You might know how much I love the Helios 44-2, the cult Soviet 58mm F2.0 prime, but a very skilled lens technician, Richard Gale obviously took his love for this lens much further. His DSO FF58 modified Helios 44-2 lens is well known and used by many DOPs, who looking for that magical look you simply can’t get with any modern optics. DSO lenses certainly look cool, but what is really special about them is the way they can modded with various coating options, internal tints, aperture discs, etc. It’s possible to customize a DSO lens to your exact requirements, but once the mod is done, you have to stick with that customization for life. This is where TRUMP comes in! No, I’m not talking about Donald Trump 🙂
I’m talking about fully re-housed Helios 44-2 (below) with over around 700 customization combinations that can be changed at any time! A friends of VLFV, Bennett Cerf & Phil Abatecola spent some time testing Phil’s new set of Trump lenses and here is what Bennett had to say about these lenses:
For the uninitiated, the Dog Schidt Optiks Trump series is an attempt to bring the hobbyist with a fascination for vintage glass to a professional cinema grade usability. They’ve taken old Russian lenses and given them a housing makeover that allows you to attach them to a PL mount camera and even adapt them back to a canon mount camera with a consistent size, weight and shape. The part that I think is revolutionary is the fact that these lenses allow you to deconstruct the lens so you can create a number of looks rather than stick to just one. The results are encouraging. I’ve never had as much fun testing lenses. Phil Abatecola and I shot these tests on my Sony FS7 with Phil’s FS7 extension back.
The Trump Lens Set currently consists of a 38mm, 58mm and an 88mm with a 28mm supposedly on the way in the future. A 24mm or wider would certainly make this set pretty complete for most situations, but perhaps that’s in the future as well. The 38mm and 88mm are adaptations of the 58mm using adapters that are hard mounted to the front of each lens.
The 88mm is a MMZ Helios at it’s core with an adapter in front of it. According to the marking, this lens was manufactured between 1957 and 1971.
The genius behind these lenses is the fact that you can take off the rear element for two purposes.
- You can change rear elements entirely between four options: Classic, Multicoated, Uncoated and Ultra Low Contrast (Secret Sauce according to Richard Gale).
- You can insert a waterhouse stop ala lensbaby for additional bokeh styles and veiling glare options.
The characteristics of this lens set are decided by which rear element and waterhouse stop you use.
Interchangeable Rear Elements
Classic Rear Element:
- Some bleeding between bright objects and dark objects (White muslin and black on frame right)
- Warm flares and subtly swirly bokeh on edges.
- Virtually no bleeding between bright objects and dark objects (White muslin and black on frame right)
- Blue flare with same swirly bokeh on edges
- Soft bleeding between bright objects and dark objects (White muslin and black on frame right)
- Warm flares that have a distinct wide rainbow ring.
Ultra Low Contrast:
- Giant bleeding between bright objects and dark objects that nearly traverses the entire frame (White muslin and black on frame right)
- Veiling Glare is super strong when a light is direct down the barrel
- With the smaller flashlight, the flare looks like a supernova with a distinct opposing rainbow flare ring.
A Few Waterhouse Stops
- 2x Anamorphic (Red&Green):
Vertical Oval bokeh with nova spots. Image is softer in general. Flare is blue and red.
- 2x Anamorphic (Blue):
Vertical Oval bokeh with small spots. Overall blue cast and fringing. Blue and Orange Flares.
- Radioactive Orange Distagon:
Classic Super speed 9 leaf iris bokeh with orange veiling glare.
- Super 16 Distagon:
Classic Super 16 3 leaf iris bokeh with triangular shaped flare of blue and orange.
The Iris ring is click-less and several inches wide. Instead of the iris markings moving in relation to the witness mark, the witness mark itself moves. It is just a divot in the iris ring. It’s very noticeable, but a label could easily be added.
- Now your favorite Russian vintage lenses are cinema friendly with PL mount and 0.8 pitch focus gearing.
- You’ve got somewhere up to 700 combinations per lens of waterhouse stops and rear elements depending on how many you order!
- Build quality isn’t perfect yet, but still pretty reliable.
- Don’t expect to change waterhouse stops or rear elements while in a rush on set. They are delicate so my suggestion is to set them per day or per shoot to keep dust out of the inner elements while shooting.
- Iris ring witness mark is a little invisible, but easy to remedy.
Overall, I love these lenses because the variety and character they exhibit far overcome the aspects that are less convenient!
Below 30 minutes of tests with all three lenses using the 4 rear elements and various waterhouse stops on the 38mm.
Thanks to Bennett and Phil for sharing his first hand experience! For a more in-depth analysis of this lenses, make sure to check out Bennett’s blog.
My conclusion: At £4k/$6k for a set of 3 lenses, it is not a small investment, especially considering that the lens these lenses optically are based on can be bought for as little as £10/$15, but Helios is a super undervalued lens for what it is and I can honestly understand where price is coming from. Re-housing a lens, be it cheap Helios or expensive Cooke Speed Panchro, costs a lot of money. The donor lens actually makes a very little difference to the price of refocusing. If you take a look at well established companies that undertake lens re-housing, you’ll find that generally it will cost over £2k/$3k per lens and that is without all the customization options you get with TRUMP lenses. I can see how full-time DOPs invest into these lenses. Helios 44-2 is amazing, but you will not see them on anything other than lower budget/indie shoots. TRUMP lenses provide that cine lens usability that is often required on high-paced professional shoots. If I had extra cash and was doing a lot of highly creative work, I would certainly consider a set of these lenses. For now, I’ll stick to my Helios 44-2 and maybe try a DIY Helios mod as demonstrated by my good friend Tito Ferradans.
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