A new lens is a pretty rare thing around here. I’ve been using three prime lenses from the 90s for my entire photography career, a 24mm 2.8, a 50mm 1.4, and an 85mm 1.4. They’re all beautiful, small, lightweight lenses which perhaps aren’t as quick as some of the newer offerings, but they’re solid as rocks and they behave exactly as I’ve come to expect them to, which is invaluable during run and gun moments like weddings and events. And so when one night I finally bought a little vintage Russian lens which had been sitting in my wishlist for a couple of years, I wondered if I wouldn’t be struck with pretty immediate buyer’s remorse: It was a slow, unwieldy manual focus lens, its 58mm focal length almost identical to a lens I already owned, it was difficult to see how this weird little lens could fit into my existing workflows, which were built so tightly around the three lenses I had been using since University.
I compounded my worries by making a common but tragic mistake, I put my new lens on my camera and went around the house. I took a photo of a doorknob, and then I took the same photo with my 50mm lens. I couldn’t tell much difference. Buyer’s remorse began to sink its claws. I left the lens unused for a week, until during a location shoot for the lovely band Hart, I decided to shove the lens in my bag. I threw the lens on my camera without much thought, and snapped a few frames.
This, I could work with. I used the Helios a few more times throughout the shoot, it’s new to me to use a lens which announces its character so readily. It became quite quickly apparent that I couldn’t use this lens for large groups, or for anything involving movement. But I loved being surprised by this lens. Not only that, but as I am becoming increasingly interested in imagery for imagery’s sake. And the dreamy, nostalgic images which come out of this lens are just what I’ve been looking for.
I had another shoot coming up with Clare, and toyed with the idea of using the Helios almost exclusively. Clare was keen, and so we traipsed through the city and I changed lenses from the Helios maybe twice. I still found the lens wildly unpredictable: The lens flares were contained and beautiful sometimes, and at others they took over the entire image. I was continually surprised by how sharp this little lens was, and how beautifully it renders contrast.
This lens certainly won’t make it along to every shoot. It’s quirky, unpredictable, and quite slow. But progressively, and especially during my portrait sessions, these aren’t bad qualities at all. I’ve never been a gear nut, and if anything try to keep my photography kit as modest as possible, but here I am finding myself quite excited by a new toy.