Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Light Lens Lab copy of the Cooke Speed Panchro S2 50mm f/2

Light Lens Lab copy of the Cooke Speed Panchro S2 50mm f/2


It was a case of entering a parallel universe. I was asked to test and evaluate a Light Lens Lab copy of a Cooke Speed Panchro S2 cine lens in M-mount, about which I “know from nothing” and about the definitive uses of which I drew a blank. Cine lenses and equipment, and Leica Ms and their lenses, have historically been distinct animals. Different people involved and different uses.

As most of us Leicaphiles with a historical bent already know, 35mm film was used for movies long before it was chosen by Barnack for his new Leica camera. Barnack was a hobbyist cinematographer who also contributed inventions to the new field of movie camera technology before and concurrent with the development of the Leica camera. And Dr Paul Wolff, Leica pioneer, was also enamoured of movies and made many shorts for the City of Frankfurt-am-Main before he started using a Leica camera.

The cat’s meow

Such movies – quasi-commercial or home brew — were a true mania from the 1910s through to the 1930s and onwards. The cat’s meow. One can still view movies made by both men 100 years later. Barnack and Wolff used and were knowledgeable about both mediums, but both concentrated on the Leica camera and not movies in the definitive parts of their respective careers.

And the dominant photographic focus at E. Leitz through the years remained that of still photography. Despite the success of its Mechau movie projector, Leitz sold its projector plant (Leitz Kinowerke GmbH) to AEG around 1929 because of the high costs needed to work on the new sound projection systems. Presumably, that is when a cine/still split occurred for Leitz and, as a result, for Leica users.

The author, Ed Schwarzreich, is assistant editor of the Leica Society International’s journal, Viewfinder, and has been a Leica user for forty years.

Entering the alternative universe

Flowing from this is where my alternative universe comes in. I have never used a cine lens on a Leica, ever. Aside from a couple of brief videos with Leica lenses on a Sony A7r (to show it could be done) and occasional such use of the iPhone, I have never really made a video or a movie at all or thought much about this field.

No one has ever told me about any Leitz lenses possibly being manufactured specifically for movies in the classic 1930s period. None of the Leica historical and collectors’ books speaks about Leitz movie equipment at all, although such items as Leitz cine viewfinders and the occasional 35/3.5 Elmar lens converted to Arriflex mount existed.

Leitz theatre projectors existed in the post-WWII period, and of course, there was the 8mm Leicina camera and its lenses during a period of 1960-72 for a fairly specialised market. Leicina lenses do not cover a full M format in any case. But a full-frame cine lens on an M? Why use one? What would or could that do? Or alternatively, how might cine lenses be different?

Cooke Speed Panchro

Lenses for 35mm cine cameras historically used what we now call half-frame, covering an approximate 18x24mm format. One of the most successful of these in the 1930s (in whatever cine mount) was the Cooke Speed Panchro Series II, its design springing from the Zeiss Planar lineage. Cooke lenses were and still are, manufactured in the city of Leicester in England.

These lenses have gone through several iterations to date, and, at some point, full-frame 24x36mm Cooke cine lenses were made, probably around 1945. Light Lens Lab has decided to slightly remanufacture and adapt a Speed Panchro Series II 50/2 for modern-day still usage on Leica M — although it would also clearly make videos or movies on those cameras onto which it could mount. There was so little information available that Mr Zhou’s company had to make ray diagrams and run MTF curves from a donor lens.

I realise that a Leica affiliate makes a highly-regarded series of cine lenses currently. Professor Iain Neil, speaking at the LSI 2011 Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, made us aware of the Summilux-C lenses and something about their characteristics. Dr Neil spoke of f/1.4 maximum aperture throughout the series, smaller size, equidistance of T stop markings, and minimal vignetting, along with incredibly high resolution, contrast, and minimal chromatic aberration – a new standard for cine lenses.

However, I definitely did not know until starting to write this article that Leica (Leitz Cine Wetzlar) had appended to its Summilux-C line a current series of eight full-frame cine lenses, in M-mount no less. The M-mount is used, per the available information, because of its small size and ease of adapting to other cine camera mounts, not especially because it could be mounted to an M camera.

These lenses are named the M 0.8 Series because they feature a 0.8 module standard cine focus gear ring and 32-pitch focus and iris gear for use with common motion picture accessories. These lenses are very fast, f/1.4 for most.

