Vintage Lenses

I recently acquired three “new” lenses, all M42 screw-thread, and all what are generally classed as “vintage” by amateur photographers. One, the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 is a bit of a cult classic and it’s odd to have one in my hands again after so many years. This is probably my fourth 44-2 as these lenses were the “kit” lenses of the day that usually came with the Zenith SLR bodies of which I’ve owned three in the past starting in the mid-1970’s. It’s ironic that a lens that I’ve always considered a little bit soft and couldn’t wait to upgrade from has become almost a talisman for the creative photographer in 2019.

So, the three lenses I purchased this week are:

  • Pentacon 50mm f1.8
  • Helios 44-2 58mm f2
  • Helios 44M-4 58mm f2

I chose to partner these lenses with my Fujifilm XH-1 using a cheap, generic adapter to mount the lenses. This is basically just a black metal tube with a female 42mm thread at one end and a Fuji-X mount at the other. It doesn’t allow for the lens to be focused at infinity but that was not an issue for the test I had in mind. I’ve bought these lenses for one reason, to see what bokeh effects I can get when photographing flowers and such-like in the garden. I’ve shot so many for my 365 Challenge over the last two years that I’m looking for something a little different.

Playing with a vintage Russian lens, Helios 44-2 58mm f2 wide-open on the Fujifilm X-H1. Final image processed on iPhone using Snapseed

Conditions were not ideal for flower photography, it was rather windy in the front yard but I was keen to see what potential these lenses had and wanted to play before the “perfect” conditions arrived so I knew which to grab first when/if such conditions arose.

The first thing I did was shoot all three lenses wide-open at their maximum apertures. The results are above. Remember I’m not looking for sharpness per-se but the overall effect and in particular the background bokeh. The ISO was set at 400 throughout the test and I let the XH-1 determine the shutter speed. The day was overcast with occasional, brief bursts of sun peeking through and for these first three shots the shutter speed ranged from 1/4400th sec to 1/7500th sec. I focused on the centre of the flower head as far as possible.

Which you prefer is a matter of personal taste and your desired aesthetic. At this stage I preferred the Pentacon and Helios 44-2, but there is not a lot in it.

The next thing was to stop the lenses down a little to determine what effect that had. The 44M-4 has an automatic stop-down controlled by a small plate in the camera body which moves forward when the shutter release is depressed to push in a pin on the lens mount which closes the aperture blades to the chosen aperture. Unlike the other two lenses this lens does not have a means of manually stopping down and as I didn’t want to mess around with gaffer tape I decided to omit it from the stopped down tests.

As with all the images here each set of images was processed EXACTLY the same

The f8 test shows a definite difference in the out of focus background and at this aperture, on this subject, the Helios 44-2 better suits my taste. Your mileage may vary of course!

Pentacon 50mm f1.8 @ f8
Helios 44-2 58mm f2 @ f8

I’ve included a few more images below but by way of a conclusion, for my taste and for what I want to achieve the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 will do a fabulous job I feel. It is sharp enough, not bitingly sharp, but sharp enough. The out of focus background at F2, f4 and f8, the only apertures I tested, are the most consistently pleasing and of course I can manually stop the lens down.

To finish, lens flare at f2. The leaf blew away slightly exposing the naked sun, I could not resist the resultant full-on, all-over, flare-fest. One for my textures collection!

9 in 45: Take 3

Something different for this take on Mr C’s 9/45 Challenge. Colour and a walk that apart from the first few hundred metres covers an area of Halifax that I’ve not been to before nor indeed passed through as it is an area of back streets beyond the town centre itself. I walked in a meandering loop ending up not too far from where I started.

A fairly standard shot for me and an easy first shot in many ways

Starting at Bull Green at around ten past eleven, my first shot was taken as I turned into Gibbet Street and the second at the other end of the same street. The first makes use of the colour contrasts and a bright blue sky. It’s a safe composition but a good start and set me up for the rest of the Challenge, which was indeed more challenging than I’d expected. I’d normally not take a photo walk so late in the morning, especially with a bright harsh sun in a blue, virtually cloudless, sky and this coupled with the environment I was walking in made for an interesting walk. The second image is a historically interesting image, so lets precede it with some history.

The Halifax Gibbet was an early guillotine , estimated to have been installed during the 16th century, it was used as an alternative to beheading by axe or sword.  Halifax was once part of the Manor of Wakefield, where ancient custom and law gave the Lord of the Manor the authority to execute summarily by decapitation any thief caught with stolen goods to the value of 13½d or more, or who confessed to having stolen goods of at least that value. Decapitation was a fairly common method of execution in England, but Halifax was unusual in two respects: it employed a guillotine-like machine that appears to have been unique in the country, and it continued to decapitate petty criminals until the mid-17th century.

