View Full Version : Cooke Protrait

Ed Candland
17-May-2002, 21:35
I was just wondering, there's a new lens listed on Badger's site. it's a Cooke P rotrait PS945 229mm/4.5. I was wondering what's so special about it to make it s ell for the OY MY GOD price of $3,450.00. Other than being a little faster for t hat focal lens.

joe freeman
17-May-2002, 21:42
In the latest issue of VIEWCAMERA, they have a couple pages dedicated to COOKE lenses.

Peter C. McDonough
17-May-2002, 23:18
This is a new soft-focus optic from Cooke. It is a copy of the formula that Pinkham-Smith used in their lenses around the turn of the 19th century. At the larger aperatures the softening is strongest. Stopped down to f/16, the image sharpens up.

Barbara Lowry
18-May-2002, 12:33
The new Cooke Portrait PS945 lens is a modern reproduction of the rare Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Series IV soft focus lens. Cooke lenses were designed and made large format lenses in England from 1894 through the 1950s, then went on to design Cooke cine lenses exclusively. This is the first lens for still photography by Cooke in 50 years. Many photographers familiar with soft focus photography appreciate the unique characteristics of the vintage Pinkham & Smith lenses which were hand-figured, above other soft focus lenses. So Cooke, as usual, decided to do what it's been doing best for 100 years, go out for something different and give a niche market what it's looking for. Cooke's optical designers were able to match the unique characteristics of the original P&S lens exactly. The design is lovely - inside and out. The price of $3,450 includes the lens in a Copal #3 shutter, a black lacquered, logoed, hinged storage box that will accommodate the lens mounted in a lens board up to 5 inches square, and a CD that includes a brief how-to primer on using soft focus lenses by Jay Allen, historic information about Pinkham & Smith, Cooke and technical specifications and sample photos. More info at http://www.cookeoptics.com by May 24, 2002.

18-May-2002, 18:09
Barbara, I'm glad that you entered into this discussion. I have a question for you. After reading the article about the new Cooke portrait lens in View Camera, I wondered why a lens manufacturer would make a soft focus lens for the 4X5 format, and mount it in a Copal 3 shutter? I realize that the lens design determines the size of the elements, and the f4.5 max. aperature needs large diameter glass, but doesn't it make more sense for a lens like that to be made in a longer focal length for the 8X10 format? So far, there has been no mention of the diameter of the image circle for this lens. Also, 229mm seems a little short for a head-and- shoulders portrait lens in the 4X5 format. Please enlighten me.

David A. Goldfarb
19-May-2002, 11:50
Interesting. I suspect that a version appropriate to 8x10" (14-16.5") would be too large for a Copal #3 shutter. The old portrait lenses with large maximum apertures often had "Studio" shutters, which were very large and are usually in poor condition these days. I have a Voigtlander 360mm/f:4.5 Heliar that won't fit in an Ilex #5 without losing half a stop. I have a removable front mounted shutter for it. You can see a picture of this lens and its shutter at:


The Heliar is on the left.

Barbara Lowry
20-May-2002, 10:15
Hi Eugene, Being the non-technical person I am, I can repsond to your questions from my perspective. Cooke decided to make it's first lens for large format photography in 50 years for 4x5 format instead of 8x10 because 4x5 is a popular format for a wide range of photographers. You are correct that there has been no mention of the image circle (190mm). In fact, the little blurb (and great photo, wasn't it?) of the new Cooke Portrait PS945 lens in View Camera Magazine, May/June issue is the first mention of it anywhere at the moment! We're just getting geared up and that blurb was a last minute addition before deadline. Badger Graphic Sales, Inc. in Wisconsin is our first dealer in the US as of 2 days ago. They promised to add detailed information this week (week of May 20, 2002). The Cooke Optics website http://www.cookeoptics.com will have information about the lens by the end of this week (May 24, 2002). Cooke is in production and will have the first lenses available for delivery beginning late summer, early fall/ The 229mm focal length does not appear to be a hindrance to the two photographers who have tried it out so far for portraits. / This is Cooke's entrance back into a very special market. What we make next will depend on people like you providing us with feedback on what you want. An 8x10 version of what we have produced so far is certainly a possibility. I'm hopeful that the lens will be reviewed by a publication this summer so photographers can get some practical feedback. Based on the emails I've received so far as a result of one notice in View Camera, I think we're on the right track. Honestly, the lens is gorgeous, inside and out, but I'm only one of four people who have actually seen it in person so far! Go to the Large Format Photography Conference in Albuquerque, NM last weekend in June, I'll be there exhibiting the lens so you can see it for yourself. Cheers.