Significantly, however, the Leica ad copy for these lenses emphasises inherent focus differences from other lenses so that what one gets is allegedly more life-like, more like the eye sees, than the flat-plane normal lenses. It talks about the “centre-weighted field of focus” and “curving focus roll-off”. Although modern lenses, they have a “vintage” look. As such, they appear to be made to a different design philosophy than the highly accurate Summilux-C line.

Leica Cine Wetzlar ad

From a Leitz Cine Wetzlar ad, “modern lenses pop into focus in a flat and layered manner that appears unrealistic by drawing attention to themselves. The M 0.8 lenses roll into focus on a curve that more accurately recreates natural perception and the imperfection of the natural world. This creates images that feel different and dimensional that appear satisfying on a subconscious level”.

The question: are these just normal M lenses with different ways of adjusting focus and aperture? David Farkas of Leica Store Miami, who sells them, says these are regular M lenses which have simply been adapted for cine use.

While the ad appears to say they have a different design from “modern” 35mm lenses, David again helpfully steps in here to say that the ad copy merely “sounds like an accurate description of M glass… compared to many ‘perfect’ cine lenses. Everything in context”. However, my view is that the copywriter talks out of both sides of his or her mouth. Oh well, I know how well modern M lenses draw.

Besides the Summilux-C line and the M 0.8 series, there are now also Summicron-C, Hugo, Elsie, Prime, Thalia, and Henri series of Leica cine lenses! I didn’t want to bother David again for an explication, but I will remark that Leica is definitely into this niche now.

The Cooke design

Into this environment enters Light Lens Lab and its 50/2 Cooke Speed Panchro replica, using (much) older lens design techniques to get their “classic look”. Words like “gentle”, “painterly”, “subtle”, and “a bit warm” have been used to describe how this lens draws.

Here is the lens diagram and the MTF curve at f/2:

Here are the curves at f/4, and they improve even more when the lens is further closed down:

One can see that the lens is a 7-element double gauss design. The MTF curves at f/2 show all line pairs very close together but of lower contrast than we might be used to. The configuration of these curves implies very little distortion, low presence of spherical or chromatic aberration, evenness, and smoothness across the field, with good sharpness (albeit with loss of the finest details).

These wide-open curves are totally unlike those of any 50mm Leitz lens and, to me, indicate the parallel universes of cine versus still photography that existed when this lens was originally formulated for its specific uses. From f/4 further closed down, the lens performs impeccably, the sharpness is excellent, and the curves look better than the Summar or Summitar, the contemporary stablemates of the original Cooke Panchro Series II.

Mr Zhou’s view

Here is what Mr Zhou of Light Lens Lab had to say about his lens (translated and slightly adapted by David Yu Heng Chen, who supplied the lens for testing:        

This is a beloved cinema lens known worldwide for its vintage rendering. Cooke was a part of four major cinema lens manufacturers: Angenieux, Cooke, Dallmeyer, and Kinoptik back in the day.

Cooke has been renowned for its technological innovation in optics and innovation for the past 100 years, and its current cinema lenses are still prevalent due to their optical performance. (Specifically, the “Cooke Look”). The Speed Panchro S2 50mm f/2 has been a staple of Cooke lenses since its introduction in the 1930s. There are several versions of Cooke lenses, and the Speed Panchro series was one of the first cinema lenses to feature, at the time, an ultra-fast f/2 aperture. The Speed Panchro series were also available before Leica’s f/2 Summar and Summitar designs in the photographic world.

Many movies at the time were shot using Speed Panchro S2 as Cooke supplied many of its optics to cinema camera manufacturers for rehousing to be fitted onto their cinema cameras (such as Arri Mount and Mitchell Cameras). These cameras are highly sought after by professional productions due to their high performance and reliability. However, the lens set was never available on the photographic side as Cooke only manufactured its optics for cinema cameras (with the one very rare exception of the Reid & Sigrist Cooke Amotal Rigid Anastigmat 2-inch f/2)

Both Cooke’s SP2 series and LLL’s Speed Panchro 50mm f/2 offer a low contrast, low dispersion, anti-astigmatism, and low spherical aberration rendering. Such was unheard of when the series was introduced in the 1930s, and it became an instant success for Cooke in the Cinematography world. The original lenses are highly sought after by amateur hobbyists for DIY-rehousing into M-mount, or for a professional movie production studio to be rehoused into modern cinema standards. Hence the reason for the replication.

The Light Lens Lab 50mm f/2 S2 is slightly bigger than the usual 50mm f/2 made by other manufacturers, but the size is ergonomic and the weight appropriate for any film or digital M camera. It will also be available in five different versions for other still and movie cameras.”

