The Tominon 17mm f/4 is not well known in the macro photography world but it should be, these are some of the most underrated macro lenses on the market in the 4x range. Tominons were made in the 1970s by Tomioka Japan for the Polaroid® MP-4+ technical camera system for copying, and photomacrography.
The Tominons use all-metal barrels and aperture rings, but the Tomion 17mm and 35mm lenses have quite a bit of variation between samples so I would recommend buying lenses from sellers that accept returns. Buy a couple of units and test them to guarantee that you get a good performer. In my experience the cleanest lenses are not always the best performers by the way. I have tested 4 or 5 of the 17mm units in the past and I am on my 3rd 35mm Tominon lens. The 17mm lens I own now was was lucky to be able to purchase as new-old-stock.
If you are in the market for a lens in the 4x - 5x magnification range that doesn't cost a lot of money, Tomioka Tominon 17mm f/4 is an unbeatable value. These lenses are not well known so the 17s often sell for as little as $25-50 on Ebay. The performance of this lens is fantastic, the can cover a full frame sensor and they have excellent chromatic aberration control. The 17mm Tominon (and 35mm Tominon) is probably one of the strongest and most underrated buys on the market today. While the 17mm Tominon does not have the wide magnification range (or auto-aperture) of the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens it beats it at 4x magnification for a tiny fraction of the price, maybe 5% of the cost of an MP-E 65mm. See the images in test section below.
Test of the Tominon 17mm f/4 vs the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 Macro Photo Lens
This is a silicon wafer section at 4x at f/4 with the Tomioka Tominon 17mm.
Tomioka Tominon 17mm f/4 crop on the left and the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo Lens crop on the right, both lenses at f/4.
Compared to the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x the Tomioka 17mm does very well. The Canon has a small advantage in resolution in the center but the Tomioka lens has much better CA control all over and much better image quality in the corners. Not bad performance for a lens that costs between $25 - $100.
The only real drawback with the Tomioka 17 is the slow f/4 aperture. The lens works fine here at 4x, but I wouldn't recommend any more magnification than that. The lens range in the Polaroid manual is 10x - 34X, but that is just a fantasy. The f/4 aperture of this lens will not produce anything usable at that kind of magnification, keep it to 4x and less.
Two types of 17 Tominons
There are two types of the Tominon 17mm found on the used market, the more harder to find short, or CU-5 version, and the more common longer normal version made for the Polaroid MP-4. The short, or CU-5 is actually more flexible since it is easier to run with less magnification, which can be a problem on cameras with longer flange focal distances like Nikon, 46.5, or Canon at 44mm, compared to Sony E-mount cameras with only 18mm register, or flange focal distance.
Tomioka Tominon 17mm TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
Tominon 1:4 f=17mm lens
Type: Reproduction/Duplication lens
Focal length: 17mm
Optical Design: 6-element, 4-groups.
Manufacturers recommended magnification range: 10 - 19x, according to Polaroid. See the real-world magnification note below.
Real world magnification range: This lens works great at about 4-5x. Due to the slow maximum aperture of this lens I wouldn't recommend using this lens past that.
Coverage: The Polaroid MP-4+ Camera System specs list the coverage from 35 mm to 4 x 5 film.
Working distance: With the 17mm focal length the working distance is not a strength of this lens.
Aperture range: f/4 - f/22.
Sharpest Aperture: In testing I found the sharpest aperture to be from f/4 . Stopping this lens more than this will see a drop in image quality.
Lens mount: M40 x 0.75
Mounting: M42 to M40 step down adapters are easy to find on Ebay from $3 and up. One you have the M42 adapter you can pick up an M42 adapter to fit the lens mount of choice.
Filter thread: Series 5 (30.2mm).
Lens hood: A lens hood is not needed with this lens thanks to the recessed front element design.
PROS AND CONS
What I really like:
Chromatic aberration suppression
Consistent center to corner image quality
Outstanding price/performance value
Small, compact profile
What I dislike:
M40 lens mount
Conservative maximum aperture
Cost and Availability
The Tomioka Tominon 17mm f/4 are very easy to find on the used market and Ebay. I have paid $29 on Ebay for a unit that was a little rough without caps and up to $89 for a new old-stock unit still in the box from a surplus dealer (thanks Google).
Sometimes you can find the Tominon 17mm and 35mm lenses mounted in shutters for the MP-4 systems. The two lenses below are versions made from the POLAROID CU-5 MACRO CAMERA
The Bottom line
The 17mm Tominon is a great value and is a recommended buy for work in the 4-5x range with a great big image circle.
If you can live without an adjustable aperture and are using a small sensor, a microscope objective would also be a great alternative. If that's the case look into the Lomo 3.7x and the $17 4x objective.
For more info on the Lomo 3,7x, see this article on Closeuphotography.com: https://www.closeuphotography.com/lomo-3-7x-objective
For a detailed review of the $17 4x objective see this article on Closeuphotography.com: https://www.closeuphotography.com/seventeen-dollar-plan-4x-objective/
For less magnification, in the 1-2x range, the Minolta DiMAGE Scan Elite 5400 is unbeatable: https://www.closeuphotography.com/minolta-dimage-scan-elite-5400-lens/
THE HISTORY OF TOMINON
Tominons were made in Japan by Tomioka, which later became part of Yashica, and finally part of Kyocera. Tomioka is still around but they are now part of Kyocera-Optic Japan Co., Ltd.
From the Kyocera-Opticcompany website:
Kyocera Optec, originally founded in 1949 as Tomioka Optical and Mechanical Manufacturing Co., Ltd in Ome City, Tokyo, has constantly developed leading-edge lens manufacturing technologies since its early days. In 1974, the Company started manufacturing Carl Zeiss Lenses for Contax cameras through technical support from the Carl Zeiss Foundation in Germany; which were regarded as being among the world's highest quality lenses. Since joining the Kyocera Group in 1983, the Company has diversified its product focus and brought new standards of excellence to a wide range of optical equipment manufacturing fields.
The original Tomioka plant is the same factory where Contax lenses, Zeiss’s flagship 35mm lenses, were are manufactured under contract for Carl Zeiss Japan.
TOMINON MACRO LENSES MADE FOR THE POLAROID MP-4 SYSTEM
Tominon 135mm Lens (#44-65). 4-element, 3-group Tessar-type all purpose lens: f/4.5 to f/32.
Tominon 105mm Lens (#44-66). 4-element, 3-group Tessar-type all purpose lens; f/4.5 to f/32.
Tominon 75mm Lens (#44-67). 4-element, 3-group reverse Tessar-type copying lens; f/4.5 to f/32.
Tominon 50mm Lens (#44-68). 6-element, symmetric triplet-type macro lens; f/4.5 to f/32.
Tominon 35mm Lens (#44-69). 4-element, 3-group reverse Tessar-type macro lens; f/4.5 to f/32.
Tominon 17mm Lens (#44-70). 6-element, 4-group macro lens; f/4.0 to f/22.
LINKS FOR MORE INFO
Tomioka, the maker of Tominon lenses is still around, but they are now part of Kyocera-Optic Japan Co., Ltd.
More info on Tomioka on Camera-pedia site:
Polaroid MP-4 System Manual PDF