Cooke Lenses are coveted by top-end movie makers and any serious filmmaker that can afford them. RedShark’s Phil Rhodes has been to their factory in Leicster, England
The last few years has seen an explosion in the availability of big-chip digital cameras, but I won’t surprise anyone by saying that this ostensibly welcome development has not resulted in a similar increase in the availability of quality lenses. From dedicated digital cinema devices such as Canon’s C series and single-digit Sony F cameras, right down to DSLRs with APS sized chips, the need to land a reasonable image on a sensor that is, at least very broadly, the same size as a 35mm film frame has never been more important. As I’ve written for this site before, this has led to huge increases in price for even rather everyday lenses.
On the other hand, if you’re a manufacturer of lenses that aren’t quite so everyday, this immensely broadened market can only be a good thing. Such is the case for venerable British lens company Cooke Optics, who have been making things that throw photons at light-sensitive objects since – and this is a legitimate claim – 1886. The name springs originally from T. Cooke & Sons, a York company which in the 1890s employed designer H. Dennis Taylor to produce a lens which could avoid the edge softness typical of still photography lenses at the time. The resulting design, the famous Cooke Triplet, was licenced to Taylor, Taylor and Hobson, who marketed lenses under the Cooke name, and via various acquisitions became the company that exists today.
Cooke manufacture lenses in Leicester, England, in a factory which employs 90-plus people, almost exclusively in highly skilled roles. Metalwork is done out of house, but all of the grinding, polishing and coating of glass is done on site, in a process that uses both computer-controlled machine tools and traditional techniques. Over the next few pages, we’ll follow a piece of glass all the way from arrival at the company, through the manufacturing process to assembly and test.
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