I originally heard about the Helios 44-2 lens when my editor said it might be great for the skin. It took four weeks for the arrival and about 12 months before I had the free time to use it for a full day.
In full transparency, I brought the lens to a variety of photoshoots, but it's not a fast lens, and it would get in the way of productivity every time I took it out. Since I was taking a couple of days in Joshua Tree, I thought it might be the perfect time to try the lens.
What Is the Helios 44-2 Lens?
I was introduced to the Helios 44-2 as a budget-friendly, Soviet-era lens known for its unique "swirly" bokeh and high-contrast images. I was also told it's great to soften the skin.
It may not be the best choice for everyone, as it can have some optical flaws, such as soft corners and chromatic aberration. Even when I took the lens all around Joshua Tree, I didn't see a lot of personality. I was looking for the swirly bokeh. Yes, I enjoyed photographing with the lens, and you can see all of the images in the video, but I did find myself asking: "Okay, is that the swirly bokeh?"
I also noticed that after trying the lens with video, I noticed a lot more of the special Helios personality. While I can see the special bokeh of the Helios lens in my photos, I did expect a bigger effect.
Helios for Landscape Photography?
The Helios 44-2 lens can be used for landscape photography, but its unique "swirly" bokeh may not be ideal for all landscape compositions. The lens has a relatively fast aperture (f/2), which can be useful in low-light conditions, but its wide aperture also increases the risk of lens flare and may result in reduced sharpness in the corners. You can see some of the lens flares, rather large ones, in the photographs that I show in the video.
When using the lens for landscape photography, I would recommended stopping down the aperture to f/5.6 or f/8 for maximum sharpness and to be mindful of the lens' potential for chromatic aberration and flare. Additionally, using a hood or shading the lens with your hand can help reduce flare.
Ultimately, whether the Helios 44-2 is suitable for landscape photography will depend on personal style and the intended outcome. Some photographers may appreciate the lens' character and use it to create unique landscapes with a vintage aesthetic, while others may prefer a lens with more modern optics for a cleaner, sharper look.