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  • Writer's pictureNora

Creativity is king but creativity and unreasonably rare gear is magic.

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

We've all heard it before, someone can use a tool well and achieve an acceptable outcome. But, is that enough?

Rare Lenses | Cooke Double Speed Panchro | 50mm
Cooke | Double Speed | Panchro

End of the day, you have to know how to wield the sword your holding. Whether it's Red or Arri, whether it's Cooke lenses or Zeiss, you'll only get the best out of the tool with the right team and knowhow.

“Here it was, a lens that no one knows about that fixes the greatest problem facing cinematographers today - How do I cover a larger sensor and get that great vintage look?”

We recently acquired a new Cooke Double Speed Panchro. The company who rebuilt it is the best in the world (IMHO). A lens from 50+ years ago, built to cover a vista vision format and made in such a limited run I've never heard of another PL'd one out there. When we opened the package from the UK, I couldn't help but think here it was, a lens that no one knows about that fixes one of the greatest problem facing cinematographers today - 'How do I cover a larger sensor and get that great vintage look?'

Lenses 101

Who cares about vintage lenses - I do. I'm not a DP, but I think most reasonable filmmakers can agree, there's a time and place for every tool. As sensors get sharper, it's getting harder and harder to justify using a modern lens that offers an almost clinical view of the world (I won't go into specific brands but you know who you are). No one wants to count the pours on the skin of their talent or experience the most unremarkable flare ever captured on film.

That' why, vintage lenses (anamorphic or spherical) have become all the rage. Lenses were made differently - process and materials. Often times things like the coating and materials used to make the lens are not safe by today's standards (sometimes this even meant radioactive materials were used in the process). As you might imagine, the lenses that are available are a fixed and diminishing resource and this creates a certain supply and demand issue that is driving up prices.

The problem - most of these lenses were not made for the larger formats that are coming into the market place (Full frame, Vista Vision, and beyond). So, filmmakers have had to choose between cropping their sensors (losing resolution and the visual benefits of a larger sensor) or using lenses that are just plain uninspiring.

Of course, there's exceptions to every rule. Cooke S7 look interesting. They seem to be a large format version of the S4 (and who's going to hate on that - not me). Starting at a near whopping price tag of $24k each, you'll be hard pressed to find these outside of major markets. At that price point, suddenly, you have to start weighing pros and cons of an anamorphic or vintage lens options.

Cooke Double Speed Panchro

“It's magic.”

The lens has the classic look of the Cooke Speed Panchro series. Cooke tried to remake these to address the giant after market of people getting these rehoused (and selling them for copious amount of money). Sadly, Cooke's new special coating formula doesn't quite compare. Ironically, they are calling them "Cooke Panchro Classics" - CRINGE.

The Double Speed Panchro was made in limited run (some estimate have these as low as just 15). They were made to cover Vista Vision. It was during the time when movie studios were creating larger content to make the movie going experience more of a spectacle (to separate itself from the insufferable TV). To that end, you might imagine we were all quite happy when we acquired a rare set of lenses including this Double Speed.


What it does is simple, we can put it on a large sensor like the Red Monstro (a little bigger than Vista Vision). On top of enjoying the technical benefits of a larger sensor (typically, resolution and light sensitivity) we now enjoy an edge to edge clarity (no vignetting from coverage issues that force cropping the frame or pesky distortion) combined with the aesthetic of the vintage lens look. This means a wider field of view with the depth of field of a 50mm. It's nothing short of magic!

How much is it worth...I don't rightly know, it's so rare, it's difficult to even find a comparable. But, that doesn't really matter because I don't think we could ever part with it. Having tools this rare means it's a look that's all ours.

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