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Digital photography with the ZENIT HELIOS 44M-4 lens

Last updated on 2020-06-06

Since the beginning of this year i am a proud owner of a ZENIT ET Camera with HELIOS 44M-4 lens. (M42 mount). Therefore i had the possibilty to start with analog photography. I had never shot photos before with a non-digital camera and so i was (and still am) the total newbie on that area.

But as i read trough blog articles i found out, that one can use old lenses like this via adapter on a modern camera – Bam! Nice!

A few days later a M42 to EOS adapter lay before me. After a fast unpacking process the adapter got instantly used on my Canon 70D (APS-C). I could adapt the HELIOS lens without any problem on the EF/EF-S Mount. So i went on to take the first pictures.

ISO 100, Helios 44M-4, Canon 70D, Av-Mode, manual focus
ISO 100, f2, Helios 44M-4, Canon 70D, Av-Mode, manual focus
ISO 100, Helios 44M-4, Canon 70D, Av-Mode, manual focus
Helios 44M-4, ISO 100, f2, 1/50, ranked 84 at “The Color Gold” Challenge on gurushots.com

Characteristics of the Helios 44M-4

Helios 44M4-4 - Bedienelemente
Aperture settings (f2-16) on the ZENIT HELIOS-44M-4. Currently selected (red marker/line): f2, Focus ring (left thump on it) for setting focus/distance (now it’s set to 0.5 meters) manually above. On the bottom: silver-colored M42/EOS adapter

The Helios 44M-4 lens delivers beautiful pictures with a very special, unique bokeh-effect – especially if there’s bright daylight. It’s a simple lens and not as sharp as e.g. a japanese smc takumar lens (another nice vintage lens) and of course a lot of modern lenses, but it delivers the described effects and also creates some kind of a special atmosphere. The lense is old, but gold, the quality is on another level compared to our days plastic world (there’s also plastic on it, the rest is of metal, but in my opinion the overall quality is very high, the lens is solid as a rock).

Aperture can bet set from f2 to f16. Distance (focus) can be set between 0.5 m and infinity.

Conclusion

The Helios 44m-4 is a piece of history, produced in a fallen empire and it still fascinates me absolutely that it is usable on a modern camera – and still working that fine (think about its age…).

Personally i used the Av-Mode and ISO 100 or 200 for best results and took 3-4 photos minimum for each photo motif. Chances for a real sharp picture are getting higher that way.

I am using an adapter without (autofocus-) chip, which means focusing is all manual. Of course there is no image stabilizer either. For autofocusing i saw several adapters on the internet with a special chip for that. Normally such a type of adapter shouldn’t be that expensive. I found some about 20 to 30 € on Amazon or Ebay. I am using this adapter my Canon 70D.

Important note on using old lenses via adapter: Please inform yourself before you buy a vintage lens for your (new/modern) camera. Check out if there are any compatibility problems. There is a lot of material about that on the internet (Blogs, Youtube etc.). I have even found some tables for special combinations. The worst issue possible is a collision between your lens and the internal mirror in your camera… as far as i know at the moment this problem occurs mostly with full-frame cameras. It appears to me that APS-C sensor cameras do have lesser problems with that. Of course the best solution could be a mirrorless camera, but as i said before – check it out before you spend your money!

ZENIT ET – original leather cover

Zenit cameras were produced at Krasnogorskiy zavod im. S. A. Zvereva and at BelOMO. More information about ZENIT cameras: History and info.

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