Thursday, September 2, 2010

In Soviet Russia...

In Soviet Russia, Bokeh renders you!


Now, I have to stop right here and put out the cavaet...
I HAVE NOT USED THIS LENS, SO MY EXPERIENCE WITH IT IS NON-EXISTENT. I AM ONLY RELAYING RESEARCH AND OPINION ON THE QUALITY OF THIS LENS AND THIS IS IN NO WAY AN ENDORSEMENT FOR EVERYONE TO GO OUT AND BUY THIS LENS ASAP, BECAUSE THIS LENS IS A COLD-WAR-ERA SOVIET-DESIGNED MANUAL FOCUS AND I DO NOT RECOMMEND ACQUIRING THIS LENS IF YOU ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH ALTERNATIVE GLASS AND LENS MOUNT CONVERSION - YOU TAKE THIS KNOWLEDGE AWAY AT YOUR OWN RISK - USING CAMERA LENSES NOT DESIGNED FOR YOUR SYSTEM OF CHOICE POSSIBLY AND MORE LIKELY, CAN DAMAGE YOUR CAMERA AND IT'S MIRROR BOX ASSEMBLY - AND POSSIBLY D WILL VOID YOUR WARRANTY.

In all seriousness, the above lens is the Helios 44-2. At least, I think it's the 44-2. For the sake of arguement, I'm going to say it is and leave it at that. The reason for this is, there are several versions of the Helios 44, which for some reason is actually a 58mm lens, not a 44mm as the name would lead you to believe. Further to this, the 2 refers to two different things - one, being that it is the 2nd version, and the other being that it's to designate it's max F/stop (2.0) - I don't know which to believe, given that it makes more sense that it should be 44-2.0, I dunno... It's russian, they do things backwards and round off numbers. That's why everyone knows Gagarin and not the poor guy that died in the rocket launched before him...

What I do know for sure is that this lens is a fairly old design and that it's actually a copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar design and that it was heavily mass produced, to the point that they are quite possibly the cheapest lens available on the 2nd hand market (aka FLEabay). This is significant as the Biotar, which is a much more expensive lens, incorporates a doubled gaussian optic lens combination. The two lenses, at the heart of the design, are what make the Biotar and Helios lenses so special. While Gaussian optics are not exactly revolutionary now, but I'm sure that they once were. If anything, their results are legendary as it allows a lens to render very smooth background blurring, aka Bokeh. And for what it's worth, Canon's 50mm 1.8 uses a very similar lens formulae, incorporating Gaussian optics - that's why the nifty-fifty is such a great lens in it's own right.

Now, out there in the wilds of the interwebs, there are a few pages that talk about the 44-2. I'm going to do my best to cut through the crap and give you the straight goods. First up... Specs!

Lens Construction = 6 elements in 4 groups (w/ 1 gaussian doublet)
Focal Length = 58mm
Filter D = 49mm [although younger copies are 52mm]
Max F/stop = 2.0
Min F/stop = 16.0
Angle of view = 40°
Minimum focus = 0.5m (~18cm)
Diaphragm = Manual/Preset
Field of View = ~93mm [on 35mm]*

Other info
Most copies are single coated and the unit weighs in at a rather svelte 220g.
In the right hands, this lens renders awesomeness in either Av or M.

Most copies, provided that they are in good working order, are quite sharp at all apertures - some opinions are that it is adequate to fair at 2.0, and best at 5.6 or 8.0. In the same vein, CA is prominent in the 2.0-2.8 range, edging towards green/turquoise - though, once again, this is what has been discussed in opinion and may not affect all copies.


Examples of the amaziness of this lens:
Manual Focus Forums
Fred Miranda Alt Glass forum

Why does this all concern me? Well, for starters - the 44-2 is a great MF lens, that is much cheaper than anything else really. 50mm-range lenses are good starting points for most photographers and when it comes to learning how to shoot, it's the 50mm that should be in every kit. Because of its creaminess, it is given to fantastic shots at most apertures. The only downside is the loss of a 1/3stop of light, when compared to Canon's 1.8 plastic fantastic.

Suffice to say, if I didn't already have the Canon or the 58mm Rokkor, I'd be all over this guy like a papparazzi on a starlet's case.

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