Skip to main content

Helios 44-2: chasing the swirl

 I got a new (to me) lens!  

And a bonus film camera.  (and two bonus vintage telephoto lenses!)

These Helios 44 lenses are fairly well known for having "swirly" or "twisted" bokeh.  Fortunately, they were mass-produced and are easy to get a hold of for a reasonable price (kind of).  

Notice how there's some weird circular effect going on with the tree?  The in focus seagull isn't distorted, but the out of focus background is.  


When researching this lens, I found articles and videos referencing this lens's cheap price -- $30-60 dollars!  Unfortunately, even though those sources are relatively new (within the last five years), prices are not nearly that low anymore.  Ebay listings show people are willing to pay $120-150 (or more!) for these lenses now. 

Thanks to the hype surrounding the swirly bokeh, people have been buying these lenses and driving the price up.  I am now contributing to the problem.  

I have a relatively new copy of the lens (M42 mount, third plant), and supposedly this generation of the Helios 44 has quality control issues.  But mine is in mint condition!  No oil on the aperture blades, the glass is clean and nearly dust free. 

There are actually quite a few variants of this lens, as it was produced for decades in three different manufacturing plants.  There are people more knowlegeable than me on this subject, so you can find other sources if you want to learn more.  It seems like this was a fairly common kit lens on Zenit cameras.  At least for the Zenit E.  My Kalimar SR200 is actually just a Zenit E, with a new name on it for an American customer base.

I was not planning on purchasing a film camera.  I was trying to find a good deal on a perhaps cosmetically flawed but optically functional Helios 44.  It's pretty easy to adapt vintage lenses to a mirrorless system, and my favorite lens for my Fujifilm XT-4 is actually an old Nikon 90mm 1:2 macro lens. 

There are pages and pages of Helios 44 lenses on Ebay.  And on a whim, I added the word "tested" to my search.  That pulled up a listing for a Kalimar SR200 film camera with three lenses, one of which was labeled as a 44mm lens. That lens was in fact the Helios 44, which is (confusingly) a 58mm f2.0 lens.  

The seller had set the price for the camera and three lenses at just under $100.  The photos looked good.  So I purchased everything!  

The other two lenses are both telephoto lenses -- one is a 135mm prime and the other is an 80-200mm zoom lens.  I took them out this morning and wasn't super impressed by them on my Fujifilm XT-4.  

Here's the 135mm telephoto, straight out of camera:

Minimum focus distance isn't bad!  And it's pleasant to use. But it's got "character". 

I think it needs a lens hood.  Or it just has a lot of chromatic aberration naturally.  Colors are okay, sharpness is fine for a vintage lens.  Just not great performance wide open with harsh light (bird photo).  Nothing special. 

Here's the zoom.  I was definitely trying out the "macro" ability, so most of these are at 200mm and minimum focus distance.  I didn't notice that the macro was only 1:5, and minimum focus distance was something like 3 feet.  So I'm not really sold on this lens being macro capable. 

Some halation.  The lens seems kind of soft, but in a pleasing way.  

Really nice background separation!  The background here is very nicely softened.  Colors out of this lens were preferable to the 135mm prime.  I think this tended to be sharper all around, but that's not really my priority with vintage lenses. 

And here's a bonus shot of a bird very rudely flying off while I tried to get a photo. 

I didn't have high hopes for the two other lenses that came with the Helios 44.  And I don't think I'll keep either of them.  I have a Fujinon 100-400mm lens, which is superior in every way to the 80-400mm zoom.  I guess the vintage zoom is much smaller and slightly wider, but when I use the Fujinon, I want the 300-400mm range, the OIS, and the cleaner optics.  

The 135mm prime just doesn't really fill a need for me.  And I don't really like how the images looked out of the camera.  I do very minimal editing, if any, so SOOC image quality is pretty important to me.  

Now on to the lens I definitely will be keeping!  Everything is SOOC again, no cropping, no exposure fixes, etc. 

