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The little USSR lens that could

(Main image taken with Helios 58mm f2 with Canon 1Dx)

A friend of mine handed me a lens to play with, it’s a strange little thing that looks ridiculous on a large DSLR camera body, but I quite like it.

I’m a bit of an unnecessary gear junky. I definitely have GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) I’m forever buying more photography equipment ‘because I will definitely need it’ and then selling it, because I really didn’t need it. Not only this, but it’s always the latest and greatest equipment.

The problem I find with the latest and greatest equipment, is that it can just feel a little bit soulless. Yes it will help you to nail shots, one after the other, to make lots of money and impress lots of people in a short space of time. But too much of that can be just so …Soulless …Mechanical? …Cold? …Predictable? …All of those things? I didn’t realise this until recently.

Being a latest tech nerd, I’ll admin that I’ve always kind of scoffed when seeing photographers playing around with old lenses, or new cheap lenses without autofocus features and other luxuries. But since playing with this ridiculous little lens, my mind has been changed.

The Helios 58mm with EOS mount is pure fun. It’s inoffensively small, which helps keep a subjects guard down, and produces the most wonderfully odd curvy swirly bokeh. The one handed to me is a genuine vintage version of this lens, with ‘Made in USSR’ engraved on its side (I wonder what things this little lens has taken photographs of) but you can still get them made new in Russia today.

It’s a solid and heavy little lens, for what it is, with no plastics or rubber grips, all of the grip areas are chilled into the metal. It’s extremely basic with manual focus and manual aperture, so you have to think more when shooting, which is what I didn’t get. Why think during? Just get a great end result, right? …Wrong. I’ve realised now that the journey of getting a photograph is just as important as the end result. I’ve been missing out.

Being forced to think whilst you’re photographing, because you’re missing certain luxuries that the best lenses have, means that your imagination is forced to work also. You feel a bit of adrenaline as you’re outside of your comfort zone, the feeling of nailing a shot using such equipment is a real rush. I’ll definitely be hunting eBay for some older lenses to play with from now onwards.

Obviously there is a time and a place for this, I really wouldn’t recommend turning up to a paid photoshoot with such equipment. Clients may not share your rush of nailing a shot using equipment that you didn’t quite think would do the trick to start with.

I do wonder what this little USSR lens has seen in its day. Shooting down at f2 (It’s widest aperture) it produces a weird, creamy curved bokeh, which looks to twist inwards almost. Apparently that bokeh is a signature of Helios. Along with this there is a nice natural vignetting, which frames a landscape lovely.

They can be found cheap online easily. If I were you, I’d step out of my comfort zone, put down the luxury lenses, and go have a play.

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