As I recall, the first M42 lens I owned was a Takumar 55/1.8, a lens that has remained in my core arsenal in some form ever since.
The second addition was something I stumbled across in a random junk box at a camera fair.
It was battered, with worn paint in many places, and when I held the glass up to the light, I could see myriad circular scratches on the surface, a few random particles and at least one distinct bubble inside.
Plus the aperture ring seemed to be labelled backwards, showing f/16 when the lens was wide open and f/2 when fully closed.
Somewhat intrigued by this underloved underdog nevertheless, and confident it was M42 mount, I asked the dealer what he wanted, and £10 was the reply. I offered £7 and a 1973 HELIOS-44-2 was mine.
And it remains quite probably the best £7 I’ve ever spent on photography.
As the years rolled on, I used the Helios on a range of M42 film cameras like Spotmatics, Zenits, Fujicas and the odd Praktica, as well as plenty of other film cameras with M42 adapters, like various Pentax M series, Canon EOS and Contax.
Again with an adapter, it’s frequently adorned my Sony NEX, a couple of Sony DSLRs, Pentax DSLRs, and most recently, my Panasonic Lumix GF1.
As you can probably gather, I consider this one a keeper.
I later discovered that the aperture ring markings were perfectly correct.
It’s a preset aperture lens, with an outer ring you set to the required minimum aperture, then that second inner ring (which I thought was the only ring) is free to move wherever you want it, between wide open (f/2) and the aperture you preset it at.
I talked about preset aperture lenses a while back in far more detail, but in short the main reasons I love them are the infinite control they give you over depth of field, and how you can start with the lens wide open and maximum light entering to make focusing easier, then quickly stop down to the require aperture and shoot, without clunking through click stops.
Something else I love about the Helios-44-2 is the 58mm focal length, which brings you a little closer and makes the scene more intimate than with a 50mm lens, but is still nowhere near tele-lens territory.
A couple of years back I left a hefty DSLR on the kitchen table with the Helios mounted, and of course it got knocked by someone or other and landed face first on the wooden floor.
The floor came off worse, and whilst the filter ring of the lens now proudly sports its dent like a badge of honour, it functioned just as well afterwards as before.
This Helios, along with the aforementioned Takumar 55/1.8 (or an example of, I no longer have the original one) remain “forever lenses” for me, ones I cannot imagine wanting to part with.
Coming from a recovering lensoholic who’s bought, tested and sold at least a couple of hundred lenses in the last six years, this is testament to how much I love them.
If you’re interested in the history of the lens and its Carl Zeiss Biotar beginnings, try starting with this post.
For examples of the (in)famous swirly bokeh and what else the Helios 44-2 can do, a simple Google Image search pulls up plenty.
All photographs in this post were made with this Helios 44-2.
Do you have a Helios 44-2 in your collection? What are your own favourite “forever lenses”?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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