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LENS LOVE: Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2 (M42 with Infinity On Nikon)

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2 (M42 with Infinity On Nikon)
Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2 (M42 with Infinity On Nikon)

If you haven't heard of the term 'swirly bokeh' before, then you should look into the Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2. This short telephoto portrait prime lens in M42 mount belongs to a family of Helios lenses famed for its swirly bokeh.

Helios lenses come in different generations. To easily distinguish them, there are numbers attached to '44-' (eg. 44-2 for the second generation, 44M-6 for the 6th generation). Those from the 4th to 7th generations were multicoated and had auto diaphragm and all look identical. The later the version, the much better the optics were regarded.

Having used the 44-2 before, I can see that the multicoating on the glass really serves well, as it makes images at f/2 to have wonderful colors, good contrast, and better flare control. But be careful with the rear element, the coating merely sits as a thin film on top of the glass. You can easily peel it off while wiping, so apply the lightest pressure possible.

Contrary to what people say, the later generation 44M-6 that I have makes the same swirly bokeh as the earlier generation 44-2 does. Obviously, I'd rather stick to these later MC versions.

The only caveat for us Nikon DSLR users is the flange distance difference of M42 vs. Nikon F mount. In other words, it will not focus to infinity. The copy that I own was modified to allow precise infinity on all Nikon film/digital SLRs. You do this by adjusting the focusing helicoid -- merely adjusting the rear element changes the optical formula.

CONCLUSION: This is one lovely lens! If you're looking for a 50mm lens, look for this one preferably the later MC versions so your shots will have a unique character, particularly the swirly bokeh that everybody's raving about. For Nikon users, you need to adjust this lens, but if you don't want to be bothered by mechanical stuff, there's the MC Helios-81N 50mm f/2 in native Nikon F mount.


Comparison of 3 Helioses

Helios 44-2
Made around late 1960s
Non-coated glass
Very soft at f/2 (can be pro/con for some)
Has 8 aperture blades
Preset style aperture is nice for shooting videos
When adjusting for Nikon, the rear element baffle gets hit by the mirror.
49mm filter thread diameter
Made by different factories
Some are all black, some are silver/black zebra style
Early ones are all chrome

Helios 44M-6
Multicoated glass
Nice colors and contrast at f/2
Good resolution, sharp images
Made around late 1980s to early 1990s
It's easier to adjust these lenses for Nikon SLRs.
Supports auto diaphragm
Has only 6 aperture blads
52mm filter thread diameter
Same swirly bokeh as 44-2
The smoothest to operate of all 3 being compared here
(44M-4, 44M-5, 44M-6 and 44M-7 are identical)

Helios 81N
Native Nikon AI mount, no adjustments needed
Swirly bokeh but less pronounced than the ones above
A wider 50mm compared to 58mm's above
Compact pancake size
All metal and glass as the ones above, but feels dinky



Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2

Manufactured by Factory
Valdai in 1993

Minimum Focusing Distance
0.5 meters

Filter Thread Diameter

Focus Throw
270 degrees

Aperture Run
f/2 - f/16 (6 blades)
with half-stop clicks

Optical Formula
6 elments, 4 groups
Multicoated glass

Made in USSR

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2

M42 mount
Adjusted for Nikon F mount.

Serial number indicates my copy was made in 1991.

Adjusted for Nikon film/digital SLRs, with infinity.



Nikon D5200 (Vivid)

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2
All at f/2

All shots are raw/unedited.

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2
Using my friend's copy of 44M-6.
As warned earlier, the coating on the rear element
easily peels off and his was totally gone.
Be wary, if buying MC versions, the glass should have
a strong purple-blue reflection, not clear or white.

The rest of the shots here were my copy of the 44M-6

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2

Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 58mm f/2



Zenit MC Helios 44M-6 2/58

Who Made This Helios Lens?

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