The Helios 44 family of 58mm prime lenses is beloved for it’s quirky and often ethereal bokeh and blur. Let’s take a closer look at the Helios 44 bokeh compared by f-stops, ranging from its widest at f/2 up through f/4.
Going smaller than f/4 isn’t all that useful, as the bokeh “balls” really start to take on the same geometric shape formed by the overlapping aperture blades (hexagon in the case of the lens tested in the below photos). This can look really great but is not something unique to the Helios 44 bokeh character and can be accomplished with just about any lens.
Helios 44 Bokeh Comparison Images
Helios 44 Bokeh Notes
As you can see, the bokeh is dreamy and a little mushy at f/2, starts to tighten up at f/2.8, and then has strong hexagonal character at f/4. The in-between stop at f/2.2 looks nearly the same as wide open, but is slightly sharper in the center and has less chromatic aberration. f/3.5 offers a bit more contrast and is now very sharp in the center. By f/4 chromatic aberration is almost entirely eliminated.
All things considered, I found f/2.8 to provide images that offer the best blend of the classic Helios 44 dreamy oval-shaped bokeh balls (and shallow depth of field) and the improvements to sharpness, contrast, and chromatic aberration gained from stopping down a full stop. This performance will vary from copy to copy and from version to version of the Helios 44 family of lenses, and a lot will depend on how many aperture blades a given lens has. For less obviously geometric bokeh at f/4 or f/5.6, choose a copy with 8 aperture blades, or pay about 50% more and get a Helios 44 with 13 blades for the ultimate in smooth bokeh stopped down.