Info below is quoted courtesy of the sites linked.
Helios-44 is a series of standard lenses for SLR cameras, produced in Soviet Union by KMZ, MMZ, Jupiter from 1958 till 1992 (2001?) and it is considered to be one of most mass produced lenses in the world. Based on the lens Biotar 2 / 58 , at the beginning was called "БТК" - "БиоТар Красногорский" (BioTar Krasnogorski). A fast 6-element anastigmat, it was available in both single-coated and multi-coated versions.
Todays blogpost is a review of the Helios 44m-4 58mm f/2 lens. The lens was produced in the old Soviet Union by Jupiter among others from 1958 till 1992 and is one of most mass produced lenses in the world! I bought the M42 screwmount version (hence the 44m name), since I have that adapter, but they made it available in many other mounts.
The reason for buying this lens was one thing, and one thing only: The swirley bokeh effect!
The lens has, what is referred to as optical vignetting, meaning that out of focus “bokeh-balls” becomes more elipsoid as you move away from the center of the image. Also referred to, as “Cat-eye” effect, this phenomenon gives a pronounced feeling that the background “swirls” around the center focus subject. What really surprised me though, was all the other scenarios this lens was good for! The 58mm focuslength on a APS-C sensor turns into a 87mm FOV equivalent which makes it a really nice medium tele lens. For the streets I was VERY surprised at how well it is doing. And it does amazing with black and white photography. The lens is built like a tank! Seriously. METAL and GLASS….the USSR-way!! My copy is very smooth in the focus ring, and the aperture ring has nice clicks. A good condition lens.
Because the lens was built in such superfluous numbers they’re CHEAP…. and I mean REALLY cheap! $10 on ebay and you get a good condition lens…. it’s ridiculous, really.
My thoughts on the Helios 44.
There are scads of variations from silver, in either nickel finish or aluminum, I’m not quite sure, going all the way back to M39 mount. There are a number of designations including Helios 44, Helios 44-2 and Helios-44M in order of chronology. I own two, an older 44 and a newer 44M. The middle version 44-2 is reputed to carry the best swirly bokeh gene. The -44M is considered the sharpest and best overall lens. I have an old silver 44 that apparently was an M39 build lens that at first they simply recalibrated focal distance and added a screw on M44 adapter to allow fitment to newer M44 cameras. That’s a guess on my part. If you take the M39 to M44 adapter threads off it appears to be a standard M39 lens. However focal point is then screwed up as its dialed in for M44. I also own a newer -44M which I like a lot. That's the lens being shot here. It appears to have much better multicoating, making it a much better all round shooter.
I really like this lens. Its color and tonal scaling reminds me a bit of a nice Summicron. Best when there’s not a busy background. Looks like it would be quite nice for portrait shooting with the right background control. Very pleasing skin tones and scaling. About that background I kept mentioning above. The whole 44 series has sort of an Art cult following due to the bubbles it produces and tendency to render bokeh swirl as it progresses to the outer edges. When done well this can even work for portraiture. When done not so well it can render a busy and distracting look. However, if you can control the background detail and lighting it will render a fairly soft and pleasing bokeh. That coupled with the fact that it makes people look great -- whether in color or black & white, plus the generally beautiful color and tonal scale it has makes this lens a very good all-round shooter -- so long as you are observant and in control of what you are looking for.
Here's a very gnarly and artsy flare from my older silver Helios 44.