The Helios 44-2 is one of the more ‘common’ vintage lenses. Liked for its artistic possibilities, cheap price, f/2 maximum aperture and ‘swirly’ bokeh (under the right conditions), it can still be picked up for a great price on Ebay.
I’m always looking for new things to try, new ways to experiment, new artistic possibilities, a way to add something new to my work. I had been toying with the idea of shooting with a Helios 44-2 for some time. However, it was seeing the amazing work of Lisa Erickson (please do check her work out) that finally made me bite the bullet, put in a bid and secure one on Ebay, all the way from the Russian Federation!
At the time of writing, I have literally just got this lens, I haven’t even had a chance to shoot with it yet, weather permitting that will come tomorrow!
Thoughts on using this lens and shots will follow but for now, here is a little about the lens, its somewhat quirky but very handy aperture control and the type of adapter that you will need.
The Helios 44-2 is a Soviet copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2. It has an aperture of f/2 – f/16, a focal length of 58mm and a filter thread of 49mm. With its all metal construction this thing is built like a tank and feels great mounted and in the hand.
I picked mine up on Ebay for just $25. The glass is in great condition with no scratches and no signs of fogging or fungus. The body of the lens is also in great condition with aperture and focus rings operating smoothly. There is just a little sign of wear where the paint has rubbed off on a small part of the focus ring.
The lens is an M42 screw mount, so, you will need an adapter to convert to your particular mount, Canon, Nikon, Sony etc.
These adapters come in different options. Ones with no lip/flange, ones with a lip/flange, no AF confirm and AF confirm.
What are the differences and which should you get to use with the Helios 44-2?
Whichever adapter you get, you will be working in full manual. Manual exposure and manual focus, or you can shoot in aperture priority mode if you like.
The AF confirm chip will not give you Auto Focus. You will still need to focus manually but it will give you the focus confirmation chirp and light when focus has been achieved manually. I ordered a non-AF confirm version so I can’t really speak on this option but I believe you can also program the chip to give the correct focal length of the lens in EXIF data and also fine tune the focus confirmation.
Some lenses have an ‘aperture control’ pin on the back, mount side of the lens. For these lenses, the aperture will only adjust when you turn the aperture ring on the lens if that pin is depressed. This is what the lip/flange adapters are for. The little lip will push against the pin. When the adapter is fully screwed onto the lens, the pin becomes fully depressed, allowing the aperture ring on the lens to change the aperture.
The Helios 44-2 does not have an aperture control pin so this kind of adapter is not needed, a straight forward, non-lip/flange adapter works perfectly.
I ordered the Fotodiox M42-EOS V1 (V2 being the one with the lip/flange) There really isn’t much to go wrong with these, especially the non-chipped versions, as it’s just a metal ring!
It’s made of aluminum, black, screws on to the Helios 44-2 with a good fit and mounts to my Canon as good as any of my Canon lenses do. For just under $10 it does its job perfectly!
Setting the aperture on the Helios 44-2 can be a little confusing if you don’t realize how it works, which may not be obvious! However, when you realize how it does work and what is happening it makes perfect sense and can be very handy….
There are effectively two rings at the front of the lens that control the aperture. There is a ‘diaphragm setting ring’, nearest the front of the lens and then directly behind this is a ‘diaphragm ring’. Sounds confusing!
Both of these rings control the aperture. The ring nearest the front of the lens, the ‘diaphragm setting ring’, the one marked with the aperture values, sets the aperture as expected. This clicks to each value, the value set lining up with the center, red, dof mark. (Really this sets the minimum aperture to be available to give an aperture range from the maximum aperture of f/2 to whatever aperture that you have set, as will become clear).
The ring below this, the ‘diaphragm ring’, turns smoothly with no clicks. This too controls the aperture. Turning this ring fully clockwise fully closes the aperture down to the aperture value that has been set. Turning the ring fully anti-clockwise opens the aperture up to the maximum aperture of f/2, no matter what the aperture has been set to.
This may seem a little odd but it allows you to set an aperture, then quickly use the maximum aperture (without changing the actual setting of the aperture) to let as much light in as possible to make it easier to focus the shot. Once focused, a quick, smooth turn the other way closes down the aperture to the value that you have set to take the shot.
It’s like a DOF preview button on a DSLR. When you look through the viewfinder, you are looking through the lens wide open, to allow the maximum light in, no matter what you have the aperture set to. The lens only stops down when the shutter is pressed to take the shot. Pressing the DOF preview button stops the lens down to allow you to see through it at the set aperture. So the two aperture rings on the Helios 44-2 work in the same way, just manually.
One confusing point of this is that the smooth turning aperture ring has a red dot on it. If the lens was set to say f/5.6, as in the images below, turning this ring fully clockwise, the red dot points to f/2, when actually you are getting f/5.6. Turning the ring fully anti-clockwise, the red dot points to f/5.6 when you are really at f/2!
Of course, this also means that if you wish, you can take shots at any value between f/2.0 and f/16. You could take a shot at say f/9.8, though there’s no way of knowing just what aperture you are at if you go in between set values!
One important thing to remember, as you will be shooting in manual, is to meter for your shot with the second ring rotated fully clockwise, giving the aperture that you have set. Don’t meter for the shot fully open at f/2 and then rotate the ring to give the aperture that you set. Your exposure is going to be off.
I’m not sure yet how the results of this lens will fit in with my current work but I am sure it’s going to fun finding out!
Shots and thoughts about the lens in use will follow soon…
Update: Since writing this, I have had a chance to take a couple of shots. Without giving too much away, it now has a permanent place in my bag. Some shots, 100% crops and a comparison with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM cominig soon!