Some additional details from Mr Zhou

  1. Cooke and Light Lens Lab Speed Panchro S2 50mm F2 have mediocre control of flare – some even say they have inadequate flare control without a lens shade/matte box. A lens hood is necessary for using this lens in harsh lighting situations.
  2. The original Speed Panchro sets were designed for cinema cameras that cover 18.66 x 24.89mm film size (S35). Heavy vignetting will occur when the original Speed Panchro sets are mounted on Leica M cameras (some may even damage the camera’s shutter/digital sensor). The Speed Panchro S2 series (on which Light Lens Lab Speed Panchro 2 is based) came in later and has further improvements in optical design supporting both S35 and full-frame 24mm x 36mm film sizes.
  3. There will also be a lens shade specifically designed for Speed Panchro 50mm f2 included in the production model, 

So, here we are. But what subject matter to portray with this lens? Everything about 1930s movies and “subconscious satisfactions” implies glamour. I take informal portraits quite frequently, but only with natural light, so such would be my real-life test of this lens. One would like to see the roll-off in the out-of-focus areas and the bokeh, so shooting fairly wide open seems a given.

The lens is arrives

The LLL Cooke Speed Panchro is, and looks like, a prototype with a somewhat hastily-applied screwed-on focus tab, albeit very easily accessed as would be needed for cine work.

Focus is very smooth, to 70cm, but backwards relative to our usual M lenses. F stops are clicked and go to f/22 in half stops. The lens is single-coated, amber, but we are told that the final product will be multi-coated and similar to the original. The lens has a screw-in hood, but the production model will have a Reid-style clip-on shade. The filter size on the prototype is E46 or close to that – E46 accessories will fit, but I am not sure about this aspect of the upcoming commercial lens.

Testing and assessing

Right off, on the M10-R, the author I shot images wide open at one meter of two “still lifes”. I then compared this to similarly shot images made with my very clean Summar, Leitz’s earliest 50/2 (because Mr Zhou mentions this as contemporary to the introduction of the original Cooke Speed Panchro S2 lens).

There were obvious differences wide open: the Summar clearly seemed to have more aberrations off-axis than the Cooke, its focus rolled off rather abruptly, and it was a bit softer in the centre. Both lenses are somewhat of lower contrast than our modern lenses, but both acquitted themselves nicely enough.

The Summar is much maligned, but if the front element is not scratched or weather damaged, it is a decent lens. Following this was the now obligatory (for my lens testing) informal portrait wide open of my brother-in-law in his chair, showing pleasing subtle softness, more muted colours, and a smidgen of flare. A similar portrait/lens combination image with LLL’s ELCAN replica from months earlier was more contrasty and felt sharper in the centre, as expected, seemingly involving the ELCAN’s higher micro-contrast, as the Cooke image was indeed pretty sharp.

This comparison will show better than most how the Cooke lens draws wide open vis-à-vis a more modern optic. There are subtle differences in rendition. Look closely at the difference in how the models’ hair is rendered. Both are sharp, but there seems a gradual roll-off in sharpness with the Cooke replica (left), whereas the ELCAN replica (right) has more planar areas of sharpness and unsharpness, harkening back to the ad copy for the Leitz Cine Wetzlar blurb above.

Cooke replica v Leica Apo-Summicron 50

I went on to make wide-open tripod-mounted test shots of a ridgeline about ¼ mile away with the Cooke replica and an APO-Summicron 50/2 Aspheric. The Cooke showed mild to fairly pronounced purple fringing and flare viewed in Photoshop at 200%, with the degree of the fringing depending on where the sun was, but considerable sharpness as well, both centre and edge.

One cannot be absolutely sure, but the fringing seemed more likely due to flare than to chromatic aberration. Away from such edges as the actual ridgeline but still in the same light, at f/2, the overall effect was “painterly” in an impressionistic way on high enlargement. Fringing was much less by f/2.8 and largely gone by f/4.

Here is an actual M10 Monochrom image, lens wide open, on a moderately bright overcast day, which unexpectedly showed this rather dramatic flare on bright reflective surfaces (similar to what registered as purple fringing in the ridgeline colour shots). This is an interesting, atmospheric image that did not look that way at another time of day when I made other shots; such a result certainly might not have been wanted by someone just shooting randomly. Note that most areas in the middle and far background are fairly sharp nonetheless.

