Let’s step back in time. It’s late in the USSRs life, about a decade before the fall of the Berlin Wall. As the Cold War slowly draws to a close, Soviet factories are busy pumping out knockoff replicas of pretty much every western luxury, and that included camera lenses.
One of these knockoff lenses was known as the Helios 44M-2, a 58mm lens with a wide F2 aperture that is believed by many to be a knockoff of an old Zeiss lens.
Known for its incredible and unique swirly bokeh, this old Soviet lens is both very cheap and very plentiful in the modern day, showing up online on sites like Amazon or eBay (w/ adapters included), and even being unearthed in thrift shops and garage sales.
In this review, we’ll be looking at this legendary vintage lens on my Sony a6000 e-mount camera. Now that the history lesson is over, let’s jump right in.
Looking for just a quick summary before jumping in?
- Heavy and well built (usually)
- Manual focusing is fun
- Poor sharpness (but the bokeh is amazing)
- Dirt cheap and plentiful
Size & Weight
This old clunky lens is usually around 7.5 inches (19.3cm) with the required Sony e-mount adapter. Weighing a hefty 14 ounces (397g), this big old boy feels chunky and huge on Sony APS-C cameras such as the Sony a6000.
Like a lot of things from that era and country, the Helios 44M-2 is made entirely out of very heavy metal. It’s big, chunky, and has a lot of character. That being said, “quality control” was not even a concept in some of these factories, so you never know how your copy of the lens will hold up. That being said, I love the aesthetics of this lens, it’s big, old and pretty damn cool.
Sharpness isn’t great. Wide open, the center sharpness is iffy and the corner sharpness is even worse. When stopped down, centers start to look decent but corners still suck.
However, you’re not buying the Helios 44M-2 for the sharpness, but rather the unique bokeh that no other lens can match. And yes, the bokeh is fabulous. It takes some skill to perfect, as you need to find the perfect aperture/subject distance ratio, but it just really is so gorgeous and unique.
As for optical flaws, this thing flares. A lot. Like, don’t shoot into ANY direct light sources, not even a table lamp.
Manual Focus & Other Stuff
The Helios 44M-2 is an old vintage lens so manual focus is bound to be a fun experience. My lens, along with many other users, suffered from some sort of decentering issue, so it’s rather difficult to get both the centers and the corners in focus. Again, it’s part of the charm of this weird old clunker.
The aperture ring, of course, is also just as weird as the rest of the lens. There are actually not one, but two rings. One of them, as you’d expect, changes the aperture. The other, for whatever reason, set a limit to the aperture. So, you’d turn one ring to change your aperture “limit” and then spin the other one to actually set the aperture itself. A goofy design that just adds to the charm in my opinion.
My Final Thoughts
I honestly adore this lens. It’s dumb, it’s soft, but the bokeh it produces and the character it provides is nearly unmatched. The horrific corner sharpness doesn’t even matter because every photo will just be a mess of crazy swirly bokeh balls anyway. If you’re looking for a fun (and super cheap) lens to play around with, the Helios 44M-2 is the way to go.
I’ll put purchase links down below if you interested in checking it out, as it (usually) comes with the e-mount adapter pre-attached and included. Thanks for reading, I hope you have fun with this insane and hilarious lens. 🙂
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