It’s fair to say that, in the full flow of using DSLRs with vintage manual lenses, bokeh is a prominent feature in my photographs.
In fact, the out of focus background is often of greater importance to me than the subject in focus.
When I think of bokeh, the first lens that comes to mind is the Helios 44.
In short, the Helios 44s give you sharpness when you need it, lovely dreamy backgrounds, plus the scope from more interesting and “swirly” options too.
I favour the 44-2 version best, with its preset aperture which allows infinite adjustment over the aperture, and therefore the depth of field.
But I’ve also had numerous 44Ms (currently a 44M-4 is in my kit, suggested by many to offer the optimum combination of vintage lens look, with the greater contrast and flare control of a more modern multi-coating).
And very recently I picked up a copy of the lens that superseded the Helios 44, the MC Zenitar-M2s 50mm f/2.
Plasticky and ugly it may be (like a dark chocolate donut stuck on the front of your camera, was one memorable description), but it’s compact, light, gives plenty of that Helios swirl potential, and is arguably even sharper when the light is right.
One of the best features of the Helios (and Zenitar 50/2) is the price.
Within the last couple of months, the 44M-4 I mentioned cost me less than £15, in very good optical condition and fully working (even the finest examples could never be described as silky smooth).
And I found a copy of the Zenitar for £25.
My original 44-2 I found rummaging around in a random odds and ends bin at a camera fair eight years ago, and set me back all of £7.
Undoubtably the best £7 I’ve ever spent on photography.
Combine one of these lens with a classic CCD sensor Pentax DSLR like the K100D, K-m or Samsung branded GX-1s, all of which I have examples of that cost between £25-31 and you have a set up capable of wonderful images for £50, perhaps less.
You will have to buy an M42 to Pentax K adapter, but even factoring this in, at the cheapest end my GX-1s (£25) + Helios 44-2 (£7) + adapter (£12) still come well within £50.
For me, I have a bokeh dream set up for virtually pocket money, in digital photography terms.
How about you, do you have an ongoing love affair with bokeh (and the lenses that deliver it most satisfyingly) too?
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).
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