Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 – review

Published by Tony on

The popularity of Russian lenses has grown considerably over the past few years. And Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 is from the top of that list. Perhaps this is the result of globalization, perhaps – Photographers protest against the principles of modern lenses – sometimes too featureless.

One day I spotted in the sale Гелиос 44М-7 at an attractive price. Directly with the camera Zenit-122 instead of the back cover. So…

Lens review: Helios 44-7 58mm 1:2.0 MC Zenit


Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 + Zenit 122

Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 specifications

Name engraved on lensHELIOS-44M-7
f[mm]58
A max [1/f]2.0
A min[1/f]16
Lens design [el.]6
Lens design [gr.]4
Filter thread Ø front(rear)[mm]52
Lens Shade—
closefocus[m]0.5
Dimension Ø x length [mm]63.5 x 47
Weight[g]> 230gr
Year1958 – 1999
StyleBack in USSR
Notesvodka, balalayka

More data

Floating elementsNO
Aperture blades number6
Confidence in the test results of reviewed copiesAverage
Reviewed Lens SN:93490252

Historical note

The tested lens has been produced in 1993 on Valday, Russia (the factory is here – 57°58′49″ x 33°13′32″). This lens is from the latest generations of Helios’s 58mm era, only one modification was created after this 44M-X but was produced in small amounts and considered as rare.

Historically, Helios-44 is a copy of Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 2,0/58, and the first incarnations called “БТК”. In Russian, it meant “BioTarKrasnogorski” (“Biotar from Krasnogorsk”, the first factory is based in Krasnogorsk town near Moscow). So, “Helios-44” was born in 1958, but since that time the lens got a lot of modifications. Anyway, optically they are a continuation of the same parent.

One of the most popular lenses in the world. I would not want to go deeper into history in this article, but one note should be posted here:

The numbers in the index show the lens’s resolution if it applied to “M” versions:

  • «МС Гелиос-44М-5» — 40/20 lines/mm
  • «МС Гелиос-44М-6» — 45/25 lines/mm
  • «МС Гелиос-44М-7» — 50/30 lines/mm

Lenses were tested after assembly in the factory and, depending on the test results have obtained an index and a corresponding front ring. Thus, this copy with index 7 has been considered as a very good copy.

And one more feature – Russians had large deviations in quality, that’s why just one copy does not give us an idea about IQ of other copies of this lens.

Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 lens exterior

Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 mounted on Zenith 122 camera

This set is authentic, both camera and lens were in production in the same period of time. I believe that this pair was a kit:

Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 sharpness

Сlose-distance resolution test, minimal distance

Testing methods description

  • Target: 10-15 cm picture, printed on glossy photo paper
  • Distance: 1.7m
  • Camera: Sony A7II (24mpx, full-frame, tripod, remote control). M-mode, ISO fixed, WB fixed, SteadyShot – OFF.
  • The test was repeated for every F-stop on every focus position with manual focus adjustment for each shot. That is to avoid the effect of field curvature.
  • RAW processing: Capture One, default settings. All quality settings – 100%. Crops – 300×200 px

Original target image (printed in horizontal orientation on 10cm X 15cm glossy photo paper)

Scene preview

Test results

Long-distance resolution test

Testing methods description

  • Target: cityscape
  • Distance: > 200 meters to center focus point
  • Camera: Sony A7II (24mpx, full-frame, tripod, remote control). M-mode, ISO fixed, WB fixed, SteadyShot – OFF. The focus point is on the center only.
  • RAW processing: Capture One, default settings. All quality settings – 100%. Crops – 300×200 px

Scene preview

Test results

Helios 44M-7 58mm 1:2.0 aberrations

Vignetting

Geometric distortion

Coma aberrations

Chromatic aberrations

Long-distance bokeh

Test #1

Test conditions: the lens was focused on minimal distance on the scale (0.5m), buildings are on “infinity”-distance.

Test#2:

Test conditions: lens was focused on 1m, houses were fixed in infinity distance on the ground.

Light bubbles bokeh – long distance

Test #1

The lens is on the minimal focusing distance 0.5m, lights are on infinity (cityscape)

Test #2

Test conditions: lens was focused on 1m

Helios 44M-7 58mm F/2.0 final conclusion

Good news

The geometric aberrations are almost absent, vignetting is OK, especially for modern digital sensors. Average news: not too bad coma and chromatic aberrations on wide-open apertures. A lot of lenses from the middle of the 20 century have the same behavior. Bad news: there is no sharpness in middles and corners at F2.0-4.0. The middle became acceptable at F5.6 and corners became the same just from F8.0.

Special news for artists

This lens is the simplest way to get possible the best and coolest bokeh which you ever have seen with a near-fifty. But don’t forget: the absence of sharpness – is a payment for this. A huge price, at least for my taste.

