One Month, One Camera – April 2019 (II) – Lumix GF1 + Helios 44-2

My chosen camera for April is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 I’ve had around 18 months and want to get to know better.

Initially I bought just the body plus an M42 adapter, so I could use my favourite vintage lenses. 

One of these is a battered old Helios 44-2 58mm f/2, an early bargain of mine picked up for £7 at a camera fair about seven years ago.

It’s been on a range of film and digital cameras since, and is one of my endearing favourites.

On the GF1, the M42 adapter needs to be long enough to emulate the distance the rear of the lens is from the film plane in the original M42 cameras it was designed for.

So because the GF1 is far less deep than an SLR, it means the adapter makes up for this, and combined with the lens, negates much of the camera’s compactness.

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It’s still significantly smaller than a DSLR though, lighter too, and in practice the lens and adapter end up being the part one tends to hold most when carrying and composing. 

As it’s a manual focusing lens (in fact it’s a preset aperture lens, which I love), I shoot Aperture Priority (Av) and where I need more critical focus, make use of the GF1’s handy manual focus assist, which magnifies a selected part of the screen to enable greater accuracy.

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I also make use of the preset aperture ring, opening the lens right up (to f/2) to focus, then closing down to my chosen aperture (my base camp for this is f/5.6) just before firing the shutter.

Again this helps with more precise focusing when required.

As it’s done on film and digital previously, the Helios delivers lovely images, despite its battered body, and dusty glass, complete with a couple of internal bubbles. 

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Obviously, compared with a native AF lens, this is quite a different shooting experience, even with the same camera body.

The handling shifts mostly to the lens and adapter, focusing is deliberate and manual (exaggerated more because the AF of the GF1 is faster than anything else with AF I’ve used), and using the manual focus assist, and manually stopping down the lens slows the experience down further still.

To be frank, I used to appreciate this more than I do now, because it was only with slow vintage manual lenses I could get the kind of images I want (back then, on film).

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But my ever increasing experiences with digital cameras – and especially little wonders like the Ricoh GX100, GRD III, Pentax Q, and Panasonic’s own Lumix LX3 – give me all the sharpness, close focusing and background blur I need.

You still can’t get the same depth of field with a small digital compact as with something like the Helios 44-2 at large apertures. Especially as the depth of field is deeper still with the Helios’s 58mm focal length, compared with the 24-35mm I shoot at most frequently with digital.

But I was surprised how less important that is to me now, and I was often dropping the aperture with the Helios as the depth field was just too shallow.

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This has raised a wider questions about my shooting preferences, seven years on from first using a 35mm film SLR.

Despite my fondness of, and history with, my remaining M42 lenses (the Helios, two Takumar 55mm, a Zeiss Flektogon and a Jupiter-37A), I don’t need them now anything like as much as I thought I did.

Also, with the GF1 being a more than adequate alternative to the only DSLR I have left, a Pentax K mount Samsung GX-1S – and my preference for focusing with a screen now rather than a viewfinder – I’m not sure the DSLR has any place in my photography arsenal anymore either.

In summary, the GF1 offers all a DSLR does, in a smaller package. So I don’t need a DSLR. 

The M42 lenses on the GF1 aren’t so much fun to shoot anymore, and whilst they do give a greater depth of field, my fab four digital compact favourites give me enough depth of field in virtually all scenarios. So do I still need the M42 lenses?

The GF1 with a native lens, even the very light and compact Lumix 12-32mm one I have  for it, is compact compared with a DSLR, but still much chunkier than any of the fab four digital compacts.

These days I just prefer having a camera that fits in the palm of my hand.

And the possibly slightly better image quality, larger sensor and higher MP of the GF1 (itself one of the oldest and lowest MP Micro Four Thirds bodies) is not a big enough issue for me to give it much weight.

Put another way, the GF1 – and likely any Micro Four Thirds camera made since – is too good for what I need!

Rounding all of this up, I might be looking to sell my DSLR, all M42 lenses, and the GF1 in the near future! 

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Have you used a Helios 44-2? Have you used any vintage lenses with an adapter on a mirrorless camera? What have you enjoyed about it? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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9 thoughts on “One Month, One Camera – April 2019 (II) – Lumix GF1 + Helios 44-2”

      1. Ah. I’ve had a few of those, there’s little difference in the final image, I just love the preset aperture set up with the original 44-2.

      2. I want to have a 2nd one so I can have one for each camera, and shoot them at the same time if I want to without swapping lenses

  1. Hi Dan, I use this camera and like it so much, I bought another. I love the Helios lenses and have them in several mounts. My oldest sample is so damaged you can barely see through it, but still takes good pictures. My attempts to use adapted lenses on this camera have been mixed, I’ve gotten a few good shots, but its really tough for me to focus unless I use a tripod. I really enjoy this camera with the Olympus “Body Cap” lens that arrived with the camera, not really sharp, but a lot of fun, and handy. I tried to use my Panasonic cameras for action and low light pictures at social events and got almost no usable pictures, so I still use my Canon SLR for some situations. In good light, or for things that don’t move I wouldn’t need another camera. .

    1. Thanks Jon!

      The GF1s are lovely cameras, I’m a big fan.

      However, the dilemma I’m finding is with manual lenses they become far bulkier and the process is slow.

      Yes, focusing can be tricky, and one has to develop a certain dance between adjusting aperture, focus and making the shot.

      I’ve found I often get the focus as close as possible using the focus ring, then very gently rock slightly forward or back to find optimum focus on the subject of the picture. I find moving my whole body fractionally like this is easier than adjusting the lens further, especially when trying to keep the camera and my hands still.

      Used with even the smallest native AF lenses (indeed even the Olympus body cap lens) the camera is still significantly bigger than something like an LX3 or Ricoh GRD III or even the little Pentax Q.

      So as I said, for my needs, I’m not sure the GF1 has a place or purpose – I really love using a decent digital compact that does everything in one small body.

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