Today We're going to take a look at the Helios 44m-4. This lens is a 58mm f/2 lens & was produced in the old Soviet Union by Jupiter among others from 1958 till 1992 and is one of the most mass-produced lenses in the world!
The reason for buying this lens was one thing, and one thing only: The swirly bokeh effect.
The lens has, what is referred to as optical vignetting, meaning that out of focus “bokeh-balls” becomes more ellipsoid as you move away from the center of the image. Also referred to, as the “Cat-eye” effect, this phenomenon gives a pronounced feeling that the background “swirls” around the center focus subject. What really surprised me though, was all the other scenarios this lens was good for! The 58mm focal length on an APS-C sensor turns into an 87mm FOV equivalent which makes it a really nice medium tele lens. For the streets, I was VERY surprised at how well it is doing. And it does amazing with black and white photography. The lens is built like a tank with metal and glass everywhere.
Because the lens was built in such massive numbers they’re cheap.
You can purchase my copy from gibsoncameras.com for just £45.
Now you might be thinking "£45 isn't cheap for an old lens that has no autofocus) etc etc, but when you compare it to a modern-day equivalent of 58mm f/2 lens, it's practically pennies.
This lens actually gets used regularly alongside my Canon 24-105 f/4 L, oftentimes as my “stay-on” lens. This is crazy since it's such an old lens, (my copy is from 1987) but the results from this lens are just worth it!
The swirly bokeh is not as pronounced on the APS-C sized sensor, since the FOV is cropped, but I assure you it is still there. The maximum effect is when you have a focused subject about 2-3 meters away and the background about 10-15 meters away, so count a factor 1:5 ratio for foreground/background subject distance. The optimal background is sunlit foliage. This is where you get that amazing special “cat-eye” effect.
This lens wide open at f/2, you get a little softness but Stopped down it then becomes incredibly sharp throughout the frame.
If you want to try out this lens for yourself, you can go & grab one here: