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.
To help this page survive, your donation will be highly appreciated.
Very interesting. I’m waiting for a good deal on the helios, I can’t seem to justify the $50 price tag after splurging on a mint CZJ 58mmf/2 🙂 It looks you’re still shooting with the a7/a7r, have you grown to like it more as you’ve used it? I’ve been playing around with the idea of getting a second body, but wanted to see how the OMD-EM1 or maybe the Fuji XT1 render images. However, I end up checking to see if the Nex7 has had a new price drop, more often than I thought I would.
Hi and thanks for your comment. I haven’t change my mind regarding A7 and A7r but I do use them slightly more often than I expected. However I use even more often A6000 now.
C’est fabuleux Viktor ! merci pour ce partage d’informations ,je vais tenter l’expérience puisque j’ai 2 helios 44-2 … je ne boirai peut être pas toute la bière sinon je n’arriverai pas au bout de l’opération :)))
Bonne chance Florence, ce devrait être facile.
J’ai juste oublié de demander ceci : le flou général est il inévitable ? je suppose que oui mais je préfère être sure :)) merci d’avance Viktor 🙂
Oui il est (si je comprends vous bien), mais son caractère change avec la distance. (caractère de flou).
Merci pour la réponse , j’ai envie d’essayer quand même :))
is there a video tutorial?
I am not aware of such tutorial, but what exactly would you expect from it? All notes about background and distances would stay same and lens is same too… I am not interested in video but maybe I can still help, if you post particular problem that you are dealing with, using same principles described here, for video shooting?
Superb website. You are a true photographer. Great tip on enhancing the swirly bokeh. Thanks!
Thank you Dan for your kind words. Really appreciated mate.
All the best,
I tried to modify my Helios 44-2 but unfortunately, I cannot takout the front glass. I removed the protective rim ofc, do you have any tip to do that ?
could you post thee image of how your lens look like without rim. You can use forum section and open new thread in legacy lenses part. I need to see itin order to give you some advise.
This is great! I tried it myself, however once I reversed the element I cant seem to have anything on focus. Any thoughts?I’m using it in a m4/3 and is a 44-2 58mm. Thanks
sorry for the late reply…
The problem could be related to specific type of Hellios lens that you have used. In some cases, convex part of the front glass might hit the second lens group causing significant twist in the focus plane. You might try to create small spacer from the thin rubber e.g. and place it bellow reversed front element (just on its rim of course) to slightly increase distance between modified lens groups.
Don’t however expect to achieve crystal sharpness after modification. Lens wasn’t particularly sharp even unmodified and wide open and with this modification sharpness will suffer. I can’t reach infinity sharpness too, but above described effect is best seen at short distances to the subject.
you are the man Viktor! I added a rubber band in between the elements and now I’m able to focus again …thanks for the help!
I am glad it worked for you. Enjoy swirly world 🙂
Hi – Loved your results! I opend the front and reversed the element easily enough, but couldn’t for the life of me get the ring screwed back in. Any ideas?
Is there a chance to send me the image of the open lens? You can use our forum section and open new topic in the legacy lenses forum section. You should be able to embed images there and I will take a look if I can recognize the problem and offer some suggestion. The only thing that comes to my mind without seeing the lens is to try to pull focus in order to pull back the second lens group and allow more clearance for screwing front ring.
Moved response to Forum. Thanks.
I really like your post,
and i want a lense like that.
Can you make one for me please? Just send me an email.
I´m based in vienna, austria.
I can make such a modification for you if you like. As listed above, it cost 99 USD + shipping and it usualy (depending on the availibility of a good, clean sample) takes 7 day to finish it after payment is recieved.
If you are interested, send me please PM on my email – firstname.lastname@example.org and I will give you instructions for payment via PayPal.
Your tips worked perfectly for an old albinar 35mm f2.8 k mount. An interesting result. Thanks for the info.
Thank you for the info Damon. It would be lovely if you can post few images taken with albinar. You can open new topic on our forum – http://www.verybiglobo.com/forums/forum/legacy-lenses/ and embed photo in the post.
I would love to have one of your creations. Could you please give me a quote on the best quality lens you can find, and your services to reverse the lens?
I would also like your recommendation on the best converter for my Sony a7ii.
I would like to order one right away.
Thanks very much,
I can offer lens + conversion for 99 USD. Shipping is added according location and I charge actual cost.
If you are interested let me know and I will send you payment instructions. Right now I have3 Hellios lenses ready for conversion.
Thank you for the interest and have a great day,
I would like to have one modded lens + conversion for Nikon D610. Please email me for further details.
I tried this and it worked like a charm, although I mature some macro rings to enable me to focus closer for macro.
Never taken a lens apart before but I have two old Helios 44M-2 lenses so figures it was not a big risk to modify one.
It’s now my “art” lens ha ha
glad that you made your own swirly toy. You can embed some pictures in the forum area if you find time. I’d like to see your swirly macro shots!
All the best,
Thanks to your trick I finally achieved extremely swirly bokeh with my Canon Eos 70D. 70D has APS-C size sensor so it was very hard to shoot a swirly bokeh photo. Your tips are simple and great.
Thank you for your kind words!
what would be the result if use Helios 44 Swirly Bokeh after your handwork for that? any picture I can see? I am very interested to buy one from you.
I am not in english, so don’t know how exact you did to do that. Do you have video to show me how? or any picture about the process
The lens itself will look similar after modification. Without looking closely, you can’t tell the difference, but you’ll see it for sure, once you try to take pictures. You can buy modified Helios from me if interested, I have 2 on stock now. Send me please email on email@example.com and I will send you payment informations.
Just emailed. Thanks.
Thanks for posting this. My local camera tech fixed me up with one and an adapter for my Fuji XE-2. Just playet with it and having fun.
I tried this in my helios 44-3 and it really works.
I’ve sent you an email asking you some questions to ask for help. Thank you very much.
Hi Vincent, I sent you a reply. Hope it helped.
Hi Victor, i would like to buy you an Helios like this Please give me the total price, shipping to MARTINIQUE 97229 PAYMENT PAYPAL
If you are interested in modified Helios lens, please send me email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also use contact button in the header of the home page.
I will gladly send you further info.
Hi, I’m interested in using The Helios 44 58mm for my shortfilm.
I was searching for other two lenses (wide and tele) to create a set for The shooting.
Which lenses do you think I need to take (with a similar budget of the Helios).
I would suggest Mir 20 and Helios 40. If that is too expensive, try Mir 1 and Jupiter 9 or Tair 11. Cheers,
Hola, invertí la lente y ahora suena como si no apretara bien el anillo exterior, ¿es normal que tenga holgura?
You mentioned that in some cases convex part of the front glass might hit the second lens group …
Can this occur with a Zebra M44-2, adapted for infinite focus on Nikon cameras?
Can i get one fir 99$ still
Hello- do you still sell this lenses?
I also would like one from you !
To all who are interested in adapted helios 44x by me, they will be available from November. Please send me the email if interested.
Could you please send me the email on email@example.com I will give you all the info needed.
Hello! Are you still selling these?
I do, yes.
Hi victor, do you still sell this invented front element Helios?
Thanks so much for this in-depth article! It seems a little beyond my comfort level, but I would love to buy a modified helios from you if you have any for sale. Let me know what you think, and thanks again for sharing your experience. 🙂
I can make one for you. If you’re interested, send me please an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Ready to purchase your lens. Your email address bounced back after I emailed you. Please reach out to me, I am ready to purchase. Thanks in advance!
Hi, try email@example.com