The Sony A7R and a Helios 85mm f2

This little review is done out of pure curiosity. The Russian made Helios Jupiter 85mm f2 is not known for it’s sharpness (Zeiss have nothing to worry about here), more for the unusual characteristics of the images it produces which I’ve found in the past to be unique. I’m not expecting much at all here so this should be good fun.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

That magic bokeh is back!

 

For around £8 a NEX to M42 screw mount adaptor was ordered, and it’s pretty well made, with three allen key loosened grub screws to allow the fixed lens to be rotated so the top of the lens aligns with the camera. What this does for the alignment of the lens with the sensor plane is anyone’s guess but let’s not worry for now. There is no electronic contact between lens and camera so no EXIF data for the lens or aperture used. Obviously there’s no autofocus, apertures are set manually and forget image stabilisation.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

On the A7R – this is about as heavy as it’s possible to go on the small A7R body without things feeling unbalanced (for me). The adaptor adjustment grub screws can be seen on the right hand side of the adaptor.

 

The lens is solidly made in metal and quite compact, but feels heavy (13 oz/374g). Minimum focus is around 75 cm (about 30 inches) and it shares a 49 mm filter thread with most Zuiko prime lenses. Focus from infinity to minimum distance takes around 270 degrees. The weight helps stabilise the camera/lens but there’s no image stabilisation (not invented when the lens was made!) so 160th of a second or shorter for hand-held shots is best.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Without the adaptor and front UV filter it’s quite small and ‘dense’. Controls from left to right – grip for screwing the lens on to the adaptor, the knurled focus ring, the ‘stop down the aperture to what’s been selected’ ring and the ‘set the desired aperture’ ring

 

The aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures, and look quite different from most lenses. Rather than being matt black they appear to be bare metal which looks a bit ‘industrial’, just like the rest of the lens in fact. The ‘stop down’ nature of the lens means it’s best to leave the front aperture setting at f16 then just rotate the inner ring across the aperture range until things look good. This means you have no idea what aperture is being used. If you’re very patient you could do it correctly and set the aperture on the front ring then rotate the inner ring completely to the right. I’m not that patient.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Shiny and worn aperture blades maintain a circular shape at all apertures – no hexagonal out of focus points!

 

Focussing isn’t as easy as with the sharp, contrasty OM Zuiko lenses. The ‘focus peaking’ feature relies on image contrast to sprinkle the view finder with ‘in focus’ pixels, but as this lens isn’t too sharp and of low contrast it didn’t show much. With the ‘focus magnify’ focussing was much easier, but at the maximum ‘zoom in’ level you can actually see how soft the image is at maximum aperture. It’s very much like focussing a Lensbaby – there’s nothing really sharp ‘out there’ through the lens so just do the best you can. Combined with the extra care needed shooting with the A7R this combination means slow, deliberate photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Soft and dreamy – nice.

 

There’s a little vignetting wide open but only if you’re looking for it. Flare can be quite bad as the front element isn’t multicoated (it may not be coated at all). Contrast is low across the aperture range (images look terrible before post processing) so shoot in RAW and be prepared for some moderately serious post processing – all in a day’s work for MF lens users.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

Nice smooth bokeh – lovely

 

If image sharpness or ease of use are your goals look elsewhere – very far away! This lens excels at producing soft ‘dreamy’ images at closer focussing distances with some very shallow depth of field and attractive bokeh. Traditionally used for portraits, these characteristics lend themselves to a few other subjects such as flower, food and ‘special effect’ photography.

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At medium distances the edges of the frame can get quite ‘swirly’ – like a poor man’s Petzval lens.

This lens did quite well on a Canon 5D Mk2 and a 60D as the poor resolution wasn’t so mercilessly exposed on 20Mp and 18Mp sensors. It was however more difficult to focus through the optical viewfinders of these cameras so sort of a draw there. Using this lens is a huge waste of 36Mp of resolution (8Mp might be appropriate), but as the A7R is now my main camera, I’m not carrying another one just for this lens!

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

It’s rather good for ‘book cover’ type stuff.