20-May-2002, 13:29
Barbara, thank you for your response to my inquiry. My point is, since portrait photographers usually make 8X10, or larger final images, What is the purpose of making a soft focus portrait lens for the 4X5 format? A 190mm image circle just barely covers 4X5. and if this lens is stopped down in order to obtain a larger image circle, it would loose it's soft focus capability for portrait work. A 4X5 negative needs to be enlarged to the size of the final print, 8X10, or larger. There are many ways to soften an image using the conventional enlarging process in the darkroom, or with today's digital printing methods. The Copal 3 shutter size limits the use of this lens to monorails with large lensboards. It would be quite large and weighty for a field camera. These are my concerns, although I have no interest in purchasing the lens. I will not be attending the conference in Albuquerque, something came up, and I reluctantly had to cancell my plans. I'm certain there will be much interest in this lens at the conference and many more questions to answer. Good luck!

David A. Goldfarb
20-May-2002, 16:10
A 229mm/f:4.5 lens requires an opening of 51mm at maximum aperture. A Copal 3 shutter has a 58mm opening. A Copal 1 shutter (next size down) has a 40mm opening. A Copal 3 or 3S shutter is the only modern option in regular production. Portrait lenses are BIG.

Smallish image circle also shouldn't be too much of a liability, since these lenses aren't typically used at infinity, and portraits don't usually require extreme lens movements.

I think it would be great if this lens did well and Cooke could come out with other classic lenses with new glass and multicoating in modern shutters. You can put me down for the new Cooke Dagors, Heliars, and Hypergons when they're ready.

Barbara Lowry
24-May-2002, 12:04
Hi all, Actually, your concern that our new Cooke Portrait PS945 lens will not cover the format adequately is unwarranted. Mark Osterman, process historian at the Eastman House put the lens through its paces and determined that it covers 5x7 with no problem, that's using back and front adjustments on his camera. He used an old camera with a vintage format slightly larger than 6x8. I'm told it will cover 8x10 with, of course, some vignetting around the edges - soft vignetting at the wider apertures and hard vignetting with the smaller ones, of course. Remember, we made this lens for 4x5, what we considered to be the most popular format for serious amateurs and some professionals to get our feet wet in the market, so to speak. Regarding the weight, it weighs, 1.6 pounds in the shutter and is 90mm long, much lighter than soft focus lenses of the past and is definitely suitable for field work. I am also told by Clive Russ, the photographer who took the product shots and tried some portrait work with it in the field, that it's a pleasure to be able to take a "Pinkham & Smith" lens out in the field rather than be strapped to a camera in the studio due to the weight! If a good number of you want this lens for 8x10, we're the company to produce it for you. But you have to promise me that you'll try our first one to see if you can discern the difference between standard soft focus lenses and techniques and the unique qualities of the Pinkham & Smith that we've recreated! First things first! We've just begun!

27-May-2002, 19:33
Hi Barb, and others, Edward Weston started his career using a soft focus lens, did he used the original vesrion of this lens? I know that this is a very historic question and no one might be able to answer it. But his soft focus pictures were very impressive and I would love to re-create this style using this lens. If this is the lens in question.

