This is the fourth of a detailed series of posts for photographers who are thinking of using relatively cheap old manual focus lenses on an APS-C DSLR. This time it’s the Helios Jupiter 9 85mm f2, an old USSR made portrait lens in M42 mount, with oodles of character. The APS-C crop factor makes this a 136 mm equivalent, and by ignoring the worst performing frame edges of a lens designed for 35mm it might do quite well.
A magically disappearing background with a gorgeous silky soft bokeh.
Wide open at f2 – a scarecrow standing in for a portrait model in this one. The mild orange colour cast is a ‘feature’ of this lens – or maybe its age.
Depth of field is razor-thin at the minimum focus distance – the easiest hand-held focus technique is using the LCD – compose, roughly focus then use focus magnify and move the camera gently backwards and forwards to get it spot on. Take the shot in ‘focus magnify’ mode – if you switch back the focus point will move again!
Colour rendition can be very highly saturated! Easily fixed in post processing but a bit of a shock till you get used to it…
On to the lens itself. They just don’t make them like this any more – a solid metal barrel (its not a light metal either) and lots of glass make this one feel like it would stop a bullet. If quality of construction were the sole benchmark of quality this would outshine a Canon ‘L’ series lens!
The mount adaptor is a cheap 42mm to Canon EF – £10 from Ebay. The screw thread stops at the wrong point so the lens info isn’t quite on the top of the lens when mounted. The focus ring is very stiff in the cold and can start unscrewing the lens when turned clockwise as well. All part of the experience!
The aperture is made up of 15 blades (just counted them!) maintaining a perfectly circular aperture across the range from f2 to f16 – very nice. It’s a ‘stop down’ mechanism which is odd if you’re not used to it – setting the aperture ring just sets a ‘stop point’ for another ring which varies the aperture from wide open (for focussing) to the aperture chosen. As we’re not using an external exposure meter but the 60D’s internal exposure system you can just set the aperture stop point to f16 and vary the aperture across the range, judging the depth of field on the LCD. Minimum focus is just less than 80cm.
So – not expecting too much (this is really a soft portrait lens) how well does it do for sharpness etc?
Standard test subject – I’ll have to change this soon – as we go up the focal lengths I’m running out of room on the road and will end up in the river).
Full frame of test image.
At f2 – pretty soft and strong ‘open aperture sheen’.
f4 – centre is better , edge marginally so.
f11 – not bad but still soft at the edge.
It doesn’t change at f16 either!
Not really a surprise though – this is a classic portrait lens – just sharp enough in the centre and soft at the edges to give a flattering effect.
Is it worth getting one? At around £100 they’re quite cheap, and the f2 aperture is seriously fast for this focal length. The bokeh is one the best I’ve seen, and for flattering portraits or special effect close-ups – where you want the subject isolated by a blurred away background – it’s brilliant. For more general photography it’s not quite so good – stick to the kit lens unless you really need the extra three stops of speed.
Hope you find this useful – thanks for looking! To see how well it on a Micro Four Thirds Olympus EPL5 look here.
For some more reviews of M42 mount Helios lenses, Veijo Vilva has tested most of them here – it was these reviews which helped me with my manual focus lens choices so thanks Veijo!
If you’re interested in using other MF lenses on your DSLR have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.
Update – to see how this lens performs on a 5d MK2 see here.