The Helios-44 is a fast manual full-frame standard prime lens which belongs to the family of Soviet Helios lenses. The lens was produced in various incarnations and that should be in fact the subject of a separate article.
The reviewed copy of Helios-44M is an export version of early Helios-44M model with M42 thread mount. It was manufactured at «Jupiter» factory at Valdai as indicated by a special symbol on the housing near the front element. The lens is marked 2/58 meaning that the maximum relative aperture is F/2 and the focal length of the lens is 58 mm. On full-frame cameras it acts like a standard lens. For this review the lens was used with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera with a crop factor of 1.53 and the effective focal length of the lens «became» 89 mm (full-frame equivalent). The lens was used via M42 — Fuji X adapter without chip. There was no focus confirmation, but the metering was performed by the camera automatically in the stop-down mode. All you have to do is just to select the desired aperture and rotate the manual focus ring until you have your subject sharp in the EVF or LCD in Live View mode.
Build Quality and Characteristics
The build quality is excellent (in fact this is pretty typical for the export lenses made in USSR). The black housing of the lens is completely made of metal, including thread mount, has a weight of 270 g and a length of 42 mm (when focused on the infinity; not including the caps).
The manual focus ring has width of 9 mm, is well damped, has no play, rotates smoothly. The condition of various control elements of the lens depends on the year of manufacture and the level of preservation of a particular lens. The angle of rotation of the ring is about 180 degrees and this is pretty sufficient to provide accurate focusing. The front element is pushed forward only by 7 mm when focusing on the minimum distance of 0.55 m. There is a distance scale and depth of field scale of course.
The aperture ring is 7 mm wide and has the following markings: 2 — 2.8 — 4 — 5.6 — 8 — 11 — 16. There are half stops between F/2 and F/11 but they are not indicated on the scale. The aperture works in manual and automatic modes, there is a corresponding switch on the rear part of the housing. The switch is irrelevant for today’s digital cameras but it indicates that we are dealing with the early version of the Helios-44M model.
The aperture has 8 blades (another sign of early version of Helios-44M), its opening is not circular, but this is not so surprising, because the production of the lenses with a circular aperture started only in 1987.
The diameter of the filter thread is 52 mm — a common size even for modern autofocus lenses. The filter thread does not rotate when focusing, making it easy to use polarizing and gradient filters. No filters were used during shooting for this review.
Optically the lens consists of 6 elements in 4 groups and is based on Planar scheme inherited from the parent model Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm F/2.
The lens is pretty sharp at F/2 in the center of the frame, with closing aperture to F/2.8 the sharpness increases and the lens is very sharp from F/4. The edges of APS-C frame are very soft at F/2-2.8, greatly improved at F/4 and at F/5.6 don’t lag behind the center of the frame. The depth of field at F/2 is very thin even with the APS-C sensor and if you want you could achieve truly impressive separation of the main subject from the background.
Vignetting is not noticeable with APS-C sensor, the same goes to distortion and lateral chromatic aberration.
The quality of the bokeh is very good. The background blur is soft and sometimes even creamy. The degree of blurring, however, also depends on the distance between the front element of the lens and the subject, the distance between the subject and the background. The out-of-focus highlights are round at F/2 and don’t deteriorate much with further closing of the aperture. This is really good.
The swirling background at F/2-2.8 is a typical feature of many Helios lenses and of course Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm F/2. The swirling is not very noticeable on the following pictures because they were taken at the close distance to the subject.
The longitudinal chromatic aberrations (colored halos in front of the focus point and in the background) are irrelevant already at F/2.
Author of the review and photos: Evgeny Artemov, email@example.com