A question to Barb, if I may. I am currently using the legendary canon 50mm F 0.95 exclussively wide open. It creates a very nice soft focus images that I would love to do in 4x5! Is your lens will be as "good" or better in producing the soft image?


Barbara Lowry
29-May-2002, 16:35
Hello Renee, to respond to your first question: I don't know if Edward Weston used Pinkham & Smiths lenses. His name did not come up in my research. He could very well have used them, but I don't know.

Regarding the Canon 50mm lens, I don't have personal experience with that lens. I guess it really depends on the specific type of soft focus look you're trying to achieve. There may be someone out there who has tried both the Canon 50mm and the old Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Series IV lens who could provide a comparison. The following may be helpful to explain why different soft focus lenses and filters give different effect: (the following is also found at http://www.cookeoptics.com):

"Using a soft focus lens is not the same as using a diffusion filter on a conventional lens, nor is it the same as stopping down a conventional lens. A diffusion filter causes a random scattering of the rays at all points across the aperture. The image obtained with a soft-focus lens retains all of the subject detail over a wider depth of field than with a conventional lens set to the same aperture, but the emphasis on the fine detail or the bolder elements of the image can be distributed as the photographer wishes. The original Pinkham & Smith lenses achieve their distinctive soft focus in a manner different from other lenses. Using the traditional glass available at the time, craftsmen hand-corrected multiple surfaces of the lenses to achieve their unique soft focus look. The introduction of aspherical surfaces gave Pinkham & Smith lenses a higher-order spherical aberration that results (when the lens was used fully open) in an image with both very high resolution and a self-luminescent quality. Cooke has reproduced the unique performance of these hand aspherized lenses using modern design techniques that duplicate this unique soft yet high-resolution performance exactly."

When I researched Pinkham & Smith, I had a tough time trying to imagine an image described as having the these qualities: "It looks like it generates it's own light," and "the highlights appear to have a luminescent quality to them, producing an effect unlike any other lens." When three photographers tested our new Cooke PS945 lens for me and sent me photos -- each offering very different artistic results of course! -- that was when I saw what words really failed to describe. It's a brilliant subtlety that people who understand soft focus photography will appreciate. -- I know, that really sounds hokey, but I have had a tough time finding a proper phrase to describe an image that appears both sharp and in-focus at the same time that it's velvety soft with a roundness of sorts to the edges, topped off with highlights that truly look like they're luminescent. View Camera magazine will be reviewing the Cooke Portrait PS945 lens within the next couple months. I anticipate that it might be published in a fall issue. Maybe you can make it to the Large Format Photography Conference sponsored by View Camera Magazine in Albuquerque, NM the last weekend in June and see the lens and a portfolio of photos taken with it in Cooke's exhibit booth. Then you can see for yourself!

Paul Schilliger
29-May-2002, 17:05
Barbara, why not place some representative images on Cookeoptics.com? As someone said: A picture is worth a thousand word!

29-May-2002, 22:44
Hello Barb, Thanks for your very honest response. I know that it is very hard to describe the softnes quality. Sharpness quality is far easier to describe in words and using graphs. But with softness, it is a different beast. I would love to go to the show but distance makes it impractical, I live in Melbourne Australia! Well, if you will pay for my airfares, then that is a different story. Just kidding. A few images on your website would be nice too... Bye for now


Barbara Lowry
30-May-2002, 17:39
Australia! I certainly walked into that one, didn't I?! Could you be any farther away from New Mexico? I agree, getting at least a couple images up on our website that show at least a couple possibilities would be good. We are in the midst of gathering some of the sample photos from our reviewers that will be incorporated into the CD that will come with the lens, with the resolution as high as we can manage. We are also printing product flyers on high grade paper highlighting sample photos that will reflect the subtlties better than on a silly monitor at 72 dpi! If you want to email me directly with your addresses, Renee and Paul, I'll put you on the list to get one when they're printed in about 2 weeks.

