A Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6 on a Sony A7R

This mini test has been done to try out a free (to me) 1980/1990’s mid range zoom and to test my assumption that only good quality prime lenses are up to the A7R’s 36MP sensor.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Bokeh at f3.5 and 70mm – not too bad at all!

When zooms were being introduced into mainstream 35mm photography it was widely believed that they were grossly inferior to quality primes which put me off using them until partially moving to digital from film in around 2005. Are my old prejudices justified? I had to give it a test!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

In its favour is its diminutive size and light weight. It’s not as small as any individual prime lens in the useful 28-70mm range, but it’s lighter than all three usually used in this range (28,50 and 85). The rear element disappears far into the lens barrel past 50mm which is slightly disconcerting and doesn’t fill me with confidence as it seems to be quite a primitive design. It does have a ‘red ring’ at the front which might appeal to ‘L’ series users – unfortunately it’s not a Canon lens.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

On the A7R – moderately compact and surprisingly good to use.

Carrying just this lens on the camera and no camera bag is rather refreshing. It has a 1:5 macro mode so isn’t a macro lens at all but the close up mode is reached by rotating the zoom ring past 70mm, and it’s better than nothing!

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

It’s not a very fast lens – unsurprising given it’s size – but if sharpness rather than spectacular bokeh is your goal you probably won’t move the aperture ring far away from an optimal f8 so it’s no real problem. The aperture is made up of 6 blades giving hexagonal out of focus highlights, the filter size is 52mm and it’s nicely made and satisfyingly compact and dense. The ‘SD’ bit of the name stands for ‘Super Low Dispersion’ lens elements used in the lens to reduce chromatic aberration. We’ll see!

In use it’s controls are nicely balanced and although it doesn’t exude the quality feel of a prime Zuiko lens (oops – Zuikoholic prejudice coming out there!).

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

As a ‘walk around’ macro it’s not bad at all. Pleasing contrast and natural colours here.

Starting with macro – it’s quite useful when wandering around for casual close ups but not for exacting macro work.

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Quite pleasing and fun for macro work all in all. The focus aids on the A7R as always managed to nail focus hand held.

Generally it seems like a reasonably sharp and contrasty lens :-

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Onto the acid test then and Kingston Lacy house used as a test subject, all at f8 so as good as this lens is going to get :-

28mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

28mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre and OK


28mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge is a bit vague and chromatic aberration will need some more post processing.


50mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

50mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – very good


50mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

edge – better – optimal on this lens


70mm whole frame

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

70mm centre

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Centre – good again


70mm edge

Sony A7R, Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6

Edge – it’s getting vague again…


The centres at all focal lengths are ‘good’ to ‘very good’, but the edges of the frame are a bit of a let down. Even at f8 it would take a lot of work to sort these out in post processing.

In conclusion then I’d say it’s a nice, portable lens which does a basic job of covering the 28-70mm focal length range. The edge definition lets it down badly, but the contrast makes up for some of the shortcomings. The A7R is flattering to older lenses based on previous experience, but I’m afraid that the convenience of carrying just a zoom lens doesn’t quite balance out the loss of quality at the edges of the frame so this lens won’t be used again.

Looks like my prejudices were correct based on this lens – the A7R needs the best prime lenses at their optimal aperture to make the most of it’s sensor. Maybe using the ‘crop mode’ to sample just a central APS-C sized portion of the sensor would work, but life – as they say – is too short!

I can’t complain too much – though – this lens was ‘free’!

Thanks for looking – hope this was useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.



8 thoughts on “A Tokina SD 28-70 f3.5-f5.6 on a Sony A7R

  1. Not too bad to my eyes. Both the foggy gate and the pink camelia looks great. Just wonder – as a fellow zuikoholic – do you have any experience of the OM original zooms? I happen to have the S-Zuiko AUTO-Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5~f/4.5 in my drawer. Haven’t used it ever on digital, but maybe I should give it a try? It is very lightweight but for IQ I have no idea.

    Thanks for writing this!

    • Hi Elvira,

      Glad you found it useful. The Tokina SD’s always had a fairly good reputation as I remember so this is possibly representative of all but the most expensive zooms. The Zuiko 35-70mm f3.5-5.6 still has a very good reputation and I’d give it a try if I had one – unfortunately the ‘prime lens only’ mentality drilled into me as a young photographer has left me OM zoomless! I’d be interested in seeing the results.


      • OK, so I took the small and light zuiko 35-70 zoom for a walk on my Fuji X-camera. With the 1.5 x crop sensor I didn’t expect corner sharpness to be an issue. Though the slow speed in pair with the X-pro1’s less than optimal manual focus aid does speak against this combination. Also the two-touch zoom / focusing is really awkward, but that may be due to my lack of practice with this design. My conclusion however i that the zoom will remain in the drawer and I take the prime zuiko 85mm f2 with possible image crop margins as a better choice in all relevant situations.

