Getting The “Cooke Look”


Cinema Lenses

At Film Division we have available to us a set of Cooke Lenses. This might not mean much to the average person, but it should! We are often asked which camera we used to shoot a particular video. But very rarely are we asked about the lenses that were used. Yes, the camera itself does have an impression on the quality of the footage in the form of resolution, bit rate, sensor etc. The lens itself however is far more influential when it comes to creating cinematic quality imagery. It’s not just about the focal length of the lens either. The different techniques used to construct lenses by every manufacturer give each brand of lens their own unique attributes. For example, a brand of lens can have a remarkably different contrast to another brand. This is due to the steps in the manufacturing process such as the grade of sand used to construct the glass, to the different layers of optical coating. For this reason, Directors of Photography (DoP’s) will use a certain brand of lens for a particular look, or they will have their own personal preference based on what they like.


Lens Characteristics

Contemporary cinema lenses are very sharp, which is usually a good thing. However some cinematographers may be looking for a softer image. A soft image does not mean it is out of focus. It has a certain beautiful, romantic aspect to it. This can be created by using older lenses for an image that is subtly soft. These lenses were not constructed with the latest computer-aided optical technology and manufacturing. That means that each lens will have it’s own individual characteristics. These older lenses also have a less sophisticated optical coating on the glass which is used to prevent internal flares and reflections. This coating has a very small degrading effect that softens the image. This becomes more obvious when the sun or another strong light source shines into the lens. The internal flares and reflections generated by this are very easy to spot in an old lens as compared to a modern one.

This brings us to a certain lens manufacturer that has captured this old school look and therefore held in higher regard above all the rest, Cooke Optics based in the West Midlands!

Cooke Lenses S4

Cooke Optics

Cooke Lenses Manufacturing

Cooke Optics is a camera lens manufacturing company based in Leicester. First forming in 1886 as Taylor, Taylor and Hobson to design and manufacture metrology instruments. In the 1890s The Cooke Triplet lens was licensed to TTH by another company.

Cooke Lenses Triplet 1893

Throughout the 20th century TTH produced and supplied lenses for the British camera industry, photolithography in the USA and Britain, and for cinematography. It also engineered a series of technical innovations for film and photography.

Cooke Lenses

Notable products include:

  • A soft focus portrait lens often used by renowned photographers Clarence White and Alfred Stieglitz,
  • The Aviar aerial survey lens, designed for the RAF during in World War I.
  • The Series XV triple-convertible lens for 10×8 inch cameras, favoured by the photographer Ansel Adams and others.
  • The Opic and Speed Panchro large-aperture lenses which would extensively be used in Hollywood,
  • The inverse telephoto (retrofocus) lens, created for use with the early Technicolor process, and now the standard design for wide-angle lenses in 35mm and other small-format cameras,
  • High-quality zoom lenses for cinematography and television,
  • High quality lenses for cinema projectors.
Cooke Lenses Engineering

In 1998, Cooke Optics was formed as a new company following a buy-out of the Optical division of Taylor-Hobson. The company now designs and manufactures 35mm lenses for the film industry.

Cooke Lenses 25mm

In 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Cooke Optics an award of merit. This was in recognition that the company had “helped define the look of motion pictures over the last century,” with their innovations. These innovations included; zoom lenses for movie cameras and lenses that did not require high wattage lighting. All of this has resulted in a recipe for creating lenses that produce imagery which came to be known in the film industry as the “Cooke look”. Warm and natural moving images.

District 9

Cooke Lenses and the “Cooke Look”

So the “Cooke look” all comes down to a few different aesthetic factors including colour, contrast, bokeh, distortion etc. Cooke lenses produce very soft aesthetically pleasing optical flares. They also produce a very rounded depth of field which can really demonstrate the distance between objects in frame. Due to the coating used on these lenses, they produce very warm images which is perfect for portraying human skin and showing how alive a character is. Cooke lenses also have a butter smooth mechanical focusing system. This allows for a graceful roll in and out of focus when pulling focus from one subject to another. Sourcing a set of cinema lenses with that perfect combination of these characteristics for a specific visual look can be very difficult. On the other hand, if you’re looking for warm human skin tones alongside a smooth contrast and a slick amount of optical sharpness, then you’ve found the perfect combination in a set of Cooke prime lenses. 

127 Hours

Have you ever used Cooke lenses in a video project? If not, then why not get in touch for your very own “Cooke Look” video!

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