Apparently, only some shooting situations elicit this sort of flare. On further testing, photographing silverware, and actually trying to elicit flare, this was minimised by f/4 and essentially gone by f/5.6. There would be a learning curve here, as many times what one would expect to flare does not, and vice versa. It is not so clear that a matte box would have helped, as this effect seemed intrinsic to the internals of the lens. So, one would not choose this lens for Ansel Adam-like landscapes, but it is very sharp regardless.

With the lens again on the M10 Monochrom, I got very pleasing close-ups, nearly wide open, of a milkweed pod and a yellow apple; look at the bokeh, and note that there was no obvious flare here.

Look for the glamour

I made no images with film but did shoot some short videos with the lens mounted on the Sony A7r. Following focus was very smooth and predictable, even for a neophyte such as me. Changing stops was also easy enough. The lens was fun to use this way.

To try to look at the glamour aspect of the lens, I took it on my M10-R to an apple festival in a nearby orchard and to the shore of Lake Champlain, taking mostly unposed portraits at f/2 to about f/3.5. (The one of the gourds below was shot at f/5.6).

The lens has quite sharp rendering but also an overall subtle softness, roundness, and smoothness. The colours could be a bit muted. There is a gentle swing to OOF areas. There was vignetting, not that objectionable, wide open, and contrast was a bit low at times (but not as low as expected by the author).

Quoting a beta tester whose text was submitted to me and with whom I am in full agreement: “The lens is very sharp at the centre and has excellent control on highlights, flaring control, subject colour rendering, and a smooth transition from subject to out-of-focus area”.

A few images from this outing show what this lens can do. Most are made at or near wide open. Some are cropped a bit, and some have had their exposure and contrast slightly tweaked. Two had discordant objects in the background removed in PS.

Daily user?

The lens acquitted itself very well, and if I owned one, I could choose it for many routine daily uses. It would mostly be a question of preference or of style rather than of obligation. I would generally prefer a more biting, less aesthetical treatment for reportage and for certain landscapes with high detail, those into which viewers can almost lose themselves.

For informal portraiture, either approach or lens could work. I tend to shoot at or near wide open, so this distinction is important. Closed down, well, the Cooke replica is as good as most current 50s and better than its purported 1930s age-mates. As always, horses for courses.

I had further thoughts to explain this lens to readers. While some might off-handedly consider this lens as a softer-focus optic, thinking perhaps of the f/1.2 Noctilux, or even the Thambar, the Cooke is unlike either.

The Noctilux has high contrast with just a bit of softness wide open, plus very shallow DOF for its effect. The Thambar works its soft magic via increasing spherical aberration.

Think of the Cooke lens as not unlike the 125/f2.5 Hektor, which, when wide open, is low contrast and slightly soft, but with little distortion and sharpens up a significant amount when closed down. The Cooke is similar, although sharper at f/2. With it wide open, one gets loss of the finest detail only and slightly lowered contrast, but in a lens which renders smoothly, sharply, and distortion-free.

The Cooke rapidly recovers to excellent specs when closed down even a bit. The effect of the Cooke is not dreamy or delicate (unless you are in a situation that allows the lens to flare), but for lack of a better term, let us call it “cinematic” — living, credible. It is a cine lens, folks.

Bottom line

This will be a desirable lens for many still photographers. Generally speaking, the Cooke replica draws beautifully (but learn where it flares), and the lens is a credit to Mr Zhou and his staff. It was a pleasure to use and performed reliably. Not sure why the focus was backwards relative to Leica lenses, but I got used to it.

I still appreciate that this cine lens may be a different animal from those modern lenses where sharpness and high micro-contrast may be the main goals, but I think that it likely has much more than niche usage potential for us still photographers because of how pleasant and believable its images are.

I have never seen a Cooke Amotal 50/2 (2 inch) lens, much less had an opportunity to use one, but I wonder now why Cooke otherwise never marketed its lenses for still cameras, the way Leica is now marketing its M lenses for cine.

Their universes may have been kept relatively separate for many years, but perhaps it is time for the other cine companies to make Leica-compatible lenses. Putting a large cine lens into an M mount would likely entail miniaturising and RF coupling it, but otherwise, this might well be worth the investment. We would all be the richer for this.

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  1. I think all current cine lenses tend to be made in series, with each member of that series being close to identical externally and handling quite similarly, ditto accepting all the expected accessories, so to benefit the cinematographer. Such precision greatly boosts the price, especially of a series offering. LLL’s 50mm lens in cine mount is likely due to have a 75mm cousin, I am guessing, so I think at least a small series is planned

    Putting that cine lens in a regular mount means that only optical, and not movie production, handling needs to be addressed. Any old mount that fits will do. Hence both a lower price, and easier marketing to the general still photographer.


