Known by many for its “swirly” bokeh, the Helios (Ге́лиос) 44-2 is one of my favorite lenses for so many reasons. This vintage Soviet lens was optically modeled after the Carl Zeiss Biotar, which gives the Helios its beautiful, iconic bokeh.
It’s been a rainy spring in Colorado, so I took the opportunity to put the Helios on my Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera and capture some cinematic, moody footage.
The Helios 44-2 is a 58mm f/2 lens, which makes it a versatile piece of glass. As you can see from the video above, the 44-2 has different “looks” at depending on the relationship between the camera, subject and background. This makes it useful for a variety of photography styles including close-up, portrait, street or even landscape.
Because it is vintage glass, your focus and aperture are obviously manually controlled. The smooth, de-clicked aperture ring makes this a dream lens for video. The top ring (in front of the aperture control) has clicks, which allow you to “lock-in” your aperture to specific values if needed.
This also means you’ll need to find an adapter if you plan on attaching this lens to your DSLR, Mirrorless or Analog camera (Other than the Zenit 35mm it originally came with).
An important note when buying a Helios 44-2 — not all 44-2s are created equal! For about 40 years, this lens has been “modified” and was manufactured at multiple different production facilities in the USSR.
What this means for you as a buyer, is that you need to be aware of what you’re buying. A common issue found in this lens is oily aperture blades. While these is great for smooth aperture movement, in a 40 or 50-year-old lens that has been sitting on a shelf, this can cause some problems. If that oil drips onto the optics… you’re going to have a bad time. So keep an eye out for overly oily aperture blades when lens hunting.
Overall, I love the sharpness of this lens, and paired with its creamy, shallow depth of field, it makes some gorgeous, artsy photographs. They say photography isn’t about the gear, but sometimes a piece of gear just gets you excited to shoot. The Helios 44-2 is that piece of gear for me.
Let me know what you think about the Helios in the Comments and if you’ve ever shot with one! Until next time, get out and go shoot!