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!

Nikkor 50mm f1.8 E … Fuji X-T1

Another post from my overworked desktop this week! My reader must be getting fed up with me popping up in their Inbox at the moment. Fear not, this level of activity rarely lasts for too long.

© Dave Whenham
Shooting into a low and very bright sun outside the window – metered for skin and blew the highlights

© Dave WhenhamI had the K&F Concept Nikon G – Fuji X converter out yesterday and earlier today playing with the Nikon fit Sigma macro lens on both the Fuji X-T20 and X-T1. Whilst I had it in my bag I decided to try another Nikon-fit lens, this an old Nikkor 50mm f1.8 Series E lens (later silver version). This great little lens hails from the 1980s (1981-1985 to be exact) and I picked mine up very cheaply a while back now.
With the adapter I was focusing manually, but the lens has a well-damped focusing ring which makes this a pleasure. The adapter does have a stop down facility and with the aperture ring on the lens too this means I can focus wide open and then stop down to meter and take the shot.

© Dave Whenham
These first two colour shots are taken at f2.8

I was trying to photograph Zac, a bundle of energy who is never still requiring fast focusing and quick reactions from me. Shooting into the sun I was blown away by the quality of these two colour images, there is certainly “something” about the overall rendition that screams “film!” at me.

© Dave Whenham

These two are both f2.8 using the Fuji B&W with yellow filter film simulation

All four of these images are in-camera JPEGs incidentally, minor post production using Snapseed on my phone … Zac had the iPad!. The two mono images are in-camera mon conversions using the B&W(Ye) film simulation which I like in the X-T1 for portraits as the yellow plays nicely with skin tones.

I did try some images of plants in the garden but the magic was only evident went shooting into the light wide open or almost wide open. The focus peaking in the camera was a godsend too and I had a thoroughly satisfying half an hour – unexpected, unlooked for even but welcome nonetheless.