Let me share this with you: Seeing the results of a photo taken for the first time with color film with a color-corrected, modern version of a Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Series IV was like waiting to see a new baby being born, knowing that the impressionist masters back then didn't have that luxury to play with, but now we do. We were all very excited to see the results. Our graphic designer was really impressed with the shots and immediately picked one for the product flyer. (I liked the other one, but who am I?!) That certain glow is there, the out of focus areas of the background don't appear fuzzy or muddy, but just . . . I'm at loss here for words again. Send me your addresses!

tim atherton
30-May-2002, 18:08
"That certain glow is there, the out of focus areas of the background don't appear fuzzy or muddy, but just . . . I'm at loss here for words again. Send me your addresses!"

Outstanding/wonderful/gorgeous Bokeh... may be what you are looking for?

(okay, I don't want to start a thread on whether bokeh does or doesn't exist, but it seems to fit here)


Barbara Lowry
31-May-2002, 11:03
Tim, You're right, it's good Bokeh -- very good Bokeh. Using the Cooke PS945 lens, when you focus, say on a woman's face -- her eyes -- aperture wide open at f/4.5, the out of focus areas, like her collar will not appear muddy, nor out of focus, but rendered with a very appealing softness. Also, there is no halation.

Kerry L. Thalmann
31-May-2002, 16:17
"This is Cooke's entrance back into a very special market. What we make next will depend on people like you providing us with feedback on what you want. "


First, let me say, "Welcome back, you've been missed"! With all the soothsayers predicting the demise of traditional photography at the hands of digital (personally, I think they can, and should, co-exist, but that's another thread), it is great news to see a well respected manufacturer like Cooke Optics re-enter the large format lens business after a five decade absence. Nikon, Fujinon, Schneider and Rodenstock all make great lenses, but it's nice to have an additional supplier who can provide alternative lens choices to us large format photographers.

In the quote above, you mentioned that you'd be interested in feedback from the large format community on possible future products. With that in mind, here's what I would personally like to see...

Although there are currently many wonderful lenses available from the four major LF lens manufacturers, the one area that seems to have faded way over the years is the compact semi-wide (or wide field) lenses. What I'm referring to here is relatively compact, lightweight lenses with coverage typically in the 85 - 90 degree range (perhaps a little more in some specific cases). 50 years ago, when Cooke was a significant player in the LF lens marketplace, there were many such lenses available in a variety of focal lengths from a large variety of manufacturers. Examples include the Wide Field Ektar line from Kodak (80mm, 100mm, 135mm, 190mm and 250mm), the Schneider Angulon series (65mm, 90mm, 120mm, 165mm, 210mm), the Wide Angle Dagor from Goerz (3 5/8", 4 3/8", 6 1/2"), the f9 Zeiss Dagor (7.5cm, 10cm, 12.5cm, 15cm, 18cm, 24cm), the Wollensak Extreme Wide Angle and Wide Angle Raptar (3 1/2", 4 1/4", 6 1/4"), The Bausch & Lomb Series V Protar (90mm, 113mm, 141mm, 183mm), and of course, the Cooke Series VIIb (114mm, 158mm, 200mm). I'm sure there were more, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

As the new, "improved" Biogon style wide angles began to dominate, the number of semi-wide designs began to fade from the marketplace. While that certainly contributed to many semi-wide lenses be phased out, some remained in production until the mid-1960s (Wide Field Ektar, WA Dagor) and early 1970s (Angulon). In the end, I think the primary reason many of these lenses were discontinud was simply that their manufacturers decided to leave the LF lens market altogether (Kodak, Wollensak, Cooke, Bausch & Lomb, etc.) or were bought by other companies (Goerz). In any case where these lenses once dominated the wide angle portion of the LF marketplace, by the early 1970s, there was not a single one remaining in production.

