Monday, December 29, 2014

More From the Helios-44

EOS5D, Helios-44, DxO Optics Pro, DxO Film Pack Agfa Ultra Color 100 Emulation
I thought some fans of the Helios-44 Lens might enjoy a little more "sunshine" today. It's cold here in Atlantic Canada, but a lot of us still have green grass. It's lovely, really.

What would be the value of using a manual focus / manual exposure lens on one of today's great 35mm (sensor size) DSLR, especially with this rather odd Focal Length of 58mm?? As I mentioned in my last Post, it would be a very good Portrait Lens, especially on a 24mm (APSC size) DSLR, where the Focal Length actually becomes 93mm (on a Canon). I personally use it for it's ability to zero in on the details of something bigger - like this:

EOS5D, Helios-44, DxO Optics Pro, DxO Film Pack Fuji Superia 200 Emulation
Or this:

EOS5D, Helios-44, DxO Optics Pro, DxO Film Pack Agfa Ultra Color 100 Emulation

Remember this - artsy photographers like what I'm trying to be, tend to prefer to walk around with a wide angle lens like a 28mm or 35mm; in fact you'll find that "Boutique" digital compacts, such as the Leica X2 are equipped with a non-removable 35mm, and Fuji, Sony, and Ricoh all produce some expensive pocket cameras with the same fixed wide angle formula, so there must be a good reason for it. And there is. Creative photography often is at it's best when a wide angle lens is used. Going through the normal vision range of 45mm to 60mm is boring, and gets to be more of a challenge to creativity, and finally, a Telephoto, or Long Zoom Lens of 100mm and up becomes less and less about creative photography, and more about technical, portrait, or Journalist photography. A long lens can be used to great effect taking a shoulders-up portrait, catching birds in flight, or zooming in on a ball game, but there's not much creativity in such things; rather, they lean toward the technical.

This brings me to some basic technical stuff. My lens is a 44-4 (meaning Version 4), Serial# 839021. It has the Aperture Stop Pin, which means it requires the flanged adapter (an M42 thread-mount adapter with an inner flange to hold the Stop Pin in. If this doesn't mean a thing to you, don't fret about it.) I prefer the earlier versions, up to the 44-2 which I had before, with the manually operated Stop Down Ring - I thought I wanted to get out of M42 and manually focussing, so I sold the whole lot. Now it's creeping back into my life; with this 44-4 basically given to me. All it amounts to is different ways of controlling the Aperture, but with the earlier ring-control, it behaves better on a DSLR, because you can pre-select the F-Stop you want to use, then have the second ring to turn between wide open (for a bright viewfinder) and stopped down to your selected aperture (the viewfinder darkens, sometimes to the point you can no longer see your Meter Setting).

Naturally, it's a manual focus lens, which can make life a lot easier if you want to use Hyper-focal Distance Focussing, which I did at f8 in the above shots. It's truly a "set and forget" method that is handy, unless you have a close subject and want a blurred background. This lens isn't the best at doing blurred backgrounds ("Bokeh"), as you'll see in the next shot:

EOS5D, Helios-44 at f2, DxO Optics Pro, DxO Film Pack Agfa Ultra Color 100 Emulation
The Bokeh is linear instead of circular, kind of a confused triple-vision blur, like when you forget your spectacles. However, on the plus side, this lens creates a kind of "visual vibration or buzz" in the background, I think. In some situations, people are reporting a "swirly" effect with this lens, again with the earlier models, which is well liked.

I also notice that the focus is happening a bit toward me when compared with what I'm seeing in the Viewfinder - you can see that the last two letters of "Squire St" are sharp, but the rest quickly recedes into blur - I thought I was focussing on the Stop Sign itself. This is almost certainly due to my Viewfinder Diopter adjustment being off by one step away from the camera - easily fixed.

Here's another one at f2:

EOS5D, Helios-44, DxO Optics Pro, DxO Film Pack Agfa Ultra Color 100 Emulation
This wasn't so obviously bad, as I was standing further away, but if you look closely, you'll notice the #8, which was what I was focussing on, is a but blurred compared with the big wooden box in the lower right foreground.

I do like using a "real" old school manual focus lens, and there is certainly a place for it. And while the Helios-44 isn't the sharpest lens in the drawer, it gives a unique look, and works well with software film emulations. I would highly recommend it for "walk-about" or street photography, with the lens set at hyper-focal, or if you really know what you want at wide open (f2), it makes a rather unique buzz-bokeh in the background.

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