Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Helios 44-2 and Helios 135mm vintage lenses

Using vintage lenses on modern cameras has recently become very popular, not only because of their attractive price but also for the interesting look they can give. There are enough articles about them to fill many books on the internet, so i'll just to share my experience with two particular lenses that I own. A great place to find more info is Vintage Lenses for Video. After the recommendation of a DP friend of mine, I started looking into old lenses that produced what is called the "swirly bokeh" look. I wanted to add some flare to my "artisans" pilot without breaking the bank. I did my research and ordered two lenses on ebay, the Helios 44-2 58mm f/2, and the Helios 135mm f/2.8. I spent about $120 total on both lenses and shipping. 98% of them come from Russia or the Ukraine and the descriptions can be pretty dicey, but using my moderate Ebay intuition I picked some pretty good ones. The only thing you need to adapt it to a canon camera is a $12 M42 to EOS adapter. Check out the photos and read about how to use them below - 

Using these old lenses can be tricky because they don't "talk" to your camera. What that means is that you have to set the aperture manually and your camera has no idea what you set it at, rendering aperture priority and shutter priority modes useless. You also will have no autofocus. For video this obviously isn't a concern which is great, but I have been using these a lot to take photos for Steffy's blog. I start by setting the aperture around 2.8 and then doing trial and error to get a good exposure. To focus, you can set it by eye but it is easier to use a live view preview and zoom in for better accuracy. It's a little more complicated than using my regular Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, but I think the results speak for themselves. The 58mm produces a wild looking swirl when you shoot in front of a busy background, and both lenses flare like crazy. They may not be perfect for every situation but when you have the option to be creative and add some character, I don't think there is a better way to do it on such a budget. Using these lenses has opened up a whole new world for me and actually made me excited to shoot digital again! There are so many out there to choose from an experiment with, I just picked up a 35mm Mir-1B lens for $40 and have my eye on lots of others (but I do need to hold back for now). So if you have the patience and $40 or $50 on hand, get out there and do some experimenting. 

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