  2. The last time I took the Leica Society to Cooke’s factory near Leicester I was asked by Dave Stevens (their MD) would Leica users want to buy a Cooke lens for their cameras? I replied that I thought they would, price dependent of course.
    Dave then explained it could be done for around £13000 each.
    The project never went any further…

    • Interesting, Jem. The current Cooke entity is a high spec low volume manufacturer based in the UK, so the price is not surprising. Their main market these days is Hollywood and the film industry generally. Both my Taylor Hobson 50mm f2 Anastigmat (came with a Reid) and my Stewartry lens made by National Optical, a daughter company of Taylor and Hobson, produce great images as do two earlier Dallmeyers and a Ross lens which I have in Leica mounts. Some really great lenses were made and designed in Britain. The tendency of many Leica fans is to go for German origin (not all are made there) lenses, branded Leica, Zeiss and Voigtlander, but the British stuff is very good, in my experience. Still, a 13K tag is probably not really going to produce a market winner.


  3. Light Lens Lab sent me another version of this lens to test out. It look almost exactly like a 1950’s Rigid 50/2 Summicron, except it has the lens elements of the Cooke Speed Panchro in it. I am told it has an 8-leaf diaphragm, whereas the original has more blades, and a slightly different lens coating.

    When I made A:B images with it and with the more traditionally cine-looking version, I could see no obvious difference.

    I think the rationale for this different lens mount is that it is smaller and possibly more likely to appeal to the M-shooter.

  4. I just got my hands on one of the commercial editions of this lens, so I was intrigued to look at focus breathing. I did that very crudely, using a Sony A7r and simply watching several targets, at different distances, as I racked focus back and forth. There was an apparent small amount of change is the size of in-focus and out-of-focus targets. For myself, I would not have found such objectionable in a video or a movie, but who can say what a cinematographer might feel. I compared what the Cooke replica did versus the lens that had been sitting upon the Sony (a 28-35-50 Tri-Elmar) at the 50mm setting. The TE seemed to have a bit less focus breathing, but it has a much shorter focus throw than the Cooke, so I don’t know if that could have psychologically influenced my perceptions.

    And FWIW, Light Lens Labs in developing a 75/2 Cooke Speed Panchro II as well.


  5. While I have been taking pictures and doing darkroom work for 70 years, I have really only done what I would call analytic photography for 40. Therefore, praise from a “newbie” photo writer like Jono is very greatly appreciated. 😄. Thank you Jono! And thanks to William and David B for making this an interactive treat for me.


  6. This is all fascinating – and what an interesting lens
    Thank you Ed, for your excellent article, but thank you also William and David B for the extra information.
    Wonderful stuff for a newbie like me!

    All the very best

  7. I did not test focus breathing when I had the Cooke replica available, because I was unaware of the concept. I do not have the lens currently, as I only had one to try out. I did make a short video with it, but that was not set up for such a test in any case.

  8. Indeed! But I am guessing (I have not handled ANY of the newer Leica cine lenses now available) that they are otherwise largely M lenses adapted for cine use, in exactly the manner you describe. And LLL plans to offer this Cooke Replica in various cine mounts as well, and may just also be considering other focal lengths too.

    Thank you for this explanation of focus breathing; do you know what parameters need to be adhered to in order to avoid this? Do most lenses focus breathe? Is focal length itself part of this pitfall?

    • There’s a simple explanation on Wikipedia – at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breathing_(lens):

      “..A lens with a constant focal length will exhibit narrowing of the angle of view at closer focus, and conversely, maintaining a constant angle of view requires precise reduction of focal length as focus is decreased..” (my emphasis).

      So that’s a fair bit of engineering required inside a high quality ciné lens; to reduce the actual focal length (essentially zooming out) while adjusting the focus so as to focus closer ..and vice versa: it’s a variation on ‘floating element’ focusing, but must be extremely accurate – especially when you think how large an image appears on a cinema screen!

      ..It’s a variation on zooming OUT while pushing the camera-&-lens IN ..as seen in some effects shots! ..But it’s all done WITHIN the lens itself.

  9. Thank you for all the interesting responses so far. Much of this I discovered from my researches writing the article, but would have been too much to add. Thank you William for explicating. Amotal lenses may be a bit thin on my side of the ocean, so I have not had the pleasure of trying one. I do own a really nice Summar, as I mentioned in the article, and this is a decent lens.

