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.
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.
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.
So this is not a proper review of my newly aquired Fujifilm x100s, rather just a collection of sample shots from my recent family vacation to sunny Calpe near Alicante in Spain.
The x100s was the only camera I brought with me on the trip, and I must admit I was a bit scared that I might miss my X-Pro1…. but I really didn’t! This camera is a beast! The 35mm eq FOV fujinon lens is a PERFECT alrounder.
I will save my words for the review, which I already started, and just shut up and let the images do the talking.
As I venture further into the world of photography I have developed a defining fascination of old lenses. They have a character that has been long lost in the production of clinical-looking perfect rendering glass for the ultra-modern digital cameras of today. What is super fun about my Fujifilm X-mount system, is that you can adapt almost any lens mount via an adapter. So possibilities to use these old lenses are nearly endless.
For the old Pentax M42 screw-mount you can get a LOT of great glass for a very reasonable price. Cream of the crop are the old Takumar lenses, but also many old DDR and USSR lenses like Praktika, and Zeiss Jena lenses are really cool.
I was fortunate enough to get a hold of a rare Fujinon 50mm f/1.4. It came attached to a Fujica ST705W, and I got it REALLY cheap. The lens was in excellent condition. No fungus or inter-elemental dust of any kind. Of course the white marking had been yellowed by wear and nicotine. I restored the outer elements of the lens using silkmatté spray car-finish and white+green acryllic paint for the markings. I now have a mint condition, 38 y.o. vintage lens for the bargain price of $50 (incl. the great Fujica ST705W, which I will make a little review of when I get some rolls of film developed and scanned)
I have bought a cheap adapter for the M42 to X mount on ebay, and the 50mm turns into a great 75mm FOV equivalent f/1.4 for my APS-C Fujifilm X-Pro1
“They don’t build ‘em like they used to”
The build of this lens is FANTASTIC! It’s all metal and glass. It’s amazingly sturdy and the aperture ring clicks in great defined clicks. The focus ring is fluid in its turning and a joy to use. I have handled alot of lenses, and the feel of these vintage lenses simply cannot be matched by todays production standards, except maybe for the Leica lenses, and to some extent the Zeiss lenses. The era of plastic certainly isn’t doing anyone any favours in terms of durability and look & feel!
I am simply amazed that I am using something from 1978 and it feels brand spanking new!
“Sharp is great, but so is softness and character”
So what makes this lens so great is its character. It seems that with the digital era came the pursuit and quest to get everything razor sharp, and noiseless. While great and practical, the results can often lack defining character. This is where I like the look and quirkyness of the old lenses. You get some unique looking shots, that you simply cannot achieve with modern day lenses.
The Fujinon 50mm f/1.4 is quite soft when shot wide open. But stop it down to f/2 and it is rather sharp. However that wideopen softness gives it a dreamy look and feel to portraits. There is some chromatic aberration visible when shot in harsh sunlight, but if you attach a 3-stop ND filter everything looks great.
The Bokeh is very pleasing. Soft and round out of focus specular highlights, and its not messy, but rather fluid and soft. For object separation this lens is fantastic.
The soft dreamy look at f/1.4 is really essential to the shots that can be achieved with this lens. When you stop it down a few steps to f/2.8 you can get very sharp results. I prefer the soft look approach, since I would use a more modern lens if I wanted that super corrected sharpness. However, the possibility to achieve sharpness is definitely there.
Color rendering is a pleasing warm colour. Colours are saturated and there is great blue/yellow separation. This must be due to great coating of the elements.
“Unfortunately no-one can be told what the matrix is… you have to see it for yourself!”
Below are samples that I have shot with the lens attached to my X-Pro1. I have a long way to go before mastering manual focus, but the magnification aid in the X-Pro1 helps a lot. I have done various post-processing to the shots below, as I would normally do. But to me the soft character shines through in all images. The aperture value doesn’t get put through to the camera, but all shots where shot wide open at f/1.4. EXIF is embedded within the images for those who are interested.
A quick and dirty photo post today. It was shot just some hours before my daughters first gymnastics show. As any proud father with a camera stuck to the front of his face, I took some images.
She poses so naturally. I don’t really give her any direction. I just tell her that I’m taking some pictures.
All images taken in our apartment, using only natural light, with the Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4R lens on the Fujifilm X-Pro1.
I have had the pleasure of shooting my new X20 for about a week now. During which we have had some nice sunny spring weather in Denmark! I had a couple of midweek days off, so I decided to take the x20 to the streets, which is actually the purpose for which it was bought. So how did the little beast perform out there in the pulsating metropolitan life?
Like a true champ!
The camera is completely silent, discrete in appearance, and focus is fast! as in REALLY fast!
Apart from the obvious difference in image appearance (compared to my X-Pro1 35mm images) due to wider angle shots, I noticed that my images shot with the X20 had a very different feel to them. They seem to be more “snapshot” like. They seem to capture more intimate situations, and more intricate compositions.
This is mostly because it is so stealthy and unobtrusive that you can venture deep into people “intimate-sphere” without ruining the moment. To me THAT is what street photography is all about, and the x20 is an AMAZING tool to capture these delicate situations where life is indeed that; Life!
