Many of the Cooke Speed Panchros being used today date back to the 1950s, and 1960s. They are known for how well they render faces, and for their painterly quality. These are the lenses responsible for the term "The Cooke Look." They are sharp for their age, but their lower contrast gives them a flattering softness.
They have a gentle focus roll-off and are just a little warm. The wider focal lengths have a bit of barrel distortion and vignette. Their simple, older optical designs out of the focal lengths offer a unique "cat's eye" bokeh.
The Panchros are becoming my go-to commercial and beauty lenses. There is just something about the optics and bokeh that really pulls you into the image with its vignette and whirling bokeh. The focal set also has a few non-traditional lengths in the mix like the 40mm and 75mm. The 40mm is my favorite of the set and is my go-to for a medium close up. I think the mantra of this vintage lens test overall is about taking the edge off of modern digital sensors and I think the Panchros, next to the Zeiss Master Primes, are probably the best example of that. I’ve been using the Panchros on Dancing With the Stars for our interviews and promo materials because it’s almost like the lenses have a built in diffusion when you are wide open and they just render faces in a very flattering way.
I love the TLS rehousing on these lenses too, because they give you insane close focus abilities and don’t have any telescoping of the front diameter when running through the focus range. I would choose these lenses for any commercial close up work for that purpose alone.
No other lens has the beautiful and unique look of vintage Cooke Speed Panchros. They are known for how well they render faces, and for their painterly quality. These are the lenses responsible for the term "The Cooke Look." They are as sharp as you need a lens to be, but with a flattering softness. They have a gentle focus roll-off, are a little warm and have the perfect amount of distortion and vignette. They were never meant to cover super 35 or 6k. But if you do choose to use that much of the image that they project, you will get this very intense vignette where the center of your image is sharp bright and warm, and the corners are dark and more blue.
What I like about this is that it really forces your attention to the center of frame. If I was shooting a project where I was going to compose shots with a lot of asymmetry and/or focus the viewer to the center of the frame, these are the perfect lenses for that. Also, if you are doing a project with a lot of close-ups and ECUs, these lenses render faces so well, and their close-focus distances are incredible; every lens is basically a macro lens. Another thing worth mentioning is the TLS housings. They are on the level of Cooke S4 primes…no joke. They honestly feel like the most well-engineered housings of any lenses we tested, which is incredible considering they are rehoused lenses.
These are great lenses, and have amazing characteristics for narrative work. I have used these extensively on music videos and narrative projects. These are so craftily made that they almost feel more like an eye than a lens.
Details of the Panchros is they are low in contrast and high in detail, and have a somewhat 3D quality to them due to their clarity and consistency. They have a beautiful roll off and are mechanically some of the easiest to work with, being very smooth on the focus and iris gears. They are also on the smaller side of lenses, which lends very well to handheld and Steadicam use.
Panchros are also so well color matched they can be compared to S4’s almost identically. I like how warm they can feel for certain projects, and how “real” they look without being extremely sharp.
What the Panchros lack in performance, they make up for in their character. The image produced by the Panchros is simply beautiful. It’s a classic "Cooke Look" that was really the foundation of the vintage fad. They can be found in any number of rehousings that have been performed since their introduction, but the TLS rehoused versions that we tested were by far the most robust, accurate rehousing for the Cooke Panchros I’ve ever seen.
Don’t let the small size of the original Cooke Panchros fool you. They produce some of the most romantic, organic images, second only to the Super Baltars in my opinion.