M42 Lenses: The Helios 44-4 M


This four part mini-series sets out to review my four favorite lenses. All these lenses share a commonality: they are all M42 lenses. I love the M42 standard. Canon and Nikon, and later Pentax are all proprietary; the M42 is not. We begin with the Helios 44-4 M.

Credits: adam_g2000

There must be hundreds of different Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Cameras available, and whenever you get a new one, it’s tempting to review it. It’s nice to know how light or heavy one is, or what features it has, but the truth is, all that they do is open and close a shutter. The unsung hero of the SLR is the lens on the front — these do the hard work and light leaks aside, these impart the real character into your images. The quality of the glass, the coating, and the age can all make a huge difference to your pictures.

It was first introduced in Zeiss’ Contax S of 1949, this branch of Zeiss also sold lenses as Pentacon, then Praktica. Also, Zenit and Pentax used this mount. This means there are many, many lenses available, and unlike Canon’s and Nikon’s, they are often very cheap.

We Lomographers have a penchant for Russian lenses and cameras, so I’ll start the series with my latest acquisition, and my new best friend: my Helios 44-4M.

Credits: adam_g2000

Helios-44 is a series of standard lenses for SLR cameras, produced in Soviet Union by KMZ. It is considered to be one of most mass produced lenses ever. The 44-4 M is multicoated.

The focal length is perfect for people, very wide and very telephoto can squish and lengthen features. The Helios is around the same as our eyes, so people look great, very natural.
  • Focal Length: 58mm
  • Aperture Range: f/2 – f/16
  • Angle of View: 40°28
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 0.5m (you can get really, really close!)

The Helios seems to be a little harder to focus than my other lenses, I cannot think why. It’s bright at f2, so when not stopped down it should be the same.

It’s an xpro maverick too!

When well focused, it can be very, very sharp - one of the reasons I turn to an SLR.

The underside of the this wooden roof shows just how sharp this lens can be when accurately focused.

When used aperture wide open, the bokeh is soft, not jarring and can give you some wonderful effects. I can’t wait to try it at night.

Look at the shapes in the bokeh on the pink flowers, top right!

I think it lowers the contrast in pictures, softening out the colours and creating a mild dreamlike effect.

This particular shot has rapidly become one of my most liked, I believe it’s due to the wonderful dreamlike aspect of the lens and those softer contrast colours. Once again, notice the beautiful bokeh here.

To finish, I think I will end up using this lens most for portrait work. Its milder contrast makes for lovely skin tone, its focal length is perfect for narrowing faces a little and taking good close shots without getting in your subject’s face.

See what I mean?

written by adam_g2000 on 2013-02-21 #gear #review #portrait #aperture #lens #reviews #lomography #helios #user-review #angle-of-view #focus-distance #focal-length


  1. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    ERRATA: "It was first introduced in Zeiss’ Contax S of 1949, this branch of Zeiss... should be "The M42 standard was first introduced in Zeiss’ Contax S of 1949, this branch of Zeiss..." & "When well focused, it can be very, very sharp" should not have a line through it.

  2. alex34
    alex34 ·

    Nice reiew-I agree that M42 mount lenses are great, the Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar is my personal favourite.

  3. alex34
    alex34 ·

    'review' :)

  4. icuresick
    icuresick ·

    I am using one now for my DSLR. It has an adaptor for Canon EOS.
    I would love to use it for may Canon EOS Kiss SLR, but it still need a repair after it hit the ground :(

  5. utterlee
    utterlee ·

    This is my Zenit TTL's default lens, takes fantastic pictures, but agree focussing is not always very easy - think that's as much down the the camera as anything else though. After coming back to the camera after years of digital compact and mobile phone cam use, it was a bit of a shock going back to a standard lens with such a confined angle of view, but now I much prefer its more natural look to those of the very distorting wide angle lenses on most digicams these days.

  6. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    After brining my Zenit 412ls back into rotation, I decided to splurge on a used 28mm lens. You are right in that used are not that expensive when compared to used Canon FD lenses, it is trusting the condition of the lens with online sellers. I got this one from a reputable box store's online division. It should arrive this weekend and be tested soon. I see that there are a few new lenses available in M42, but are not cheap. I may save up for one. Nice review & shots by the way.

  7. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @icuresick I was thinking of getting an adaptor for my film and DSLR canons. Can you focus to infinity properly?

  8. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @alex34 that's one I don't have. I do have the flektagon and have a love hate relationship with it. That's the one I'll review next.

  9. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @utterlee Most handhelds, point and shoot and zooms do seem most useful at a wide angle, and I will admit my 35mm is the one I use the most, but yes - for people and certain things this one is great. You don't have to step forward to shoot everyday things!

  10. adam_g2000
    adam_g2000 ·

    @neanderthalis I've always wanted a 28mm, never gotten around to it. Let me know what type and how you get on. Perhaps you could write a 5th article in this series?

  11. icuresick
    icuresick ·

    I use it mostly for close up and portrait shots, using Canon's Live View. It is sharp, with little softness at the corners.

  12. beblo
    beblo ·

    I use this Zenit Helios-44M-4 lens for my mamiya/sekor 500DTL camera body. Mine is not the multi-coated (MC) version, but, a single-coated lens. I use it for shooting sunsets and people. It is a very good lens for it's price.

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