A while ago I had written about the advantages and shortcomings of cheap super-telephoto lenses and mirror lenses – while similar lenses are still being manufactured and available new for about $120 or so from Ebay, there are a lot more older super telephotos from the 70’s still available for between $30-$60 – these lenses are acceptably sharp, since they were designed for slide film. These old lenses are a veritable smorgasbord of alphabet soup, and range from OEM lenses to well known brands like Vivitar and Spiratone to one-person importer offerings like Jack Gershon’s Albinar and genuine lesser known lens manufacturers like Toyo.

Here are the related Posts:
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part I
Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses Part II
Learning to love your Mirror Lens

I recently purchased a Toyo Five Star 500 non-mirror long tube refractive lens.. it was in mint condition, and priced reasonably so… anyway I was curious about the lens, and wanted to test it out and see how it stacked up against my Soligor C/D 500mm f/8 fixed aperture mirror. I also have a Spiratone 400mm f.6.3 Zuiko 300 f/4.5 and Vivitar 300mm f/5.6 from the same era, so I thought it would be interesting to compare them. I’ll write about that at some future point.

About the Toyo – they were an independent lens maker back in the late 60’ sand 70’s who marketed lenses under the Toyo, TOU/Five Star and TOYO Five Star brand names. There’s not much information about them, but you can find anything if you dig deep enough. The Toyo name is pretty common, and applied to several diverse industrial and consumer products including automotive tires, so sometimes you have to take educated guesses based on sparse company history.

I found a thread on photo.net suggesting that Toyo lenses were made by Toyoview, a division of Mamiya, but I don’t think that’s correct. Toyoview does make a variety of optical stuff for view cameras and are still around. However, I believe that all the Toyo lenses were made by Toyotec – they are a conglomerate with a optical lens division that has been producing lenses since 1967. Their optical lens division has changed names a couple of times in the mid-seventies, from Toyo Seiki Kogyo to Aichi Lens to Toyo Kogaku Kogyo. Their history can be found at Toyotec.com. Obviously, they are still in business, and apparently doing quite well in the digital world, manufacturing CCDs and lens elements along with a range of other services.

First impressions – the Toyo 500mm f/8 looks very similar to the Spiratone 400mm f/6.3, down to the lettering and markings, except for the fact that the 500mm is considerably smaller than the 400mm. The Spiratone 400mm’s f/6.3 aperture is gained by having a larger front element – the Spiratone takes 72mm filters while the Toyo Five Star 500mm takes 67mm filters, so that’s very good. By contrast, my Soligor 500mm C/D f/8 Mirror lens takes hard to find, expensive 77mm filters. Luckily, they guy I bought in from threw in a Skylight filter and a 77mm Rokunar Polarizer. Not the best, but hey, it was free. I prefer the 72mm filter size any day, since I can easily get step-down adapters to fit my other lenses if need be. I love the Soligor C/D mirror, but the filter prices are another story.

Overall, the Toyo Five Star 500mm f/8 lens is smaller and shorter than the Spiratone 400mm f/6.3. It’s all metal, and as was common at the time, it’s a T-mount preset lens. Focusing has to be done wide open, and manually stopped down by turning the ring below the aperture ring from O to C (Open – Close). The aperture settings run from f/8 through f/32. Now that’s a big advantage over the mirror lenses, but the mirrors are very compact by comparison and easily handheld. To handhold the Toyo lens, I’d need to have a shutter speed of at least 1/500 (rule of thumb 1/focal length, remember?)

Long super telephoto lenses 300mm and above generally come with an integral tripod mounting ring – that’s a good indication that they are hopeless to handhold. I don’t mind the slow speeds – I generally shoot at f/8-f/16, and being able to maintain a decent shutter speed for hand held photography is a challenge.

Sports photography applications generally call for fast lenses, since freezing action reliably in varying light conditions needs shutter speeds of 1/500 second and above, which means shooting wide open since a shallow depth of field is acceptable. If you’re into landscape photography, depth of field becomes more important. Nature photography combined with the occasional landscape shot is a challenge if you’re an amateur and can’t lay out the big $$$ for that mmmmmmmm 300mm f/2.8. Being on a very limited budget, I’m always open to cheap super telephoto options, and it’s all the better if one can hand-hold the lens.

So, working backward…. In order to hand-hold the Toyo 500mm, I would have maintain a 1/500 shutter speed. Assuming a bright sunlit day (so we can apply the Sunny f/16 rule, I would have to use 400 ASA film at the very least and set the aperture at approximately f/8 with a polarizer ( maybe go down to f/11). This would give me a hand-held shot, but risks underexposing the whole scene.

On a bright sunny day, slight under-exposure actually improves the picture, rendering bright colors more accurately – the light scatter causes colors to be slightly washed out. However. .. under-exposure can also make subdued colors muddy and ruin the picture.. when in doubt, or when dealing with a sun-shade situation, a 400 ASA is usually sufficient, but on occasion, an 800 ASA film may be indicated. The 1/500 shutter speed setting will now provide a slight (about 1/3 stop???) underexposure. If you’re in a cloudy situation, or in open shade, remember to either open up the lens to f/8 or increase exposure time to 1/250. It helps to play around a little to get the hang of it.

In actual practice, I’ve found that Fuji 400 ASA film was adequate at 1/500 sec in bright sunlight. I used a Maxxum T mount adapter to fit the lens to my Minolta Dynax 800si. Since the Toyo is smaller (and a bit shorter) than the Spiratone 400 f/6.3, it is marginally easier to handhold. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, though… the results will have to speak for themselves. Here are some of the pictures…

Note: To convert a Minolta Maxxum to manual operation ( and allow the shutter to fire) – mount the lens on the camera with the T mount adapter, and then hold down the mode (button with portrait) and AEL buttons simultaneously while turning the camera on. “OFF” will show briefly in the display – this means that the camera will not keep looking for an electronic signal from the lens, and just fire when the shutter release is depressed. Same principle applies when mounting Zuiko lenses on a Minolta using a Bower Maxxum-OM adapter.

For the following pictures, the distances ranged from 75 feet to 125 feet – with this series of pictures, I was trying to:

#1 establish that the 500mm Toyo Fivestar lens could be handheld, and
#2 that I could use it on the Minolta Dynax 800si with a Maxxum T-mount adapter, and
#3 Whether the lens resolution was worth a damn – pine needles and fence wire is always a good test

The fence gate and tree trunk show the ability of the Toyo 500 to reproduce texture. I like this lens.. cheap, well built, easily available, Universal T mount to fit on my Olympus OM or Minolta Dynax 800si, and fairly sharp at the edges. What more could I ask for? This definitely qualifies as a “Cheap Awesome Lens”. I’ll post another set of pictures I took with this lens fitted on my OM-2 with a Olympus T-mount.

Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 125 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 75 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 200 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 75 feet
Toyo FiveStar 500mm – 75 feet

Photographed with a Minolta Dynax 800si and Toyo Fivestar 500 f/8 lens. 1/500 second at f/8-f/11.
I’ll have some pictures of the Toyo 500mm f/8 setup on a Minolta 800si up soon…

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.
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