Zenit 85 mm f/1.5 (Helios 40-2)

Not so long ago there was an interesting thread on a photography forum I am a part of called www.NikonGear.net. It was about peculiar lenses and their extraordinary characteristics in rendering the out of focus areas of an image. I was always more interested in nice and creamy backgrounds of images than of its sharpness. For a lens to perform in such a way and to offer smooth out of focus areas (bokeh) it needs to be imperfect. Because of their flaws such lenses are not produced any longer, bet that doesn’t mean that they don’t offer something special, a unique character. It goes without saying that I followed this thread with great interest because many wonderful photographers were sharing their vast knowledge and experience. http://nikongear.net/revival/index.php/topic,978.0.html

At the same time I was talking to a very dear friend of mine who mentioned that he was going on a business trip to Moscow. Since the Zenit 85 mm f/1.5 was one of the many lenses mentioned and because I was curious to try out such a lens, my dear friend was kind enough to purchase it for me. I thank him so much!!!

The lens is heavy, rugged and the craftsmanship is not of the best quality. It is outdated and doesn’t have sophisticated coatings or auto-focus. Focusing is not smooth and the aperture ring is placed unusually at the front of the barrel. It has no metering capabilities because it is not fitted with a CPU so it doesn’t communicate with  your camera body. The list of imperfections can go on, but I will stop here on purpose. It’s not about what a lens cannot do, but what a lens can do! It’s about knowing the flaws but using the good parts. In this case the extraordinary parts it possesses -the rendering of the out of focus areas of an image.


Once I received the lens I started testing it and it took some time to get to know it, like with all new stuff. The approach to photography was completely different to what I have been doing all my life with a camera in my hand. We all strive to make our images pop out. And sharpness was always was of the most crucial parts of an image. The ball game is now the opposite. I needed to accentuate the bokeh. In other words – I was deliberately making un-sharp photos.  It was a huge struggle in the beginning because I was thinking in the same way as I always have and that was to make sharp images with a nice background blur. False. I needed to think only about the background, to make everything the background, to make the images blurry all over. The results we stunning. In fact I am so proud of the images that I made that I consider them the best images I ever took. It could be that I am exaggerating a bit, but my images all of a sudden looked like paintings instead of photographs 🙂








  1. All wonderful photos.
    I recall seeing somewhere – in a movie maybe – film stock overheating and the surface beginning to bubble washing out part of the image. That is the effect I take away from the second shot. It’s remarkable what the Zenit can produce.

    • Thanks Tom, yes, the photos are unreal and I have heard comments that it looks like I shot them underwater 🙂 Your description of film on fire is a new and welcome view!

  2. Interesting read and absolutely lovely pictures, especially the first two.
    Looking forward to more of your stuff!

  3. Very nice, and very different perspective on what an image conveys, what does an eye naturally see & mind interpret. Have you thought of naming these, just as the paintings are, either individually or the series ? Something like “Pollen” comes to my mind but the author would certainly come up with a less trivial name 🙂

    • Djole, I have never been good in giving names to my photos. I feel that it would distract the viewer and mislead its initial impression of the photo. We all have different views on life and we see things in different ways. The series should, however, have a name as a concept that would illustrate the blurriness and on the other the clarity of the images because although they are blurry you can clearly see the subjects. So clearly, this series should be called: “Clearly Blurry”. You’re an inspiration, my friend! Thanks!

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