The gentlemen at True Lens Service (TLS) in the UK displayed a fully functional prototype of their 18mm Cooke Speed Panchro at IBC last year which garnered a respectable amount of interest. But what about the rest of the set? If you’re not familiar with the Cooke Speed Panchros, they’re basically the standard by which other prime lenses were measured between the 1930’s and 1950’s. George Eastman estimated that approximately 90 percent of 16mm films shot during that time in America were using Cooke Speed Panchros. There have been several revisions of the Panchros in Series II and III which can be a bit confusing, kind of like Cooke as a company in general. Surely you’ve seen “Taylor, Hobson” “Taylor, Taylor & Hobson” “Rank, Taylor & Hobson” or just plain “Cooke”. They’re all the same lineage with an extremely rich history in photographic optics and industrial revolution. Cooke was a true innovator in their infancy and continues to produce motion picture optics that push the boundaries of quality. Enough with the history… The Speed Panchros are relevant here because they are notorious for producing beautiful images that are simply not duplicated in post production. They have a character to them that defined the “Cooke Look” and gave thousands of films a warm romantic feel that cinematographers, directors, and colorists strive to reproduce with lackluster results (most of the time).
What TLS has done is develop, refine, and produce a brand new housing that adds modern day functionality to an otherwise antiquated form. The exterior of the TLS Speed Panchro rehousing may look familiar. Keith Truslove of TLS drew inspiration from his experience as a technician at Cooke Optics in Leicester and the Cooke S4 line of lenses. The Cooke S4 primes are an excellent mechanical design and what better inspiration for the Cooke Speed Panchros than their very own modern-day iteration. Not only are the housings similar, the internal mechanics of the TLS re-housings share many similarities to the Cooke S4s as well. The new Cooke Speed Panchro housings feature some very clever bits including a cam driven focus movement that virtually eliminates focus backlash and shift. The focus cam and follower system also provide adequate distribution of focus marks and a very usable amount of focus rotation. Speaking of focus marks, the barrels offer highly visible distance marks on both sides of the lens in metric or imperial flavors. Both the focus and the iris are geared with industry standard 32-pitch (.8mod) gears for use with a follow focus or motors and are positioned consistently throughout the entire set. This means there is no need to adjust your accessories when swapping lenses on a rig – very convenient. All of the housings have a common 110mm front diameter which is a cast improvement over the seemingly cute miniature housings of the original Cooke Speed Panchros. The housings are all CNC machined from high quality aluminum and the PL mounts are stainless steel. The focal lengths that TLS will be re-housing include the 18mm-T2.2, 25mm-T2.2, 32mm-T2.3, 40mm-T2.3, 50mm-T2.3, 75mm-T2.3, 100mm-T2.8.
Where do i sign up?
Here’s the tricky part. TLS doesn’t provide the original lenses (at this time) which means you have to hunt them down yourself. If you can find a complete set in the basement of a relative or an estate sale of a retired director, you’re golden. But let’s face it. That’s not likely. Your best bet is going to be sourcing the lenses from film industry forums and unfortunately, eBay. As everyone should know, buying lenses on eBay is very risky. But don’t worry too much because TLS offers to service the Cooke Speed Panchros you send them for a small fee and get them up to speed. Obviously they aren’t going to perform tasks like replacing the focus ring and calibrating the mount sine all of that will be scrapped, but they’ll take care of things that will matter in the re-housing like optical alignment cleanliness of the glass. The cost for the conversion (check with the guys at TLS) is currently about $2,684 – $3,067 per lens for the re-housing which doesn’t include the lenses you provide. TLS estimates a complete set of housings will cost a little over $21,000
I’ve had all of these lenses in my hands and was able to look at the quality up close. I can honestly say that the size, weight, and overall feel of the re-housing is superb. The focus movement is smooth and uninterrupted with a clean sharp stop at both ends of travel. The aperture ring has a very nice amount of rotation and also stops clean at both ends. The lenses are compact yet substantial in the hand. The quality of the machining and anodizing is almost identical to that of a Cooke S4 or 5/i. It’s quite easy to see that plenty of time and care went into these designs from a group of guys who know what they’re doing. There’s no funny business. No “why did they do that?!”. No new-age swiss-army bits. Just a classic set of optics in a clean, modern housing. I’m looking forward to seeing some very pleasing results from the process that TLS has developed in the near future. For more information you can email TLS or visit their website.