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

At f2 and soft everywhere even the bits in focus – but it all sort of ‘works’

 

For tradition’s sake, let’s do a centre enlargement from a shot at f8 :-

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The full image

 

Sony A7R, Helios Jupiter 85mm f2

The centre enlagement – forget the edges at all apertures. Not great – but – not what it was designed for.

 

So, is this a useful lens on a Sony A7R? For me it is, as my specialist market is book covers, and a ‘different’ look at the expense of sharpness can sometimes sell (this lens paid for itself in sales many times over on other cameras). For the narrow range of subjects it’s designed for its great (and cheap), for everything else it’s pretty useless. Despite it’s shortcomings I really like this lens – it’s got ‘character’.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful.

If you’re interested in using other MF lenses have a look at the other reviews on the film, camera and lens review index tab.

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Canon 5d Mk 2 Meets a Helios 85mm f2

Having just got my hands on a new (well new to me) 5D Mk2, my first thought was – how does my favourite MF lens perform on the full frame body? It’s a bit of a star on a crop frame 60D (review with lens specs here) so I’ve high hopes. Here’s a first test batch of lightly processed shots all shot at 100 ISO with a ‘Neutral’ colour profile :-

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

The smooth bokeh looks slightly better than the 60D – looks like a good start.

Focussing is pretty easy at f2 just using the default focussing screen – just make sure your viewfinder dioptre adjustment is correct (it’s the small wheel to the top right of the viewfinder when the camera is viewed from the rear).

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

This heavy lump of a lens overwhelms smaller cameras like an Oly EPL5. On the heavy 5D it’s much more evenly balanced.

The same mount adaptor as the previous test has been used – a cheap M42 to Canon EF from Ebay which cost £10. As it’s so cheap (and so am I apparently) the lens doesn’t align properly (see above). Not that it matters…

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

On a bright day the 1/8000th second shutter speed still isn’t quite short enough at f2 and 100 ISO) so carrying an ND filter might be a good idea.

The 5D’s metering is more confused by this lens than the 60D – exposures were all over the place using centre weighted and evaluative modes. If you’re going to try this make sure you shoot in RAW as there’s going to be quite a lot of post processing involved. All the images will need a substantial contrast boost and a manual ‘levels’ adjustment as a simple ‘auto levels’ isn’t enough.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

This is an elaborate scarecrow standing in for a portrait model on a sunny day. The hair should be blue, it’s not white balance problem!

The major difference between using this lens on a full frame sensor vs a crop APS-C sensor is that it now has a proper 85mm focal length, not a 135mm equivalent. Where you can easily fill the frame with a subject on the 60D, on the 5D you need to get closer, and for the first time the minimum 80cm focus distance becomes a restriction.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2 Jupiter 9

Close focus results are rather nice too.

So time for a proper mini test and back to the mill : –

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

Here’s the frame – with a wonky horizon but never mind…

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

At f2 – the edge of the frame and not that good, but nothing much was expected here. This is a soft portrait lens after all.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

Centre at f2 – a slight max aperture ‘sheen’ but not too bad.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

f8 and much better – as they should be at this aperture. There a hint of chromatic aberration but not much. Things start to tidy up around f4 but f8 is best.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

f8, centre of the frame and it’s tidied up nicely.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

f16 edge – still good.

Canon 5d Mk2 Helios 85mm f2

centre at f16 – very good indeed!

So – pretty much an identical performance as on the 60D which is a surprise, especially at the edge of the frame which the cropped frame 60D doesn’t ‘see’. The odd orange tint seen on the 60D wasn’t present in any of these shots.

It’s very useable for general photography past f5.6. At f2 – f4 it excels as a specialist lens for producing ‘portrait mode’/narrow depth of field/soft bokeh images – just what it was designed for 50+ years ago! What’s encouraging is that it still does a cracking job on full frame digital which means I’d better do a few tests on my old Zuiko collection…..

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.

Thanks for looking, hope you find this useful.

A Jupiter 85mm f2 on an Olympus EPL5

The popularity of the review of this lovely lens back in February on a Canon 60D’s APSC sensor made me wonder how well it fares on a smaller Micro Four Thirds camera, as some readers are obviously interested (all three of you!). The 2x ‘crop factor’ makes this a 190mm equivalent, so getting into mid telephoto territory. All shot on an unseasonably warm and bright winter’s day, here are the results.

