Helios 44m-4 58mm f/2 review

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the new post on using the Helios with the Mitakon Lens HERE
Review time!

Todays blogpost is a review of the Helios 44m-4 58mm f/2 lens. The lens was produced in the old Soviet Union by Jupiter among others from 1958 till 1992 and is one of most mass produced lenses in the world! I bought the M42 screwmount version (hence the 44m name), since I have that adapter, but they made it available in many other mounts.

The reason for buying this lens was one thing, and one thing only: The swirley bokeh effect!

The lens has, what is referred to as optical vignetting, meaning that out of focus “bokeh-balls” becomes more elipsoid as you move away from the center of the image. Also referred to, as “Cat-eye” effect, this phenomenon gives a pronounced feeling that the background “swirls” around the center focus subject. What really surprised me though, was all the other scenarios this lens was good for! The 58mm focuslength on a APS-C sensor turns into a 87mm FOV equivalent which makes it a really nice medium tele lens. For the streets I was VERY surprised at how well it is doing. And it does amazing with black and white photography. The lens is built like a tank! Seriously. METAL and GLASS….the USSR-way!! My copy is very smooth in the focus ring, and the aperture ring has nice clicks. A good condition lens.

Because the lens was built in such superfluous numbers they’re CHEAP…. and I mean REALLY cheap! $10 on ebay and you get a good condition lens…. it’s ridiculous, really.

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Performance:

This lens has actually replaced my fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4R as my “stay-on-camera” lens. Which is crazy, since I’m not that good at manual focussing…. but the results from this lens is just damn worth it!

For black and white street photography the lens is really great. It does have a little glow at the highlights in bright sunshine, but that only adds to the charm. The contrast needs to be upped in post-processing, since I find the OOC files to be a little lacking in that area. Micro-contrast on the other hand is great. Files get a real sense of 3D “pop” Quite cool.

The swirley bokeh is not as pronounced on the APS-C sized sensor, since the FOV is cropped, but I assure you it is still there. The maximum effect is when you have a  focus subject about 2-3 meters away and the background about 10-15 meters away, so count a factor 1:5 ratio for foreground/background subject distance. The optimal background is sunlit foliage. This is where you get that amazing special “cat-eye” effect.

I only shoot this lens wide open at f/2. Same as with the Fujinon 50mm f/1.4 M42 that I reviewed here you get a little softness which I actually like. Stopped down it is not as sharp as the Takumars or the Fujinons. but for 10 bucks…I’ll manage!

The Bokeh on this lens is amazing. It can get harsh when you want it to (foliage background) but for street use with regular busy backgrounds the bokeh is fantastic.

Samples:

No need for me to ramble on. This lens is an amzing lens, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an X-series lens system. It’s cheap and gives you amazing results! Below is my typical review shots. Shot in many situations. Mostly street. But for this lens, also alot of nature shots.

All shots below were shot wide open at f/2 mounted on my X-Pro1. For the most sunlit days I mounted a 3-stop ND filter.

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61 replies »

  1. Hi Jonas,
    It’s good to see the amazing pictures that you take, I follow you since you were an icon designer and I put really sad when you decided to leave it for study medicine. Now I can see your creative side again and again, and it’s awesome, never leave it!

    Regards from Argentina,
    Alejandro.

  2. Hi Jonas,

    Really nice bokeh, I must admit.

    You really must have been lucky, when buying this lens.

    I cannot find any lens that is cheaper than ~30$ (+20$ for shipping).

  3. Seriously, I don’t know what else to say other than “Holy crap!” Beautiful images. There is a film-like quality to them that is gorgeous and the bokeh is nothing short of stellar. Great job, once again.

