Early soft focus & Edward Weston

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Just jumping on the soft focus band-wagon here... Does anybody knows whether Edward did use Cooke's lens for his early soft focus images? If he does, then I will definitely be getting one of the modern version. I hoped it is as soft though.


-- Renee Galang (r.galang@chisholm.vic.edu.au), May 27, 2002


I hope you're sitting down when you see the price for the new Cooke soft focus 4.5 229mm Portrait lens. It's $3500.00US at Badger when available. I'd play with soft focus or fog filters or scarch-up an old UV filter or panty hose or mesh to get the same or close effects for a lot less. Good Luck nad I hope you win the Lotto.. FWB

-- F. William Baker (atelfwb@aol.com), May 27, 2002.

Why would you want to buy a new version? I don't mean to impose my ideas, but have you considered a Wallensack Verito? It is a beautiful lens, it marries soft focus with shallow depth of field and as you might know already it does things that a smeared filter won't

-- domenico (applethorpe@earthlink.net), May 28, 2002.

An Imagon works beautifully also... There are number of soft focus lens/filters ect. out there and alot can be saved because soft focus lens aren't for every picture.

-- Scott Walton (walton@ll.mit.edu), May 28, 2002.

Cooke's lens is based on the Pinkham-Smith type IV, which I believe was a much later design than Weston's pictorialist days. I think Weston used a Verito.

Why use a modern one? It will come in a modern shutter, and will be in new condition, with modern glass and coatings. Granted, maximum contrast is not the objective of soft-focus photography, and there might be something to the old glass that gave those lenses their distinctive look, but I'd be interested to see what the new ones do. Vaseline, effects filters, and such cannot reproduce the effects of a real soft-focus lens (the Zeiss Softars come closest), and each design has its own look.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), May 28, 2002.

I may have missed something, but can't find any reference in the Cooke information about its new 229 that indicates whether the lens will actually be coated, either single or multi.

-- Sal Santamaura (santamaura@earthlink.net), May 28, 2002.

Hmmm..., may be it won't be.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), May 28, 2002.

Renee, Fuji makes two soft focus lenses. A 180 and a 250. Both are three element design, and they have a variable softness feature. You can buy four, or five of them for the same price as the new Cooke. Check with Badgergraphics or Midwest Photo Exchange. Of course, Edward didn't use Fuji lenses. Perhaps that is the reason for the extreme price of the Cooke. A three element lens for $3400?? Give me a break!! P.S. Soft is only important in toilet paper.

-- Eugene (TIAGEM@aol.com), May 28, 2002.

The Pinkham-Smith type IV is a highly desirable lens among soft-focus users. Lens & Repro has a 12" in a Studio shutter, in what sounds like so-so condition for $1000:


Soft-focus is a small market, but I bet Cooke will sell some lenses.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), May 28, 2002.

Before you spend the $3400.00, play around with these on another lens, Black Toule net, Tiffen black net, Zeiss softars, Gossamer, Tiffen fog 2(frontal light from a softbox), Tiffen 'old style' diffusion fiters, vaseline on glass, and lastly the Wollensak Velostigmat examples of which are around for $200.00-$450.00.

-- Jonathan Brewer (lifestories@earthlink.net), May 28, 2002.

Why would you shot a negative with soft focus? Once it's soft it's soft. Instead shot sharp, and create soft focus in the darkroom when you print. IMHO

-- Ed (ogrady@eximvaios.com), May 28, 2002.

You would shoot a negative with soft focus because the effect is different. Most soft focus lenses rely on uncorrected speherical aberration. When you use such a lens on your camera, the highlights of the picture show halation i.e., the highlights spread into the sorrounding darker areas, which provides the so-called shimmering quality. A good example is Ansel Adam's "Lodgepole Pines". When you use soft focus in the darkroom, it is the shadows that spread into the highlights. The latter is an effect I do not care for, although that is a personal aesthetic call to make. Cheers, DJ.

-- N Dhananjay (dhananjay-nayakankuppam@uiowa.edu), May 28, 2002.

Not to mention that it's damned difficult to contact print an 8x10 softly.

-- Chad Jarvis (cjarvis@nas.edu), May 28, 2002.

During the late teens Weston used an 18" Wollensak Verito on his 8x10 Century.

-- Merg Ross (mergross@aol.com), May 28, 2002.

