The Tokina 20mm f2 FiRIN as a Travel Photography and Street Photography Lens

Lots of photographers often wonder about what the best travel photography lens is; but when you look at many lists they often talk about zooms despite prime lenses like the Tokina 20mm f2 FiRIN being fantastic offerings. I’ve been playing with the lens for a really long time now both in NYC and in Thailand. The Tokina 20mm f2 FiRIN is designed for Sony full frame E mount cameras and is a manual focus optic with pretty fantastic image quality overall. I’m pretty in love with it for a specific reason: my fading eyesight.

Editor’s Note: This blog post isn’t sponsored at all. But I’ll be candid with you and tell you that Sony recently flew 10 or so publications to Thailand for a press trip to tour their factories and do other stuff along the way. However, as always, my words are truly my own here. All of our sponsored postings are CLEARLY marked here. I’m trying something out that I’ve done before which folks liked as an addendum to the reviews here.

My Eyesight Explained

It’s not a real secret in the industry that I’m legally blind. I’ve got something called keratoconus that’s also affected by an extreme astigmatism. So how can a photographer that is legally blind take photos? Well for starters, autofocus is a wonderful thing as are EVFs. EVFs allow me to see what I’m shooting with extra clarity and they have for years. But in addition to that, I sort of embrace the idea that sharpness is a bourgeois concept that Bresson always joked about.

When it comes to creating portraits of people or looking at street photographs, I tend to not care if something is perfectly, critically sharp–but instead that we can make it out well enough to understand what a subject is. That, and couple it with the fact that every portrait photographer put so much emphasis on the eyes and little to no emphasis on body language or what their subject is really doing in the scene. So instead, I tend to create scenes where people have to look at the scene as a whole or use lighting, color, and lines to really create an image that tells someone where to look.

You know: the standards of what photography is really supposed to do…

This sometimes means zone focusing is pretty much built into the way that I think and “see the world.”

With the Tokina lens I’m genuinely able to look to a scene, spot what’s left, what’s right and know that I’ll get all of it into the scene. For that reason colors and lighting are what really stands out with me when it comes to street photography and random snapshots.

In New York

I guess you really can’t call this travel photography since I live in Brooklyn, but the Tokina 20mm f2 FiRIN has allowed me to do a whole lot. It’s really, really wide and because of that it’s hard to not get a subject in focus if you zone focus and stop the lens down. The longer the focal length gets, the harder it is to get a subject in focus and all street photographers understand. But with a lens this wide, you get a perspective that stands out from the rest.

What do I mean by that statement? Well, every photographer draws their influences from the same Magnum photographers. Of course, their work has a whole lot of appeal. And for this reason, they all produce work that looks the same with very little of it being characteristic of who they are. It’s easy for you to look at a scene and say “That’s a Rinzi Ruiz” but otherwise a lot of the work becomes meshed in with lots of other shooters out there.

Are there some who stand out? Surely; but sometimes not enough unless you know the photographers intimately.

But by using a super wide angle lens with a fair amount of distortion control built in, you can take elements in a scene that are sometimes far off and pull them in using the way that wide angle lenses work accordingly with the laws of physics. Couple this with zone focusing and you’ve got a lens that simply works and that can help a photographer (even a blind one) get an image that stands out.

Bangkok, Thailand and Ko Samui

A number of journalists and I were pretty scared of the jet lag, but we all pretty quickly got over it once we realized how beautiful Bangkok, Thailand really is. When using the Tokina 20mm f2 lens here, what I really enjoyed was how the lens is able to bring in lots of the densely packed scene into the fore of an image that lets a viewer observe and study everything that’s going on.

Again, zone focusing is used here and I’m again not really using it to get super up close and personal to subjects, but instead to tell a more atmospheric story. It’s a combination of an environmental portrait and street photography. Rather than focus in on a few subjects or one subject and their expressions, I focus in on moments, expressions and the environment’s effect on those subjects.

When you couple this method with a high megapixel camera like the Sony a7r II, then you don’t need to have all that much of a close proximity to your subject due to how the high megapixels let you capture all the details. To some this may sound a bit insane. Afterall, street photography is about being able to get up close to your subject to tell their stories.

At the core though, the subject matter is still about people–and cropping or other methods are just a means to an end of making the image. This isn’t photojournalism and there really are no major ethics.

Ko Samui

As you can see, the wide angle again offers a photographer the ability to shoot at around 4 feet away from their subject and pull all the elements into the scene while zone focusing and therefore locking the focus. When combined with the depth of field scale, you can get a better idea of what will or won’t be in focus. Then it’s just a matter of having your shutter speed right.