A vintage lens for modern photography

Davide Ciulla Graphic Designer & Photo-Videomaker

In a world where mobile phones are getting smarter and smarter, especially as regards their photography features, and post-processing and sharing apps are faster and more amazing, just the thought of lugging around several kilos of photography equipment can be overwhelming.

I have been taking photos mainly for passion but also for a living since 2008 and have personally witnessed this shift, often prompted by the urge to share the results straightaway, the desire to amaze and sometimes just out of pure laziness (I’m the first one to admit I fall into this category). But in my case, the result really does matter and experience has taught me that this kind of “snap” photography has its limitations. 

It’s not all about speed

Reflex cameras (or mirrorless cameras, which have grown in popularity over the past couple of years) will always have the edge, especially as regards the speed and rapidity of execution, which are often crucial in certain fields of photography, not just moving photography but also portraits and street photography when you literally have a  moment… to capture the moment. The advantage of mobile phones is we carry them around with us wherever we go but they are slow when we have to wake them up, open the app, focus... Size is also another important factor.

Even a photo taken on a latest-generation smartphone which, at a first glance, looks amazing, has its shortcomings due to the microscopic size of the whole system which, inevitably, has repercussions on the final image. When shooting a landscape, for instance, where everything needs to be in focus, a good phone does its thing then the built-in post-processing software takes over, touching up the colours, sharpening the image (simulated) and plenty more besides.

As I said, a lot of smartphone photographic effects are simulated, especially the separation of the subject from the background; this is impossible to achieve with a microsensor like the one in an iPhone+, unless it’s done in post-processing. And when it is, someone with a basic understanding of photography will notice something is off.

Lenses

A reflex camera, whose sensor is significantly larger, allows you to exploit physical phenomena which are complicated to explain and understand but which use light in a totally different way. By using specific lenses, you can obtain effects that no software is currently able to replicate and if you try and imitate them, an expert eye can immediately see the limitations.

In my personal and professional photographic career, I’ve tried out a fair number of lenses, many of them professional, costly and heavy, but about eighteen months ago I decided to go for something manual, small and light, but with real attitude.

THE COFFEE CUP

Bypassing all the really pricey lenses, I bought myself a Zenit Helios 44-2 58mm f/2.0, a copy of a more high-end lens with tons of limitations and awkward mechanisms (like the two rings it has to select the diaphragm). When I attach it to my ancient 5D Mark II, it looks like a tiny coffee cup, but it is still compact for street photography. It has a manual focus and even though I have a full frame camera (with a fairly large sensor and therefore a good view through the viewfinder), it isn’t easy to use, especially with moving subjects.

Swirly bokeh

Adesso trovatemi un app così "sincera". 

One of the main reasons the Helios appealed to me was for the famous "swirly bokeh" blurry, spiral effect. Separation of the subject from the background at maximum aperture is highly popular and effects which, a couple of decades ago, were considered defects, are now all the rage with generations of Instagrammers and hipsters. All I can say is that my decision to try this lens started out as a bit of a joke but I find myself attaching it to my camera more and more now. 

Now find me an app that is that "honest".