Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (2023)

Has everyone used a Helios 44 58mm f/2 lens? If not, I think you missed something.

In this post, I'm going to talk about why and what to look out for when you're ready to buy one.

Before I knew much about lens mounts, I had at least discovered that before bayonet mounts became the norm, the most common way to attach a lens to a camera was by screwing it in.

And the most common mount was M42, developed in the late 1930's and used extensively in the 60's and 70's, particularly by manufacturers like Asahi Pentax, Praktica, Fujica, Yashica and Zenit.

Since it is a simple screw thread, a variety of simple adapters were (and are) available to mount an M42 lens on a camera with a bayonet mount such as the Pentax K, Minolta MC/MD, Canon EOS or Contax/Yashica C/Y just to name a few.

Nowadays there is a whole new range of M42 adapters to use these screw mount lenses on DSLRs and mirrorless bodies as well.

But why would you mount an old screw-threaded lens made decades ago on a newer film or digital camera?

If I had to answer in one word, I would say Takumar.

Asahi Pentax have made a wide range of Takumar lenses, most of which are great to use and give wonderful results.

But this post is not about Takumar!

It's about the Helios 44 series, which of course were also extensively manufactured in M42 assembly.

And they are another excellent reason to dive into the world of M42.

Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (1)

If you want the shed history of the Helios 44, this isn't the article. Google it and you will find a lot of comprehensive information.

Instead, this is about my own experience with maybe 25 or more Helios 44 lenses and which ones to look out for.

First, a very brief overview of the specification.

Its focal length is 58mm, so a longer 'normal' lens on 35mm film, and depending on the camera/sensor more of a portrait or short telephoto when adapted to digital.

58mm on an APS-C sensor with 1.5x crop factor (DSLRs, Sony E-mount, etc.) gives an equivalent field of view of 87mm.

At Micro Four Thirds the crop factor is 2x, so 58mm Helios is equivalent to 116mm.

So why even want a Helios 44 lens?

Simply because they're one of the most iconic vintage lenses of all frames, offering a beautiful combination of sharpness and dreamy bokeh (the blurred background of a photo).

Also because they are plentiful and very affordable.

And third, they can most likely be adapted to a camera you already own.

Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (2)

There are many variants of the Helios 44.

Let's start by getting yourself an M42 mount. They also exist in another screw thread mount called the M39 but it is not compatible with M42. So the first step is to verify that the lens you are looking at is an M42.

In addition, there are many variations, and even within a model type there are differences between colors (black with white and red paint, black with yellow and green paint, etc.) and place of manufacture (note the different symbol on the body that denotes the factory in the former Soviet Union).

I have owned at least one variant of the following models - 44-2, 44-3, 44M, 44M-4, 44M-5 and 44M-6.

There are other models, but as long as it starts with Helios 44, it belongs to the same family and the image quality and features are similar in all, in my experience.

The only thing I wouldn't recommend is the 44M-5.

These are pretty rare anyway and some are made of plastic, while all the other models I've owned have all been metal. The construction was not so good with the 44M-5.

The one I currently have - a Helios 44-2 - is the one I've had the longest and has a battered, worn body, circular cleaning marks on the front and back of the lens, and even a bubble in the glass.

But it has kept me hooked in the seven years that I've owned it now.

Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (3)

For all models, I've almost always used them on cameras with Aperture Priority (Av) mode. So you control the aperture on the lens, and the camera sets the shutter speed needed to get an accurate exposure.

In my experience, there are three main differences to consider before taking the plunge –

1. Blendenring.

The original 44-2 (my favorite model of all) is a fixed aperture lens. It has two aperture rings.

On the outer ring you set the aperture to which you want to stop down. Then the inner ring rotates freely (there are no click detents) between wide open and the aperture you set on the outer ring.

So if you want to shoot at f/5.6, set that on the outer ring, then open the aperture with the inner ring, compose, focus, and then stop the inner ring (which stops at f/5.6 - it's literally no longer closes) and shoot.

In practice, I love this setup because I don't care about precise aperture settings.

I usually set the limit to f/8 and then stop down until what I see on the VF/screen is what I'm aiming for in terms of depth of field and then shoot.

