I bought a Helios 44m-4 58mm f/2 lens sometime ago. I paid about AUD$50 and it came with a Zenit camera. Both items were Soviet built in the hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions. I understand you could get them much cheaper overseas.
I finally got to use it after it sat in the cupboard for a long time. I decided to play tourist and went to Circular Quay during one lunch time. I read somewhere that this camera was made out of cast aluminium – a metal that was not used by Japanese manufacturers for the reason that it is not a light material. And I thought it was light because aeroplanes were made of out of it. Guess it is all relative.
I also read long time ago that aluminium is an abundant mineral but can be an expensive material to use during the manufacture process. This probably explains why the Soviets picked it as a material (the abundant part) and many bodies were thrown out due to miscasting and not adhering to quality control during the manufacture process (the manufacture part).
As an aside I also read recently that Ford motor company took a big punt and made their famous and almost common (at least in USA) F-series trucks with mostly aluminium. A lot of capital cost was involved because everything had to be retooled for the manufacture process.
Well, back to the Zenit, I can tell why the Japanese manufacturers did not use this material. It is frigging heavy. With the lens on, the camera weighs about 900gm. Ergonomics wise – one word to describe it – CRAP. I was hand holding it for about 40 minutes. I had to grip it with all my fingers and after 20 minutes, my thumb was sore. My brother’s original Olympus OM2 with a standard 50mm is 800gm but feels lighter and much easier to use.
Compared to the Japanese counterpart, everything seems to be out of place. The winding mechanism feels smooth and right. But when I need to press the shoot button, my finger needs to do a jump and is obstructed by the top dial. So ergonomically speaking in 2 words – Frigging Crap.
I found the viewfinder quite large and bright. The focusing seemed alright, but judging from the photos, there appears a misaligning issue. The lens itself, I don’t mind if I can get the focusing right.
The camera also suffers from light leak and after about 20 shots, I seemed to have trouble advancing the film.
Having said all of that, I would shoot a few more rolls with it.
In the right hands, the lens seems very capable, even on a digital camera. Here is what it can do by a much more skilful and competent camera user than me: