I have always liked Cooke lenses, especially their anamorphic lenses. And lenses are so, so important these days. The cameras we have available to us are fantastic, they are almost all capable of producing beautiful images. Grading allows you to make almost any camera look like any other. So the one item that can really make a difference is the lens. Everything about the quality of the images you produce starts with the lens. I’d rather have a great lens on a lesser camera than a lesser lens on a great camera.
Typically Cooke lenses have been PL mount and often heavy. As cameras get smaller and lighter it has been a challenge to find beautiful looking compact lenses that work well on smaller cameras (although we do have more choices than ever before thanks to companies like Sirui).
So, when I was first shown one of Cookes new SP3 full frame prime lenses, with a Sony E-Mount I was both surprised and excited. Then when I finally got to put one on a Sony camera for a shoot I was not in the slightest bit disappointed. I was the technical consultant and DiT for a big shoot in South Africa with DP Mostafa Fahmy. We decided to use the Cooke SP3 for this shoot and we were not disappointed.
The SP3’s are based on the classic Cooke Panchros. They cover full frame and are T2.4. They have a single coating and initially will come in E-Mount with RF-Mount to follow very quickly. The lens mount is user swappable. L-Mount and M-Mount are planned for early 2024.
There are 5 different focal lengths, 25, 32, 50, 75 and 100 mm and the 25 to 75mm lenses are all the same size while the 100mm is a little longer, however the pitch gears for focus and iris are in the same place with all the lenses. These are really surprisingly small lenses, looking more like a high quality compact photo lens than a bulky cinematography lens. But don’t let the size and weight fool you, these are beautiful lenses.
They have both metric and imperial scales and if you buy all 5 they come in a nice compact flight case. In fact, when I got to use them the first thing to really surprise me was how small and light the case was for a set of 5 prime lenses.
So, I guess the big question is – what do they look like? All I can say is beautiful. When using these lenses there is no doubt that you are using a Cooke lens. They just have that classic slightly warm, crisp but not razor sharp look. They don’t flare excessively, but when they do it looks very nice. They are designed to be sharpest along the lenses focal axis, this means the center of the image is very crisp and then there is a very slight sharpness fall off towards the edges of the frame. This helps draw the viewers eye into the image in a very natural way.
The bokeh from these lenses is very nice indeed with no onion skin, no odd swirls, just nice round bokeh balls in the center of the frame that become more oval towards the edges and corners. It’s a very pleasing look – I really wish that I could have used these lenses for my circus shoot at Glastonbury this year, they would have been perfect!
On my FX3 it was like having a normal photo sized lens on the camera, except the images looked smoother and had a quality to them rarely seen with a photo lens. On the FX6 they were an absolute delight to use. If I had to choose between a Sony Venice with a typical photo lens or my FX6 with an SP3, for image quality I would in in almost every case prefer the FX6 with an SP3.
Handing the demo samples back was tough. Each lens costs around £3,250.00 GBP. They are proper Cooke lenses, so they were never going to be budget, low cost lenses, there are already plenty of those to choose from. But what they are is a more affordable Cooke option, an entry point into the genuine Cooke look. You can buy the full set or one lens at a time, the full set is £15,400.00 GBP. I think that due to the classic, timeless look of the images these lenses produce they are unlikely to date. So if you can’t afford a full set all in one go perhaps an option will be to slowly build a set over a number of years rather than buying all 5 in one hit.
I can’t wait to use these lenses again. They are the perfect match for Sony’s E-Mount cameras. They are not heavy, not bulky. Don’t need any mounting adapters. And the images they produce are to die for.
All frame grabs shot using Cooke SP3 lenses, these are from a project where I was DiT and technical advisor, the DP was Mostafa Fahmy.