I purchased a vintage Helios 44M 58mm – translating to approximately 90mm taking the crop sensor into account – f2 lens for my 7D a while back. I haven’t really played around with it much so I thought it would be an interesting thing to discuss here. Helios lenses were originally supplied with Soviet Zenit 35mm cameras and are cheaper copies of the Carl Zeiss Biotar range of lenses. I have a good selection of lenses, but my go-to lens that I use when I don’t want to carry a big camera bag around with me is my Canon 50mm f1.4.
I took the Helios around Edinburgh to see what kind of things I could do with it, and then took it into my garden to shoot a bit of test footage.
I found the 44M to be a really lovely lens, and a great bargain for the few pounds I paid for it from eBay. The 44M has a very shallow depth of field and shooting with this lens and the camera set to 25p gave my footage quite a cinematic feel. The level of bokeh I was achieving in the outdoor shots was incredible, some people may find this intrusive but this was something I really loved about the 44M. Of course, it isn’t ideal for all situations; this probably won’t turn into a go-to lens for me but I’ll certainly reach for it when I want to shoot something soft and dreamy. The colours were beautiful and vivid as well and I was able to achieve amazing lens flare in some of my shots. When shooting in particularly bright conditions, the colours sometimes became a little washed out, but for me this added to the romantic feel of the images and if it became a problem then attaching a lens hood would help to solve this. I feel it has similarities to my much-loved Canon USM 50mm 1.4 lens, but the Canon lens is slightly sharper. The Helios has quite a different feel to it and the longer I worked with it, the more I fell in love with it.
This sequence is completely ungraded in order to show the true results of the lens test. The music used is Blue Paper by Moby, so thank you to Moby and his brilliant site Moby Gratis.
I focused more on testing this lens for video, but in terms of still imaging, I was able to achieve the same vivid colours and dreamy aesthetic, although the bokeh was less apparent in the stills that I took. I did find the 44M to be a more enjoyable lens to work with for video rather than stills but, again, it’s a lens I can see myself reaching for when I want to achieve something soft and dreamy.
Lights by Bristo Square in Edinburgh.
Flowers in my garden.
Deadhead Comics, Edinburgh.
Tootsie in the garden.
I found the 44M lovely to work with and I’m very pleased to have it in my kit. I can see myself getting a lot of use out of it based on the gorgeous, swirly bokeh alone and I can imagine it being lovely for wedding videography due to its soft, romantic nature. It seems to be readily and cheaply available on eBay and for the price I would highly recommend it to both film-makers and photographers alike – you will also need to purchase an adapter appropriate to your camera, in my case an M42 to EOS adapter.