[Lens Review] The Incredible Helios 44-2 58mm f2

SEPTEMBER 1, 2020
12

Photography

[Lens Review] The Incredible Helios 44-2 58mm f2

Update March 2024: I added some film photos! Now I have completed testing this lens with both film and digital.

Table of Contents

  1. Build and Handling
  2. Image Quality
  3. Overall Impression
  4. More Sample Photos

So it has been a while since my last lens review article in March. This time I would like to review an all-time personal favorite vintage lens of mine, the incredible Helios 44-2 58m f/2. This lens is, to me, everything I could ever hope for from a camera lens. As always, I’m not going into technicalities, but I will state opinions based on my experience in the field.

Build and Handling

Helios 44-2 was a prime lens that served as the kit lens for the Russian-made Zenit SLR series using the ubiquitous M42 mount, which was in production from the 1950s until the 1990s. A common trait of older lenses, the build is full-metal and thus feels very solid and weighty even though the lens itself is rather small. I like how the front element of the lens is hidden quite deeply, making a semi-hood,’ which is good for protecting the lens from renegade lights.

Now here come my favorite parts of the lens, the aperture ring. It’s clickless! While some people would prefer lenses that make clicks when choosing an aperture, being clickless is one of Helios’s allures. Combined with its super smooth, super long focus throw you have a winning recipe for a handy lens for videos. Check out this short video below that I shot using Helios. I could not be happier with the result!

Helios has the maximum aperture of f2, which would probably make you think it’s pretty ‘slow’. But on the contrary, for me, it’s as fast as my f1.4 Pentax lens.

One thing I want to mention is the rather unusual focal length of 58mm. Usually, the kit lens of the era would be the ‘nifty-fifty’ 50mm. Perhaps 58mm has something to do with the production method or other technical reasons, but I have not found any reason for that particular number, so if you have something to add, give me a holler.

Image Quality

I have nothing but good things to say about the image quality. Though I do believe when it comes to obtaining vintage lenses, your luck plays a big role, and I am glad to say that the copy I own is perfect. First, even when wide open at aperture f2, the contrast is rather sharp. The lens creates a very creamy background, given the right distance, as you can see in the photos below.

Under direct sunlight, the lens exhibits a rather ‘unique’ look. Given how old the lens is, it’s not a surprise because such a condition would even trouble modern lenses. I like how unpredictable it is, but if you are not keen on wild sunflares, use a proper hood or keep it away from the sun and you’ll be fine.

So far, I have often been integrating Helios into my city-night shots. Sharpness-wise, it does not compare to a newer lens, but I find the sun stars produced by the lens extremely appealing. Just look at the photo below! Bokeh performance at night is also more than acceptable. If the bokeh looks a tad dirty, that’s probably dust accumulating inside. It’s old, after all!

One last thing I would like to point out is the aesthetics. Though constantly hailed as one of the most mass-produced lenses, Helios is — for lack of a better word — a stunning performer. For instance, it’s well-known for its ‘swirly bokeh’ effect. Combined that with the native film-like rendering, even when used in digital bodies you’ll produce some unique shots in no time.

Overall Impression

The verdict is clear on this one. I have stated that it’s my personal favorite, bar none, so I’ll give you the score upfront:

Final score: 10/10

For a lens that could be bought for as cheap as $50, Helios 44-2 punches above its weight in almost every aspect. I don’t have anything bad about this lens other than, given its peculiar focal length of 58mm, it becomes an 87mm semi-telephoto lens when paired with APS-C bodies, which is a bit too long for my usual street photography use. So if you can, get this lens, and you won’t regret it. I promise you that.


More sample photos (film)

More sample photos (digital)

Comment Section


About the Author

Jerfareza Daviano | Photographer in Sendai, Japan
Jerfareza Daviano

Jerfareza is a freelance photographer from Indonesia currently based in Sendai, Japan, offering wide range of photography service especially profile portraits, couple or family photos, and wedding photography. Should you wish to hire him you can check here for more details.

Visit his website for articles about travel in Japan especially Tohoku area and interesting bits about photography.

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