shoehorn in more than a pound of optical glass (13 multi-coated lens elements in 11 groups, including 2 all-glass precision molded aspherical elements, and 3 Super-Low Dispersion [SD] glass lens elements) to achieve the high level of edge-to-edge image quality this lens produces. Is it hefty? Somewhat. Is it manageable? Yes… very, and it balances quite nicely on a Sony A7-series camera.

Performance-wise, the lens sample I tested handled well. At the widest apertures, the DoF was minimal, especially at close focusing distances, but the focal point is sharp. Background specular highlights will delight bokeh fanatics to no end, and the way the focus feathers off into soft swirls is real pretty.

The FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF is the kind of lens that begs to be used at extreme angles. It’s the kind of lens you look forward to playing with when out on a photo jaunt.

Conversely, stop the lens down toward the smaller apertures (the lens stops down to f/22) and you get clearly defined stars when you aim your camera toward the sun or similar pinpoint light sources.

In a bid to satisfy the needs of still and video shooters alike, the diaphragm ring can be easily switched between click stops with 1/3-stop indents and a smoother click-less mode.

While there’s no shortage of 20mm and 21mm lenses on the market, most ultra-wides tend to have maximum apertures of f/2.8 – f/4.5, with the exception of the Voigtländer 21mm f/1.8 Ultron, Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens, and Nikon 20mm f/1.8G ED. But for truly effective selective focus applications, slower lenses simply don’t cut it against lenses with maximum apertures in the f/2 to f/1.4 range.

All told, Tokina’s first premium lens offering is a tasty one. The lens is solid, sharp, and, thanks to its fast f/2 maximum aperture, it affords the user lots of wiggle room in terms of selective focus control.

If the new Tokina FíRIN 20mm f/2 FE MF can live up to its Gaelic namesake, these latest FíRIN-series lenses just might do for Tokina what Sigma’s ART lenses did for Sigma’s standing among respected lens manufacturers.

Do you have any experience shooting with fast, wider-aperture ultra-wide lenses? If so, we’d love to hear about it and see some pictures.

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