If to remember that this lens has been produced in 1993, then it seems that we have two enough different conclusions:

  1. The IQ of this lens is enough poor from the modern point of view.
  2. This lens is a nice working replica of ancient rare lenses.

There is no need to pay hundreds for collectible Zeisses because these cheapest Helioses can provide the same picture. It’s a good tool for photographers who are going to play with bokeh – independently of the person’s skill. A fairly cheap lens, so as not to regret the purchase, even if you can not make masterpieces with it. I can easily imagine it in a professional bag and in an amateur bag. But be sure – this is definitely not a lens for every day.

Battles with this lens:


10 Comments

Filip · 2020-08-19 at 13:18

Great review 🙂 Thanks for doing this 🙂

Charlier L · 2021-01-01 at 12:47

I find this an excellent review. As such, my comment is useless. I mean by that your approach to a lens quality is both clever and methodical. I happen to possess more than 15 Helios-44s (from the “Start” model with the funny shutter-button and weird mount to a 1992 -44M-7). Price of these lenses allow this type of “collection”. I, for one, don’t rank sharpness as my first priority, but I hate lousy pictures as well. Comparing this lens to 58 mm Rokkor makes a lot of sense, and Mamiya 58 mm or Fujinon 55 & Hexanon 57would be a good idea as well. Primotar 50, although not being a double-Gauss but rather a Tessar evolution gives similar impressions. Finally, why do you say it cannot be an “everyday lens”? I’ve shot for over 30 years of my life (1972 till 2005) with a Zuiko 50 mm f/1.8 and many pictures are similar. I agree the f/1.4 version would be a better comparison still, but I only acquired one …. last year! And a very good day to you. Amateur photography is a passion, but also serves – for me at least – as a kind of psychotherapy against anxiety and stress in this uneasy situation <we all share.

    Tony · 2021-01-01 at 18:05

    Thank you for such a detailed comment. Your experience is much more than mine, so thank you very much for your rating of the review. As for the words that I cannot recommend this lens for every day, this recommendation applies more to those who are currently starting to photograph with digital cameras. Perhaps it would be easier for them to use lenses that are easier to handle in terms of getting sharpness – we have a lot of other lenses – cheap, cool, and with enough simple requirements for the skills. And experienced photographers are able to figure out which lenses to use without my advice )))

F. · 2021-04-02 at 13:52

Hello, thanks for this great review ! I am curious about one thing. Why do you say that lens weight 230 grams and more, while all the official informations say the normal weight is 270 grams ? Even on Zenit official webpage (http://www.zenitcamera.com/archive/lenses/helios-44.html)

    Tony · 2021-04-02 at 13:59

    Hi! It is because of objective reality – you can see this lens on the scales on the photo on the top of the page. The scales are checked

Włodzimierz Wohn · 2021-04-05 at 12:31

Actually I can’t agree with your findings. The reason is not yours methodology neither any test errors. This is simply due a variety of Helios 44M-7 samples. I have copy from 97 which I got at the way of try and errors (buy-sale several copies). My copy does not exhibit swirly bokeh at all (perhaps in some isolated cases light vs structure of background objects) and it’s razor sharp corner to corner starting from 2,8. All other variants of Helios are crap but if you invest some time and money you can find awesome lens. My selected, out of many, copy of 44M-7 is superior to Sony FE 50mm f1.8 (and renders way nicer)

    Tony · 2021-04-05 at 12:37

    By your description it looks that your lens is not Helios

Włodzimierz Wohn · 2021-04-05 at 15:36

It is. 4 years younger then yours but identical 🙂

Thomas · 2021-07-19 at 14:58

Thanky for nice review, and your excellent work about Rokkor lenses. Using various types of Helios 44 lenses (dating from late 1950s to 1993) I agree to some of your statements, but not all of them, with respect to the 44-7. My copy is ser. no. 93384234, yours 93490252, should have been built pretty close to each other. Yet my copy shows good sharpness across the frame. As mentioned by others, the “swirly bokeh”, so prominent for many of the other types of 44s is largely absent with the 44-7.
A word of caution for 44-7 seekers: There are many many fake 44-7 around at auction platforms (mainly re-badged 44-4s). Better check excellent tutorial about fake 44-7s of RetroPhotoHouse on Youtube before considering a purchase.
If sharpness is an issue and you like Soviet lenses: Go for a Zenitar-M 1.7 50.

    Tony · 2021-07-21 at 17:10

    Thank you, Thomas ))
    Of course, there are many stories about Russian lenses, with varying degrees of truthfulness. I just took one of these lenses and tested it just like I do with any other lens. I know the owner of this lens – a very skilled man, and I am confident that this lens is exactly what it is – 44-7 (no fakes). Nevertheless, as indicated in the review – all Russian lenses are quite different, this is very good from the point of view of creativity – only the production carelessness of the Russians helped to make these lenses palette tools, on the other hand – this is a disaster for reviewers – I am almost sure that any following Helios will show some other results

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