Fujinon and Helios – two portrait lenses

Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R and Helios 44-2 58mm F2.0 are my 2 main prime lenses for portrait photography (sometimes I use another manual focus lens, the Pentacon MC 135mm F2.8), when coupled with a Fujifilm X mirrorless camera. I know that many of the Fujifilm users do not have this 56mm prime lens for portraits (about 1.000 euro), but instead, some of them use old, legacy manual focus lenses as a cheap and accessible alternative. I know I still do.

What I am trying to show, without bothering you with MTF charts, technical data and truly mathematical approaches (you can find this information online, for each of the tested lens), is how these two lenses perform, side by side, in a very quick and not-so-scientific test. This could be useful especially for beginners and enthusiasts photographers using Fujifilm cameras, searching for an answer in the portrait photography zone.

For this quick test I used a Fujifilm X-T1 camera, both on a tripod and shooting handheld, but first, just a few words on each lens:

  1. Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R – a fast portrait prime lens made in Japan for the X mount with AF, 56mm focal length, F1.2 maximum aperture, F16 minimum aperture, with a minimum focus measured distance at 56cm, metal body with an aperture ring and 7 blade aperture, 62mm filter size, 405 g and about 1.000 euro
  2. Helios 44-2 58mm F2.0 – a fast portrait prime lens made in USSR in the 80s for the M42 mount without AF (manual focus), 58mm focal length, F2.0 maximum aperture, F16 minimum aperture, with a minimum focus measured distance at 40cm, metal body with an aperture ring and 8 blade aperture, 49mm filter size, 230 g and about 100 euro (second-hand) with a cheap Fuji X – M42 mount adapter.

For this test, all pictures are JPEG SOOC (straight out of camera), with Auto ISO, Auto Shutter Speed, the same color settings, leaving me the aperture changes. Let’s see this comparison between the two, in a test photo handheld, where both lenses were used at their maximum aperture:

Fujinon at F1.2, ISO 200, 1/80 sec

Helios at F2.0, ISO 200, 1/20 sec (could be unsharp because of the long shutter speed)

Now let’s see the bokeh balls while manually focusing the two prime lenses at both the minimum focus distance and at infinity:

Fujinon set at minimum focus distance, F1.6, ISO 400, 1/60 sec

Helios set at minimum focus distance, F2.0, ISO 1250, 1/60

Fujinon set at infinity, F1.6, ISO 500, 1/60 sec

Helios set at infinity, F2.0, ISO 1000, 1/60 sec

My last test was to get some comparison photos outside, in natural daylight, where both lenses were set at F5.6 aperture, where this value could be the sweet spot in terms of sharpness. As before, the pictures are JPEG as they come right out of the camera, with no modifications. Both pictures where shot handheld; apart from the fixed F5.6 aperture, the camera performed its settings automatically. Let’s see it:

Fujinon at F5.6, ISO 200, 1/950 sec

Helios at F5.6, ISO 200, 1/750 sec

And that was it. Both lenses have their strong points and vulnerabilities.  In a few words, those are my observations:

Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 R

Pros: Super fast prime lens, outstanding optics, really sharp in the center right from F1.2  and sharp across the frame when stopped down, gorgeous bokeh, beautiful CA, flare and vignetting control, great colors and microcontrast, superb and robust metal body, nice aperture ring (especially today).

Cons: Really expensive, the AF could be faster and more precise in low light, no Weather Sealing.

Helios 44-2 58mm F2.0

Pros: Superb optics even at our modern standards (This Russian Helios is in fact a copy of the Carl Zeiss Biotar), sharp if stopped down a bit, fantastic colors, interesting swirl bokeh, quite a fast lens at F2.0, super solid metal build, compact, smooth and precise focus ring operation, incredibly cheap and it can be used (with the proper adaptor) on different other digital cameras, including Full Frame.

Cons: No AF, images are soft when wide open, CA, flare and vignetting could be a problem when shooting against the sunlight, out of production.

Of course, among the first thing you will notice is that Fuji made a great portrait lens, that is 1.5 Stop faster than the Helios. This means a more intense background separation, great bokeh and also the ability to shoot at lower ISO settings with faster shutter speeds – very useful in low light conditions. I think this might be my favorite prime lens of all time.

But for those who love to experiment with manual focus lenses (for portrait, street or landscape photography), taking their time when composing their shots, getting more creative, the outcome could also be a strong feeling of accomplishment, when you see some beautiful, sharp photos, that came out from your hard, but gratifying work. You would be amazed by the huge number of manual focus lenses out there, built like a tank, with great optics, that still deliver remarkable results. More about the Helios 58mm lens you could read here, in a great review by Fujifilm X Photographer Jonas Rask.

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / www.sebastianboatca.com

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