Much has been written about the infamous Russian bokeh monster Helios 44 58mm F2. Why infamous you ask? Well, the Helios is a copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm. Back in the end of World War II, the Russians occupied East Germany where they went into the Zeiss factory and stole the Biotar formula.
The Helios 44 58mm is one of the most mass produced lenses ever made and can be acquired rather cheaply. It's far from being a perfect lens but wow what bokeh. The Biotar formula creates a swirling bokeh that is just stunning. This is why it's called the "Bokeh Monster".
You really need to stop this lens down a bit. Shooting wide open get you a very dreamy image. Stopping down to f4 or lower sharpens up the lens nicely. It has 8 aperture blades.
Helios 44 is really sought after by the more experimental photographers and cinematographers. The lenses' bokeh is unmatched and has remarkable color retention. I use it on my BMPCC and URSA Mini 4.6k and it looks amazing. It gives your footage an instant vintage look.
The sharper the camera sensor the better this lens performs. It takes the "digital bite" out of the harshest video image. It also creates stunning flares. I also use a Metabones Speed booster on my BMPCC and it really helps to bring this lens to life. The extra stop does magic on this vintage baby.
The lens was manufactured mostly in an M42 mount to be used with the Zenit camera but it was also made in a Pentax K and M39 mount as well.
It has a 52mm filter thread. I use an inexpensive step up ring to get it to my filter size of 77mm.
Minimum Focus Distance is about 20 inches.
- Super small and compact
- Extremely easy to find
- Magical Bokeh
- Can't shoot it wide open
- Has chromatic aberration
- Heavy for its size but great for cinema use
- Flare Prone (this could go in the pros column as well)
- No two lenses are the same
Because of the lack of "quality control" in the Helios factory you really have no idea what you are getting. If you are serious about adding one of these babies to your collection I would buy 5-10 of them (yes, they are that cheap), test them all, then you can pick the winner and sell the rest. This is how Stanley Kubrick chose his lenses. I love this lens and you will get unique and beautiful images out of the Helios 44.
It's probably the best "bang for your buck" lenses on the market. I love this lens and you will get unique and beautiful images out of the Helios 44. I own the Helios 44M, which is built a bit more solid and weighs more but the optically the same as the 44-2.
Alex Ferrari is the Founder of the popular filmmaking site IndieFilmHustle.com, Numb Robot Studios and the host of the #1 Filmmaking Podcast on iTunes The Indie Film Hustle Podcast. He's also a self-diagnosed lens addict and experimental cinematographer.