    What intrigued me in writing was the separation between cine and photo lenses, but how Leica was now bridging that gap. And a Speed Panchro for M-mount was doubly intriguing. I liked what it did, even though my main photographic subject matter is harder edged.

    The Cooke replica does indeed vignette wide open to a not-insignificant extent, and I had been planning an image to show this; mostly this is hidden within the subject matter of the images I did use.

    • The differences between making (small?) M-fit lenses and making ciné lenses are that for ciné lenses the really important requirements are that:

      (a) all lenses – of various different focal lengths – should, as far as possible, be of similar sizes so that a ‘focus puller’ (the person who controls the focus on a cinema camera while shooting) can use ‘muscle memory’ of where to reach for a lens, and how far to turn the lens adjustment to alter the focus as the camera moves back and forth;

      (b) all lenses should have the SAME amount of turn to change apertures if the camera is moving, say, from light (outdoors) to dark (indoors) in one continuous shot;

      (c) all lenses should turn the same amount to adjust focus from, say, 1 foot to 2 feet, as from 2 feet to 3 feet, etc, so a fixed amount of turn (achieved by internal gearing) will always alter the focus by the same amount on every lens of any set of lenses.

      These requirements necessarily make ciné lenses much more bulky than, say, 35mm stills camera lenses ..for a Leica, for example.

      With all the R&D which goes into designing cinema lenses – for the avoidance of ‘focus breathing’ when adjusting from far to close focus or vice versa, for example – the cost of ciné lenses for ‘enthusiast’ 35mm stills users would be so high that few people would bother to buy them, making them pointless to create.

      (‘Focus breathing’ is the slight change of size of an object within an image while the lens stays at the same distance from that object but the lens’ focus is shifted towards or away from the object. One doesn’t pay attention to this with stills photography, as one’s generally shooting a single photo, or a sequence of single photos ..but when shooting a continuously-running movie then the change in size of a background object when the focus changes from, say, one person to another – without the camera altering its position – can be really distracting, and so in the best movie lenses, focus breathing is engineered out of the lens!)

      (Movies can be made nice and cheaply with, say ordinary Canon SLR lenses, or with ‘SLR Magic’ cut-price ciné lenses, but for the best possible quality movie images, Cooke, Zeiss and other brands specifically made for movie shooting are created with no ‘corner cutting’ ..and that’d make even cut-down versions far too expensive for even most Leica enthusiasts.)

      • Nicely explained, David. Most modern cine lenses I have seen are hefty items which are designed for the considerations which you describe. I suspect the LLL lens is a modified version of the Speed Panchro optical formulation, designed with a view to producing great images on a 35mm format stills camera. I imagine that the mount would be critical to achieving this. The Dallmeyer C Mount cine lens, which I mentioned earlier, does not vignette, even on a modern digital M. I understand that many years ago this was a popular item for use on Leica LTM cameras as it was a small and light 75mm telephoto which was reasonably fast at f4 for its time. I believe that the mount adaptation was done a long time ago. It is quite a thick mount. I have sent Ed an example of an image taken with the cine lens. My own preference, as a collector, has always been to use original items from many years back, but I can understand why people might want to use replicas. Original Speed Panchros often come up at auction and I often wonder what the people who buy them use them for eg 35mm, medium format etc

        I might mention another Leicester connection. During this past week I have become the proud owner of a ‘Stewartry’ 105mm f3.5 Trinol LTM lens marked ‘Made in Scotland ‘. Some research indicated that the lens was made in Leicester by the National Optical Company which was a daughter company of Taylor, Taylor and Hobson, the company which produced the Cooke Speed Panchro. The lens mounts and perhaps some of the other metal parts were done by a company called Montgomery in Glasgow which led to the ‘Made in Scotland’ claim. Shades of Portugal/Wetzlar there. Somebody mentioned living in Leicester. Well, Reid and Sigrist was there along with Taylor, Taylor and Hobson (who produced the Cooke) and the National Optical Company. Leicester was a regular ‘Little Dresden’ (the heart of the German photographic industry) back in the day.


        • “..The lens mounts and perhaps some of the other metal parts were done by a company called Montgomery in Glasgow which led to the ‘Made in Scotland’ claim..”

