Shooting Architecture with the Helios 44

Shooting Architecture with the Helios 44

Most photographers will use the Helios 44 2/58 for portraits and close-ups to make use of its famous swirly bokeh. Not me. It happened to be in my bag when I was exploring the area around Berlin’s Bahnhof Zoo. Initially, I wanted to see what I can do with the Rokinon 12mm F2, but on a few occasions I pulled out the Helios to do some architecture photography.

Windows -Shooting Architecture with the Helios 44

Windows – Shooting Architecture with the Helios 44

My Helios 44-2 2/58

I have the 44-2 version which is one of the oldest and also – as I have read – one with the nicest – or should I say swirliest – bokeh. A downside of this lens is its lack of any coating. Therefore images can be quite dull especially when shot against the light or wide open. Besides this, the lens is quite sharp even when shot open, and it becomes sharp when closed. I got mine together with an old and beaten Revueflex for a few Euros. It is an old lens and not in great shape which you can see from the outside, but it still is capable of producing some great images.

Capturing Architecture with the Helios 44-2 and the Fuji X-T2

On the Fuji X-T2, it becomes an 87 mm lens which is a somewhat moderate tele lens. This focal length is great for details, and it helps to create an impression of density as it compresses the scenery slightly. Focussing on the X-T2 is quite easy. Mainly, because of its large and bright viewfinder and the possibility to zoom in while focussing. I feel that this helps more than the focus peaking and split-screen features which are very useful as well.

Wall with green and yellow Highlights - Architecture photography with the Helios 44

Wall with green and yellow Highlights – Architecture photography with the Helios 44

The disadvantage of using vintage lenses

One of the downsides of shooting vintage glass is that the images are lacking some useful information in the Exif data as there is no communication between lens and camera. First of all, you can’t tell which lens you have used. Of course, you can set the focal length in the camera menu which I usually do. But when you use different vintage lenses with the same focal length, you have no way to differentiate between these lenses. As long as you can remember which lens you have used, you can add this information later in Bridge or Lightroom. Needless to say that this is quite tiresome.

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Even more problematic to me is that you have no information about the apertures used. Taken into consideration that you change the aperture much more often than lenses and that it is essential information when evaluating images and lenses this poses a more significant problem. The only way to solve it is by taking notes while you shot and add the aperture during post-production. Needless to say that this is even more tiresome.

Curved Windows - Architecture with the vintage lense Helios 44-2

Curved Windows – Architecture with the vintage lens Helios 44-2

Advantages of shooting Architecture with vintage lenses like the Helios 44-2

Somehow I love using primes. Even though I have the great Fuji 18-55 F2.8-4, I prefer to bring along the 35 F2 and one or two additional primes which are a bit faster than the zoom. A fast lens with a beautiful bokeh gives me greater flexibility than the 18-55. I have also realized that I prefer to zoom with my feet.

The lack of autofocus does not really matter when shooting architecture. When it comes to frame buildings, it is all about composition. Therefore, I like to take my time and being forced to focus manually actually helps to slow down.

Why not a modern lens?

Fuji offers quite a few great options in the moderate tele focal length (50 F2, 56 F1.2, 60 2.4, 90 F2, 80 2.8 Macro). There is also the 50mm Zeiss Macro and, of course, the various Fuji Tele-Zooms of which I own the 50-230mm. I am highly attracted to quite a few of these lenses, yet I am still reluctant. Mainly, because I am not sure if I can justify the investment?

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I do think that these lenses are priced quite reasonably (yes, even the most expensive ones) if one considers their capabilities. Just to, buy something because it is a great product is not reasonable for me. I am not sure if I need a moderate tele lens very often. But I am convinced that for my kind of photography the 23 F1.4 or the coming the 16 F2.8 would be great contributions. These are the lense that I am saving for right now.

Figuring out what you need – through vintage glass

In the meanwhile, I will continue to use various vintage 50mm (or 55 or 58) lenses to find out how much I need these focal lengths. I might add 85mm or 100mm or even 135mm lenses to figure out what I can do with them. Vintage glasses are an excellent opportunity to test different focal lengths and to get an idea of what they can add to your photography without breaking the bank.

Summary

Vintage moderate tele lenses like the Helios 44 who can produce excellent images are great for architecture as well. When handled right they can create sharp shots with lots of contrast. Their focal length allows to focus on details and to compress a scenery. At last but not least, they offer a very special bokeh that can help create great photos when shooting against the lights of the city.

tl;dr

No autofocus, no communication between camera and lens, too short. These things do not matter to me! The Helios 44 can be an excellent lens for architecture. Its sharp, its cheap, and it has character.