  4. Hi Jonas,

    This one’s among the very well-known semi-cultic russian ‘cheapskate’ optics enjoyed by many for years… it’s a knock-off copy of the 58/2 Zeiss Biotar and one of the examples where the copy to a large extent actually outshines the original;o) – theres quite a few different variations to choose from in that series (the Helios-44’s) and some a sharper and better coated than others… It can be dead sharp stopped down just a little depending on Your version… mine is! It came of an old 70’s Zenith SLR – the camera is loooong gone but the Helios lives on… Theres quite a few other Helios-xx’s to choose from and not all are as cheap as this one… take the 85mm/f1.5 Helios-40 that goes for well over 500$ in reasonable shape – also to be had in Contax mount… Also I don’t really think the namedesignation has the least to do with the mount as You mention – the Helios’s in M39-mount is still named Helios-40/44/etc nonetheless and not Helios-39 etc;o) Also it’s not that Jupiter is making the Helios-lenses – they are two different brands but could very well be maked on the same plants of which there also is quite a few… Again, some more well-regarded than others… It’s a jungle of mixed quality an often cryptic orignation…

    Best
    klehmann

    • Hi Klehmann.

      Thank you for stopping by, and reading my blog!

      I didn’t state that the entire name indicates the mount… only the “M” in the 44M-X stands for M42. The Contax mounts were called 44K-X
      They were produced by (among others) KMZ which also produced the Jupiter lenses. You’re right about Jupiter being another brand just like Helios.

      Very cryptic origins indeed…. but when you find a decent quality specimen, they’re divine!

  5. Hello,
    Because of you I spent some money, I read your article and bought one identical lens straight away, in very good condition but not as cheap, it was 50 euros, but if it brings me similar results that in your photos, and can become too the “stay on” lens on my Fuji XE1, then thank you very much for the tip and your beautiful photos about what can be done with it.
    Regards from Paris,
    Guillaume

  6. It was very intersting to read this note. I have about 20 lenses, named Helios (I live in Russia), and I can to say, that Helios has nonstable quality. Best of all: MC Helios-77M-4 (but 50/1.8), -44M-7, 44M-6,… That is right – glass&metall, but dimensions… As for me, I like to shot with my CZJ Sonnar 50/1.5. And, if you take
    Jupiter-3 or Jupiter-8 (about 1950-1960), I think, you like it also. Excuse me for my english. Good luck!

  7. Hi,

    Just had to stop by and say that I enjoyed the mini review. Great images too.

    I pick my near mint Helios up tommorow. I can’t wait to try it out. I too got the lens because of the bokeh, I’ve been using a 50mm F1.8 Pentacon M42 lens and that too can have swirly bokeh at the correct distances.

  8. Hi Jonas,
    Love your pics and have just put a bid on ebay for Helios 58 f2 but its going to go for more then $50 au ( Australian )

  9. Great photos!
    I came across your blog, while making some research for a review for the Helios 44 I was writing for my blog.
    I really love this lens. I have a 44M I got from my grandfather and I use it on a Canon. It has a really nice ‘film-like’ quality to it’s images.

    I was thinking about making the switch to Fuji, and your blog makes me consider it all the more :)

    Cheers form Israel!
    Lev

  10. Hi Jonas… I just got the XE-1. I have a D600 that i do my pro work with. I dont have any Fuji glass and I have been using a Nikon 24mm f2.8D with an adaptor. I am a bit disspoint with teh quality that I am getting. Can you tell me what body you are using this lens on. Also have u unsed NIkon glass with your X Body. Thanks and keep up the good work…

  11. I’ve recently bought one. It is a 44M-4 model. It looks like a new one. It costed me $40. The M42 to EOS mount costed me another $5. All from taobao. I briefly tried it. At f2, the sharpness is very close to my 50mm f1.4 USM less which costed me over $450. I can’t think of a reason of not keeping it.

    • Hi Tom.