Below are a collection of shots spanning a few days of street life in Århus, Denmark. I have a custom mode set to b&w film simulation, and post process was done in Lightroom 4.4 which adjustments to contrast and adding vignettes.
Anyway, I did 45 min of goofing around at the store, before simply deciding that I could not live without this little camera gem. So home, we went. Since then, I have been bringing it everywhere! I even brought it to work, where it snuggly fit into my doctor coat pocket along with my reflex hammer. I brought it to family gatherings, to the streets, in the car….everywhere! Because this camera excels at exactly that: Being portable.
This is an initial impression review.It is NOT a technical review, since these have been done already. I have taken a multitude of pictures in various situations, in colour as well as black & white. This should give an idea how great an all round performer this camera really is. So let’s get to it.
Build/Look and Feel
This camera is nothing short of breathtaking in appearance! I know this is a very subjective observation. But boy, do I love the old retrolook that Fujifilm has going on with the X series! The X20 (as opposed to the X10 which only came in all black) comes in two versions; an all black as well as a silver/black combo. The material is metal, and the quality in hand feel VERY solid and sturdy. It’s light too. weighing in at below 400g, this camera is a great carry round!
The camera is built to exactly the same dimensions as the X10, so if you already own one of those, you’ll be more than familiar with the layout. I will NOT be comparing the x20 to the x10, since I never owned the x10, so there is no rationality behind doing such a comparison.
The dials are solid and sturdy, with great torque. You won’t accidentally knock the exp. comp. out of place. The zoom control on the lens, is very fluid, and feels good. The pop-up flash seems a little fragile, but compared to the X-E1 it’s solid. The EVF on the back is unchanged from the x10. There are much better screens on competing cameras, but it does the job.
There is a little “thumb” grip on the back. It doesn’t seem like much, but it gives a surprising amount of support.
So what would a guy that owns the X-Pro1 use this little compact for. Obviously the image quality is NOT on par with the amazingly performing sensor of the X-Pro1. The X-Pro1 is relatively portable (compared to DSLR’s anyway). So what then?
The X20 is a compact camera. It is placed in that market segment. It’s a bit bigger than most compacts, because of the retrostyling, but it is… a compact. So I will comment on how it performs as… a compact.
And the performance is good!
Taking into consideration that it features a 2/3 inch sensor, noise levels are kept down even at higher ISO’s. The IQ is great! You get the Fujifilm film simulation .jpgs which are gorgeous in colour rendition. And the fujinon 28-112mm (35mm equivalent) lens is nice and sharp, corner to corner.
ISO: at base ISO 100 there’s no noise. The noise curve is relatively steep, and at ISO 800 you have visible noise. I would NOT go above ISO 1600 with this camera, regardless of what PR reps, salesmen, and the likes tell you. Compare this to other 2/3′s and the x20 is a MUCH better performer. Compare it to the Sony RX100…. not so much!
Good news is that the noise rendered by this camera is very organic looking, reminiscent of film grain.
IQ: The files prouced are rich in color and contrast! Dynamic range is quite good. The film simulation modes like Astia and Velvia are great. I rarely shoot RAW with this camera since the .jpgs are so good. Auto WB does the job, and you have the usual suspects in terms of light metering (spot, multi, weighted)
Lens: The lens on the x20 is the same as on the x10. It’s a 7.1-28.4mm (28-112mm fullframe equivalent) f/2.0-2.8. It’s a great lens. No wonder they stuck to it. It’s sharp, and good corner to corner, with a bit of cromatic aberation wide open. I REALLY miss an ND filter built in for shooting wide open in sunlight. The shutter is silent! as in silent. No audible noise, making it perfect for stealth street shooting.
Speed: This camera is FAST! Autofocus in bright light is instant! In darkness, instant! there is a 12fps burst mode. and the menus and write times are very snappy. This is a HUGE plus for this camera.
OVF: The optical viewfinder now has an overlay that tells you relevant info such as shutter speed, and Aperture. It also shows you the area in focus. Great addition, that really should have been on the x10 in the first place.
Macro: The lens has a macro mode, even a super macro mode, that lets you get within 1 cm of you subject at the widest lens setting. It produces some great results! This was quite a surprise for me, but a really fun feature that I actually enjoy.
Pros and Cons
- Really sturdy build quality
- It’s FAST! Fast AF, fast menus, fast write times.
- Great lens
- OVF Overlay
- The noise in high ISO’s is VERY good looking. Almost film-like.
- Not the ISO performer its made out to be. The sensor size shows here!
- EVF quality/resolution is a bit “last season”
- Battery life is ridiculous.
- No ND filter built in, like the x100/x100s
The samples below show the great diversity of this camera. The images have been variously processed in LR 4.3 as I would do with all my other images. This is a “real usage” review so I think the samples should reflect how I would use the camera.
The x20 is a really good looking camera. It performs really well for a compact. It has its quirks (like most cameras Fuji makes) but it is nothing that will prevent you from enjoying this camera quite a lot.
For me, the camera speed combined with the silent shutter packed in a compact body makes it ideal for street photography. I set one of the custom modes to black and white simulation, auto ISO 800, and the camera acts like a 60′s film cam equipped with an Ilford Delta film. This alone, is the selling point for me.
If you’re in the market for a nice and snappy street camera, which is also cheap, the x20 is just your thing.
It’s a GREAT experience.