Helios is another legendary Soviet class of lenses. Its history can be traced in Germany, where the Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f2 originated from. At its beginnings, the Helios 44-2 was a Soviet made copy of the Zeiss lens, but was later developed into something more original. The particularity of the Soviet optical industry was that it was organized by lens categories: the wide angles were the MIRs, the telephotos were the Tair and so on. Thus the Helios lenses were mainly standard lenses which equipped the 35mm film Zenit cameras. The main focal lengths of the Helios lenses are 50, 58 and 85mm, the latter being a much appreciated portrait lens.
As mentioned above, one of the first Helios lenses was the 58mm f2, which was inspired by the CZJ Biotar. The Helios 44 was the first from the series and it used the M39 mount. Later the 44-2 - "the workhorse" – came, and finally the 44-3, which has a MC layer and was introduced in late 1980s and early 1990s. These last two versions came in M42 mount, as the old M39 had been almost abandoned by all manufactures.
In parallel, a new design was developed using the M42 mount and thus the 44M appeared. The concept, which also proved successful, had a long history. It started as the 44M in the early 1970s but knew different upgrades, ending with the 44M-7 (maybe even a 44M-8) in the 1990s.
These are reliable, cheap and very robust lenses that have an interesting personality and optical performance. For much of their history these lenses were made of metal and hardened plastic. Despite having plastic parts, their overall feeling is great, as they feel heavy and sturdy.
As such, the original 44M was produced and sold along with the newer 44M-4 version. This was probably caused by the fact that the production was divided between a group of factories: KMZ, Jupiter, BeLOMO, Arsenal and possibly others. The Helios series also included the 85mm f1.5 Helios 40-2, a fast portrait lens, much appreciated for its particular bokeh. Early versions have the M39 mount, which means they were probably introduced in the early 1950s. Later, they were fitted with the M42 mount.
There were also some later developments like the 50mm f1.8 Helios 77M-4 or the 50mm (or 53mm) f2 Helios 81M. Both used the M42 mount, but just as it happened with the later models, they also used Nikon and Pentax K mounts.
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A copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar, the Helios 44-2 58mm has its own personality in terms of color grading and bokeh. We also appreciate its sharpness when kept in f/3.5-8 range and solid construction; all in all Helios 44-2 offers really good value to the M42 user. Built in many factories around the Soviet Union, the Helios series was a common view during the Communist era, especially in Eastern Europe.
Helios 44-2 has a minimum focusing distance of 0.5m, it weighs 280g and uses a 49mm filter. Number of blades: 8/6, depending on the version.
The 58mm f2 44M Helios is one of the numerous versions of the Helios 44-2. It is based on the same optical formula, so it has the same focal length and maximum aperture. However, this series has a slightly different exterior design, while the 44M-4 has 6 blades instead of 8. Some also have the auto/manual switch, whereas the minimum focusing distance may vary from 0.55 for the 44M to 0.5m for the 44M-4. Both take 52mm, while the original 44-2 has 49mm filters, which remind of its German origins.
All Helios lenses were built in sufficient numbers throughout the Soviet Union, so they are widely available and have good prices. For their optical performances, their reliability and personality, we consider the 58mm Helios series to be one of the great M42 classic lenses.
Here we can observe the superb Helios 44M-6 58mm f2 later model. Being constructed during the 1980s, this lens benefits from a better multicoating system than older versions.