Another suggestion that is certainly not the same but harkens back to Steichen and other pioneers would be a pinhole. Soft/sharp and interesting effects but you need lots of light/time of exposure. Again for $34-3500.00 a lot of good used or new soft focus lenses could be had. Also, a #3 shutter has a slow top speed of 1/125 which could also limit shooting at the wide open stop of 4.5. You may have to invest in several ND filters if you're doing landscapes or outdoor portraits.

Again, Good Luck. FWB

-- F. William Baker (atelfwb@aol.com), May 29, 2002.

Renee You might want to give


a looksy. He always has GOOD soft focus lenses, and is very knowledgible about such things (good prices too and a RETURN POLICY! Also give this guy's ebay "for sale " page a gander.


Right now he has a ---- 15" F 5.6 Spencer Port-Land --- selling for $69.00 with less than a day left, and NO RESERVE.

"Ansel Adams used a smaller version of this lens ..." snip

Happy Shootin' -P-dawg

-- Pookie (Pookie@pookiefoto.com), May 29, 2002.

Note that the new Cooke lens is a design copy of the Pinkham-Smith, which was the favorite lens of Stieglitz, White et al. As I remember, Stieglitz had an early monopoly on the Smith lens, handing them out to the favored but witholding them from the masses, least the lens "fall into the wrong hands." And BTW, don't forget the Graf Variable lens, with dial-in soft focus-- it makes beautiful pictures.

-- Arthur Gottschalk (Arthurwg@aol.com), May 30, 2002.

Hi everyone - thought I'd jump into your discussion with some details about the new Cooke Portrait PS945 lens, since I'm one of the instigators at Cooke who thought up the idea of making a modern reproduction of the original Pinkham & Smith Visual Quality Series IV lens for 4x5 format photography. Here's the answer to a couple of your questions: 1. Yes, the new lens will be multi-coated and color corrected for all types of modern film, unlike the original.

2. What gives the Pinkham & Smith lenses their distinctive look is the reliance on hand correcting multiple surfaces of the glass, which is very different from what other lens manufacturers did. The reason P&S could get away with hand rubbing each and every piece of glass, was probably because they never made their lenses in quantities great enough to make it unfeasible to do so. It created (what our Academy Award winning chief optical designer at Cooke says is) a higher order of spherical abberation that gives the highlights that unique Pinkham & Smith luminescent quality. (It's such a lovely effect, that the Cooke designers decided to incorporate it into a new soft focus attachment for one of our cine lenses used for feature films.) If you're interested, there is more technical description of the various types of soft focus effects on the product page for the Cooke PS945 lens at www.cookeoptics.com.

F. Holland Day, one of the original master impressionist photographers tried silk and reverse negative printing, but it didn't give him the exact diffused effect he was looking for. He approached Mr. Smith at Pinkham & Smith and told him what he was looking for. Whether Mr. Smith did the hand rubbing himself or had someone else make the first true soft focus lens is debatable, but Day was so happy with the result he told his cousin, Alvin Langdon Coburn, who ended up owning at least 12 Pinkham & Smith lenses during his career (they're at the Eastman House in Rochester).

You can get a soft focus effect several different ways, but maybe Mr. Smith's care and attention to detail were the reason why F. Holland Day, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Eduard Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz and Clarence White are still known today for their stunning photographs! The best I could determine from my research was that the P&S lenses were virtually all commissioned by individuals during the early days. By Smith's own admission printed in a P&S product catalog, the company never spent any time actively marketing their lenses but relied instead on word of mouth. I originally thought that by the time the Visual Quality IV was made, it would have become an assembly line affair - I was proven wrong. The Visual Quality IV lenses Cooke took apart in England to examine revealed hand figured surfaces. Those brilliant (I think they are!) optical technicians at Cooke were then able to use modern glasses and coatings to match exactly the image characteristics of the original -- in their own words. (I'm told they did a happy dance; they do enjoy producing a thing of beauty.)

There are other differences between what our new lens can do and other methods of achieving soft focus effects: 1. The out of focus areas don't look muddy, they look velvety 2. The out of focus areas in the background AND the foreground look equally good. 3. There is a roundness of form that takes the edge off but appears sharp at the same time. 4. At f/4.5, wide open, the highlights look like they're generating their own light.

-- Barbara Lowry (barb@cookeoptics.com), June 05, 2002.

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