For some time, I’ve wanted a fast prime lens that I can use for portraits in close quarters. My two main portrait lenses, the XF60 f/2.4 and XF90 f/2 (equivalent to 90mm and 135mm, respectively) are superb, but impractical for shooting in situations where I can’t put some distance between me and my subjects. Conversely, my XF23 f/1.4 (35mm equivalent) lens excels at environmental portraits, but it’s a bit too wide for other situations.
I’ve had my eye on the Fujinon 35mm f/2 for a while, and judging from reviews it’s a great lens. Being on a fairly tight budget, however, means it’s been sitting on my wish list for a long time. While browsing third-party lenses, I ran across the Meike 35mm f/1.7. It’s made specifically for mirrorless cameras, so like the Fujinon, it’s equivalent to a standard “nifty-fifty” lens. The most striking difference between them at first glance is cost: At the time of this writing, the Fujinon 35mm f/2 runs for $399 on Amazon, while the Meike 35mm f/1.7 sells for a frugal $79. The reviews were mostly positive, so I decided to take a chance.
Naturally, there are some differences between these price points. For starters, the Meike is strictly manual focus. That may put off some buyers who are accustomed to AF. Manual focus may also limit its usefulness for photographing active children or fidgety pets. However, given the focus assist options found in most mirrorless systems, nailing the focus in most situations is not a problem. On my X-T2, I have enabled the Digital Split Image Focus mode, which takes the guess work out of using any manual focus lens, and is nearly as fast as using AF in some instances.
Surprisingly, the Meike is very well made. You would expect a lot of plastic at this price, but the construction is solidly metal and glass. While small, it has a satisfying heft in the hand. Even the slip-on lens cap is made of metal, and fits snugly over the lens. The focus ring moves smoothly, with just the right amount of resistance. As others have noted, the aperture ring doesn’t have any clicks, which might be a drawback for people accustomed to discernible stops by feel (the values are clearly marked). A big selling point is that it doesn’t look like a budget lens.
So how does it perform? I don’t do intensive pixel peeping tests, nor do I really care how sharp news print looks from edge to edge. What I can say is that it performs about as well as any conventional manual focus, 50mm lens should. I’ve not recorded the aperture settings to rate it at all stops, but for portraits I got the most pleasing results stopping it down to f/4, possibly f/2.8. Wide open, the out of focus area doesn’t have a very pleasing look on human skin if you’re close to the subject. It’s fine, though, if you’re shooting people from a moderate distance.
Some reviews I read said that the lens had prominent vignetting and soft edges. I didn’t find either characteristic to be especially prominent. Then again, considering the fact that I bought it with portraits in mind, those are not real problems to begin with (I often add a touch of vignetting to portraits in post). While not a macro lens, the minimum focus distance is 12”, so you can get fairly close up shots.
Following are some example photos I’ve taken with the Meike. These are NOT straight out of camera, but have been edited using standard means (no focus stacking or compositing, etc). All were shot using available light only. You can find many more examples of photos taken with this lens on Flickr.