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07-25-2009, 09:25 AM - 3 Likes   #1
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Sibling Rivalry: Helios 44M vs. Helios 44M-4

I recently had the opportunity to borrow ISO50's very nice Helios 44M-4 58/2 for a couple of weeks. The experience was a good one, so I bid on and won the older version Helios 44M on the 'Bay. Since I had both lenses at the same time, I figured that a little compare and contrast was in order.

First the specs
Both lenses are based on the Zeiss Biotar 58/2 and share its optical formula (6 elements in 4 groups). Helios 44 lenses were made by several different entities in Russia and states of the former Soviet Union and may be distinguished by the makers marks. Here is a link to a key of the logos:
ACP - Logos
As with many Russian lenses, the year of manufacture is the first two digits of the serial number. Looking at the serial number is always a bit of a revelation since these lenses look fairly primitive and ancient. I was quite surprised to find that my 44M was made in 1978. I would have guessed at least a decade earlier based on the stiffness of the focus alone! Here are a few comparison points between the two lenses:

Helios 44M
  • Made by both KMZ and JOV(Valdai)
  • Eight curved aperture blades
  • Most are single coated, though multi-coated examples do exist (labeled as MC)
  • Has A/M switch
Helios 44M-4
  • Made by JOV(Valdai) (versions labeled MC by KMZ)
  • Six curved aperture blades
  • Most are single coated, though multi-coated examples do exist (labeled as MC)
  • No A/M switch (requires minor surgery to convert to fully manual aperture)
Physical Comparison
Here are a couple of comparison photos showing the two lenses along with a Super-Takumar 55/1.8 for comparison:

(Helios 44M on the right)
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Note the makers marks. The dove prism design indicates origin at the KMZ plant while the shish kabob design indicates JOV(Valdai). I think that both logos look kind of cool!

As you can see, both Helioses (Helii?) are significantly larger than the Super-Tak. They are also quite a bit heavier. It is a bit more difficult to see, but the 44M is slightly larger overall than the 44M-4 and also a little bit heavier. The two lenses were made about a decade apart and illustrate slightly different construction standards. You can also see the 6 vs. 8 blade irises.

A few comparison photos
All Helios 44 lenses have similar optical characteristics. The most famous are:
  • Excellent center sharpness at all apertures
  • Excellent sharpness overall when stopped down
  • "Dreamy" bokeh wide open

The 44M-4 is supposed to have somewhat better resolution than the 44M. Here are a few comparison photos shot with both lenses:

Helios 44M-4, either f/4 or f/5.6 (sorry...)


Helios 44M, f/5.6


The above pictures are of the same subject, but on different days with different conditions. I think the image quality is pretty comparable.


Here are a few wide open:

Helios 44M-4, f/2


Helios 44M, f/2


Helios 44M, f/2




A Few Notes If Considering a Helios 44_ Purchase

Do your research first!

The first thing to know is that these lenses are not rare and generally should not command a premium price. Although they are somewhat uncommon in the United States, the Helios 44 in its various forms was the kit lens for generations of Zenit SLR cameras that were widely available within the USSR and were also exported in quantity to other parts of the world. It is quite possible that more Helios 44 58/2 lenses, in all its variants, have been made than any other lens model in history.

A common issue with the Helios 44M series is stiff focus that gets worse with age. My 44M is difficult to use as a result and may require disassembly to re-lubricate at some point. There are condition and manufacturing issues that are common to most, if not all lenses made in the USSR and former Soviet countries. The buyer would do well to get explicit clarification in regards to condition and functionality before purchasing or bidding.

All Helios 44M-x lenses lack the A/M switch and cannot be used stopped down with most K-mount adapters. This problem can be dealt with by a little minor surgery to shim the aperture actuation pin and convert the diaphragm to full manual operation. There may also be compatibility problems with certain of the earlier 44-3 models on non-Zenit cameras. Apparently there is inadequate clearance for the focus ring. This issue affects K-mount adapter users as well.

While all Helios 44 lenses share the same optical formula, they were available in both M39 and M42 mounts with both pre-set and auto apertures. There is also a fair amount of variability in construction even though many models appear very similar. Optical quality is also said to vary between versions and strangely, there is considerable overlap in the dates of manufacture. The progression of model numbers is not a true indicator of newness or even improvements. For a full discussion see:

Manual Focus Lenses :: View topic - Complete Helios Lens list anyone?

Steve


Last edited by stevebrot; 07-25-2009 at 12:31 PM.
07-25-2009, 09:39 AM   #2
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great pics. Please check my review of Helios 77M-4. I think you will wonder how good it is as long as I included some crops
07-25-2009, 09:46 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by kent Quote
great pics. Please check my review of Helios 77M-4. I think you will wonder how good it is as long as I included some crops
Do you have a link to your review?

Edit:
Found it!

https://www.pentaxforums.com/userreviews/showproduct.php?product=559&cat=88

Steve
07-25-2009, 10:56 AM   #4
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Steve, great info. I learned more of my 44m-4 through your research. Thanks. I agreed about the stiff focus, it took me a little while to get used to it. Especially comparing it with Takumar or M lens, which has a very silky smooth focus ring. I assume it will get loosen up over time but obviously it is the opposite. But the sharpness and dreamy bokeh sure make up for that.