I'm still trying to figure out how to maximize the swirling.  It doesn't look like it swirls on the camera playback, so I have to bring images back to my computer to see what worked and what didn't. 

I think my lens likes to swirl at f2.8 and not really at f2.0.  

Here the background is swirled, and the foreground just looks kind of mushy.  The lens only swirls the background bokeh:

Very subtle -- I can only see the swirling at the very edges of this image: 

Again, a subtle effect just at the edges:

Here's the lens stopped down to (I think) f8.  My copy of this lens is really, really sharp stopped down.  We get sharpness but no swirling at this aperture. 

Same flower, with a more open aperture (f4?).  Swirls are just starting to appear -- and we have a flying bug of some sort coming in for a landing!  

Another example of how sharp this lens is when stopped down.  The background is also pretty soft and blurry in a pleasing way, just not swirly: 

So while I will be keeping this lens, I am not sure I'll use it only on my Fuji.  I was planning on using it as a walkaround-ish lens for casual use plus some fun swirls, but there are two issues with that.  

The first is the size of the lens on my camera. 

The lens itself is not that large -- but the adapter almost doubles the length of the lens on my XT-4.  

Secondly, the swirl effect is not as pronounced as it could be because I'm using a crop-sensor camera.  Since the swirl is more extreme near the edge of the image, I'm "missing" some of the effect due to the crop sensor in my camera.  

I'm not going to buy a full-frame camera just to get some swirly bokeh!  

However, I do actually already own a full-frame camera.  It's just analog.  35mm film is full frame! 

The Kalimar SR200/Zenit E is a very sturdy camera.  No batteries required.  The light meter in mine seems to work, somehow.  The shutter sound is deafening and powerful.  The camera body is smaller than my XT-4 but somehow weighs just as much.  It's got five entire shutter speeds, plus bulb mode.  You'll need to convert ASA to ГОСТ to use the light meter.  The self-timer on mine works too, and is even louder than the shutter. 

Mine is the commemorative 1980s Olympics edition, which I find kind of funny.  The US boycotted the Olympics that year for... reasons... 

And yet this camera was rebranded into a Kalimar SR200 and sold in the US to an American.  Just hilarious! 

I shot a roll of cheap film to check the camera for light leaks, shutter issues (though it sounds fine), and to check if the light meter works or not.  Hopefully I'll get the scans and negatives back soon!  I'm very curious to see if this camera works.  

In any case, I managed to get the lens I wanted for a fairly low price, and also a pretty cool film camera, regardless of its functionality. 


Popular posts from this blog

I bought a Silver Reed SK10 and SR10 knitting machine!

I've been considering a CSM (circular sock machine) for a while, but my budget has kept me from buying one.  I really want the ability to crank out sock snakes and hand-finish the heels and toes.  I discounted flat-bed machines because how would you knit in the round on a flat-bed machine?   And then I stumbled on a post that said you can in fact knit in the round, or, knit tubular as machine knitters are more likely to say, on a flat-bed machine.  The secret?  A ribbing attachment!  (Or a double bed machine, but those are fairly rare).  So I started the hunt for a knitting machine and ribbing attachment.  I found the perfect machine for me a few weeks ago.  Here it is knitting a ribbed cowl :

Learning to tat! With yarn, not ink

  Tatting is a surprisingly ambiguous word.  Yarn or ink?  Both can involve needles, technically!  I enjoy picking up new yarn hobbies, and I've only ever heard of tatting -- never seen examples of it, or met anyone else who tats, or even knows what tatting is ("like tattoos?"). Tatting is a pretty old fibercraft, and is much less efficient at creating fabric than knitting or crochet or weaving.  I think it's primarily a decorative craft, as tatted fabric is fairly open and lacey, and would not drape well.   In any case, I finally purchased some tatting shuttles and needles and embarked on a short YouTube tutorial journey.  

Renulek's Rose #3

 Finished product first, of course.