      Should work just as well. The adapter would even be alot smaller, so it would be a very compact system. Have yet to try it out. Please give me a heads up if you get one :)

      /jonas

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  13. hola mirando en flickr, en busqueda de imagenes que sobresalgan en calidad, nitidez contraste pureza de colores, etc, me sorprendi que una camara -tanque sovietico- como la zenit, traiga un objetivo de tremenda calidad, te comento antes en la era analogica usaba olimpus y nikon, luego con la llegada de lo digital pase a canon, pero nunca estuve conforme con los objetivos standard de canon jamas, y los de alta gama me parecen inalcanzables, compre tokina, sigma y canos USM, para mejorar, pero sigo buscando, es asi que encontre ZENIT HELIOS MM 44M 58MM F2, a tal punto de no creer que produzcan los resultados que se publican, realmente asombrosos, en este momento tengo enmis manos una camara zenit que me entere que un amigo la tenia sin uso, adivinen que voy a hacer, logico pero me faltara el adaptador, asi que una vez que lo reciba, voy a subir fotos. Muy buenos tus comentarios y te felicito por tus conocimientos.

  14. You really exhibited the swirl bokeh effect of the lens. I had a Helios m44-4 lens and attached it to my EOS 40D with an adaptor ring. I just found that the swirl effect is the most significant when the background is kind of spotty. I compared it with my Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM lens. The sharpness, contrast and color of the Helios is no way second to the Canon lens except the autofocusing feature. The Helios m44-4 lens is really a great bargain.

  15. I’ve tried several vintage glass, but when I want a sharp close focus shot , I always go to my helios 44m-4. the helios 77m-4 is also very nice.

  16. nice pics, dude. let me ask you something: can the use of adaptors damage the camera ? i´ve seen there are some adaptor rings that come with af-assistant chip instaled, is that the one that you have?

  17. Hey there ! very nice pictures ! AS many people I was just googling here and there and I saw your images. Reading this page decided me to get a Zenit Helios Lens ^^
    I ‘ve found one on Ebay not as cheap as the one you bought. Mine is a Helios 44-2 2/58 . I don’t know yet what i’ll be able to do with that 40$ lens but I hope I ‘ll take some beautifull pictures like yours.
    I also bought a m42 to m4/3 adapter because i’ll use it on my panasonic GF3. I just can’t wait to test it.
    I read that you sometime lose the infinite focus when using adapter …… doesn’t matter !

  18. Jonas,

    Great review and lovely pictures so thank you, incredible style! Do you know how many aperture blades your particular Helios has?

    Thanks again,
    J

  19. Can i use this lens with my Sony A mount Camera ? (Allpha 35).. If so which adapter should i chose ?

  20. I have this lens on Fuji XT1 took it of my old Zenit that was sitting brand new for years. This lens should be worth at least 100$ because it beats many lenses that cost 100$ ! Must try it to believe it. Bokeh, ok, i dont care just sharpness is perfect. Colors very real.

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  22. That lens has the most amazing swirly bokeh. I have one I used on a lumix for a while, but I’ve just picked up the x-pro1 and am awaiting delivery of an m42-fuji adaptor. I cant wait to play with it; your shots are amazing.

  23. Good evening! i just found this camera in my dad’s basement! i love vintage photos and i loved your blog about this! but i’m from greece and i don’t really understand what should i do to take beautiful pictures like yours! please if you could help me that would be great thanks!

  24. Also i googled about x-pro1 and a camera poped up! so i didn’ really understand if you used zenit helios or another camera..so please if you could reply i would be grateful!

  25. I bought an M42 adapter from somebody on the Internet, and he threw in the Helios… for free. So basically it’s the absolutely best value for money lens I have :D

  26. first of all thank you for this review. While I was reading it, I remembered that there is a nice camera I saw once when repairing my Contax RX; camera is Zenit ET and the price of 20EUR for almost in mint condition was so tempting; after reading your review I bought it today, immediately :)) just for a start; now I am gonna buy this beautiful lens, and I can choose between 44M-4 and 44M-4 MC; one of those is gonna be mine for happy shooting until I but some Fuji X camera (at the moment I am so happy with good old X100) ao…. if you know anything that can make me choose which one I will be grateful, otherwise, I will stick with non MC version probably

    I almost bought Fuji X-T1 few weeks ago, but decided to wait for a while until X-Pro2 will come out :)) maybe not

    Thank you for this and other articles, they are great, and no wonder everybody likes them, cheers man

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