        On an Olympus OM film camerao it could be a totally different story…


      • Hi Elvira,

        It was worth a try – any lens is worth a try, but it does reflect my experience with zoom lenses which were good enough for film but struggle on digital (Nick though likes his 30-80). Even old top Zuiko prime lenses are pushed to their limits at optimal apertures on digital, as we all tend to ‘pixel peep’ and subject them to much more scrutiny than was possible on film – unless you made vast prints or inspected your slides with a microscope!

        As you’ve pointed out, a really good focus assist with MF lenses makes a world of difference. The depth of critical sharpness is – in my experience so far with the a7R – much less than the depth of field scale on the lens would indicate. We’re therefore using them with extreme precision and – probably unfairly – demanding more resolution than they were designed for. Whether any lens other than the best Zeiss lenses can make the most of 36Mp of resolution is – until I save enough for a 55mm f1.8 – still undecided.

        I’m testing my old Zuiko 85mm f2 at the moment – looks good so far so your decision might be the best compromise.


      • Hi Rob!

        All this technical stuff must do something with my brains. Or how come I get to the conclusion that a crop from an 85 mm frame fits into the span of a 35-75 mm zoom? Something with set theory I didn´t fully grasp, obviously. Of course my real, practical solution would be to take the Zuiko 35mm f2.8 which is quite nice, sharp and contrasty. And much less fuzzy than the zoom. The chance I at least get an image to crop from with that lens is definitely bigger than getting a correct framing, not to mention other qualities, with the zoom. But that´s me. I am simply not comfortable with too much fiddling with controls. I need restrictions to be able to focus on the image.

        This little lapse brought up the thought that maybe the reason why I never really felt comfortable with digital photography is that it simply gives too many options, too many technical choices to be made which distract from what you are really trying to do and enjoy: making good pictures. The Fuji is the first digital camera where I can turn off the features and get somewhere near the integrated feeling I had once with my OM1 and other analog mechanical and simplistic wonders. Camera designers like other IT developers today obviously equals quality with number of features. Just because it´s possible you don´t have to do it.

        But what really interests me – and why I stop on your site, Rob – is the question what makes that good photographer capture exactly that good image. I have a feeling the answer has nothing to do with technology. Or at least not with having more options and features to choose from. I´d rather say that in this case less is actually more. And getting to really know your equipment, as you do very systematically here, is actually a way to limit choice.

        This is to say that I am actually quite interested in your findings among the old glass. I very much look forward to see what you will come up with mounting the nice 85mm in front.


      • Hi Elvira,

        Now you mention it a 35mm would probably be better – I didn’t notice that either!

        Completely agree about the complexity of modern cameras. My first job when I get a new one is to switch nearly everything off, put it into aperture priority mode and assign a convenient ISO change button. In other words turn it into an OM2N! It’s probably to do with my photographic history (Oly OM1/2N, three prime lenses for 20 years) but I’m also not that comfortable using zoom lenses, even leaving aside their lesser quality compared to good prime lenses). To just go out for the day with a light kit of one or two primes always results in better shots because – as you say – there’s just too much choice. With a fixed focal length lens I pre-visualise shots which can be tackled with that focal length. With a zoom or two covering 24-300mm my brain is drowned by the possibilities and the results are without exception disappointing. Often I end up not taking many shots at all.

        Agree too on getting to know your kit inside out e.g. how a specific lens behaves across an aperture range. When you do the whole process just becomes automatic and then there’s nothing getting between you and the image you want to capture. What I always wanted was a straight digital replacement for my OM1/2N – the combination of the Sony A7R and the now ancient Zuiko primes comes as close to that as I’ve found so far. The whole ‘simplify’ approach works extremely well for me.

        it’s strange this point should come up now – I’m just selling off my Canon 24-105mm ‘L’ (never really got on with it) in exchange for a fixed focal length 18mm f3.5 Zuiko OM!


        The Zuiko 85mm is looking very good so far….

    • Hi Elvira,
      I’d like to give an indirect answer. On 35mm film the small Zuiko zoom has similar weaknesses at the corners just like the Tokina shown in Roberts test. I might only be guessing but would propose that it’s not getting any better on a digital fullframe sensor…
      That’s why my little jewel stayed unused, tucked away for many years in a bag until recently my boys picked up a mF/T camera. Now all of the weak corners are gone, it works like a charm.

      Robert if you ever find an affordable Zuiko Auto-Zoom 1:2,8/35-80 this will make you happy and even more zuikoholic.
      Thank you for the tests.

      • Hello Nick,

        Wasn’t that the legendary zoom introduced with the OM3? I’ve been after one of those for years but haven’t seen one turn up.

        You’re a lucky man Nick! (How much do you want for it? – should you decide to sell of course!).


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