The Tokina connection

Tokina was founded in 1950 as the Tokyo Optical Equipment Manufacturing Company and specialized in projector lenses. In time, the company also started manufacturing SLR lenses. Initially, Tokina sold its lenses under various brand names and made lenses for many of the day's OEMs. As the company quickly became a leading third-party manufacturer of quality prime and zoom lenses, it began selling them under its own name while continuing to make lenses for OEMs and large-scale retail distributors (like all of Vivitar's T4 and TX-mount lenses, many of its Series 1 lenses, and many Soligor branded lenses). Tokina-made lenses continue to be marketed under a wide number of brand names.

It would seem that the Tokina-Konica relationship began around 1978, or perhaps much earlier, and lasted until Konica abandoned the SLR market a decade later (see notes below). The late 70s was a period when all photo equipment makers were cutting costs in all quarters. The pressure on Konica to do so was the greater as its manufacturing operations were based in Japan, in contrast to many of its competitors who had assembly lines in other East Asian countries and access to cheaper labor. Not unlike other OEMs, Konica found it cheaper to entrust some of its new lens designs to Tokina than to invest in the technical line necessary to manufacture them on its own. Konica commissioned roughly a dozen lenses from Tokina, more than half of which were zooms. The most famous Tokina-made Hexanon is undoubtedly the 40/f1.8 pancake, called in some tests of the late 70s the sharpest 35mm lens ever made by anyone. Other lenses made by Tokina for Konica include the outstanding 21/f2.8, and the excellent 35-70/f3.5 and 28-135/f4-4.6 zooms. This last zoom is a very early example of the use of aspherical elements in lens design and was one of the very first zooms of this now quite common focal range.

The Tokina-made Hexanons are the 21/f2.8 (1979), 24/f2.8 (1982), 35/f2.8 (1981), 40/f1.8 (1978), 50/f1.8 (metal and plastic barrel models, 1978 and 1985, respectively), 28-135/f4-4.6 (1983), 35-70/f3.5 (1978), 35-70/f4 (1981), 35-70/f3.5-4.5 (1985), 70-150/f4 (1982), 80-200/f4 (1983), and the 80-200/f4.5 (1985). All Tokina-made Hexanon lenses share two traits: The f22 aperture setting and a thin aperture ring with an elongated rectangular AE-lock button. Taken together, these traits are a tell-tale sign of a Tokina-made Hexanon lens, although three Tokina-made Hexanon zooms (the 28-135/f4-4.6, the 80-200/f4 and the 80-200/f4.5) have a wide aperture ring with the traditional round AE lock button (see notes below).

It should be mentioned that some Konica-made lenses also have the f22 aperture setting: They are all the preset lenses from the late 60s; the compact versions of the 28/f3.5, 50/f1.4, and 135/f3.5; the 200/f4, 300/f6.3, 400/f4.5, 400/f5.6 UC, 800/f8 telephoto lenses; the 1000/f8 and 2000/f11 mirror lenses; and the 55/f3.5 and 105/f4 macro lenses.

Some thoughts on the Tokina-Konica collaboration

It is generally accepted that all 11 Tokina-made Hexanons were manufactured according to Konica design specifications. This was most likely the case for those of them that were not marketed under any brand name other than Konica Hexanon, and whose construction precludes their use on any mount with a greater film-to-flange distance (register) than the K/AR mount's 40.5mm, thus indicating that they were intended as purely Konica lenses from the very design stage. Three of the six Tokina-made Hexanons zooms clearly stand out, however, and I think there are grounds to wonder if Konica had anything to do with their design. I suspect they were mainstream Tokina designs and Konica simply bought the right to market them as Hexanons.

The three zooms I have in mind are the 28-135/f4-4.6, the 80-200/f4, and the 80-200/f4.5. Their physical features are typical of the multitude of other zooms Tokina manufactured at that time. The most telling of these is the very deep aperture ring which indicates that, from the outset, all three were made with different mounts in mind – with a deeper or shallower aperture ring to accommodate the different film-to-flange distances of various lens mounts. Such a very deep aperture ring is to be found on all third-party lenses with a K/AR mount, irrespective of who made them. Incidentally, those three zooms are also the only Tokina-made Hexanons whose mounting plate is held down by only three screws, as opposed to four on other lenses Tokina made for Konica. This was standard practice at Tokina in the late seventies and early eighties. It is often mistakenly thought that all Tokina-made Hexanons have a three-screw bayonet mounting plate.

In this context, it is impossible not to mention the Tokina AT-X 28-85/3.5-4.5 zoom – much celebrated in the Konica community as a Hexanon-to-be that didn’t quite "make it" because so the story goes Konica had withdrawn from the SLR business by the time the lens left Tokina's factory floor. This story is very doubtful, if only because this zoom was introduced several years before Konica quit the SLR business: Tokina made two versions of the AT-X 28-85/3.5-4.5 the first from 1981 to 1984, and the second from 1984 to 1987. So there was, in fact, plenty of time for Konica to market the zoom as a Hexanon, something it did in the same period with several other Tokina manufactured zooms. The often-told story about the Tokina lens that missed the Hexanon boat simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Incidentally, the Tokina AT-X 28-85/3.5-4.5 zoom also has the characteristic extra-wide aperture ring of all Tokina lenses with a K/AR-mount and three screws holding down the bayonet mount, as well as a striking resemblance, style-wise, to other Tokina lenses of the day that Konica had nothing to do with.

I also wonder if several other Hexanon lenses are not the result of a Konica-Tokina collaboration, which perhaps goes much further back in time than 1978. The first such lens is the two-touch 70-230/f4.5 preset zoom from 1966. It looks just like the Tokina-made zoom of approximately the same focal range, brightness and size sold in the second half of the 1960s in various mounts as a Chinon, GAF, Lentar, Polaris or Yashinon – same barrel, same length and diameter, same rings with the same positioning.

Other Hexanons that look like they could have been made by Tokina are the UC 45-100/f3.5 zoom, which is strikingly similar in terms of construction to other medium-range zooms manufactured by Tokina in the late 1970s; and the UC 400/f5.6, whose resemblance to the Tokina SD 400/f5.6 is just as striking.

I won’t speculate about whether the three last-mentioned lenses were Konica designed lenses manufactured by Tokina, or whether they were Tokina lenses rebranded as Hexanons, the more so as in all three cases the Hexanons were introduced to the market much sooner than their Tokina lookalikes. I suspect, however, that Tokina may have had something to do with them.