Vintage Lens review No 1.
I thought I would kick off my vintage lenses reviews with a personal favourite, the Tomioka designed lenses such as the Chinon 55mm f1.4 (I own this version), the Rikonen 55mm, Yashinon 55mm and the Revuenon 55mm. It may surprise you all to learn that these are all highly desirable, and much sought after lenses, as their sharpness and overall image quality can challenge even a modern lens equivalent such as the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2. My Chinon Tomioka 55mm f/1.4 can easily hold its against many of the very best modern portrait lenses around, including those from Sony and Fuji. If manual focusing doesn’t bother you (and why would it, it only takes a few minutes to master?), then read on.
There’s another lens called the Porst 55mm f/1.2 that, ocassionally gets called a Tomika, but, this is optically very different from that of the other lenses I’ve mentioned above, so be careful if you’re intending to make a purchase of any of these exquisite lenses. I’ll put some links at the foot of the page to help you in your research of these lenses, but you won’t be disappointed with their image quality, which is simply superb.
Some image samples of the Tomioka/Chinon 55mm f/1.4 and for comparison, against the Super Takunmar 55mm f/1.8. Images from both these lenses were shot wide open (Flowers/Cropped shots) and also at f5.6 (Boats/Not cropped), which is the sweet spot for both of these lenses, in my opinion.
This lens is NOT a macro, I just went in close to the subject. Shot at 1/6,000 of a second at f1.4 ISO 200. I also own the Yashica 60mm f2.8 1:1 Macro Tomioka designed lens, which is a full macro. More on that lens, and other macro lenses in the next lens review.
Sample images from the Tomioka designed Chinon at f1.4 mounted on the Fuji XH-1 Camera body.
SOOC jpg Cropped
SOOC jpg Cropped
The Tomioka/Rikenon 55mm f/1.2 is also quite a rare lens, yet many of these lenses can be purchased for well under £400. That makes these particular vintage lenses something of a bargain, and their value will only likely increase, as knowledge of these exceptional lenses starts to grow. Silk, sex and sugar, as the ‘Angry Photographer’ might say! The build quality of my particular version of this lens, and also it’s overall condition, is amazing given its age. My copy has 7 elements in 6 groups, a 9-blade aperture and a 58mm filter lens. It weighs just around 325g yet it is surprisingly compact for a large aperture lens. The barrel is solid metal, with immaculate engravings and lettering. Focusing is also buttery smooth, the aperture ring has full stop clicks, and the lens exudes a luxury quality, especially when fitted to my Fuji XH-1 Pro camera body. I also use this lens for my commercial work on a Nikon D850 where it also outperforms many hyped up Sony and Zeiss lenses. More FULL SIZE sample images can be found on my FLICKR page HERE as the photographic file size on the website is limited to just 5mb.
The Tomioka/Chinon 55mm f/1.4 is a great performing vintage lens. Ultra fast, yet small, great build, and superb image quality. Left wide open it gives your files great flexibility (because of the low contrast stopped down), yet it performs like a modern lens costing many times its price. Used with modern mirrorless cameras like Fuji or Sony’s etc., coupled with its immense ISO performance, makes it a top recommendation amongst both vintage lenses and even against similar (over hyped and very expensive) modern fast lenses.
Remember, there are a lot of other branded versions such as Revuenon, Porst, Yashinon, and Vivitar. They are reasonably cheap, and most will only set you back between £200 – £400.
Brief History of Tomioka
Tomioka Optical Company, Ltd had its origins in 1924, when Masashige Tomioka started a laboratory called Tomioka Kogaku Kenkusho in the Shin-agawa district of Tokyo to develop photographic lenses and for designing optical products for military and industrial clients. After a long period of trial and error, he eventually developed a respectable four-element f/4.5 “Tessar” type photographic lens using only Japanese-made glass and named it “Lausar.” In 1932 the laboratory was extended into a manufacturing facility and renamed Tomioka Kogaku Kikai Seizosho.
From 1933, Tomioka became an OEM lens manufacturer for camera companies such as the Proud K.K. During this period, several high-quality lens manufacturers were operating, but costs and volumes led to domestice lenses costing more than equivalent German imports, so growth was limited. After the war, in austerity conditions, Tomioka switched to the mass market and developed a basic triple-element lens called “Tri-Lausar” which was its most widely used product. From late 1949, it became the exclusive lens supplier for Yashica, becoming a Yashica affiliate/subsidiary in 1968, and named the Tomioka Optical Corporation from 1969.
It is interesting to note that most of the Japanese lens manufacturers had started by copying the Carl Zeiss “Tessar” formula as their first high-quality photographic objective. The Hexar, Promar, Anytar, Zuiko, Lausar, Simlar and Rokkor all fall into this category. Tomioka made lenses for various outfits (for example, they made the 45mm f2.8 on the old Ricoh 500 RF, and for several other similar-era Japanese RF´s). Their products can often be found by the labels Tominon (Polaroid Studio equipment & higher-end cameras), Tomi-Yashinon (Yashica magnifying and macro lenses) Tomi-Kogaku, Auto-Tominon.
In 1983 Tomioka become one member of the Kyocera ceramic group following its takeover of Yashica. It became the Kyocera Optics division and is still in business under this name. The Tomioka plant is the one where Carl Zeiss lenses are/were manufactured under contract for Japanese cameras (Carl Zeiss Japan).
You will find Tri-Lausars on a very wide range of Japanese TLRs. You can safely assume that any Yashica TLR uses a rebadged Tomioka (one or two even use them under their original name). Over the years, the quality climbed again – later Yashinon four-element lenses can be very good indeed. The main rebadged names used by Yashica which you will come across on TLRs are Yashimar, Yashikor, Yashinon, Heliotar, Lumaxar
Key source for the historic overview within this article: “The Evolution of the Japanese camera”, Condax and others, publ. International Museum of Photography, Rochester, NY, 1984. All other comments, photography of the lens(es) and sample images, and the main article are my own.
You may also find this page of some interest (lot’s of information on Lens development). History of Photographic Lenses at Wikipedia.