Steve Cushing Impresionist Fine Art Photography

Embracing imperfection, recording emotions, one impression at a time…

KMZ Helios 44 13 blade

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The Lens details of a series of images taken by Steve Cushing on mirrorless camera.

Fitting is a 39mm mount with a 45.46mm Flange Distance - this lens will fit and achieve focus to infinity mirrorless cameras and on most DSLRs.

History

Soviet lenses have a strange background in comparison with their German and Japanese counterparts. Some optical designs, such as the Helios 44 are direct copies of the Biotar and Flektogon series made my Carl Zeiss. The Jupiter 11-A has the Sonnar design. However, what makes them stand apart is that even if they are copies they still have a unique image rendering.

The names of the Soviet lenses often featured cosmic themes rather than optical design names such as Jupiter, Vega, Helios, Tair. In the Soviet era, everything that is connected with space was a trend. And they called the cosmic names of not only for their lenses, but other items such the tape player "Vega" motorbikes "Jupiter," and so many more products. Soviet lenses can be divided in two ways. Sometimes the name states the optical design (Helios, Industar, etc), The second way to clarify them is the brand of the manufacturer (Arsat, Zenitar, BelOMO).

The first way implies that the name of the lens attached specific optical design. This logic is likely to have been borrowed from the German company Carl Zeiss. Historically, after the WWII the Soviet Union brought the reparations of the optical factories from Germany, with raw materials and blanks, and also received the right to use certain optical designs, it is mostly the firm Zeiss.

Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (KMZ) – Mechanical Factory of Krasnogorsk was founded in 1942 in Krasnogorsk, a western suburb of Moscow on the base of evacuated optical-mechanical plant No.69, in order to produce optical equipment for the Soviet army. In total, in the period 1942-1945, the plant produced more than 400 thousand various devices for the needs of the Soviet army.

In 1946 the KMZ factory began making cameras, starting with the Moskva folding camera and Zorki which was a copy of the Leica II camera. In 1952, was started the production of Zenit cameras, which later became the most popular SLR cameras in the world. At the very start of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, many people worked in factories and research institutes who lived and studied in pre-revolutionary Russia and quality was high, indeed the first models of cameras and lenses produced at the Krasnogorsk Mechanical Plant were excellent examples of photo equipment. Unfortunately later the quality became more varied due to stagnation in science and technology within the USSR.

As the companies developed, Soviet designers took Zeiss lenses, produced them with Soviet types of glass and put them into production. So developed legendary Soviet lenses. Some optical designs were also invented by Soviet designers. For example Tair, Telear, Kaleinar etc.

This Lens


Helios 44 58mm f2 is one of the best known Soviet vintage lenses. Production started after World War II and continued for half a century, until the 1990s. The lens is quite popular today because of its distinct image rendering, availability, and price. Helios 44 was produced in the Soviet Union primarily at KMZ near Moscow but also at Valdai or later at BELomo in Minsk.

This first version of the lens really looks old school with its chrome body. It has a 13 blade aperture with preset aperture control, the maximum opening is f2 and the minimum is f16. The minimal focusing distance is 0.5m. The lens uses a 49mm filter. Some really old Helios 44 lenses, such as the one presented here, do not have the typical Soviet serial number where the first two letters indicate the production year. Also, the glass has a purple tint, which is somehow atypical for a non-coated or single-coated lens.

Krasnogorsk Mechanical Works (KMZ for short) in the former Soviet Union.

Krasnogorski Mekhanicheskii Zavod (KMZ) was an optical company based out of Krasnogorsk, Russia, a western suburb of Moscow who would take over primary optics production for the Soviet Union during World War II. Prior to the war, the source of most of the Soviet Union’s optical and camera technology was from the FED factory (named after Felix E. Dzerzhinsky) in Kharkov, Ukraine.

Although the FED factory saw success, their location was vulnerable to attack from German forces at the beginning of the war. Anticipating this, the Soviet Union moved most of the FED machinery and staff to the KMZ plant deeper into the Soviet Union, making it much less likely to be attacked.

In 1945, KMZ would begin making photographic lenses based off designs from Zeiss-Ikon obtained by the red army during the war. The one I used here serial number starts with a "0". I have found the best lenses to be the one with the 0xxxxx serial number. This denotes a pre-production model of the lens.

It is based on the lens formula of the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm but differs slightly as the Zeiss Biotar is made with German Schott glass which was not available in the Soviet Union so the optical formula has to be slightly modified for the Helios copy of this lens.

Much has been written about this Russian "bokeh monster". Back in the end of World War II, the Russians occupied East Germany. The left with the Biotar formula and many of the toolset. Because the Helios 44-2 58mm is one of the most mass produced lenses ever made and can be acquired rather cheaply, I have four of them!

It’s far from being a perfect lens but the bokeh and dreamy look wide open is quite something. The Biotar formula creates a swirling bokeh that is just stunning. This is why it’s called the “Bokeh Monster“.

As all lenses that are based on the Biotar formula, the Helios 44 has an interesting twirling bokeh. The lens itself is also reasonably sharp when stopped down. The focal length of 58mm is a bit unusual but comes in handy for portraiture shots. The Helios 44 is also very much appreciated among artistic photographers who relish its bokeh and colour rendition. Lomographers will love this lens. If you want an inexpensive lens to experiment I would recommend getting this lens. The Helios is also great if you want to try experiments and more artistic things.

Lens In Use

  • Lens Elements: 6
  • Aperture blades: 13
  • Minimum Focusing Distance: 50cm
  • Weight: 296gr

PROs:
  • compact
  • interesting bokeh

CONs:
  • flare prone
  • needs to be stopped down
  • a bit heavy for its’ size

Summary

The Helios-44 feels a bit more solidly build than the 44-2. It also weights more. Optically both lenses are on par. The Helios-M has a different type of aperture blades as these are bent upwards. this results in a less circular aperture, which in turn slightly degrades the bokeh.


For images using this lens click HERE

For general information on lens design and lens elements go to the homepage HERE

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