Helios-44-m-4

Front view of a Helios-44M-4 58mm 2 lens
Front view of a Helios-44M-4 58mm 2 lens
Helios-44-M-4

Focal Lenght: 58mm
Max Apeture: 2 – 16
Lens Mount: M42
Min. Focus: 0.45 mm
Filter Size:52mm
Weight: 250 g
Factory: Valdai

LENS STORY

Sitting beside me today is a russian lens – a Helios 44M-4. Fabled for it’s swirly bokeh, many portrait photographers own. (I’m not saying want, since it’s so easy and cheap to get, you might as well have one.)

Some sources claim it’s a copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar – I’ll leave that research and digging around to you. 

 My copy is in pristine condition,it came with my first film camera, a hulking blunt-force Zenith 12XP. It was my first manual lens when I shot with my Canon 1300D and I remember the wave of joy after managing to get a portait with that so-discussed swirling bokeh.
 

HANDLING

 I find this lens pleasent to use – the knurled focus ring is big enough to be comfortable. The aperture has half stops, which is nifty (between 2 and 2.8 all the way to 11.)

I do remember finding the lack of an A/M switch annoying – but that’s something that you can easily fix – just get an adapter with a board that presses down the aperture pin. (or mod it at your own risk)

Look out for flares – this things flares like a beast. Keep that in mind and bring a lens hood.

OPTICAL PERFORMANCE

If you shoot this lens wide open, you’ll most likely get reduced contrast and slight softness – not that bad for those dreamy portraits. Stop down and the lens performs much better, with pretty good micro-contrast.

Color
If this lens doesn’t flare – you get slightly warm colors. Personally they remind me of pastels. Stop down and they get a lot more saturated. Shoot it wide open for that sligthly worn out gritty look.

Bokeh
The easiest way to achieve the fabled swirl is to have a background that has trees – the light coming through leaves and branches revolves around the center of the image. You’ll need some practice to get it to be more pronounced and visible.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This lens is a good example of why decent performing lenses don’t need to cost thousands or hundreds (or several coffees) . It’s cheap, it’s plentiful – get one and don’t look back. The specific rendering when wide open might just be your thing. 

If you put the lens to your ear you can hear thousands of forum users chanting “SAMPLE VARIATION” and “USSR QUALITY CONTROL” in unison –  so keep in mind, your copy might be better or not as good as one you’ve seen online