In my search for third party lenses for my Sony A6000 camera, I discovered the Helios 44m-6 lens series.
It’s a Russian made lens based on the 6 element F2.0/58mm pre-war Zeiss Biotar Design. When mounted it on my Sony A6000, the lens is a near 90mm medium telephoto equivalent. My copy was probably manufactured between 1991-1992 close to the end of its production run. These vintage lenses are gaining popularity among photo enthusiasts today and is regarded by diehards as one of the greatest legacy lenses from the Soviet Union.
I have been using a Helios 44m-6 for several weeks now and I’d like to share with you my impression on the lens.
Since these lenses are sought after for their swirly bokeh effect, I decided to check how it will perform on my camera. They say it is most noticeable when you use a full frame camera but just the same I went ahead. The swirly bokeh effect can be achieved when shot wide open with a subject in the mid ground. The background seems to swirl and bulge around the center of the frame.
Please check out my photos below.
The body is made of metal and naturally heavier compared to the plastic kit lens of the Sony A6000. It’s focus ring is a little bit stiff so this slows you down when focusing. The lens does not have image stabilization so a little shake can spell a big difference when trying to capture sharp images.
Aperture ranges from 2.0 up to 16.0. But I’m sure you would like to use this wide open most of the time. To use this lens, you need to buy an m42 adapter. There are also adapters for Nikon, Canon and other brands.
I love the creamy look of the pictures captured by this lens. It gives you a nice high-chroma, retro-feel photos which is quite popular among users of Instagram and VSCO. If you wanted dark contrasty photos, you can always adjust the camera settings and set a higher contrast.
When you set the lens wide-open ( f2.0) ,photos tend to be soft on the sides because the focus plane is extremely narrow. This is noticeable in group pictures where subjects becomes softer when it is positioned farther from the center. Flares are also a big set-back at F2.0 but then I have seen some photographers use it to their advantage. At F4.0 pictures are more sharper even on the sides.
For first time users, who are used to shooting with auto focus lenses in aperture priority mode, they will have a hard time using the Helios 44m-6. Although you can still use this in aperture priority mode, this lens works best in full manual. Combine that with a stiff ring focus and no image stabilization, you will have a lens that is quite difficult to use. Initially, you will spend more time turning that ring focus to get sharp photos and making a conscious effort to make sure that when you click the capture button the camera won’t shake.
But once you hurdled the initial difficulties, you would probably fall in love with this lens. This lens can give you great results and at such a very low price. The lens only cost me around P3,200 and an additional P800 for the m42 adapter.
The Helios 44m-6 works best on portrait, still life and food photography. It can still be used for street photography but considering the way it is made this will considerably slow you down.