Vintage Russian Glass: Helios 44

One of my favorite Russian lenses is the Helios 44 and it’s various versions. I have a couple older Helios 44 lenses, and a couple newer Helios 44M variations. All the 44’s seems to give similar results – beautiful swirly bokeh, with less hard edges than some of the other Russians (like the Jupiter-8).

The older Helios lenses seem to work well. The older ones I have are pretty beat up on the outside, but the glass is clear. I’m not sure how the coatings were on these older lenses. I’ve heard that some newer ones are multi-coated, and the older ones do seem very prone to flare when aimed toward bright light, but I suppose that’s typical with older lenses (pre 1970’s).

In any case, these lenses create a very pleasing image – they are supposed to be manufactured per the Zeiss Biotar lens formula, but I’m not sure how consistent the quality of the Russian lenses was – and maybe that’s not all bad since the lens you have may produce unique images, not quite the same as those from any other lens. This may or may not be a good thing. Part of the fun of trying these old lenses.

I’m shooting with an EOS R camera body and an M42 adaptor. Today’s mirrorless cameras, because of the short lens to focal plane distance, actually allow us to experiment with and use both SLR/dSLR and Rangefinder lenses. Rangefinders also had a short lens to focal plane distance, so if you don’t have a mirrorless camera you can only focus very close (macro only) with Rangefinder lenses. One of the benefits of mirrorless that most people don’t even think about. Some of the older Rangefinder lenses made by Zeiss, for example (or the Russian models) are very cool, and very good lenses. Without mirrorless we wouldn’t be able to easily use these lenses in our digital world. I’ll have some Rangefinder lens posts in the future – one of my favorite is the Russian Jupiter-8 – a lens using the Zeiss Sonnar lens formula.

Here are some images with various Helios lenses. You can see that most have a similar look. The backgrounds are very swirly and beautiful (in my opinion).

I’ve noticed that the background, when the circles are smaller, seem to overall be very circular. The out of focus areas, when they are circular, tend to be American football, or Rugby ball shaped more at the edges – and they change angles in a circular pattern. You can see this in my first few photos above. When you learn how this works, you can use it when you want these kinds of effects in your photos. I like having tools to use when needed.

I’ll be showing some of my photos, and talk about using the Jupiter-8 (and maybe the Jupiter-12, too) soon.