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Optical Design & Engineering

Cooke Optics receives Oscar for "defining the look of motion pictures over the last century"

The "Cooke Look" is a part of our lives, appearing every day on big screens and televisions, thanks to the company's innovative designs.

9 January 2013, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2201301.01
Oscar statuette, awarded to Cooke Optics. Photo: ©A.M.A.P.S.®

Image: ©A.M.A.P.S.®

The Cooke name has been associated with cinematography since the very earliest days of the cinema -- in fact it is difficult to think of any other lens company with such a comprehensive involvement. From a very early period, the company established strategic collaborations with key players: George Eastman and then the Kodak company (from the 1890s through to the present day), Bell & Howell (the first newsreel zoom lens in 1931), Technicolor (custom color-separation lenses, from the early 1930s to the 1960s), and The Rank Organisation (zoom lenses, initially for TV and then film, from the 1950s to the 1990s). In this way the company became, from quite early on, a close family member within the cinema industry.

Principal patents and inventions have included the ground-breaking Cooke Triplet anastigmat (1893); The very first (chemical) anti-reflection coatings (1904); The Kinic cinematographic lens before World War I; The Opic and Speed Panchro lenses introduced in the 1920s (whose f/2 speed enabled the introduction of the talkies); The Cooke Varo zoom lens in 1931, and many ground-breaking Zoom lens patents in the post-World War II era.

In the 21st century, the Cooke Optics company has designed and developed three ranges of prime lenses (S4/i,T2 5/i,T1.4 and the miniS4/i,T2.8) which have spearheaded and set the international standard for electronic lens data systems. They have also introduced the T2 CXX zoom lens that has been added to the existing stable of the Cooke Varotal and Cinetal zoom lenses.

The Cooke Optics Ltd Design and Engineering headquarters are in Leicester in the UK, where 85 employees create and manufacture innovative cinematographic and stills lenses. The design procedures and adjustment techniques developed by the company have led to an enviable cinematographic reputation for what has become known as the "Cooke Look." This revered "look" is a sympathetic color depth in the images, combined with an adjusted coincidence between the sharpest image and the optimum chromatic focus.

Current and recent movies made with Cooke lenses include After Earth, A Good Day to Die Hard, Arbitrage, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, To Rome With Love, and Hugo. Popular television shows include Downton Abbey, Grey's Anatomy, and Community.

The current challenges for the designers of cinematographic optics in the current era are about meeting well-established requirements, such as high apertures (for shallow depth of field rather than photographic "speed"), wide angular fields of view with low distortion in asymmetric lens constructions, low breathing (change of image scale with focusing), and extracting as much performance out of the relatively mature design and manufacturing technologies at our disposal: software, tolerancing techniques, optical glass choices, aspheric surfaces, high-speed polishing, high-efficiency wide-spectral-band anti-reflection coatings, and appropriate and efficient quality-control and optical-testing methods. All of these are active areas of development in Cooke Optics at this time.

Jonathan Maxwell is a lens designer and consultant who has worked with Cooke and Taylor Hobson over the years, and taught courses for SPIE in Europe and the United States. He has published two books on optical design.