Here is a short test video I’ve shot with my favorite 135mm prime, the Helios 135mm f/2.8.
The video above was shot on my little Sony NEX 5N with a simple neck brace for support, so the footage is not the most stable (sorry).
Nevertheless, I think it’s easy to agree that this lens produces very cinematic results. Due to it’s longer focal length and fast aperture of f/2.8 achieving the shallow depth of field is incredibly easy and combined with sharp optics, objects pop out very nicely. The only optical downside I would like to mention is presence of chromatic aberration in certain lighting conditions with the aperture wide open.
The lens itself is an absolute pleasure to use. It’s a proper, solid, metal lens (no plastic parts here). The focusing ring is as smooth as they get and combined with a long focusing through of around 260 degrees it’s a focusing dream. The M42 mount and manual aperture adjustment allows this lens to be used with just about any camera. It looks great too with the beautiful multicoated optics.
While this lens is branded as Helios, it’s not actually a Russian lens. It’s made in Japan, which is not a bad thing, but those of you expecting the dreamy character found in Helios 44-2 and other Russian lenses will not find the same magic here. Again, this doesn’t mean this is a bad lens, in fact it’s more suitable for many projects because it matches modern lenses much better and its character is more suitable for general shooting.
One aspect of construction, which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, is rotating front element, which also extends slightly when focusing. This prevents Vari-NDs from being used with this lens. Not a problem for me, but Vari-NDs users might get a little frustrated.
EDIT: I’ve made a silly mistake my holding the focusing ring and rotating the lens, which made me think the front element rotates, but in fact it doesn’t (thanks for pointing that out JB). Even if it did, apparently that wouldn’t affect the use of Vari-ND. I don’t use them, but as far as I know they are based on 2 polarizing filters, so in theory rotation of the front element would affect the image, but I guess I missing something here.
So with non-rotating front element and ability to use Fader/Vari-NDs, they is literally nothing to complain about.
This lens costs just around $40/£25 and for that money you get a solid, fast, sharp telephoto prime that produces absolutely beautiful images, which is simply amazing.
I definitely recommend this lens to anyone looking for a telephoto prime between 100-200mm.
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Thanks a lot for this article! Just ordered one (Helios 135mm) a few hours ago, can’t wait to receive it!
Oh and btw, I LOVE my Helios 44, a lens I discovered thanks to you 🙂 Fantastic lens !
Keep up with the good work on this blog !
Great stuff. This why I do it. The best reward then I know that someone is understands how great this little lenses are!
A rotating front element won’t effect variable nds, you won’t be able to use a polariser though.
All corrected, thanks for pointing out and helping the whole community!
In fact the front element doesn’t even rotate… I thought that was odd as most old lenses don’t have a rotating front end and then I watched the video again, it’s right there at around 0:19! Poor.
It does look like you’re right on that one, will double check! If these 2 issues don’t exist then it’s a perfect lens 😉
Another fun little detail about the history of this “particular” lens: you never will find one whose brand name (HELIOS) is engraved in Cyrillic characters ХЕЛИОС. And for good reason: this lens was NEVER built by a Russian factory or manufacturer!
The manufacturer (Japanese seems to be the most likely) wanted to take advantage of the reputation of russian lenses ХЕЛИОС (HELIOS) and usurped the name. He went as far as to engrave (between the number of the lens and the brand name HELIOS) the symbol of the factory KMZ – Krasnogorskii Mekhanicheskii Zavod- (a trapeze crossed by a horizontal line, broken in V in the middle), clear evidence of willful abuse. Obviously, this symbol appears only on very few copies of early production. I am fortunate to own one.
To refine the similarities, the manufacturer adopted the principle of the first two positions of the number to indicate the year of the lens.
Enjoy with your copy.
Great info. Thanks for that. I might update the post a bit as I didn’t make it clear for others that this lens is not from the same group as Helios 44-2.