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The ‘brute’ on the EPL5.. The adaptors are a Micro Four Thirds to Canon EF then to M42 thread mount (the lens mount of the Helios). You may notice that the lens isn’t quite lined up – due to the cheapness of the EF to M42 adaptor!

The Olympus EPL5 is a very nicely built 16Mp mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, and it usually has an ultralight Lensbaby Sweet 35 ‘welded’ to it’s front. Surprisingly the weight of the all metal bodied Helios feels quite reassuring on the small camera body, and doesn’t seem overbalanced, but it’s close. The use of the EPL5’s (optionally attached) grip helps handling a lot.

In terms of appearance, it looks exactly like it was made on heavy machinery in a russian industrial complex (it was – probably in Krasnogorsk – ‘Made in the USSR’ is stamped on the underside), with basic aperture and focus markings and an intermittently milled focus ring. Though a bit of a brute I really like it, and the results justify it’s use. There’s obviously no autofocus, and centre weighted metering should be used, along with RAW as exposures can be a little random.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That fantastic bokeh reappears on the little Oly! This is quite encouraging. As with the Canon 60D the depth of field close up at f2 is razor thin.

On the Canon 60D (below) the lens produced some odd ‘swirly’ bokeh, and a orange colour cast. On the Micro Four Thirds sensor the results are more conventional without any colour shift, but still very good.

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On the 60D and an APSC sensor

Generally the results weren’t as spectacularly good on the EPL5 as on the 60D. Then towards the end of the test my brain engaged and the reason is obvious:-

On a 60D (1.6 ‘crop factor’) this is a 135mm equivalent, on the EPL5 (2x ‘crop factor’) it’s closer to 200mm. This means to frame the same shot I’m standing further away with the Oly, and as depth of field increases the further away a lens is focussed (or conversely narrows the closer a lens is focussed) the extreme depth of field effects on the 60D just weren’t being allowed to happen on the EPL5 for the same shot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Though they don’t have the same ‘erased away’ appearance as the 60D shots, this is still pretty good – much better than a kit lens.

This isn’t a macro lens as such, but with a minimal focus distance of 80cm and a 200mm equiv focal length you can get quite close :-

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Close up (a few feet), and the colours are great.

All in all then, a pretty good lens for the EPL5, even though getting the special ‘look’ of those images on the 60D is more difficult. It’s certainly better than a kit lens on the EPL5 for achieving some decent bokeh – more or less everything is in focus at most apertures with the 14-42 kit lens.

Thanks for looking – hope you find this useful!

Some Summer Flora

Summer is in full swing, and the grasses and flowers are providing some great subjects for photography. I’ve never really tried photographing these subjects before so this is a new one for me. All post-processed in Photoshop and DXo.

First – a really simple soft abstract using the plastic Lensbaby. As always with this lens, the results were pretty hit and miss, but when they’re good they’re unlike anything else.

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Next one with the Helios 85mm f2 wide open – the Canon 60D’s 1/8000th of a second shutter speed is really useful in bright light at these apertures.

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Back to the plastic Lensbaby and some wheat bending over in the wind towards the camera. There’s a dark line to the left which is an out of focus weed – shame I didn’t spot it.

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Finally a few poppies – can’t resist them at this time of year. I saw this large patch from the car but it needed at fifty minute walk to get there from the nearest place to park. This one was with the Zuiko 50mm f1.4, one knee in a muddy puddle!_MG_9625_DxOFP

Thanks for looking – hope you like them!

Manual Focus Lenses on a Canon 60D – A Helios Jupiter 9 85mm f2

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.

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A magically disappearing background with a gorgeous silky soft bokeh.

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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.

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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!

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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!

IMG_0088s

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).

f8s

Full frame of test image.

At f2 – pretty soft and strong ‘open aperture sheen’.

f2comp

f4 – centre is better , edge marginally so.

f4comp

f11 – not bad but still soft at the edge.

f8comp

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.