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The Panchro look

Line up Cooke Panchro/i Classic lenses
By: The Cooke Team  |   4 min read

In the world of cinematography, lens choice plays a key part in the look and feel of an image. ‘Panchro’ has become synonymous with Cooke over the years: a lens family with a long history with much allure and prestige. To read about the origins of these renowned lenses click here.

The original Speed Panchro series holds a well deserved place in film history. But after 50 years these historic lenses are not without their foibles. Cooke Panchro/i were created to achieve this coveted look with modern optical science and mechanics. In this article, we explore this ambitious endeavour to re-create the look of these iconic lenses using the original prescriptions combined with computer modelling.

Over the years a variety of lens sets have fallen under the “Panchro” umbrella but the most recognised are the Series II and III coated versions which were released between 1953 and 1959 and have been used on hundreds of films over the years. Whilst rehousing these lenses offers a way to use them in more modern and demanding shooting environments there are still issues around aging that present themselves in these older lenses compared to their re-engineered counterparts.


Cooke Optical Designer Graham Cassely was a key figure behind this project and recollects the design methodology and process behind breathing new life into these vintage lenses while preserving their original charm and reverence.

“The main reason why those old original Speed Panchros vary quite a lot is because of the age of them. There are issues with the colour of them, because as they age, some of their glass elements become more orange. And it affects different focal lengths differently. The 75mm tend to become very orange and that’s all to do with degradation of the glass. Some of the glass types in there contain radioactive elements and as they degrade, they cause damage to the glass, which is why they tend to get warmer and warmer over time.”

Speed panchro and panchro classic comparison

Comparison between the Panchro/i Classic and two rehousings of older Speed Panchros with direct flare. In this case the flare is reduced somewhat in the rehoused lensed and the colours have shifted slightly.


So how to accurately recreate this look in a modern environment and if there’s now a wide variance of lenses out there, where do you place this new design?

“It’s hard to completely define what people think of as being a Speed Panchro because any Speed Panchro lens you look at now will be slightly different from every other one because they’ve been around for such a long time. So, when we were doing Panchro Classic, the idea was to make something that was like the Speed Panchros would have been when they were new. We went digging through a lot of old paperwork at the Cooke factory and we found the original design prescriptions so we could recreate it perfectly.”


Knowing what end look to aim for meant the team could accurately recreate it but with modern elements and manufacturing techniques that offer much greater consistency and accuracy across a set and won’t suffer the same deterioration over time.

Interestingly at the time of release the Panchros were lauded for being a very accurate representation of imaging – the reference lens of its day, whereas in a modern context the look they offer is considered to be more vintage.

When they were designed the amount of computing power available to the designers was a lot less – whereas now we can trace millions of rays through a lens in a second on a computer. Those original designs were really well corrected for what we call primary aberrations, so if you look at the distortion on them it’s really minimal. And other aberrations like spherical aberration, astigmatism, they’re really well corrected to an extent. But what they weren’t able to correct as thoroughly is high order aberrations, which are more complex to control, and they lower the contrast. You’ll see them most when shooting wide open.”

Comparison of Panchro/i Classic and two rehousings of older Speed Panchros.

Another comparison between the Panchro/i Classic and two rehousings of older Speed Panchros.


The Panchro/i Classics use single layer coatings like their original Speed Panchro counterparts. These are less efficient than modern multi-layer coatings and reflect more light around the lens which is part of what contributes to lowering the contrast and getting back to that original look.

The lenses are completely colour matched across the set, offering fantastic consistency. Beyond this they offer greater usability to the cinematographer and their crew; the T-Stop markings for example are more accurate and consistent than the originals and the lenses also benefit from the inclusion of Cooke’s /i Technology.

The Panchro/i Classics are available in Full Frame or Super 35mm versions. Whilst some of the longer lenses in the original Speed Panchros set already covered larger format imagers, technological advancements in the subsequent years mean the full set can now cover full frame formats with impressive illumination across the whole image circle including on the 18mm. The Panchros are well loved for their focus fall off towards the edges and the Full Frame set is tuned to place this in the correct position relative to the Super35mm set.

Motherless Brooklyn, Dick Pope BSC, Cooke Panchro/i Classic S35

Motherless Brooklyn (2019, dir. Edward Norton, cine. Dick Pope BSC) – Cooke Panchro/i Classic S35


Revered cinematographer Dick Pope BSC has used Cooke Panchro /i Classics on multiple films and prior to their release used rehoused Speed Panchros on films such as ‘Mr Turner’ (2014, dir. Mike Leigh).

The updated Panchro/i Classics retain the same characteristics as those vintage lenses. They certainly haven’t lost the feel of the originals with their tiny front elements, compact profile and lightness of weight. Over the three films I’ve shot with both the original and updated versions, I have become very attached to the antique look of the Panchros, partly because they’re not clean, modern looking or super sharp, but really rather ‘painterly’ and cinematic. Like the originals they feature the eccentricities of the original Speed Panchro designs, and when used wide open, can if required, offer focus fall-off at the edges of frame along with a gentle fall off in the corners.

Dick Pope, BSC | Director of Photography
Supernova, Dick Pope BSC – Cooke Panchro/i Classic S35
Supernova (2020, dir. Harry Macqueen, cine. Dick Pope BSC) – Cooke Panchro/i Classic S35
Supernova, Dick Pope BSC – Cooke Panchro/i Classic S35
Supernova (2020, dir. Harry Macqueen, cine. Dick Pope BSC) – Cooke Panchro/i Classic S35

The Panchro/i Classic not only revives the iconic aesthetics of their predecessors in an incredibly accurate way but also enhances them with the benefits of modern technology. By going back to the original designs Cooke have ensured that these lenses will continue to inspire and perform for generations to come, offering cinematographers a gratifying image with contemporary reliability.