Here is my story…
Over years, I collected some 20+ Helios 44 lenses. (If you never heard of this lens, it is Russian copy of Zeiss Biotar 58/2, one of my favorite standard lenses). I did so partially out of curiosity to see how many variations I might discover (it is believed that anyone who would like to learn about all Russian lens variations, would need highest degree on the Hogwarts University) and partially because they are real bargain, being made in huge numbers.
Few days ago, I found an offer on our local Craig’s list, for the Specially adapted Helios. There was a link to the images made with that particular lens and when I opened the link, I was surprised to see images similar to this one:
Helios 44 (Just like Biotar 58/2) are one of those lenses known for so called Swirly bokeh, but I never saw image with a bokeh that wild.
I started to search on the web, and found some crazy adaptations of Helios, but they were going in the opposite direction, adding apodizing filters close to the aperture, to smooth highlights and tonal transitions. Apodizing filter is basically neutral density circular filter that is letting less light to pass in the edges of the image than in the center. Check the Minolta 135/2.8 STF review on my blog or search the web to find more about apodizing filter effects.
What I was able to find were some rather crazy adaptations going in that direction, like rotation of the Helios rear lens element above small candle for a quite long time, to make a soot that will block the light! It look like barbecue party!
Spending quite some time in that wrong direction, I finally dig few bits of info about making background more crazy.
The rest of the story is here – after many trial/error efforts, I can tell you my dear friends, how to make images like those, of course only if you have twisted sense of humor…
Before I tell you how to adapt your Helios, I should mention that it can be made with most lenses. Helios is great mainly because, it is widely available and not expensive. The images that you can see here are not made with Helios, but with another lens that I would like to keep as my little secret so far 🙂 But Helios 44 adapted, will give you almost identical results.
What would you need?
- Microfiber cloth to put bellow the lens
- Photographic gloves, because you will touch the glass
- 1 x table spoon of Helios 44 (I used 44-2, but as there are many different versions of this Helios, I can’t guarantee that it will be the same procedure with others. But I think so.)
- Lens opener. (Yeah, what the hell is lens opener? You will need to unscrew protective rim on the front of the lens, which is keeping front lens element tight on its place. There are many ideas on the web how to make your own opener, I am using a plumber rubber tape (very elastic tape made of rubber, that doesn’t leave marks) and put it around anything that has slightly smaller diameter than the lens top. Some people are using reversed lens cover and piece of chewing gum. You can even buy some rubber discs on eBay made specially on purpose – http://www.ebay.com/itm/18-Sizes-Pro-Rubber-Lens-Repair-for-DSLR-lens-Openning-Tool-Open-Wrench-fix-/261456322469?pt=Digital_Camera_Accessories&hash=item3ce002dfa5
- Beer. To celebrate if you succeed, or relax if you don’t.
And here is the trick.
Remove protective rim on top of the lens with the opener of your choice. Carefully turn the lens until front glass doesn’t fall into your palm (gloves remember?) Reverse the glass and carefully place it back where it was. Tighten up protective rim again. Done, drink a beer, mount the lens and run out to try it!
BTW, it might happen, that reversed glass will touch the elements bellow, but that is the price for this SFX adaptation and considering the price of Helios 44-2, I think you can live with it. In the worst case scenario, your adaptation might be permanent.
As you can see, trick is very simple – reversed front lens element. But there is more to come, and that is part of the fun…
If you want to enjoy your own research, trials/errors and excitement when you find out how to make those images, stop reading right here! Take your lens and go experimenting,
That’s what I did anyway. My first attempts were not really promising. Looking on those images, I first tought, that I need backlight to get lot of highlights. The opposite is true. You would need direct sunlight on your background, but also some highlights in it. Foliage makes a perfect pattern.
Be sure to have light behind you, if you want maximum effect.
Distance from the background is extremely important. There is no general rule, as it will depend of the structure of the background – size of the leaves e.g. and light direction. For this one you have to experiment. Here is what I would suggest – First – decide what will be your main subject and try to compose it the way you like it. Now focus on that distance (to have your subject sharp) and start looking for the swirly background. You will find it in the leaves, grass etc. Adjust your distance to the background accordingly and bring your subject in the frame, or if the subject is on the ground level (most flowers are), turn around, up and down to see if the Mr. Swirly is somewhere there.
Aperture should be usually wide open, but in some situations you might try to close it a bit. It all depends on the background.
Water drops might create great additional effects. In front of your focus plane (shooting through the grass with morning dew e.g) they will make interesting arrow like shapes, while in background they will create stroked circles. This will work best in macro magnifications (water drops are small, right?) You can use a small spray bottle with water if you are lazy (like me) to wake-up early. If you want to be like a pro, you might use glycerin instead of the water and virtually create your own water drops, bigger and more durable, exactly where you want them. And if it is cloudy day, or your subject is in the shade, use flash.
Try different subjects and different backgrounds. I played with leaves mostly, but there are some urban structures and patterns that might work equally well, such as glass block walls e.g. Sometimes, you want less complicated swirl…
That is basically it. If you can’t find your own Helios 44, or if you are afraid of doing this modification. I can make one for you for around 99 USD (including lens of course), plus shipping. You can also try to do this or similar modification with any older lens that you have at home. Some lenses will make interesting effect when you take out rear element or reverse it. (In most cases you will lose infinity though). Also consider to put your Helios (M42 mount) on the adapter with focus hellicoid. That will give you some interesting macro options.
But most importantly, TWIST AND HAVE FUN!!!
BTW, my very first image that I made with adapted Helios 44-2, make it on Flickr into explore group with some 20 faves and over 1000 views in the first 24 hours.
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