Soviet Helios lenses - history of?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jdm_von_weinberg, Mar 20, 2011.

  1. It is my understanding that the Helios-44 lenses are basically the same double-gauss design as the East German Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm f/2 lens.
    However, I am confused about the history of development of the Soviet Helios (ГЕЛИОС) lenses as a group. My Google™ search for various combinations of Helios, ГЕЛИОС, Biotar, etc. produced much casual discussion here and elsewhere on the net, but little in the way of an actual historical annal.
    • Is the Kiev mount Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 lens essentially the same lens as modified for the Kiev 4A series? I would suppose so, but does anyone know and can provide some pointers to this topic?
    • Was there ever a Soviet version of the classic Biotar 75mm f/1.5 (recently selling in Exakta mount for about US$600-900). Is there any Helios 75mm or other short telephoto in any mount? [I am aware of, and have, a Sonnar-based Jupiter-9 85mm f/2]
  2. I have a scan of two Russian catalogues for 1970 and 1971. They mention a Helios-40 1.5/85 for Zenit m39 mount. There is information on this lens in the Internet.
  3. Thank you very much. Now we're making progress.
    Alas, a quick search on eBay shows asking prices to be pretty much in the same range as the original Biotar 75mm f/1.5. Selling prices are sometimes a bit lower. :(
  4. JDM, I'm ashamed of you. You used Google, didn't go to a library.
    I think I've directed you to Sebastien Lallement's site, which has three interesting catalogs of Soviet lenses, at least once. I could be mistaken. Here's the address, I think again:
    Study the 1963 GOI catalog. It shows the Helios-1 as a 1937 design. Could be a GOI original, could have been stolen from any number of other designs including the Biotar. Get the GOI catalog, marvel at all of the lenses designed by the State Optical Institute ...
    The Helios design, made in many many versions and focal lengths, is a perfectly ordinary fast 6/4 double Gauss type. I believe, could be mistaken, that the first of that type was the original Planar of 1896. The first practical fast (f/2.0) one seems to have been the TTH OPIC of of 1924, followed by Dallmeyer's f/1.9 Super Six and a host of others. The Biotar came later but well before the Helios-1.
  5. The Yakovlev catalogs in Lallement's site seem to be the ones I have. Thanks for the reference!
  6. Library?
    In my own professional work even, I have increasingly found out that while not everything is on the www, there are things on the web that you'd NEVER find anywhere else. I was doing a biography of a little known French archaeologist of the last quarter of the 19th century, and was able to find a Danish obit, the original French of one of his books (not in any research library in Illinois), and many other things.
    I, as you can tell, know only as much about Soviet camera production as I have learned from my more detailed research into DDR cameras and lenses. I do know about the Planar prehistory and parallel development of the double Gauss as realized in the Biotar. The latter, however, is my personal beau ideal of the type.
    However, thanks to the two of you I have gone to ( ). I think these are not available in my local university library even though it was in the top 20 in the USA before the current budget slippage. I have downloaded these and will be perusing them shortly.
    I do know the Cyrillic alphabet, so I can spell out Russian. etc. names on about the same level as a first-grader learning to read. Спасибо большое.
  7. Drat!
    In filing away the above downloads, I find (why did I come into the kitchen, now?) that I had been more successful in earlier searches and had found a summary of Soviet lenses at . There are other pages on Jupiters and Industars. The pages are in German, but may be more accessible to many than the Soviet catalogs.
    I suppose before the library or the internet, it might pay to search my own hard drives. :|
  8. Although it's not so detailed as the above, here's the lens layout for the Helios-40 and 40-2 85mm f/1.5 from the Baierfoto site:
  9. Lots of good information here. Thanks, guys! I have two Helios-44s (a 44-2 from KMZ and a 44M-5 from Valdai). I knew they were Biotar clones, but I have no idea how to estimate their age, nor do I know much about how they fit into the overall history of Soviet lenses. The sites you've linked to should be helpful.
  10. JDM, be very cautious with the Dr. Donau information. I've found it incomplete and sometimes inconsistent with Soviet sources. Yes, he could be right and they could be mistaken ...
