Perhaps it’s true that there doesn’t exist any relationship, which is roses and champagne 24/7, this is certainly true when it comes to my love affair with the Helios 40v1. I own the first edition of Helios 85mm f/1.5 which optical construction is derivative of the Carl Zeiss Biotar optical formula. The Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75mm f/1.5 a most famous and expensive glass, also known to be the king of bokeh. Helios 40v1 is a very complex matter to have an opinion on, it seems horrible at general photography, with flat, and unsharp pictures, at almost all distances. But only to sparkle when you nail the right distances to the motive and background. It has a unique artistic expression, is wonderful forgiving when it comes to portraits and absolutely stunning bokeh for the romantic type of photography.
Forgiving and kind
To me, modern lenses are almost too sharp. While sharpness is great for some applications, but not others. Character counts more than the top of the notch specifications, while many of the modern lenses (not all) are technical wonders, are they often very boring. Unlike modern super-sharp lenses that highlight every pore of the skin, the Helios 40v1 is much more forgiving in portraits, and the softness, when shot wide open, creates portraits with a noticeable nostalgic feel to them.
Not a One-Trick Pony
There are many bokeh lenses that are one trick ponies. They can either create swirling backgrounds, bobbles or total universal blur. Helios 40v1 is capable of producing several types of images. At close distances, one to two meters, it can make classic portraits with background out-of-focus areas. Increase the distance to the subject to five meters, and position the background with plenty highlights and you get an incredible rendition of the swirly bokeh effect. Adding to this, is there a there dimensional effect to the lens, its ability to make it appears that objects “pop” in what seems like different focal planes.
Not a smooth ride
This lens is meant for use with wide apertures, and focusing is a common difficulty with wide-aperture manual lenses. I never managed to find a near infinity focus what was suiting. If you stop down and place your subject in the centre of the frame, sharpness is fairly ok. Step outside those limitations and sharpness falls off like crazy. Wide open, this lens is fairly soft, though usable if you only need the very centre of the frame to be sharp. Personally, I find the lens to have the best balance of bokeh and sharpness at about f/2.0 but do not pass f/4 as sharpness drops dramatically.