I was feeling quite inspired over the weekend, and there was a heap of interesting flowers open in our yard, so I decided that now was as good a time as any to revisit my old Helios 44M-4 review with a bit more detail. As mentioned in that post, my copy of the Helios 44M-4 was a free hand-me-down of unknown provenance, although you can pick them up for under $AU100 on eBay, or lower if you’re prepared to wait. You can also often get them by buying an old M42 SLR (Praktica or similar), because they were a fairly common “standard” lens on Eastern European cameras from that era.
The Helios 44 series of lenses were made by various companies predominantly from Eastern Europe, and were originally based on the Biotar 58/2 lens. There were various different types, and the lens was produced in one form or another from 1958 until at least the early 90s.
As can be seen in the above image, my copy is a Helios 44M-4, and is one of he 6 bladed versions. I haven’t really looked too deeply into serial numbers or anything to identify when it was produced. It’s in pretty good shape overall, especially the glass, which is near mint, and even under close inspection I can’t really see any dust spots or anything within the lens. I don’t think it’s a multi coated version, but again, I haven’t really tried to verify that. Mechanically mine does seem to be a little bit loose in both the focus and the aperture rings, but having nothing to compare it too, I’m not sure if this was normal.
Build Quality & Ergonomics
Like most standard prime lenses from this era, this thing is heavy compared to modern lenses. It’s a pretty solid little lens, longer than the Canon EF 50mm 1:1.8 II, and definitely heavier. Other than the little bit of looseness I mentioned above, the focus ring is quite smooth, if quite a bit tighter than most of the other MF lenses I’ve used. That could be because my copy needs a service, I really don’t know. All the controls follow the standard layout, and it all seems to work quite well.
Focus range is from 0.5m to ∞ over about 270°, and DOF scale is marked, although it’s pretty simple. Aperture range is ƒ/2.0 – ƒ/16 over 12 clicks. The lens slightly extends when focusing closer although the 52mm filter threads do not rotate, which is good for filter users.
Overall this version of the Helios 44M-4 is quite well built and user friendly, although I’ll probably need to get it serviced at some stage, or buy another copy to compare this one to.
I’ve already used this lens a few times, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of how it performs. As with my other lens reviews, the images for this post were shot on my Canon EOS 60D. I used a good quality brass programmable EMF AF Confirm M42-EF adapter to mount the lens. Aperture comparisons were shot from a tripod, and the examples at the end were hand held. These images have had no post processing other than conversion from .cr2 in Lightroom (with no adjustments or sharpening) and the addition of the watermark. I used AWB on the camera, and I haven’t changed the setting that the camera selected.
Note: Despite the fact that for some reason my theme isn’t showing it, the “100% Crop” part of the captions in the below galleries is a link that will open a 100% crop of the current image.
1st Set of Comparisons – Rose
2nd Set of Comparisons – Tonka
3rd Set of Comparisons – Frangipani
As can be seen in the above comparisons, wide open it can be sharp at times, but the depth of field is quite narrow, so your focus needs to be spot on. The out of focus background is rendered beautifully from wide open to about ƒ/6.7, with an almost dreamlike state between ƒ/2.0 and ƒ/4.0 depending on the distance behind the subject. The shots of little Ivan’s Tonka Truck show this beautifully. Sharpness seems to peak between ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/11, although even wide open if the focus is right the images are quite usable. Aberrations seem quite well controlled, although as will be seen in the next gallery, flare can be a problem.
Overall based on these comparisons I’m just as impressed as I was from my previous use of the Helios 44M-4. It may not be clinically sharp, but to my eye it has a certain character.
Other Sample Shots
Included below is a gallery of other shots I took attempting to mimic my normal use of the Helios 44M-4, with comments in the captions. As with the above images, there has been no post processing other than the watermark and downsizing.
Conclusion and Thoughts