This is truly unfortunate, as many of these lenses were excellent performers, and with the advent of multicoating technology (in the mid to late 1970s), could still be commercially viable (in my opinion). For example, many large format photographers still use WF Ektars when they desire a reasonably compact, lightweight semi-wide lens for field work. Often times, these same field photographers don't need (or want) the extra coverage, huge size, weight (and price) of the modern 100 - 120 degree state of the art wide angles. Although these newer designs have greatly improved the possibilites for ultra wide angle photography, they do little to address the needs of the field photographer seeking something in a moderately wide lens. I personally prefer such moderately wide focal lenths over the truly ultra wide designs (in other words, for my style of shooting, I use a 110mm much more on 4x5 than I would a 65mm).

In recent years, Schneider has somewhat addressed this issue with their Super Symmar XL series. They are certainly smaller and lighter than the f8 Super Angulon series they replaced, but they are still 105 degree designs that are much larger and heavier than the older 85 - 90 degree semi-wide designs I mentioned above. They still have relatively large front elements (especially the 150mm and 210mm).

The only other current alternative is the WA Congo series from the Japanese company Yamasaki. These are basically multicoated WF Gauss designs in modern, multicoated Copal shutters. A great idea in principle. Unfortunately, these are rather low end lenses with variable quality control. For the past few years, I have been using a 90mm WA Congo as my wide angle lens when backpacking. The one I have is a decent enough performer, but out of the five samples I tested, it was the only one I felt was a "keeper".

So, what all this is leading up to (sorry for the excessive length) is that I would LOVE to see a quality lens manufacturer (like Cooke) come out with an updated semi-wide series of lenses. In addition to the fact that it is becoming more and more difficult to find clean samples of the classic semi-wide lenses, the major drawbacks are the lack of multicoating and unreliable (or non-functional) older shutters. Both of these could be easily addressed by providing a multicoated semi-wide series of lenses in modern, reliable, afforable Copal shutters. Think of it as an update of the classic Wide Field Ektar line, or in this case, the Cooke Series VIIb line. In fact, that may actually be a bery good starting point. Simply offer modern, multicoated versions of the classic 114mm, 158mm and 200mm Series VIIb designs in Copal shutters.

You have obviously carefully selected a unique niche to re-enter the LF lens market with the Cooke Portrait PS945. You have chosen to offer a unique lens that has no other current equivalent. Other than the low end WA Congo mentioned above (in only 90mm and 120mm), the 85- 90 degree semi-wide category has no current offerings. There are plenty of lenses to choose from in the 70 - 75 degree range and all the major manufacturers also have offereings in the 100+ degree market space, but NOTHING in between. I truly believe this a neglected market segment that would do quite well should someone chose to fill it. Of course, the key would be to make the lenses small enough and light enough to make them an attractive alternative to the current 100 degree and up offerings. Pricing would also be key. Ideally, the prices would be somewhere between the 70-75 degree lenses and the 100+ degree lenses from the "Big 4". Although I do think if they were truly small and light weight, you could charge a bit of a premium for those unique characteristics (take an example from the outdoor equipment manufacturers - the lighter something is, the more it costs - if you label it "ultralight", the sky's the limit).

In any case, that's my feedback (worth every penny you paid for it). Just to let you know I'm serious about this whole lightweight lens issue, I have section of my large format web site dedicated to just this very topic. The URL is:


If you visit, pay special attention to the section on 90mm - 125mm lenses (for the 4x5 format).

I wish you success with your new PS945 and hope to see more Cooke LF lenses on the market in the future. It really is great to have you back.


Barbara Lowry
3-Jun-2002, 16:58
Kerry - You're worth your weight in valuable information! The Series VIIB does appear to be a popular lens on the used market and I've heard requests from other people as well to have Cooke recreate it. Thanks for all your well thought out information. We'll definitely consider it.

