The race to technical excellence in the field of photography and lens making was rampant at the beginning of the 19th century. Before the Cooke triplet lens, the most advanced lenses could correct only the spherical aberration and coma, and not all the main monochromatic aberrations: spherical, coma, astigmatism, field curvature, and distortion.
The advancement came along when British optical innovator, H. Dennis Taylor, whilst working for the Cooke company, worked to improve on the telescope front element. This gave him the idea to design a new lens with only three elements.
Although not a revolutionary idea per se, as he noted in his patent text, Mr. Sutton had come to a similar conclusion in 1858, only the misplaced elements could not show the desired correction.
H. Dennis Taylor's design changed the direction of popular lenses. He was able to minimize chromatic aberrations and improve sharpness, specifically at the outer edge of optics. With only two biconvex lenses (or positive) on the outer and a biconcave lens in the middle (or negative) he came closer than anyone had managed at the time to optical perfection.
In partnership with high-quality lens manufacturer T. T., Taylor's innovative design was patented as the Cooke triplet lens in 1894. This lens established the firm name and reputation launching the brand as one of the most important in the field.
Progress, as we know, never happens alone. Another discovery in the field of optics was instrumental to the development of the lens. A new glass with greater plasticity and endurance to hit was produced, in Jena, Germany. The novel product was capable of increasing the refraction index and the overall stability of the glass.
Taylor was a believer that there was more than calculation to lens design, and that philosophy was meant to be part of the planning of optics as much as calculus. He believed that when an inventive mind is unleashed anything can be achieved, and that creativity was not only reserved to artistic endeavors.
The reduced cost of production and the high quality work achieved with this lens made it a favorite for photographers active in the field. Correcting the main aberrations resulted in a soft focus effect across the frame with a distinctive sharpness at the center. These lenses soon gained high praise, especially in the field of portraiture.
Masters like Clarence Hudson White, Gertrude Kasebier and Alfred Stieglitz were developing a different disposition toward photography and these new tools available to them could help convey their message. A new photographic current was emerging and this lens was at it's center.
Did you know the story of the Cooke triplet lens? Which is your favourite lens? Share your thoughts on the comments below.