Soviet Lenses · What happened was, since I got on board the Fujifilm soul train via the mighty Fuji X-E1 and the astoundingly-good little Fujinon XF35 35m f/1.4, I’ve been tracking the Fuji-X-rated blogs, where I ran across Jonas Dyhr Rask’s Vintage Standard Lens Shootout, where I heard about the Helios 44m-4 58mm F/2.0. I hated some of the more-garish pix in his review of the lens but was struck by its potential.
A little research suggested that this product of the USSR-that-was falls into the vanishingly-small category of pretty-damn-good lenses you can EBay for cheap. So I EBayed one from somewhere in the Ukraine, and also an M42-screwmount-to-Fujinon-X-mount adapter from somewhere else on EBay. It cost me less than $100 for both put together, including shipping. Here’s the first picture I took with it.
I didn’t think about that one much and it still came out OK, but just like the weight-loss ads on TV say, this is not a typical result. The lens is difficult. Since everything is manual, you have to think hard about focus and aperture and shutter speed and ISO on every damn shot. You have an important ally in this struggle, namely the Fuji cameras’ manual-focus-assist mode, which is pretty magical. Having said that, at least half of my shots come out too light or too dark. And having said that, the remarkable depth and quality of the Fuji raw files let me save lots of those. I’m thinking that a lens being difficult is not necessarily a bad thing
As I write this, my twin nieces are visiting me; here’s one.
Now, lots of sunshine makes everything easy and I didn’t have to work too hard to dial that in. But then my niece got between me and the sun; Soviet lenses don’t come with hoods, and the incoming local star totally made it lose its shit; but in a not entirely unattractive way.
The lens claims it goes down to f/2.0, but it’s got no stabilization plus I’m wondering if there might be Soviet perfidy happening, because I’ve had no luck in low light with this sucker, even at stupidly high ISOs. Haven’t given up on the challenge though.
I should probably mention that the X-E1 with the adapter and Helios on it is adorably steampunk.
See the strap on the left side of the picture? That would be a Luma labs Cinch, which turns out to be a real good choice.
Strapping · I was an early adopter of the Luma Loop, partly because I know and admire James Duncan Davidson, Luma’s co-founder. It’s served me well with my Pentaxes, to which I often attach big fat lenses; dangling by my thigh with instant-one-hand-grab potential is just the thing for that form factor.
Unfortunately you can’t buy a new Loop any more for legal reasons.
I tried the Loop on the X-E1 but went back to the flimsy neckstrap that came in its box. Because that little camera wants to sit softly on the middle of your chest; you can get it from there to your eye faster than any big-lensed SLR down on your hip. Plus you get to feel like a glamorous old-school war-photog with a Leica.
I got my hands on a new Luma-labs Cinch and tried it on the big Pentaxes but it wasn’t obviously better. So I cinched it down to a real-short position and swapped it in for the came-in-the-box strap, and wow, that’s just the ticket. The part that goes around the back of your neck is comfy and stable, and you can position the camera anywhere between your sex organs and Adam’s apple and have it up to your face with a chance to catch a passing orca or tugboat.
I’m hooked, or cinched, or something.