David

07-25-2009, 11:40 AM   #5
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I lucked out I guess

My 44M focus is smooth as a baby's butt... like butter


Steve, nice series... I almost picked up a 44-4 the other day... shipping price pushed it too high.

Is it a WB issue / difference on the purple/blue flowers? My 44M does purple ok
07-25-2009, 11:53 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Igilligan Quote
My 44M focus is smooth as a baby's butt... like butter


Steve, nice series... I almost picked up a 44-4 the other day... shipping price pushed it too high.

Is it a WB issue / difference on the purple/blue flowers? My 44M does purple ok
I guess you were lucky with your 44M focus or perhaps someone has serviced it. I may try and find my camera tools and re-lube mine at some point.

My 44M does purple OK as well. The difference in colors for the hydrangea flowers is related to soil acidity. I spilled some lime into the bed near the hydrangea a couple of years ago. As a result, the flower heads on one side of the plant tend to be more pinkish, while those on the other side tend to blue.

Steve

Last edited by stevebrot; 07-25-2009 at 12:11 PM.
07-25-2009, 12:41 PM   #7
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i'm waiting for my 44m-7 to arrive
07-25-2009, 12:46 PM - 1 Like   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
.... The difference in colors for the hydrangea flowers is related to soil acidity. I spilled some lime into the bed near the hydrangea a couple of years ago. As a result, the flower heads on one side of the plant tend to be more pinkish, while those on the other side tend to blue.

Steve
Aha, this is how you solve WB problems!

Great stuff!

07-25-2009, 02:19 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by dankoBanana Quote
i'm waiting for my 44m-7 to arrive
When it does, post up some pictures and your impressions! The more, the merrier!

Steve
01-30-2010, 03:27 PM   #10
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Thanks for the useful info in this thread. I've not used my Helios yet, but it's a plain 44M with the KMZ logo (as seen top right in photo above). It came attached to a (fully working) Zenit EM and the serial number starts with 80, so it must be from 1980. (No Olympics logo on the camera body, sadly). It has the useful A/M control for checking depth of field. It's heavy for a standard lens, but if I can get half the picture quality shown in examples above, I'll be very pleased, particularly as the camera and lens only cost 1 UK pound.
I don't own a Pentax digital, so I'll be shooting film with this on both the Zenit and an SFX (once my M42-K adaptor arrives).
01-30-2010, 08:48 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Arty Smokes Quote
Thanks for the useful info in this thread. I've not used my Helios yet, but it's a plain 44M with the KMZ logo (as seen top right in photo above). It came attached to a (fully working) Zenit EM and the serial number starts with 80, so it must be from 1980. (No Olympics logo on the camera body, sadly). It has the useful A/M control for checking depth of field. It's heavy for a standard lens, but if I can get half the picture quality shown in examples above, I'll be very pleased, particularly as the camera and lens only cost 1 UK pound.
I don't own a Pentax digital, so I'll be shooting film with this on both the Zenit and an SFX (once my M42-K adaptor arrives).
Welcome to the Pentax Forums! The Helios 44M is a nice lens, I think you are going to like it. When you get some photos, but sure to post them on the Soviet Lens Club thread and on the Pentax Film SLR Forum. (The film forum is pretty tolerant of postings from non-Pentax cameras/lenses should you want to use the Zenit )

Strangely enough I have never shot with my Helios 44M on my film cameras. Maybe one of my tasks for tomorrow should be to finish the roll in the Mamiya 1000 DTL using the Helios.

Steve
12-01-2010, 10:33 PM   #12
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I got a version of this lens (44M-4), and all I remember is that I was using it with my Praktica film SLR years ago. According to your info Steve, the serial number says it's made in 1988 and ZENIT is added as label. The aparture ring is working smoothly. My original Pentax adapter is on its way. I hope I can manage the small operation with the pin and start using it with my K20D. Thank you for providing the valuble info about the series of this lens.
12-02-2010, 12:02 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
A common issue with the Helios 44M series is stiff focus that gets worse with age. My 44M is difficult to use as a result and may require disassembly to re-lubricate at some point.
When I received my 44M KMZ with Zenit ( https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/31430-soviet-l...ml#post1260390 ) found that focus is stiff as grinding wheels. So I decided to disassemble by following this: Psychotic Studios Blog Archive Adjusting and Cleaning Focus on Helios 44M. Now it is very smooth and easy.

Last edited by ultraviolet; 12-04-2010 at 09:25 AM.
12-02-2010, 07:18 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by stevebrot Quote
I guess you were lucky with your 44M focus or perhaps someone has serviced it. I may try and find my camera tools and re-lube mine at some point.

My 44M does purple OK as well. The difference in colors for the hydrangea flowers is related to soil acidity. I spilled some lime into the bed near the hydrangea a couple of years ago. As a result, the flower heads on one side of the plant tend to be more pinkish, while those on the other side tend to blue.

Steve
Actually it has to do with the presence or lack of Aluminum in the soil as well as pH. It also requires fertilizer that is low in phosphates and high in potassium.

Changing the Color of Hydrangeas
12-02-2010, 10:56 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by boriscleto Quote
Actually it has to do with the presence or lack of Aluminum in the soil as well as pH. It also requires fertilizer that is low in phosphates and high in potassium.

Changing the Color of Hydrangeas
Interesting...though I do know that the whole bush was blue until my adventure with the lime.


Steve
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