Website Logo

Search for lenses, articles and help

Blog Classic Cookes Heritage

Classic Cookes - 20-100mm T3.1 Varotal Zoom; 1971 - late 1980s.

new header
By: The Cooke Team  |   1 min read

Classic Cookes – Taking a look back at our extensive lens catalogue, their place in history and impact on the industry.

20-100mm T3.1 Varotal Zoom Lens – Serial 779909 – In Production from 1971 until the late 1980s. (U.S. patent 3705759A)

The history of zoom lenses is inherently linked to the Cooke brand beginning in 1932 when we released the first non-telescopic complex zoom lens for 35mm motion picture photography.

By the early 1970s the aptly named Gordon Cook had designed the Taylor-Hobson Cooke Varotal 5:1 20-100mm T3.1 zoom. It was previewed at the 1970 Photokina trade show and released by Rank Precision industries the next year. It was the first zoom lens that was made with a sealed front focus unit and fixed front element that eliminated the risk of dirt and moisture being drawn into the lens and allowed for easy fitting of matte boxes and filter holders as referenced in a somewhat tongue in cheek ad from the time!

resized varotalAD

This advanced technology achieved new standards in shadowed area definition, light transmission and durability, in addition to giving ghost and flare-free characteristics. The Varotal was the first 35mm cine zoom to feature internal-focusing and using Cooke’s proprietary Varomag “wide-band” anti-reflective coatings the lens achieved a transmission of 80% – very impressive for the time.

The Varotal 20-100mm was a staple lens amongst the leading filmmakers of the time. Stanley Kubrick employed thirty six zoom shots in Barry Lyndon (1975, cinematographer John Alcott BSC) utilising the 20-100mm on this shoot. The most common type was the reverse zoom, beginning in a close up and then pulling back slowly to gradually reveal more and more context. Visually this reduces the character’s significance as the shot develops.

Over the next decades Cooke (as Rank Taylor Hobson) would release a plethora of other zoom lenses which collectively covered a focal length range of 14mm up to 250mm. These lenses were also popular for converting to anamorphic.


And of Gordon Cook? Well in February 1989 he was informed that he’d be receiving the Gordon E. Sawyer Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Given to “an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry”. Gordon spent a week exploring the California coastline with his wife Joan along with enjoying the Oscar buzz and reception.

Zoom lenses are an incredible versatile tool and Cooke continue to make cutting edge zooms to this day with our Varotal /i FF series which offer full frame coverage and collectively cover a focal length range from 19mm to 215mm.

This historical beauty is on display in our Cooke London Showroom and was photographed on a Cooke Panchro /i Classic S35 40mm. Visit our blog for a deeper dive article into the world of zoom lens and Cooke’s ground-breaking innovations within this field.