Two years ago, I accidentally bumped into an antique camera store while doing street photography near the Pasar Seni bus terminal in Kuala Lumpur (KL). The owner of the camera store is an old Chinese guy and by the moment we met, I have no issue at all with the guy, until a couple of minutes later.
I was asking for the price of Helios 44m displayed in the window, and then he gives me the price of 2XX RM for the lens. There were two copies of the lens at that time, so he was asking which one do I want. Then I pointed one of them (since they both at the same price), and after that, he offers me to get the lens with an original classic UV filter that comes with the lens if I’m okay to top up for another 50 RM.
Obviously I try to ask him if he could give me the lens including the filter for the same price, but then the funny thing is, he gives me the filter and he took out the lens rear cap and then I like, what?! Wait a minute, why do you take the rear cap? Then he answered, so what do you want? do you want the rear cap or the filter? What I feel that he is a bit rude during that time, so I told him to get me the initial offer, which is 2XX RM for the lens (and all the cap) without UV filter. And after that, no more words, and I immediately get out of his store after all the transactions completed. I never go back to that store since then.
Anyway, the lens has been with me for more than two years. I was using this lens with the micro four-thirds adapter for my Olympus E-M1 and when I switch from micro four-thirds system to Fujifilm X-T1 I still keep the lens and I bought conversion adapter from X-Mount to M42. Fast forward to this week, I just received my conversion adapter for M42 to Sony E Mount, because I have switched (again) to A7R. (my first journey in digital full-frame format).
Yesterday, I have joined a photoshoot event in KL (although, it’s been a long time I didn’t do this) to see how my A7R and this Helios 44m lens combined and I’m quite satisfied. Yes, I completely aware that the lens is a bit tricky to get really sharp focus on f/2 but you may consider that whoever buys this lens is not for sharpness, but it’s for artistic effect that this lens delivered.
I was blown-out, with the result from the event and give me more confident that this lens is really capable to produce interesting portrait image. The lens “bokeh” characteristic is interesting but for some people, they might found it a little bit disturbing. The lens is soft in the corner and not really sharp in the center, but minimal adjustment can be done in post-processing to increase the sharpness. All image you see here is (minimum) edited using Capture One.
Is it swirly or simply disturbing? Well, the famous copy of this lens is Helios 44m-2 and mine is the first generation (without -2). But I’m lucky enough to test both of them (my colleague in the office bought the second generation) and I found out that the color rendering for the first generation is more saturated and the second generation is sharper. It’s a matter of taste but I prefer the first generation.
When I used the lens with a micro four-thirds body, it’s more difficult to get the swirly effect because of the crop factor (x2) of the sensor. The micro four-thirds sensor could only accept light from the center of the lens, so the swirly effect from the side or corner of the lens not rendered. The good thing about that is, the image will look sharper because of only the center of the lens that is used by crop sensor. The bad thing, no swirly bokeh because the corner is cropped.
I would recommend this to anyone that looking for a “cheap” budget and artistic lens. In my case, the sharpness of the lens improves because the sensor megapixels in my camera is 36 MP, that is affecting the overall Perpetual-Mega Pixel of the lens.
Last but not least, big thanks to Harris Daniel for your invitation to the event. Thank you, Thalia (sorry I don’t have her profile link) for talent and Kartini Ishak for the makeup artist. Feel free to ask me on the comment form below if you have any question regarding my experience in using A7R and Helios 44m. Thank you guys and see you soon …