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Examination of Lenses Part II: Cooke iPanchros

Picking up where i left off with the Cooke Varotal 18-100 T3, i figured it was only fair to continue with the Cooke line.   The beauty of lenses in the digital age is that they are the last organic component in the image path.  We used to have the wonderful magic of photo chemical emulsion film, to conclude the path of the light rays, but in the future, the film production world for the most part will be all digital, and most likely RAW, meaning the capture is absolute and consistent.  No happy accidents in the chemical conversion of light to silver crystals.( or unhappy accidents for that matter…)  As we have seen from the Varotal, some vintage lenses impart a lot of character, while some of the newer high end lens manufacturers aspire to optical perfection.  This is fantastic because we can choose lenses specifically for their optical character.

Personally, i’m a Cooke guy. (In case you cant tell already…..)  Their warmth, contrast, and the smooth roll in and out of focus really makes warm and fuzzy inside.  Thankfully, these beautiful attributes translate to digital quite well.

Cooke iPanchro Prime lenses:

iPanchros are an interesting set of 6 lenses, 18mm 25mm 32mm 50mm 75mm and the 100mm.  They are for the most part a brand new line for Cooke.  Released in 2009, with the 18mm only added to the set this year, and a 135mm planned for next year.  In this case, new is good, VERY good.  They are designed from the ground up with an pedigree unlike any other, an inherent consideration for digital workflow and robust quality in mind.  iPanchros are tiny dynamos of optical power.  Not the fastest lenses in the world, the entire set is T2.8, but that compromise enabled some interesting by products.  Cooke prides itself on creating lenses that match ( as far as physics allows) as closely as possible.  The iPanchros are no exception.  Using a Panchro, is like using a S4 that opens up to a T2.8.  Literally.  Its the same aperture components from the S4 series, transplanted into the optical chain of the newer smaller lenses.  What this means is, that for half the price, you can have lenses that match S4’s optically in every way except a T2.0 aperture.  Sharpness, contrast, flare, bokeh, build quality* and color.  They match so closely, that my friend and fellow DP Ryan Patrick O’Hara, when comparing the iPachros to the S4’s, found that they matched so well that the differences were akin to the difference between different sets of S4’s…. not a completely different product line.  That says a lot when talking about the quality of the design, and the stance behind these lenses.  The choice of a T2.8 aperture enabled the engineers to focus on consistency and performance.  Far more important factors than speed when using cine caliber glass.

*( about build quality, you get the same exceptional S4 build quality and award winning focus design)

The image itself is warm, contrasty and sharp…. but with a certain…. intangible quality that just gives the sense of richness that defines the “Cooke Look”.  The lenses specifically have built in a subtle warming filter that is targeted at the skin tone ranges.  ( i swear the Cooke tech told me this in person)  ( Cooke look, is printed on the box the lenses come in…. awesome) This video is shot on Sony F3, with Cooke iPanchros and the Duclos 11-16mm Zoom.    Immediately below is the extended ungraded version to show off the natural look of the lenses.

Ungraded:

The Panchros are fantastic to work with.  As a DP, the T2.8 stop is no bother whatsoever.  I light to a T2.8 – T4 when shooting anyhow, as i feel an aperture wider than that looks somewhat awkward, and is difficult for many 1st AC’s to pull focus with.  The modern crop of digital cinema cameras all seem to run a base ISO of 800, and if you turn on practically any lamp on set you are hitting your exposure.

My AC’s love the lenses because the focus and aperture rings are smooth as butter, the witness marks are accurate to the inch, and the finish of the lenses just ooze quality.  My AC was so impressed with the feel of the lenses that he said he wished he could pull focus on them every day.  The reason for this glowing review is that the focus design is such that, unlike helicoil lenses, where the focus marks get closer and closer together as the lens nears infinity, the Cookes use a “eliptical” design, that makes the focus marks far more linear, and thus pulling focus is far easier and more accurate. ( i don’t really understand the focus design, all i know is that my AC’s love them…)

Strengths and flaws:
This is some lowlight testing footage which shows a few interesting things….

These scenes were shot with the Sony F3 at max ISO, in river side park w/ sodium vapor lamps.  (The black and white testing is for a film i’m shooting this week, and i need to see how the color image translates to black and white.)

Aperture/bokeh:
This was for the most part shot completely wide open.   This is the cool thing about Panchros, they are designed from the ground up to be shot wide open.  Where as most lenses need to be stopped down for peak performance, understanding the T2.8 aperture is a working stop the engineers designed the lens to perform identically to a S4 stopped down to a T2.8.  The only difference being that there is a small round matte behind the iris giving you the option of round bokeh wide open, as seen in this video below, or if you so choose the classic Cooke “flower” bokeh.  Technically the Panchros seem to open up past T2.8, but the round matte gives you an option for round bokeh or not, while maintaining a T2.8 aperture.  As you see below, the distinctive Cooke bokeh in effect.

Flare:

The Panchros do flare a tiny bit, but not nearly as bad as Super Speeds or the Cooke Varotal ( mind you “bad” is purely subjective, in a rock music video situation, huge flares are eagerly welcomed… in a narrative film, not so much.) you can see some flares from the street lamps, and car headlights.  I feel however that shooting at such a high ISO was more the culprit.    I’ve been using the cookes for several weeks now, and i have distinctly noticed that they are pretty much flare free.

Color:

Color rendition is a bit warm, but freakishly consistent within the set, and matches the color tone of the 18-100 very closely.  They look, better than real life in that everything has a “glow” to it…..  If you need absolute optical precision that represents the real world exactly….. Master primes or Ultra primes are a better choice, but if you need beauty or drama.  This is the place to be.

So in wrapping up, this look at the Cooke Panchros, a few things come to mind.  They are small, light, built to last, and perform like a lens three times the price.  However, the Panchros do something that the S4’s can’t, which is important in the upcoming future.  The whole Panchro set covers RED S35 5K.  From the 100mm all the way down to the 18mm, they offer full coverage up to 33.1mm.  Also, while we are on the subject of digital cine cameras, the “i” in iPanchro…. thats the idata protocol.   Its a way for the digital camera to record in the meta data, what focal length, focus distance, and aperture setting the lens is set to.  this is mission critical when doing digital composite work, where the 3D effects artist has to account for the lens information when creating the effects.  Instead of relying on script notes, he can just read the metadata.  The iData can also be used in the 3D steroscopic world, to help sync 3D rigged cameras together.  The tight standards that cooke builds their lenses to with regard to color, contrast and sharpness, means they are an excellent choice for 3D film productions.

Ever since i got these lenses i have felt like i won the lottery.  Every time they come up on the camera, and i look at the monitor, i go to heaven just a little bit, and hopefully continue to do so for many more years to come.

Feel free to comment, follow me on Twitter or visit my website, www.timurcivan.com

Next up…. Duclos 11-16mm T2.8…..
“It goes to 11….”

-T

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EXCELLENT TEST AND THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING.

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