|1910s : Shackleton and World War I|
Clarence White and Alfred Stieglitz, master impressionist photographers, among others, used a Taylor, Taylor & Hobson lens known as "The Rapid View" or "Portrait Lens" (brass lens engraved "R.V.P.") produced by TT&H in the late 1880s. By 1913, because of the influence of these acclaimed photographers, the company received numerous requests for the RVP lens that predated the sharp Cooke Anastigmat. In response to an avalanche of requests, they reproduced the single lens RVP as the "Cooke Achromatic Portrait Lens f/7.5" (as engraved) in four focal lengths: 10.5 inch for 4x5, 12 inch for 5x8, 15 inch for 6.5x8.5 and 18 inch for the 8x10 format. The "new" versions of these lenses included an iris diaphragm.
A Cooke lens catalog of 1913 notes, "Whoever expects sharp definition will be disappointed, but the photographer who desires softness and roundness coupled with fine modeling and a true perspective will be both astonished and delighted."
Alfred Steiglitz' Eastman View 2D Camera (c. 1921) mounted with his Taylor, Taylor & Hobson RVP lens (c. 1890). Photo courtesy of George Eastman House, Rochester New York.
Subsequently, a series of Cooke Portrait lenses were produced called "Portrics," "Portrellics," and "Portronics," though none were engraved with those names. Instead, they were engraved with their respective series numbers: Series II, f/4.5 (the most popular of the Cooke Portrait lens series which later prompted Series IIB, IIC, IID, and IIE ), Series IIA, f/3.5, and Series VI, f/5.6.
Early Cooke Series II, f/4.5 Portrait Lens
These early soft-focus lenses were sharp anastigmats that employed a diffusion adjustment allowing the photographer to distribute any degree of softness evenly throughout the plate. The most refined way to use these variably-soft lenses is to set the diffusion adjustment first, to give the amount of softness desired over the image, then afterward focus on the part of the subject you want to appear sharpest.
During World War I, British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed by the Germans and sank 7 May, 1915, killing more than 1,100 civilian passengers and crew. In 1936, "one of the best British super-speed lenses, one of the world-famous series of Cooke Lenses were selected for the exacting work of obtaining motion pictures from the deck of the sunken Lusitania" which still rests today under 295 feet of water near the coast of Ireland.
1916 The Aviar Lens
The Royal Air Force adopted the Cooke Aviar Lens in 1916 as the best aerial lens obtainable.
With the onset of World War I, there arose an urgent demand for aerial reconnaissance lenses. At first, the need was satisfied by the British government purchasing German lenses from the public. Then Arthur Warmisham designed a new Cooke lens (British patent no.113590) that was accepted as superior in performance to foreign lenses.
From the Cooke lens catalog of 1921:
Mr. John H. Gear, F.R.P.S., when President of the R.P.S. [Royal Photographic Society], in 1916, made the following statement in his opening address about the comparative test that was made: --"I may say that plates were exposed simultaneously at an altitude of several thousand feet with a Zeiss and the new Cooke lens, of equal foci, the latter now known as the ‘Aviar’: the plates received identical exposures and development. I was subsequently asked to give an opinion upon the quality of the lenses used in making the negatives, not knowing what lenses had been used. Very little examination was necessary before I unhesitatingly selected one negative as being superior to the other—that one was made with the British Lens." The Leicester firm deserves the congratulations of British photographers and the public, for having removed the stigma from British Science and Manufacture that English Lenses were inferior to German, especially at a time when there are war difficulties and shortage of suitable optical glass.
Their majesties toured the factory and were introduced to some senior staff and long serving employees. The Leicester Mercury newspaper reported that their majesties displayed great interest in both the technical and human sides of the work with several of the royal party commenting that they had never before seen work of such interest.
The Aviar lens was then adapted for general photography in 1924, becoming one of the most favoured of all high-grade anastigmats among both amateurs and professionals. It was produced in various focal lengths until about 1962.