          Well, the original, but no longer sellable, spare Cooke Amotal lenses (made in Leicester, but shipped to Chicago for Bell & Howell) were then sent to Italy for adaptation to the Leica screw-thread mount, so they – the Leica-fit ‘Amotal’s – show, around the front collar of the lens ‘Made by TAYLOR, TAYLOR & HOBSON Ltd England’, but the rear end, the lens mount – which appears to be a continuous part of the whole lens body – shows ‘MADE IN ITALY’.

          These lenses thus appear to be made in both the UK and Italy! ..in truth, the FRONT ends (with the glass inside) WERE made in England, but the rear ends ..just hollow tubes with a cam inside.. were indeed Italian!

          (The Leica-fit Amotals show the apertures followed by the letter ‘F’, whereas the same lenses for Fotons show apertures with the letter ‘T’. The front bezel of both types, however, shows “f/2”.)

          [But that’s enough for now ..g’nite!]

        • As an articled clerk in the early 1980s, William, I used to catch the bus into Leicester, along with overlockers, finishers and seamstresses, who often earned more than their husbands. Since then, most of the hosiery factories have been demolished or converted into flats, so it’s good to know that there is still some manufacturing in Leicester.

          • Thanks, Richard. Yes, Cooke is still based in Leicester, following a buy out in 1998 from Taylor and Hobson. At one stage Taylor and Hobson supplied 80% of the world’s cine lenses with its Cooke brand. Taylor and Hobson still has a presence in Leicester as well, but Reid and Sigrist has long since gone. Someone I know has taped interviews with Reid and Sigrist staff from Leicester, which reveal, among other things, that ‘Major’ Reid was merely Flying Officer Reid and that the so-called British Intelligence visit to Leica in Wetzlar just after WWII largely consisted of Reid and Sigrist staff in fake British military uniforms!

            The crown princes of British camera optics were Dallmeyer and Ross, both based in London. There was inter-marriage and rivalry between those two dynasties back in the 19th Century.The ‘top of the tree’ may be the Dallmeyer 2inch f1.5 Septac Anastigmat for the Ilford Witness. The last one of those, which sold at auction, fetched c $55,000 at Westlicht (now Leitz Auction) in 2012. Of course, we all realise that this does not mean it is a ‘better’ lens, just that it is a very desirable lens.


  10. Excellent article. I have been tempted and still am I guess by the Light Lens Lab 35mm f/2 8-Element. In the US LLL lenses can be found on the Popflash website.

  11. Very interesting, thank you. I lived in Leicester for over 25 years and never heard so much as a whisper about Cooke lenses.

  12. Good to see you writing here, Ed. The ‘new’ Cooke lens is obviously a good one, but there is a long history here with a lot of circularity and synchronicity.

    The Cooke Triplet was designed in Britain by H. Dennis Taylor of Taylor, Taylor and Hobson fame. The lens appeared around 1893 and it was immensely influential. Its design features appeared in the Zeiss Tessar and the Leitz Elmar (the lens that made Leica) and Hektor and many others. Rudolf Kingslake stated in his 1989 book on the history of the photographic lens that he had counted 80 lens patents which covered lenses of the three-element Cooke type. I will email you some pages from another book on British and Irish lenses of the 19th Century which deals with the original Cooke design. This expensive book also quotes myself and Macfilos in several parts on the earlier Irish made Grubb aplanatic lenses.

    I’m not one for the modern fashion of concentrating on lens sharpness and bokeh in lenses above all else. I can usually see at a glance if a lens produces images with a character which appeals to me. There are many instances where an older lens will produce a character which is not to be found in modern lenses which are sharper and cleaner, but have little character. I have long since felt that the ‘faults’ and aberrations in older lenses often contribute to such character. Imperfection can often be more interesting than perfection This applies irrespective of lens brand, whether it be Zeiss, Leitz, Nikkor or any other brand. You mention the Summar and I did an article here about 6 or 7 years ago about the characteristics of the Summar. The article even includes an image of our esteemed editor, Mike, which I took with a rigid Summar from 1932. I now have an ‘accidental collection’ of about 12 Summars and it remains one of my favourite lenses, notwithstanding the fact many people think it has flaws.

    At his talk at our LSI Conference in Dublin last October Peter Karbe went through the origins of today’s APO lenses. This talk is not yet published or available online. The main thing I and others took from this is that in the 19th Century, and even more so in the 20th Century, lens designers learnt how to eliminate aberrations and distortions through adding additional elements to compensate against inherent optical flaws. Again, in the 20th Century when colour photography became popular lens designs had to take account of potential colour issues. So too, with the Cooke lenses , designers began to add additional elements, but at the same time they strove to retain the original character of the lenses, the ‘Cooke Look’ as it were. All of this started a long time before Peter Karbe joined Leica, but he espouses the same philosophy, even down to saying that his lenses are at their best when used wide open, as he knows that many lenses can look pretty similar at f8. Seeing your images above, I can see the legendary ‘Cooke Look’ has been captured in this new product.

