Helios 44-2 is a cheap old lens that's great for getting a retro cinematic look

Like the $30 Fujian/Fotasy 35mm, the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 is a lens famed for soft, flat, dreamlike results, appealing to modern video shooters searching for that vaunted "filmed on 16mm in 1974 by druids" look.

And, unlike the $30 Fujian/Fotasy, it isn't completely terrible. Stopped down, it's much sharper and undistorted. I found it difficult to focus, though, and it has a ~150mm equivalent field of view on my Blackmagic Cinema Camera, so it's not very versatile. The internet given wisdom is that the coatings changed frequently on this Soviet-era Zeiss clone over the years of its manufacture, meaning that flare and color characteristics vary widely.

The 44-2 was made in vast numbers, meaning you can find them on eBay for reasonable prices. You'll need an M42-mount adapter, for your modern camera, to go with it.

Still shooters have long loved the swirly bokeh, though you'll notice that the corners aren't quite so crazy with smaller sensors.

My footage was shot in RAW and ungraded, except for a few clips that were overexposed, where I applied luminance curves. Normally, one would enhance the colors in post-production.

Download a 13MB zip of some RAW frames. JPGs (photoshop, 80 quality) are below.





This fellow has a much more formal and extensive set of tests, shot with the Blackmagic Pocket (which crops the image 3x from full-frame, compared to the 2.4x of my Blackmagic Cinema Camera) and paying more attention to the details:

UPDATE: Here's some footage I shot with a less expensive camera, the tiny Panasonic GM1.