I originally created this post in 2012. Since then I’ve learned a lot about these lenses and Helios 44-2 has become my favorite lens, so I decided to revise it with more up to date info and additional test (second part of the post)
Original Test (revised):
I decided to see how much difference there really is between 8 Helios 58mm lenses. 4 of them were the earlier 44-2 models with step-less aperture adjustment and 4 were 44m models, which are the newer models.
It’s a completely unscientific test, but good enough to see the difference between these lenses. I was mostly looking at the differences in sharpness and flares. All lenses were set to f/2 to see how sharp they are wide open. I’m a big fan Helios flares, so I was very curios to see if there is any difference there too!
To my surprise there is plenty of difference in both aspects.
Sharpness: While sharpness looks very similar in full size shots, 100% crops reveal that 1st and 8th lenses are a little bit softer than the others, but not by much and it’s worth noting that flaring can also affect the perceived sharpness. By the way 1st and 8th are both earlier 44-2 models, which suggest sharpness might have been improved in the later models.
Contrast: I think contrast is pretty consistent, although it’s affected by the flares these lenses produce.
Flares: Now when it comes to flares, they are all so different, especially when lenses are wide open at f/2. As you step down the aperture, flares change dramatically and become quite minimal by f/5.6. I this point all lenses to look very similar, but I like look these lenses produce wide open and I think flares can be a very nice addition for the right project to I decided to choose the ones I liked the most.
My favorite flare machines in this test are:
1st because it has nice, anamorphic style streak running across and I think if I would rotate the lens ever so slightly (using my TILT mount), I could achieve pretty cool results without using an anamorphic lenses or a anamorphic streak optical filter. Even rotated, it could offer a cool additional streak to the anamorphic lens setup.
5th because I really like the blue circle I produces, making flares more interesting, while keeping the overall image quite contrasty.
7th because the flares on this lens are completely out of control, even when compared to other 6 lenses. It’s a real flare monster and I actually like that. While other lenses attempt to keep the source of light defined, this lens just can’t maintain the light within its source and it spills out into a large area. For some people this will be the biggest flaw, but I see it more as a unique, artistic tool that certainly can be useful for a certain project.
In the end I decided I to keep these 3 lenses for myself. While the 1st one is not the sharpest, I really like the flares it producers and the other 2 are unique in the own way too. Funny enough all 3 lenses I’ve chosen as my favorites are Helios 44-2, so it seems I really have a special thing for this model over the newer 44M versions.
Since the first test, I gave away most of my Helios 58mm primes, only keeping the 3 that stood out to me in the first test. I also added a 4th 44-2 to my kit, because it intrigued me with its white lens markings as opposed to more common yellow ones on the other 3 lenses I had. While I knew that there are loads of different Helios 58mm models (44-1/2/3/etc, 44M-1/2/3/etc) I didn’t know that 44-2 lenses can also be different and it’s not just to do with year of manufacturing. Helios lenses were made in a few different factories across the former Soviet Union and turns out this is an important factor when it comes to images these lenses produce.
I have 44-2 lenses from 2 factories (see logos on the front of the lenses):
VALDAI (left one with yellow markings)
KMZ (right one with white markings)
44-2 lenses were not exclusive to just these 2 factories though. I found this vary comprehensive list with all the various versions that were produced. Worth checking out if you want to undestand when and where your Helios lenses was made!
Looking at the test shots below it’s quite clear that VALDAI lenses produces warmer, a bit more uncontrollable flares, while KMZ lens has a bit more control and contrast as well as some really nice blue flare circles and yet, overall look remains warm and pleasant.
I said it 100 times and will say it again now, Helios 58mm is absolute must-have for any photographer or cinematographer, so if you don’t have one yet, why not? Go get one now! (ebay link) 🙂
To those of you who have experienced the magic of Helios 58mm, which one is your favorite? My one is the 44-2 model; the simple test video below was the reason I fell in love with it!
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