    There is some reference here to the Cooke Amotal lens which was produced by Taylor and Hobson and David B. has comments about that above. Taylor and Hobson produced both the Cooke Amotal and the Speed Panchro, the former as an Anastigmat for still photography with M39 and Contax mounts and the latter for cine work. According to Collectiblend, a very good Amotal will today fetch $700-800. The original Speed Panchro will require an adaptor of some kind for use on a stills camera, of course. A very good one will, however fetch $1400-1500 today, according to Collectiblend. There is also the Taylor and Hobson Anastigmat collapsible 2 inch f2 lens made for Reid. I got my one with a Reid IIIa and I have found it to be quite similar to a Leitz Summitar. However, because of its rarity, it goes for $1200-1300 according to Collectiblend. This lens would have been made in Leicester, possibly at the same facility as the Cooke lenses.

    The earliest interchangeable lens for Leicas were not fitted in Wetzlar, but rather in England, several years before the Leica I Model C appeared. You can see several examples in Angela von Einem’s book on the Leica I Model A. The start was a German man called A O Roth who fitted Meyer Kino Plasmat f 1.5 lenses to Leicas. British Ross and Dallmeyer lenses were also fitted to Leicas from the late 1920s onwards and I have a number of those mounted on Leicas; 2 Dallmeyers and a Ross. One of the Dallmeyer lenses which I have is a 3 inch f4 Popular cine lens with a C mount from the 1930s. This has been attached to an adapter with an LTM mount. I will email you some examples of images taken with a Leica M10 using the Dallmeyer cine lens and the Ross lens.

    So the whole story of the link up between Leica and British lenses and lens designs goes back a long way, starting from 1893 with the Cooke Triplet. This may surprise many readers here.


  13. “..I have never seen a Cooke Amotal 50/2 (2 inch) lens … I wonder now why Cooke otherwise never marketed its lenses for still cameras, the way Leica is now marketing its M lenses for cine”.

    The ‘Amotal’ was made by Cooke for Bell & Howell (who used Cooke lenses in their professional 35mm ciné cameras) when B&H decided to make a 35mm stills camera – the ‘Foton’. The Foton had a clockwork motor-drive built into the bottom, like a clockwork ciné camera, and – oddly – had its lenses marked in ‘T’-stops, as an echo of its ciné camera heritage, instead of photographers’ ‘f’-stops. The Foton didn’t sell well – it was much too expensive at about $700 in 1948 – and died out within two years.

    There was thus an excess of unwanted Cooke ‘Amotal’ lenses lying around, and so many of them were converted to the Leica screw thread – with the Leica-type cam fitted inside to work with the Leica rangefinder mechanism – and these were offered with Reid cameras as the standard 50mm lens.

    There was no pressing reason for Cooke to make more lenses for 35mm stills cameras, having had a not-very-successful experience making them for the Foton. Why bother? ..and so they didn’t.

    The ‘Amotal’ has rather heavy vignetting around the edges at its max aperture of f (or ‘T’) 2, and a rather ‘soft’ and somewhat hazy overall look ..rather like the old Nikkor screw-fit 50mm f2. At least mine does. Its pleasant advantage over Leica lenses is that it’s a real lightweight, as it has an aluminium mount (like many Russian lenses). Its f2 vignetting, though, can give a ‘romantic’ mood, and draws your attention to whatever’s in the centre of the picture.

    At f2.8 it really ‘crispens-up’, though, and is a good match for its contemporary, the old Leitz ‘Summitar’ of around 1939-1953, with the advantage of being much lighter in weight, although it doesn’t ‘collapse’ or retract like the Leitz ‘Summar’ or ‘Summitar’, etc, screw-fit lenses.

    It really needs a hood if you want to use it without softening ‘flare’.

    It does give a very nice, soft, smooooth, unobtrusive, out-of-focus ‘bokeh’, just as you see in old films which were shot with Cooke lenses. As for the new/old LLL ‘Cooke Speed Panchro’, I’d say the old Cooke Amotal gives similar results at a fraction of the weight and size, but with more vignetting at f2.


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