Search
RSS & Email Feeds - The Easy Way To Keep Up To Date With The Blog

 

Tech Podcast Network
« SCL Photo Podcast 76 - Christmas Listening | Main | SCL Photo Podcast 75 - There And back Again »
Tuesday
Dec152009

Lens Review: Helios 135mm F/2.8 M42 Manual Lens



OK, I think that this lens, the Helios 135mm f/2.8, is one of my favourites, even though I haven't used it for that long. I picked up the Helios from a car-boot sale some months ago for a few quid, but hadn't got round to using it until a couple of weeks ago, and it has been a revelation.

I think my initial reluctance to try this manual focus M42 lens was based upon the lack of information on the 'net about it. I couldn't find many example pictures, and apparently Helios is a Russian make, but these "Made in Japan" examples are manufactured by a different company who "borrowed" the Russian name.

What should have encouraged me, was what attracted me to buy the lens in the first place - great apparent build quality and the f/2.8 maximum aperture, always rare in budget lenses. If the manufacturer took the trouble to stretch to the large 2.8 f-stop, it should have told me that the optics would be OK too.

As with any old lens, before I purchased it, I checked that the focus ring was smooth, the aperture blades changed nicely (remembering to switch the lens to M or to press the pin in on the back of the lens) and looked for fungus or dust inside the elements. This example was nice and clean, and it works great with my M42-EF lens mount adapter I got from eBay.

As with all my lens reviews I won't be going into too much detail about f-stops and corner sharpness, and I won't be taking photo's of test charts. The photographs you see below are ones I took on ordinary photo walks, processed in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop CS3 and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Scrap Destroyer At Priddys Hard
Scrap Destroyer At Priddys Hard


Look at it big.

I was really pleased with the sharpness of the above image of a scrap destroyer at Priddys Hard. To see all the detail, look at the photo at it's original size. It's not tack sharp, I shot it hand-held at 1/500th of a second, but it's good enough for me and shows the potential of the glass we've got here.

Railings, Forton Lake Bridge
Railings, Forton Lake Bridge


Look at it big.

The most exciting thing about the lens for me is how it's making me see photographically in a different way. On my Canon EOS 350d / Digital Rebel XT crop sensor dSLR the equivalent focal length is about 200mm, which is pretty telephoto. I've used long zooms on my Fujifilm S5700, but only to make things bigger in the frame, not to explore the radically different view of the world you get at this focal length.

Railings Against Warehouse, Monks Walk
Railings Against Warehouse, Monks Walk


Look at it big.

It's a bit hard to explain, but using a 135mm prime lens is a very different experience from using wide angle or standard lenses. When I'm walking around looking for things to photograph, if I see something interesting I can normally visualise what it'll look like through my 28mm or 50mm, they have a similar view to what I can actually see with my eyes.

With the 135mm the angle of view is so alien and different to what I normally see that I can't easily visualise what the photo will come out like, so every frame is a new experience. It's a new way of seeing, taking extracts from the surrounding scene and trying to pick out the best bits.

View Towards Fuel Depot From Forton Bridge
View Towards Fuel Depot From Forton Bridge


Look at it big.

Being a prime the Helios 135mm forces me to move around if I want to re-compose a shot. There's no easy zoom-ring here, and again that's great for expanding my photographic repertoire, forcing me to try different things.

Pink Skips, Monks Walk
Pink Skips, Monks Walk


Look at it big.

The 135mm focal length compresses the distance between subjects. Objects seem closer together, they don't rush away from each other like with a wide-angle, so different, interesting compositions become available.

Building Detail, Explosion Museum
Building Detail, Explosion Museum


Look at it big.

Ha! A brick wall shot - but one that shows how this lens is good for architecture shots - being a telephoto lens you've got to stand further away, increasing camera-to-subject distance, which reduces perspective distortion.

Metal Conduit Detail, Monks Walk
Metal Conduit Detail, Monks Walk


Look at it big.

When people talk about lenses, especially primes (non zoom), you tend to think of their usefulness in order of focal length - so you would want a 29mm on your camera most of the day, a 50mm part of the time, and a 135mm for select, special occasions. However I could happily walk around with the Helios 135mm f/2.8 on my SLR all the time, just swapping to those other lenses when the need arose.

Wreck At Priddys Hard
Wreck At Priddys Hard


Look at it big.

I really like the depth of field effects you can get with this lens. The 135 throws you into the scene, and because the relative distance is compressed, getting the foreground and background blurry is easy, and I think, effective.

Old Buildings, Through Railings, Explosion Museum
Old Buildings, Through Railings, Explosion Museum


Look at it big.

So, in conclusion I'm really pleased with this lens. It's turned me on to using the longer focal lengths as part of my photographic vision, and not just to get things bigger. I'm starting to understand the "look" of this lens, and can't wait to use it more.

If you see a Helios 135mm going cheap, snap it up, you will not be disappointed.

Incoming Tide, Monks Walk
Incoming Tide, Monks Walk


Look at it big.

Watch a slide-show of the above images. (Large).

Cheers, Rob.

Reader Comments (8)

Thanks for your review. I have the Helios 58mm and use it for macro shots with extention tubes. I like to shoot from longer range and I hope that the 135 will do the job. What's your opinion ? What is its weight ?

March 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYigal Shalhevet

Hi Yigal!

The 135mm should make a fine macro lens - it's light, fairly small and that 2.8 maximum aperture lets plenty of light in.

Cheers, Rob.

March 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

have just got a olympus e 600 camera and have just purchesed a helios lens 135mm.will this fit the olympus and what kind of adopter do i need ,thanks sean

April 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersean twomet

have just got a olympus e 600 camera and have just purchesed a helios lens 135mm.will this fit the olympus and what kind of adopter do i need ,thanks sean

April 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersean twomet

Hi Sean,

I i think that your camera uses the 4 thirds lens mount, and your helps probably has a m42 lens mount.

Search ebay for a m42 to 4 thirds adapter.

Cheers, Rob.

April 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob_Nunn

Bought a Helios 135mm from Ebay and love it ! I was looking for a 100mm EF lens for my Canon 40D and wasn't prepared to pay the high prices. Bought a M42 to EOS adapter and took a gamble with this lens and really really please. Superb! Can't fault it at. £45 in total well spent.

Have also tried it briefly with a 21mm macro tube and got about 0.8m focusing distance. Also enjoying the manual element of taking photos with this lens, makes you think much more rather than 'auto everything'.

September 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTony

Oh no! You're going to be in trouble now, Rob. I have one of these lenses - haven't done much with it yet. I'n SUPPOSED to be doing things in the garden today.... if I hunt out this lens and stick it on the front of the dSLR, I'm going to blame you...!!!!

June 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavidN

Dear Rob, many thanks for these pictures! They are great!
Please, inform me, how many blades (of aperture) have this lens?
Thanks! Yury

October 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterYury

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.