Today, I had chance to put the Helios 58mm f2 through its paces. I specifically set out to achieve the ‘swirly bokeh’ look so I wouldn’t say this is a substantial ‘test’ by any means… but hopefully my initial thoughts will be useful.
Most will recognise the 58mm Helios as a characterful lens – with ‘swirly bokeh’ being the most prominent feature.
Shooting with the lens is straight-forward, with manual aperture and focus rings. It uses the M42 thread mount but adapters are plentiful on auction sites. Bear in mind that – owing to the sensor distance on some cameras – you may require a glass adapter to reach infinity focus. I chose the Kippon M42 adapter for my Nikon D7000 – it’s well made and the optics are pretty sharp.
I took the lens out on a dog walk, with the intention of using leafless trees in a nearby wood as a backdrop. The hope was the complex scenery of bare trees, twigs and winter leafs would encourage the swirly bokeh characteristics.
In reality, my dog isn’t as well-behaved as the images may suggest. Which meant I had less time than desired to set up shots. That, combined with windy conditions and a pregnant partner, dictated this would be a quick shoot.
With that in mind – I kept the lens wide open at f2 and experimented with various distances of separation between foreground and background. The focus ring is tiny, really tiny, which made focusing pretty tricky at f2, so I most definitely wouldn’t recommend this as a ‘run and gun’ type of lens.
During editing, I found that the bokeh wasn’t as noticeable as anticipated (I failed) but it did show some swirling characteristics – which is noticeable particularly in the first gallery image of Charlie (my dog) laid down.
I do believe, given more time to experiment, I could’ve achieved some more impressive results. Mainly by changing the foreground/background separation and perhaps using a background with even more detail.
A few blogs suggest that taking the lens apart and inverting the front glass will produce more drastic swirls. I don’t doubt this. However, at the moment, I have a perfectly serviceable lens with plenty of character and I’m reluctant to risk destroying it.
Overall, I’m really impressed with the Helios. Although the results weren’t quite as extreme as I’d imagined, I’m looking forward to getting to know it more.
Some more general observations/considerations are as follows:
- It does get soft towards the edges but the lens as a whole is surprisingly well-behaved.
- It’s generally a soft image wide open.
- Shoot f5-f7 for the sharpest image.
- Expect to pay between £20-£30 for one without fungus or scratches.
I’ll report back as I experiment more with the lens over the coming months.