  11. IF the evidence shows a Soviet lens from 1937 copied or otherwise, then I would say the Helios is derived as opposed to copied from a Zeiss Biotar. The earlier Planar was double Gaussian formula that was improved and developed. See the Bi-Tessar descr. among others here!
  12. Thanks for the warning. I could see "Dr. Donau" was pretty much derivative.
    Chuck, it may be, but it is a little suspicious, given the well-documented appropriation of external designs in the Soviet Union, that the one lens should just happen to be 58mm focal length and f/2.
    Of course, going back to a pre-WWII form, does not mean that it was not then derived. It has been claimed that at one point before the war the FED commune actually labeled their cameras and lenses with the Leitz/Leica name. Of course, after WWII, the rulings of the Allied Control Commission made German patents, etc. open to use by anyone as a part of war reparations.
    I am, by the way, not at all hostile to the idea that Soviet engineers were fully capable of improving and creating quality designs of their own. While they did not subscribe to the anarchist idea that "property is theft" they were certainly not adverse to using what they considered to be common intellectual groundwork.
  13. JDM, there is a speculation that Helios 40 was designed as a scientific lens, to record the faint images from oscilloscope screens. I haven't seen any credible evidence for that claim, but it could explain why it performs much better at close ranges.
    Regarding the diagram, with most of those lens diagrams one can only guess whether they depict the actual lens or the generic type. But the GOI catalogue is the first one that lists the types of glass used in each lens, very impressive! (BTW, I learned that lenses for ultraviolet are made of quarz and rock salt...)
  14. JDM, sorry I wasn't perfectly clear. Soviet optical engineers were very capable and came up with new and different design types. The Uran family, for example. I don't think there's much like it in the west. And they led the way in modern wide angles even though some of their postwar designs seem to have been made to Bertele patents.
    Western optical engineers also read patents and were aware of each others' good ideas. Some, for example Suzanne Lévy-Bloch, Boyer's chief designer from 1925-65, may well have used patents as starting points for their own designs.
    By the mid-1930s when the first Helios was designed, 6/4 double Gauss types were very much in the air. Its easy to assert that soviet designers stole wholesale from the west, and they may indeed have done so. But its harder to make the case that any Helios is a pirated Zeiss design than to make the case that Jupiters are Sonnar copies.
  15. I think that's perfectly reasonable. I understood what you meant, I think.
    All the same, it does seem a striking coincidence, given that the Helios-44 is for a Kiev, you have to admit.
    Soviet use of German and other external designs also did not start in 1945, was my other point. As you say, so did everybody, including designers in the USA and most especially Japan. There are a huge number of lineal and collateral kin of Sonnars, Planars, Biotars, Summitars, etc., out there even in today's AF lenses.
  16. JDM,
    Helios 44 is officially the original Biotar. It used to be named BTK for BioTar Krasnogorsky. Designed for Zenits
    Helios 65 is for Kiev 10 and it is different everything 52.48/2.0
    plenty of information is availabe at
    text is in Russian but diagrams are self explanatory. Names of lenses are in Russian/English.
    Lenses named Helios also were used in different photoregistering equipments and in air and space photography.
  17. This is probably something we'll never be able to prove one way or another. A lot of derivative designs from all over the map exist. A little bit of the chicken/egg syndrome. If the Russians had a double Gaussian design before the war, I think they followed logical development/copied other's ideas and built their own. In the page I referenced, the author noted that until coating (post-war) the Planar design suffered from Flare and while its ultimate goal was speed the weight and too many surfaces were limiting its true potential. I appreciate the co-incidence of the focal length and F stop and it does make you wonder, but as often said " imitation is the highest form of flattery" and I'm indeed playing devils advocate, the soviets were merely "conforming" to the Zeiss standard.
  18. I believe the soviets continued to produce german lenses simply because they got their factories with existing production lines. it's one thing to design a lens, but something else to be able to mass-produce it.
  19. Heroes all, these Krasnagorsk and Jena workers!
    Regardless, and thanks for your input, a really nice bunch of lenses. :)
    wadeschields likes this.
  20. The big mistake the Soviets made Tonu Tan was they didn't take the Zeiss glass stocks from the Jena factory.

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