I'll start from the fact that I am proud of the domestic manufacturer... It's nice to hold this Kiev-made lens in your hands! It was produced at the Kiev Arsenal plant as a standard lens for the Kiev-17 SLR cameras, "Kiev-19", "Kiev-20".
Lens Helios-81N (or ARSAT H 2/50) has an H-mount (same as Nikon F). This means that it can be put on modern carcasses from Nikon without an adapter. But, since I have a Canon camera, I bought an adapter (costing half of this lens). The photo on the right shows a lens with an adapter on. By the way, installing the adapter does not interfere with focusing to infinity, as it sometimes happens in such cases. Moreover, thanks to the chip, shooting in Av mode is possible and focus confirmation works (very convenient).
Secondly, of course, image quality... Despite the fact that I purchased a copy with scratches, it is sharp throughout the entire field, starting from the open one and gives a high-resolution contrasting picture. Sample image in full resolution.
Manual focusing takes some getting used to. It is extremely difficult to photograph moving people. These two factors increase the number of scrap. Even using focus through live view, you can get unsharp footage. This is a lens for thoughtful creative photography. Not for reporting - that's for sure. It is easy to shoot landscapes with it - in this case, focusing is not needed in principle. It is compact and can be taken on a trip. But even in a manual focusing art model photo shoot there are drawbacks. It happens that you just miss out on interesting moments due to the long focusing process. I must mention that the focusing ring has a very smooth and long stroke... This is a plus if you want to focus on details and shoot a relatively stationary subject. But if you need to suddenly change focus from a near object to a distant one, it will not be easy.
Another drawback: it does a poor job with the back image. You have to be careful with this.
Now more about image quality and bokeh. Actually, because of the bokeh, I bought this lens. A series of photos without processing and with processing.
Bokeh reminds me of confetti - very happy. Google is even often asked “how to spin bokeh on helios” - which already speaks of the beauty and relevance of this picture. This is the case when you can say that the lens draws. For example, Canon 24-70 2.8L gives an excellent picture and nice bokeh. But it does not give such artistry. An expensive modern zoom is inferior in artistry to a cheap Soviet lens.
Of course, photos with Helios 81H require much more color correction than photos with native lenses from Canon. Helios is more capricious, gives a lot more soapy photos or photos with highlights. But the frames that are obtained are often not inferior to modern lenses in quality and, moreover, artistry.
Comparison with modern lenses
Below I will give a photo to compare modern fixes from Canon and Sigma with Helios 81H. All photos are without processing, only the size is reduced.
The price difference between these lenses is about 25 times. These shots make you think about "why should you pay more?" But these photos, so to speak, are taken out of context. Sigma will produce sharp, high-contrast images 99% of the time. In the case of Helios 81H, I would say 70/30. Here, the shooting was carried out in good lighting, so we succeeded in shooting. If a side or backlight appeared here, Helios would give a lot of defective photos with highlights (lens hood required for this lens). In the following comparisons with Canon, the difference in color reproduction will be clearly visible.
In addition, it takes 2-3 seconds to make this shot on Sigma. While I shoot a model on Helios, she has time to get bored. I miss a lot of emotions on her face while I catch focus in live view with Helios. And if I focus without him, the percentage of marriage will be higher.
The scenes here are a little different. But the main advantage of Canon is visible (not to mention the lightning-fast and accurate autofocus) - excellent color reproduction. All Helios shots require substantial color correction. Canon shots produce contrasting yet natural colors. These photos also show the difference in bokeh: Canon has smooth and uniform blur, Helios has his own signature pattern. Canon also handles midtones and shadows better.
One of the reasons why I cannot fully carry out a photo shoot on Helios is its color rendition, which I already wrote about above. The photo definitely needs correction. While the shot on Canon is almost ready for use. But the bokeh never ceases to please. But there is one more nuance here. In order to shoot this portrait at 50mm, I had to get pretty close. In the lower frame, you can see that the model's nose is visually larger than in the upper image. This is a different angle, but this is only because the frontal nose was even worse - so I chose this angle of view. What I mean is that 50mm face portraits are not good. Firstly, due to distortions on the face (whatever they say about the fact that 50mm is a focal length that does not distort anything) and, secondly, a purely psychological factor, when you have to stand with the model nose to nose (for some models, this may be uncomfortable). Face portraits should be shot on a telephoto lens.
The sharpness of Helios is phenomenal, despite the scratches on my copy. Here are full-size test shots at closed aperture (f5.6) for comparison at Helios 81N and Canon 85mm 1.8... The trees in the center of the frame show how much worse Helios copes with backlight than Canon. In terms of sharpness, it is difficult to name the winner (on a full-frame 21MP sensor).
Once again about the dimensions
At the beginning, I mentioned its dimensions. I will dwell on this in more detail. Some time ago I wanted to buy a Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM pancake. For compactness to have a travel lens. I used to have Canon 28 2.8 и Canon 28 1.8but having bought Sigma 35 1.4 I said goodbye to them. Thus, losing mobility. Of course, you can hang around with Sigma all day, but not very pleasant. It is a heavy lens that also attracts attention due to its size. It's good for commercial photography, but sometimes you just need a small touring lens for yourself.
In this regard, Helios 81H comes in handy. If you are not in a hurry, walking, autofocus can be sacrificed. The pictures do not need to be given to clients, so you can agree with a certain amount of scrap. Another important factor - holding this lens in your hands is the feeling of touching history... After all, decades before they were filmed in the USSR, this is vintage.
Video review and tests
Why buy such a lens? I definitely believe that its purpose is just art photography. Unhurried and thoughtful. Just take it as a staff, because a cheap one - I think - is not an option. Better native Canon or Nikon. Autofocus is still a necessary thing.
Just like Samyang 14mm 2.8, this is not an essential lens. You need to feel the need for it. My priority area of work is artistic photography, so I felt the need and need for this kind of optics for a long time. If someone needs to shoot everything, then it is better to pay attention to something else.
I now take this Helios with me to all photo sessions. It is compact, so it is not a problem to carry it in addition to the standard set. It goes to commercial shooting in addition to other fixes. As a staff, I can only use it for personal purposes. The high probability of marriage is alarming, so I cannot completely rely on it. But on the other hand, there are scenes in which I feel that I really need him. It is very convenient to have a set of 35mm fixes, 50mm and 85mm. Each of them is suitable for a specific situation. This is a rather subtle point, depending on the style of work and the creative vision of the photographer. Someone may be satisfied with walking everywhere with only 50mm, I personally used to prefer 85mm, but for filming indoors it is generally ideal 35mm.
Helios 81N - a lens that gives a rare and therefore even more pleasant feeling of pride in a domestic manufacturer. It delivers contrasting images, rich and vibrant colors, interesting bokeh, sharp from f2, lightweight and compact, and at the same time has a solid metal body. But it's still completely manual lensmaking it whimsical to use.
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