Helios 40-2: lens test

Features of the drawing Helios 40-2

The Helios 40-2 lens is a true legend and, fortunately, a living legend. In 2012, the Krasnogorsk factory resumed production after a long break, and today, after several approaches to the redesign of the case, the lens can be bought new, in a beautiful box and at an attractive price.

Get price Helios 40-2

In our test, we will show how this legend removes in the hands of professional photographers, outline the main features of this model and try to describe the area of application of Helios 40-2 as accurately as possible.

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Settings: ISO 100, f / 1.5, 1/4000 s

Photographers Pavel Molchanov and Vlad Shutov helped us in preparing the test. .

But this time we will begin with history, or rather, with the distant, still pre-war, 1938. Then Carl Zeiss created the Biotar 1.5 / 75 lens. It was his optical design that subsequently served as the prototype of the GK-40 – the Helios Krasnogorsky lens, created in 1950.

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Settings: ISO 50, f / 1.5, 1/400 s

This he will later be presented under the name Helios-40 at the Brussels exhibition. He will go through an improvement in enlightenment (but it still remains very “vintage”), change the color from white to black, find several new shanks – from M42 to EF and F – and reappear on the Russian market as the hero of our Helios 40 test -2. A journey of more than half a century – how many similar long-lived lenses do you know? That’s why we call the lens a living legend.

What is so attractive about this “old man”? It’s all about the original, recognizable and unusual pattern in the blur zone. And there is no doubt that the lens with a focal length of 85 mm and aperture of f / 1.5 will greatly blur the background. There is an opinion that the lens was originally developed as absolutely technical, but found its place in modern art photography precisely because of the specifics of the drawing.

Photo: Vlad Shutov

Canon EOS 5D Mark III / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 320, f / 2, 1/2500 s

The fact is that the picture with Helios 40-2 is replete with formal flaws, which are blended into the tart and original visual cocktail by the skillful hand of the developer of this optics masterpiece. What are the twisted glare in the bokeh! They do not always appear, but when focusing at a distance of about 4-6 meters and when shooting at aperture up to f / 4.

So von Helios 40-2 will wash out. Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/640 s

And such a blur will give a more “classic” Zenitar 1.4 / 85. Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Zenithar 1.4 / 85 Settings: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/640 s

This is one of the few lenses in which such a twisted bokeh is a harmonious-looking creative tool.

A series of shots with different apertures to evaluate bokeh curl:

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Settings: ISO 100, f / 1.5, 1/30 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/25 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2.8, 1/15 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 4, 1/8 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 5.6, 1/4 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 8, 1/2 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 11, 1 s

A formal disadvantage could be considered the comparative rigidity of the glare in the bokeh zone, and their irregular shape. Sometimes a “scale effect” appears in the frame, and the shape of the scales will be different in different parts of the frame. But here’s the thing: today, when almost every lens boasts the “correct” soft, slightly cottony blur, even the zoom, really unusual creative bokeh from Helios 40-2 looks expressive, interesting, fresh in its own way.

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 400, f / 1.5, 1/160 s

Another feature of the lens is the versatility of the picture. It is difficult to predict how in one situation or another the bokeh will fall on the picture. Will the glare become hard or soften? Will the background spin or not? The focusing distance, the direction of light, the set aperture – all affect the nature of the blur. Helios 40-2 is really unpredictable – a real lottery. Repeat the frame with the same picture just does not work.

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Settings: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/400 s

All the features of bokeh also affect the transfer of volume in the frame, to the plastic. She also has her own. The transition from the zone of sharpness to the blur zone occurs immediately, especially if you shoot with an open aperture. But further, the distances between objects are erased. Almost any background Helios 40-2 turns into a masterpiece of pictorial photography, where real distances between objects and even their shape are lost.

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/640 s

An integral part of the design of such optics is always aberration. Here they are far from fully compensated. For example, spherical aberration is pronounced, when any bright object as if casts off a bright halo, is slightly blurred. It is this aberration that explains the soft effect, which is almost always present in images with Helios 40-2. The effect is stronger, the more you open the aperture and the farther the subject is from the center of the frame. This lens can be safely called soft-focusing by nature.

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 200, f / 1.5, 1/6400 s

The situation is similar with chromatic aberration. It is present in the images in the form of bluish and pinkish halos at the boundaries of contrasting objects, but at the same time, the chromaticity is greatly “diluted” with spherical aberration even in the focus area. That is, it’s more likely not about annoying colored stripes, but about a specific creative blur. And it also weakens noticeably as the lens aperture is f / 4-f / 5.6.

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 1.5, 1/3200 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/2500 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2.8, 1/1250 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 4, 1/800 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Settings: ISO 100, f / 5.6, 1/400 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 8, 1/200 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 11, 1/100 s

Even the vignetting of Helios 40-2 differs from our usual lenses. When you close the diaphragm, you can see that it goes like a ring along the frame from the center to the edge and gradually leaves. We simply note this trend, because vignetting is not so strong here, it almost does not affect the practice of shooting.

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 1.5, 1/250 s

But with the sharpness, things are not so simple. First, let’s recall in which year the optical design of this model was developed. The word “megapixels” did not even exist then in the nightmares of optical engineers, and today we are putting this lens on a 50-megapixel camera. Naturally, you should not expect pixel-by-pixel sharpness. Nevertheless, after aperture in the center of the frame you will find it. But here I want to talk about something else.

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 1.5, 1/1250 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2, 1/1000 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 2.8, 1/640 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 4, 1/320 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 5.6, 1/160 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 8, 1/80 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 11, 1/40 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 16, 1/20 s
Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 22, 1/10 s

Firstly, the distribution of sharpness over the frame is very uneven. The sharpest image will be near the center of the frame. The edges will “ring” only after f / 5.6. But we need bokeh !!! Therefore, there is no sense from the diaphragmed to f / 8 Helios 40-2. The most ordinary modern lens here is ahead of him. So fans of creative optics will have to survive the soft effect and loss of detail on open and near-open diaphragms. But there is good news: in a portrait such a drawing can be very justified!

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Settings: ISO 100, f / 1.5, 1/500 s

Secondly, do not set objectives that are unusual for him. There is an opinion that this lens was created as a purely technical one: for the retrieval of documentation, as well as the screens of oscilloscopes. Perhaps this explains the strong loss of detail when focusing over long distances. We repeated the sharpness test several times and never received a qualitative result when focusing on long distances (close to hyperfocal). At the same time, from a distance of 5-10 meters, Helios 40-2 is quite capable of providing sharpness acceptable by modern standards: in the center of the frame on the open aperture and along the edges after f / 5.6.

Photo: Pavel Molchanov

Canon EOS 5DS R / Helios 40-2 Installations: ISO 100, f / 5.6, 1/125 s

Concluding the review of the optical properties of the lens, I would like to write a few words about its lens protection. As such, Helios 40-2 almost does not catch glare (except for absolutely extreme lighting), but the backlight is weak, quickly losing contrast and allowing exposure. But is not this effect that many modern photographers are trying to get at the post-processing stage? Let us also relate this to the features of the lens, which must be remembered and used as a creative tool.

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