Kerry L. Thalmann
4-Jun-2002, 01:10

Thanks for the response. I sent my previous reply before I had read your articl e in the current issue of View Camera. I had a chance to read it over the weeke nd and thoroughly enjoyed the article. Of course, I now know that you covered t he Series VIIB in detail. I didn't have the specs in front of me when I wrote m y previous reply, but if the Series VIIB is truly capable of covering 90 degrees at f16 and 100 degrees at f32, I think a "modernized" (multicoated in Copal shu tter) version would sell quite well.

Of the focal lengths mentioned in the article, I think the 4 1/4" (108mm) and th e 6 1/4" (159mm) would probably sell the best. Based on 90 degrees at f16 and 1 00 degrees at f32, the 4 1/4" would have an image circle of 216mm @f16 and 257mm @f32. This would allow plenty of coverage for most 4x5 applications at f16 and even 5x7 with moderate movements at f32. The 6 1/4" would have an image circle of 318mm @f16 and 378mm @f32 - or enough for 8x10 straight on at f16 or 8x10 wi th moderate movements at f32. This assumes you stick with the came focal length options as the previous Series VIIB.

If, on the other hand, you would be completely re-designing the lenses from the ground up, what I would personally love to see is a tiny, modern multicoated wid e angle in the 90 - 100mm range for backpacking with 4x5. For a 90mm lens of th is design, the image circles would be 180mm @f16 and 215mm @f32 - plenty for mos t 4x5 landscape shooters (who are the ones generally obsessed with weight). For 100mm, it would be 200mm @f16 and 238mm @f32. A lens in this range would provi de a modern alternative for all the 4x5 field photographers who are currently re lying on 40 - 50 year old 90mm Angulons and 100mm WF Ektars.

While I'm publishing my own personal wish list, I'd also like to see a lens in t he 165mm - 180mm range. I'm not shooting 8x10 these days, but I am dabbling onc e again in the 4x10 format. Although a slightly shorter lens (like the old 6 1/ 4" focal length) would cover 8x10, the coverage would be a bit tight and you'd a lso have to deal with the issue of cos^4 fall-off in the corners (may require a center filter for some applications). By going with a slightly longer focal len gth (especially 180mm) you get both a larger image circle and aleviate the need for a center filter in many cases.

I'm just dreaming out loud here and realize this is pure fantasy at this point. Ultimately, I would be thrilled to see a modernized Cooke Series VIIB in ANY fo cal length. I think it's great that Cooke is, re-entering the LF market, docume nting their rich history, and seeking input from the LF community both in this f orum and at the View Camera Conference later this month. I wish you nothing but success in all of your endeavors.


tim atherton
4-Jun-2002, 01:50
My personal wish list for a lens would be somethin g in the Wide Field 245/250mm range for 8x10.

There is nothing in modern lenses to compare with the classic Wide Field Ektar lns in 250mm for 8x10 (apart from the now defunct Fuji 250mm 6.7)

A new lens in this range would be great

(and maybe something in the 200 - 210mm range for 8x10?)

tim a

Barbara Lowry
5-Jun-2002, 16:48
Thanks for your suggestions, Tim. I'm adding that to our file!

Tim Hicks
12-Jun-2002, 14:16
I am delighted that Cooke is re-entering the LF marketplace. I entirely agree with the above comments from Kerry about the Series VIIB wide-angle. Availability of such a small lens would enable one of the more adventurous camera makers to produce a small 5x4 camera for hikers and walkers - something not much bigger than the 9x12cm Patent Etui of the 1930s (which could fit in a coat pocket)but with better movements. Bigger modern lenses have needed bigger lensboard, in turn leading to bigger and less handy cameras. A modern Series VIIb would enable someone to do for large format what Olympus did for 35mm when it introduced the OM1.

The other Cooke lenses that I treasure are the Aviars - especially the coated Series IIIb from the 1940's. I am planning to take an 8 1/2" one of these out this week, along with a 7" Series II.