I’ve discovered the charm and character (not to mention value) of vintage lenses. It started as a novelty having picked up a budget £20 Helios 44-2. I was looking for a lens that could better capture that filmic look particularly with regards to flares and light leaks which by design are hard to achieve with my Canon L glass. I was instantly intrigued with how a 30+ year old lens which cost less than a plastic Canon lens hood could resolve so well on a modern digital full frame sensor and produce such a signature, swirly look. I liked it so much, I found a nicer condition, slightly older Helios in silver…oooh.
For all the simplicity of a manual lens, it’s not at all simple getting good results. First of all, you have to find a good copy. My silver Helios has a butter smooth focus ring unlike the first one I picked up which feels scratchy and loose (but works fine). But then the silver one cost twice as much. And just like the first one, I had to file down the back assembly so it wouldn’t make contact with the mirror on the 5D3. It also took some work finding a ‘chipped’ adapter. The chip fools the camera into thinking a Canon lens is attached so that the auto confirm beep will work…and believe me, you need the auto confirm to know you’ve hit focus because the built-in focus screen on the camera is optimised for auto focus lenses. Wide open, it’s like shooting blind without the focus confirm. Despite picking up two different adapters from eBay which advertised compatibility with the 5D3, I got communication errors with both. I finally tracked down a pricy “Optix” adapter from Hong Kong which works great. In fact, it works so well, I’ll dedicate a post to it later on.
Helios 44-2 ƒ2.0, Canon 5D mark iii
A manual, vintage lens isn’t for everyone and I’m surprised how much I find myself gravitating towards one especially having built up a decent collection of Canon L glass over the years. I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it for still photography even though I first sought it out for video. Going for a casual walk in the park, I’m far more likely now to reach for the Helios than my trusty 24-105 walk around zoom. It’s just plain fun and I’m capturing images with a nostalgic character that I love. Maybe it’s just a passing phase and the novelty will eventually wear off but I’m already eyeing my next set of vintage primes.