Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Elusive "Film Look" ... Again


EOS 5D Classic, Helios-44 Lens, DxO optics Pro RAW Conversion, DxO Film Pack AgfaVista-200 Emulation
EOS 5D Classic, Helios-44 Lens, DxO optics Pro RAW Conversion, DxO Film Pack AgfaVista-200 Emulation


Once again, I'm trying to create the right mix of qualities which will emulate the look of colour film with a digital camera. This time, I've added a film-era lens to the mix, the Russian made Helios-44, which is a 58mm focal length f2 lens, with the M42 thread-mount. I had one of these years ago, but sold it, but what goes 'round comes 'round in my world, so I got a great deal on another one recently. These lenses typically came as the "high-end" kit on Zenit SLR cameras, and so, many would argue they range from "not remarkable" to "just plain bad", but in my world, being a bad lens isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Helios is a rather un-sharp lens IMHO, and we've gotten so accustomed to the super sharpness one gets with DSLR cameras nowadays, even the "kit lens" is more than adequately sharp. I would argue back - isn't there a place for an un-sharp lens in the tool-kit?

What I've re-discovered is that the Helios-44, when combined with Film Emulation software, creates photos remarkably similar to the Smena Symbol camera. Even though this lens looks well built, it belongs in the Lomography drawer, I think, where non-sharp gets described by words like "dreamy". In fact, the "low-end" option on Zenit SLR cameras was the Industar 50-2, which, in spite of it's almost silly appearance on a big Canon DSLR, is a super sharp lens, and manages to do everything well, except at f3.5, is not as good as the Helios in low light.

It's also important to note that "film-like" doesn't necessarily mean "not sharp". In the 1970's, if one were using a Takumar MC lens on a Pentax Spotmatic, there was oodles of sharpness to be had, which still looks right at home today.

As it turns out, having a Helios-44 lens is ideal if you want to distinguish yourself from the super-sharp photo crowd, and get into something that's a lot more retro, especially when combined with emulation software techniques. Also, at 58mm, as opposed to the far more common 50, it provides a bit more reach, and a narrower field of view, which with it's inherent softness, would make it a great portrait lens.

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