Bottom Line Up Front…
The super famous Helios 44-2 lens. Search any forum and this is usually the one recommended in order to dip your toe into the world of vintage lenses. And with good reason.
It has a distinctive “swirly” bokeh, which some people love, others hate. But it definitely has character!
If you love it, go for it, the lens feels great and yields some great images. But the character produced is not for everybody / every situation, it can be a bit of a distraction. Horses for courses!
- Unique Character
- Build like a tank
- Super Cheap
- Super fun.
- Double aperture rings
- Not the sharpest
- Distracting bokeh and swirl.
You will be wanting this lens for the infamous “swirly bokeh”, although a caveat is that is it less pronounced on an cropped sensor than full frame rivals. In order to fully appreciate the swirly effect on an APS-C sensor, its best to shoot this lens against a high contrast, back-lit background! Like sunlight through the trees, but obviously this is going to give you a harsh image! Bokeh is nice when used as a portrait / mid-tele lens, but you won’t see the swirl as much.
Centre sharpness is decent and some photos you find on Flickr look great in B&W.
For me though, I wasn’t blown away with the character of this lens. It was a bit of a one trick pony and I sold it on.
Build and Handling
The Helios 44-2 is an absolute tank of a lens from the ex-USSR, it has copied the optical formula of the Carl Zeiss Biotar and is an all metal and glass construction. It’s an absolute beast and feels great on a mirrorless body, like the XT2.
The only thing I mention with reference to the handling of this lens the method of selecting aperture. The Helios 44-2 has two aperture rings, firstly you select the “limit” of the aperture i.e. the smallest aperture you want. Then the second ring will select the value between f/2 and whatever f/ you have selected. This could be annoying for some photographers, as you never know what number you have selected.
That said, you’re probably only ever going to shoot this lens wide open, so it won’t matter!