The spectral response of a 100×100 μm2 tantalum based superconducting tunnel junction to 5.9 keV x-ray photons from a 55Fe source has been studied. In full illumination the energy resolution for the Mn Kα line complex is 56 eV, dominated by spatial nonuniformity in the response of the detector. When illuminating selectively a 5–10 μm diam spot in the center of the detector, the energy resolution improves to 22 eV, corresponding to 15.7 eV for the individual Mn Kα1 and Mn Kα2 lines. This exceeds the predicted theoretical energy resolution of 7.3 eV for this type of device by only a factor of ∼2. © 1998 American Institute of Physics.