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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Schwark

Adapting: Helios-44 / GFX

**Disclaimer: All photos shown have been edited.

While in Turkey I took the opportunity (and insane tax-free benefits) to trade in my old XT3 and lenses for a GFX 50SII. I was looking for something that would deliberately make me shoot slower, while also delivering the same quality, or better than I was used too.

The 50SII was the choice I landed on.

At the same time I was also visiting local antiques stores in Antalya, naively hoping to run across a decent Rokkor lens (no dice). But low and behold I was treated to a mint condition copy of a Helios 44-4. Not knowing much about the lens I picked it up along with a perfectly functional Zenit 11 for about $40.

The GFX lenses, while amazing, tend to be very expensive and adapting older, manual focus glass is a popular alternative when trying to fill a particular focal length. At around 46ish mm (crop factor included) the Helios works well as an environmental portrait and street lens.

Here are my takeaways from using the lens after about 1 month:

  • Sharpness at f2 is, well, awful anywhere but in the exact center. The flip side is that even with the -4 version I still get a bit of swirl in the bokeh. That's nice.

  • The focus throw is long. Really long. Like cranking my wrist three times around long and at moments the rotation is smooth and at others very resistant. I chalk this up to being a mass produced lens of the 80's and sitting on a shelf for decades.

  • Sensor coverage is excellent, with vignetting at any f-stop easily corrected for in post.

  • Rendering, contrast, and all the rest is fairly average on the whole and certainly doesn’t “keep up” with the 50 odd megapixels the sensor delivers.

  • I really enjoy using it (a subjective and almost worthless observation to you).

The Helios is a mixed bag. On the one end it’s got “character.” What that really means is a lack of sharpness, some weird bokeh effects, and less than ideal lens flaring. On the other hand it does what I need it to – make me shoot slower and still deliver images that I can be happy with.

Would I take the 80mm or 110mm native glass instead? In a heartbeat...if I had the budget.

In the meantime I’ll save my money and be content with the “character” my images have. Are you looking to shoot slower? Do you have a limited budget? Do you like missing 50% of your shots?

The Helios might be the lens for you.

All images below captured on the Helios and GFX 50SII.


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