I don't care if the actual aperture is f/4.19 or f/6.72. I love this freedom of adjustment - it gives me very precise control over the depth of field and bokeh.

Also, the inner aperture ring is very easy to turn with just one finger, making fine adjustment easy.

Virtually all other Helios 44 variants (44M, 44M-4, 44M-6, etc.) have the more common single aperture ring with click stops from f/2 to f/16.

That's fine and works like any other lens with a click-stop aperture ring. But for me, in practice, it's a bit stiffer and clunkier to set the aperture than the preset aperture versions, and you don't have that quick adjustment and fine control.

Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (4)

2. The rear stop-down pin.

The original 44-2 does not have a stop-down pin. You control the aperture purely via the two aperture rings.

So as long as the lens is mounted on the camera (or adapter), there are no issues with the camera/adapter having to press the stop-down pin to control the aperture.

Most other variants have a pin and a side switch for A/M, i.e. Auto or Manual Stop Down.

If you switch to M, the stylus is held down, allowing you to manually control the aperture with the aperture ring. Again, no intervention from the camera/adapter is required.

In Aperture Priority mode, you simply select the aperture on the lens and then let your camera choose the best shutter speed.

Be careful here as there are some models that have this stop down pin but not the A/M switch.

So they are permanently in auto mode and need the camera/adapter to push the pin, otherwise they stay wide open.

If your camera doesn't depress the pin at the moment the shutter releases (and unless it's a true M42 film camera of a certain era, it won't) then stick with one lens that is permanently wide open. ie at its widest aperture of f/2.

I've had a few of these types and used a quick fix to get around the pin issue.

I just pushed the pin all the way down with a needle, put a dab of CA on it, let it dry, and then it acts like a manual switch, holding the lens pin down all the time. The aperture blades then close and then open as you adjust the aperture ring, just like the A/M switchable lenses when switched to M.

I've also done this with other old M42 lenses, such as Auto Chinons and Yashicas, with great success.

Just don't put glue on or near the glass!

Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (5)

3. Aperture blades.

This one is less important, but if you buy a Helios 44 to explore its bokeh (like most people do) then it has an impact.

The 44-2 has eight blades. Most (but I don't think all) of the later variants have six blades. It's easy to see, just look into the lens while stopping down (or ask for a picture of the aperture blades partially stopped down when buying online).

All of this difference means that if you're shooting a few stops from wide open with the 44-2, any out of focus spots of light will be closer to a circle as there are more blades and they're more curved. rather than dead straight.

On the later six-bladed versions, if you stop, you'll see that the blades are a sharper hexagonal shape. For me, this is a consideration, but unless you're into close-up shots with round bokeh spheres, it's a side issue.

So those are the main differences to look out for when considering a Helios 44 lens.

Preset aperture or standard aperture ring. If there is a stop down pin and if/how you can control it. And the number and straightness of the aperture blades.

If you have any questions please just ask them below and I will try to help you.

That being said, I would recommend everyone to try at least one Helios 44 lens and see what it can do.

For the price of the lens and adapter (the minimum I paid for a lens was around £5 and the cheapest adapter was a Canon EOS at around £2) it's worth exploring what could become your new favorite lens .

Which Helios 44 Lens You Should Buy (And Why You Need One) (6)

All photos in this post were taken with different Helios 44 lenses.

Do you have questions about the Helios 44 series? Any tips for adding yourself to use them?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don't forget to check the "Notify me of new comments by email" box to follow the conversation).

thanks for looking

What next?

Share this post with someone you think will like using the buttons below.

To reada random post from the archive.

Look what I'm up toAbout Now.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terence Hammes MD

Last Updated: 01/26/2023

Views: 6452

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terence Hammes MD

Birthday: 1992-04-11

Address: Suite 408 9446 Mercy Mews, West Roxie, CT 04904

Phone: +50312511349175

Job: Product Consulting Liaison

Hobby: Jogging, Motor sports, Nordic skating, Jigsaw puzzles, Bird watching, Nordic skating, Sculpting

Introduction: My name is Terence Hammes MD, I am a inexpensive, energetic, jolly, faithful, cheerful, proud, rich person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.