The Helios 44 is a mainstay of DSLR and mirrorless camera owners because with the right adapter, if will fit on just about any camera out there…and because it’s a great lens with unique bokeh. So how does it stack up against the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 in terms of sharpness and bokeh?
Lens Specs Head to Head
|Helios 44 58mm||Sony FE 50mm|
|Max : Min Aperture||f/2 - f/16||f/1.8 - f/22|
|Native Mount||M42||Sony E-Mount|
|Aperture Blades||6, 7, or 8||7|
|Optical Elements||6 elements in 4 groups||6 elements in 5 groups|
|Weight||8.1 oz / 230g||6.5 oz / 185g|
There were literally millions of the Helios 44 made at various lens fabs across Russia for a multiple decades. They are all more similar than different, but there are some differences between the various models (44-2, 44-4, 44-M, 44-M4, and others). For a full rundown of the Helios, check out this review of it I wrote. Note that you’ll need an M42 adapter to mount the Helios on your digital camera of choice, and compatible adapters are cheap and available for just about any mount (Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, Fuji, etc).
The Sony FE 50mm is obviously a LOT newer, being one of their first “budget” full-frame lenses debuting in 2016. It’s about the same size as the Helios, but definitely lighter since it’s almost entirely plastic vs the fully metal body of the older manual-focus Helios.
Obviously, these two lenses have many characteristics that separate them, but they have two big commonalities that frugal photographers care about: they are both cheap (relatively) and both have fast maximum apertures. And since they have similar focal lengths (58mm on the Helios, and obviously 50mm on the Sony FE), I figured I’d slap them both on a Sony A7ii full-frame mirrorless body and see how they stacked up.
Helios 44 vs Sony FE 50mm Example Photos
My copy of the Helios is the 44-M4 version with 6 aperture blades and a single coating on the front element. For the Sony FE 50mm, I have installed the latest firmware as of the date of this post’s publication. Both lenses have UV filters attached. As mentioned, the test camera is a Sony A7ii. I shot all photos from a tripod and matched as close as possible all camera settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc). Having said all that, this is not a “scientific” or laboratory comparison. I also did not attempt to precisely match exposure “visuals”.
Helios 44: ISO 50 | 1/1000 sec | f/2.2
Sony FE 50mm: ISO 50 | 1/1200 sec | f/2.2
Helios 44: ISO 50 | 1/1600 sec | f/2
Sony fe 50mm: ISO 50 | 1/1600 sec | f/1.8
MORE IMAGES COMING SOON
Feel free to form your own opinions, but from these images I can’t tell a whole hell of a lot of difference in the background blur or bokeh elements. The Helios can get a little more subject separation, but the Sony FE 50mm has half a stop wider aperture. But they are pretty close in terms of blur. As far as sharpness, I’d give a slight edge to the Sony at wider apertures, but by f/4 they are too close to call.