Vintage Soviet era Helios 40 lens cleaning and refurb.

Disclaimer: Old Soviet lenses are interesting to use, and can be found pretty easily at reasonable prices (okay, not this lens, but still). Ownership of, and interest in, these lenses should not be interpreted as approval of the Russian government's actions or policies. This should not need to be pointed out, but this is the internet, so..... yeah. Just saying.

A Helios-40 lens. It was made in 1961, and is sought after by vintage lens weirdos for its crazy swirly bokeh. It's pretty hard to find, making it the most expensive vintage lens I have. It was around $350. It's a huge lens, considering it's not even a zoom lens. There's a lot of glass in it. They don't appear often, and they're famous for being "The Bokeh Monster". So, they command a premium, considering it's an old mechanical lens.

The optical section on the left, having been separated from the helicoid (on the right), which is the target of this project. No way was I going to take apart the optics, even if they do have a few specks of dust. My mission was to clean and lighten up the focus ring action. Soviet-era Russian lenses are said to have been lubricated with tank grease. This one sure felt like it. Stiff and gummy. Trying to turn the focus ring often unscrewed the lens from the adapter holding it on the camera. This is unfavorable.

Scratch marks indicate where parts need to be clocked (rotationally positioned in relation to each other) for proper function when reassembled. There were already some scratches on the parts, indicating that someone had been in here before.

2mm screwdriver. It required frequent "resharpening" with a whetstone.

Note the thick and filthy alleged "tank grease".

The large threads are the helicoid, which is how the lens focuses. There are about 16 parallel threads in it, instead of like one or two. This means if you get the threaded parts engaged in one of the fifteen wrong combinations, the lens won't work right when you put it back together. Between the scratch marks already on it and the ones I added, I got confused about the orientation and I absolutely put it back together wrong... several times. Whee.

All the components of the helicoid, unassembled.

Finish Line is a favorite cleaner / degreaser made for bike chains. Made from orange peels. It's not dangerous to your health (unless you drink it), plus it smells really nice.

The focus collar had been manufactured with polishing marks in different directions. I masked with tape while I touched them up. First one direction, then the other.

The knurling had some kind of gunk in the grooves, of course. The "fixed" portion is on the left. "With vintage goo" is on the right.

A woven nylon polishing wheel. A little harsher than a cotton wheel, so it leaves a "brushed" finish. Hence, the carefulness regarding the direction of polishing.

The knurling on the right side still has the pitting and scratches yet to be taken out. The left half is cleaned up.

Cotton wheel for the faces that seem to have been intended to not have a grain to them.

Focus collar with vintage scratches visible at the bottom.

Care was taken to not obliterate the engraved markings.

Soaking again in the degreaser to remove the polishing compound.

This is a silicone grease I made by mixing silicone spray and pure silicone grease. It turned out to be a mistake. The spray was nice and thin to begin with, but after the solvent in it evaporated, it just left a very heavy grease. Too heavy for a camera lens. The right stuff turned out to be Marvel Mystery Oil (not pictured). Disassemble, degrease, and start over.

An observation on the design of old Russian lenses, compared to others. They're not very sophisticated. When you work the focus mechanism of this lens, the black ring on the left rotates against the silver barrel. It's an aluminum ring against the brass of the barrel. A Japanese lens would never allow this to happen. There would either be a bearing there, or it wouldn't be a friction point at all. In the case of this lens, it's just a film of grease keeping the two from grinding against each other. With some careful sandpaper and 3M pad work, I was able to smooth out the interface where the barrel and collar meet. There were a couple of places in this lens that I was surprised to find room for simple improvements like this.

A 2mm x 3mm screw. Don't drop it. But of course, I did. At least I had had the presence of mind to be working on a brightly colored towel, so the screw didn't bounce merrily across the bench and onto the floor, to be lost in the mists of time itself.

Reassembled, and about as good as I was capable of getting it. At least I managed to get the helicoid cleaned up. It's much lighter and whippy to use now.

It's an 85mm f/1.5, which lets in a huge amount of light. It's a very flattering portrait lens, and can be used easily in dim light. The aperture is wide open in this photo. Russian lenses are courteous enough to put the year in the serial number, almost always as the first two digits. So, this lens is a 1961 model. The logo at the bottom there is the mark of the KMZ plant, located just outside Moscow.