*This is a review of a retail copy of the Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II, not the pre-production prototype.
Light Lens Lab has been impressive, releasing a few noteworthy replicas of well-known lenses such as the Light Lens Lab 35mm ƒ2 8-elements and the 35mm ƒ2 Collapsible 8-elements (my reviews of them are linked on the names). This time, they have seemingly outdone themselves with their Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II, a replica of the legendary Cooke 50mm Speed Panchro lens.
For the photographers or even videographers who have always yearned for the Cooke look or yearn to add a cinematic rendering to their creative pursuits, the Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II is a no-brainer. While some purists will thumb their noses over this lens, the Speed Panchro II performs as Light Lens Lab intended it to be, an almost faithful replica of the legendary Cooke Panchro Speed lens.
This is a lens I will purchase and use, instead of the expected return after review.
The Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II (Light Lens Lab Speed Panchro II for short from here on) is a re-creation of the Speed Panchro II 50mm ƒ2 Cinema Lens from the 1940s.
- Full brass body, with lanthanide-infused elements
- Leica M-mount, rangefinder coupled
- Focal Length: 50mm
- Double-Gauss Design, seven elements in five groups
- MFD of 0.7 meter (due to rangefinder limitations)
- Half-stop apertures from ƒ2 to ƒ22
- 43mm filter size
- 61mm (length) x 51mm (diameter) and 345 grams with a Reid-style screw-on hood.
The quality of the lens build impresses, consistent with Light Lens Lab releases. The lens has a good heft, and the focusing ring runs smoothly with a good amount of resistance. Special note is the double-pronged focusing tab on the LLL Speed Panchro II, a nice touch inspired by vintage lens designs and ergonomic in use. I do wish the focus throw could be shorter, but then I am nit-picking here.
The Cooke Cinematic look
We would have heard of the Leica look in photography, the sum of the micro-contrast, creamy out-of-bokeh areas, and lens character. However, in cinematography, users speak of the Cooke look, which cinematographers love and obsess over.
In fact, a phenomenon widespread nowadays is the attempt to soften the clinical sharpness in modern lenses and adopt a vintage look by adding beautiful highlights, blooms, and some character to the image on our modern sensors, and this is where we also see a revival of vintage lenses, and of course, the increase in the cost of these out of production lenses too.
An original Cooke 50mm ƒ2 Panchro Speed adapted to M-mount will set you back by easily USD10,000 nowadays.There is one currenly on Ebay asking for USD15,000
The Cooke Panchro lenses came out in the 1920s and were used to film the first movie that had sound in 1927 and is still considered legendary in some circles. Cooke lenses uniquely blend the vintage and modern feel with their rendering, combining a touch of contemporary sharpness, lower contrast with some of the glow, micro-contrast, and a good dose of vintage bokeh.
Almost faithful to the original Cooke Speed Panchro, the Light Lens Lab Speed Panchro II impresses with its attempt at replicating the classic cinematic rendering.(almost because nothing will ever be a 100% match)
Here, the Light Lens Lab Speed Panchro II, with its double gauss design and optical formula similar to the original Taylor & Hobson design from 1920-the 1940s delivers. Back then, these lenses were designed to be shot wide open for a dream-like look, and due to the under-corrected spherical aberration, subjects are hardly clinically sharp and similar to the Mandler glow look, have a glowy effect in the right conditions.
The Light Lens Lab Speed Panchro II renders a low contrast look versus modern lenses with a softer warm look and a natural rendering that is easy to fall in love with. The out-of-focus areas come with a painterly character. Even so, it is essential to note that the lens tends to flare easily; if this is an issue, I highly recommend using the hood.
Handling-wise, the lens may seem on the longer side to some; however, it balances well on the Leica M body. There is minimal rangefinder blockage with the hood on and no blockage without the hood, which is undoubtedly pleasant.
Feedback from Leica M-owners have been mixed, with some purist thumbing down a lens for simply being an attempt at a replica, which I find ironic as Light Lens Lab has not replicated a Leica lens this time round, but instead, a Cooke cinematic lens which nowadays is either extremely hard to find in good-to-use condition or simply too costly to even own for most people.
I will definitely support the view of increasing access to these great lenses from yesteryears as so many of the rare existing copies are simply either in a collector’s cupboard or selling at sky high prices, putting them out of access to the masses.
As a reviewer and hardly a collector swimming in cash, I am not concerned with these emotions. Still, instead, truthfully and pragmatically, the Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II is indeed unique, and I can understand the excitement that followed their announcement of this piece of optics.
There are no or very few alternatives that are M-mount rangefinder coupled lenses either, and for the price Light Lens Lab is asking for the 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II and how it compares to an original Cooke Speed Panchro lens, it is basically a no-brainer decision for the photographer or even videographer keen on the cinematic look.
In fact, I will not return the lens this time and will purchase the Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II for my own use.
Thank you for reading.
*I have no idea what the final retail price will be as the Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II is still in the pre-order stage (with the 1st batch all sold out).
- All product photos and samples here were photographed by me. I believe any reviewer with pride should produce their own product photos.
2. All images were shot with the Leica M10-R and a retail copy of the Light Lens Lab 50mm ƒ2 Speed Panchro II.
3. This review is not sponsored. The M10-R belongs to me, and I have made arrangements to Light Lens Lab to purchase this copy for my own use.
4. I do not do affiliate purchase links to keep myself neutral. I write as a passion and a hobby, and I appreciate that photography brands are kind enough to respect and work with me.
5. The best way to support me is to share the review, or you can always help support me by contributing to my fees to WordPress for the domain using the Paypal button at the bottom of the page.
6 Replies to “Light Lens Lab 50mm F2 Speed Panchro II – Reviving the cinematic classic.”
Greetings Keith. As my purchase is shuffled through international checkpoints and customs, I’m glad to see you’ve received your “purchase” early. I do not subscribe to online criticisms faceless as it is, though your review seems abbreviated. Almost like a taster of a real article. Though time and commitments may have come in the way of you getting more time with the lens. Model photography as a thing is something i do not have interest in as well. The best images in this article namely the 9th and 10th picture which appear to be made spontaneously are rather good. The lens seems to paint human subjects as if a black mist filter was bolted on. I may go so far to say that black and portraits maybe the best way to see what this lens is capable of. I’m rather grateful that the mysterious Mr. Zhou rather than take the path well trodden has chosen to make such a lens as this. If you think about it , in uncertain times he and his team have undertaken a task to replicate a Cooke lens. I can only imagine the challenges and the obstacles they faced. Well, Keith the weekend is already upon us and i hope you and the family are safe, well and plotting dastardly sunday brunches. Cheers Keith !
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Hi my friend, the scariest thing you are absolutely right when you mentioned the review this round is abbreviated as i am also tied down by other work commitments this period. I’m impressed you noticed this.
The blooms are indeed reminiscent of using a black mist filter, and the Speed Panchro II is also never really sharp sharp but just ‘sharp enough’ and I do wonder sometimes how do they actually work out this balance.
Thank you for mentioning the 9 and 10th shot, I went to count haha and will take special note of what makes a good pic as your comments do carry weight and here’s wishing the lens arrives soonest for you too !
Interesting! The bokeh seems to have a shallower dof than f2. Wonder how much closer the mfd would be on a non range finder body. As usual a lovely review !
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Thank you. It helps a lot with thinner dof when I go nearer to shoot 😂. I’m also curious how much is the len’s MFD when on a non rangefinder body and let me test that further.
Very interesting, thank you. I enjoy reading all your reviews. Greetings (also) from Singapore
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Hi Crispin! Thank you for the kind words, esp nice to hear from someone in Singapore.