A few months ago I was blown away by some photos taken by one Victor Danell with a modified Helios 44 lens. His process was to “polish” the glass elements with a strong abrasive and sand the inside of the barrel in order to increase how light bounces around.
The resulting effect is a light and wonderful glow to the brighter areas of the frame.
It’s an effect I’ve been trying to re-create in post since forever, and having the opportunity to do it in-camera was just too much to resist. But I decided to push the concept a bit further. I painted some things inside the lens, replaced the aperture, and added a flare filter inside the lens as well.
What are you gonna need for this process: a lens wrench, Helios 44-2, metal polish (I used Autosol, following Danell’s instructions), a piece of cloth, some sandpaper (I used 100 because I did the whole thing by hand), masking tape, a can of metal paint, transparent tape, sharpie markers and thin fishing line.
I highly recommend you take photos along the process so you know what goes where and to be able to put the lens back together. There are a couple of videos around on how to disassemble and clean the Helios, so this isn’t one of them. I didn’t fully disassemble the lens, just took out the minimum I could.
Starting by the back, unscrew the rear group. Now the front. The inside of the barrel has a slot for the lens wrench, so twist it out. The front is much easier than the back. Once the ring is removed, the element pops right out. Place it on the desk. Give the lens a gentle shake and the second element will also fall on your hand with a spacer.
On to the back group. Start by unscrewing the glass out. If you’re having trouble with grip, use rubber gloves! Now get the piece of cloth, add some metal polish to it, and rub it all over the elements. This process creates countless micro scratches on the glass which are the main cause for the glow, because light bounces through them.
To completely remove the polish I washed everything in water, dried the elements, and then let them dry some more on their own.
In the mean time, I went outside with the rear (now-empty) tubing and the front spacer—be sure to wear a mask and protective goggles for this part.
Using rough sandpaper (100), remove the black paint inside these two pieces. It doesn’t have to be perfect. With the masking tape, cut small pieces (enough to cover ALL the threads) and just leave the sanded metal exposed.
Be very thorough and add many layers in the process because the paint will mess up the threads if it gets there. Now, spray it with your favorite color. Here I’m making a purple one. Make sure you get a decent amount of paint in there. When it dries off you can remove all the masking tape.
The glass should be dry by now, so it’s time to start putting it back together. The painted elements will reflect on the light that bounces inside of the lens, adding a bit of a color tinge to the flares and glow.
Starting with the front, put back the inner glass element, then the painted spacer, then the front element, and screw it tightly back into place.
Reassemble the back in the same way, but don’t fit it in just yet. It’s time to do the oval iris. I had the acrylic disks left over from a previous tutorial, so I just grabbed one of those. You can choose your aperture value, I’m going with f/2.8 here.
Sand it down as thin as you can and be careful not to break it. With the sharpie, paint the disk. I’m going for a crazy look, so I’m gonna use the same color I used for the inside of the lens—purple. This is very intense, so if you just want oval shapes, paint it black. The tinted aperture has a very strong effect whenever you have a direct light source in the frame, or light rays going straight inside the lens.
The last step is to attach the fishing line as a flare filter. Put it across the middle and secure it into place using thin transparent tape, then cut the edges. To make this an unquestionably purple lens, I’m gonna paint the line as well.
Be careful handling these, because neither the wire nor the aperture will ever fully dry.
Putting the oval with the right orientation can be challenging. I noticed the gap in the EF adapter is always perpendicular to the top of the lens, so I used that as a guide. The easiest way to rotate it in place is using the lens wrench. It still takes a few attempts and sometimes screwing the back element rotates the iris, so take that into account.
Screw the back in as tight as you can but be careful not to break the acrylic disk (you’ll feel some resistance). The amber one got a few cracks in this process.
And that’s it! You’re done!
And here’s some footage shot with one of these modded lenses:
About the author: Tito Ferradans is a Cinematographer, VFX artist and anamorphic enthusiast currently living in Vancouver, Canada. You can find more tutorials, tips, and videos of his by checking out his website, Instagram, or YouTube channel. This post was also published here.