I was a minute or two late taking the image as I got distracted by the information board

The device consisted of an axe head fitted to the base of a heavy wooden block that ran in grooves between two 15-foot (4.6 m) tall uprights, mounted on a stone base about 4 feet (1.2 m) high. A rope attached to the block ran over a pulley, allowing it to be raised, after which the rope was secured by attaching it to a pin in the base. The block carrying the axe was then released either by withdrawing the pin or by cutting the rope once the prisoner was in place. Incidentally, the axe head fitted to the gibbet is a replica – the original is in a museum.

Greenmount Retail Park

From Gibbet Street I turned down Bedford Street North, ending up on one of the main roads into the town centre and the third image was taken on the corner of Pellon Lane and Hanson Lane by the retail park.

I can rarely resist a chance to shoot into the sun

I then proceeded along Hanson Lane and from here I wandered, taking turns at random and initially when I sat at the computer I could not be sure where these next few images were taken but Google Maps/Street View has helped me reconstruct the route and I’m now pretty confident on where I took the remaining images. The one above was taken along Hanson Lane looking over the fence into the Hanson Lane Memorial Garden.

Francis Street

A few twists and turns led me to Francis Street, a long, mainly residential street with cars parked pretty much everywhere. I stopped when the phone bade me do so and if I wanted to avoid cars then there was only one direction in which to point the Fuji.

I had just turned into Parkinson Lane when the timer sounded again. This was at the farthest end of the Calderdale College campus and I was grateful that the timer hadn’t gone off before I had turned the corner as the street was full of students and tutors on their lunch breaks. I was therefore particularly pleased with the simple composition I found to my left.

I so wanted to crop this square but was sticking to the rules!

Continuing down the lane I turned left onto one of the main roads back towards the town centre. I quickly took another left though, into Park Road, to get me off the busy, and noisy, dual carriageway. This was a broad, tree-lined street which hinted at the prosperity this part of Halifax once enjoyed. These old villas were largely multiple occupation now or undergoing repairs and the whole area was consequently a little shabby around the edges.

Yes – my thumbs itched to correct the converging verticals

The bright blue sky contrasted well with the stonework of these magnificent old villas. At the end of the road is the entrance to the park which runs along most of the length of the road and from which the road clearly takes its name. I couldn’t resist a peak inside and so my eighth image is taken in the peaceful surroundings of The People’s Park.

Stepping back onto Park Road I then turned right down Hopwood Lane towards my final destination which turned out to be the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, home to a thriving community of creative, digital and innovative businesses, according to their website. For me it was the final shot of the set and another chance to play with shadows and contrasts. I used pretty much all of my allotted minute waiting for someone to walk into frame and whilst I’d hoped for someone approaching along the sunlit strip this was the best I saw before my minute was up and so “snap” the Challenge was completed.

Walks end … and another ten minutes saw me back where I’d started!

These 9 in 45 walks are challenging me in a way that I was not expecting. I’m forced to resist the temptation to take images which is counter-intuitive. I usually walk the streets looking for images and taking whatever opportunities arise. This challenge focus me to keep my camera in my bag until the appointed moment and I find that hard. Yesterday I was tempted to walk back to one location once I’d completed the Challenge to take an image that had caught my eye earlier in the walk, however a raging thirst and a desire to sit down with a coffee took precedent. Instead I shall go back next week at some point.

The mix of horizontal and vertical images shows I’m not afraid to turn the camera on its side too!

Image recap

Film Friday – sneak peek

Toy camera time!

Next week (Week 4 of FF) sees the first upload of recent film work. As a sneak peek this image was shot on 6th September using one of the toy cameras in my collection.

Taken with a Holga Panoramic 120 film camera loaded with out of date (6/10) Ilford HP5. Taken on 6th September for my 365 but not uploaded to my Flickr account until the 19th as I needed to get the film developed and then needed to scan the negative.

Film Friday #3

Amanda (1981/2)

Scan of a print I made in the darkroom. This would’ve been taken around 1981/82. Definitely 35mm, probably a Canon AE1 or possibly th Praktica EE2. What isn’t in doubt is that this was shot on Ilford HP5 B&W negative film.

I had hoped to be able to share a recent film image but it seems that sending films off takes a lot longer than I’d anticipated. To remedy that I’ve just ordered the requisite chemicals and am cleaning off the developing kit ready to start processing my own again.