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meike 35mm/f1.4 user experience

Meike 35mm/f1.4

Quality is dear; saying that a good ‘something’, e.g. a lens, does not have to be expensive, is rubbish. The reverse, however, is not unlikely at all: cheap can buy you a lot of quality. And one also has to realize that quality for little money demands ‘quality use’ in order to get full enjoyment and satisfaction. The Meike 35mm/f1.4 lens buys you for €135 (price in the shop in Netherlands, 2020) a lens that offers quite a lot and tickles your creativity, without, in my experience, any ‘no go’ areas. I was, am, pretty amazed. The biggest incentive buying this lens was that, according to other reviews, it offers a usable f1.4.

Below, I talk about how to work with the lens  and describe how it performs. I’ll illustrate my experience with some pictures (of course), among which  the resolution at different f-stops and field curvature.

This lens is able to provide amazingly crisp and clear images.

Pricewise

For someone who has a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera, it offers f1.4 for a ridiculously low price. We want wide apertures for isolating a subject from its background. One can dispute whether a blurry background is the most important factor for picturesque quality, with MFT it is harder to get extremes. There are some decent Sigma lenses with f1.4 which do about €425,-, and then there is the Olympus trio of f1.2 primes going for at least €1000,-. Also, the ‘PanaLeicas’ with f1.2 to f1.4 are mostly into that price region. A €135,- option is then quite attractive.

In use

In terms of 35mm format or full frame, the Meike 35mm/f1.4 lens translates into a 70mm moderate telelens; exposure-wise it is an f1.4, but the depth of field is equivalent for to an f2.8. I have to say, that is not the best focal length for my style of photography; I bought the lens because of the f1.4 and the price. But then it invites, ‘sweetly forces’, me to go wild with the field of view this lens offers.
This is a fully manual lens. Nothing to be afraid of, the majority (still, I guess, don’t hold it against me in 50 years) of the iconic pictures we know were made with manual focus lenses, also the action shots. With modern camera’s focus-assist tools, focusing is about as straightforward as in earlier days with the small focus patch in the viewfinder. And as you will use this lens with the wider apertures (1.4 to 2.8) anyway, focusing stopped down gives a clear indication.
What I appreciate less is that the aperture ring does not click to the selected openings. Handy for video, but then why not give the T-numbers then. Otherwise, the lens is precisely made, completely metal, even the front lens cap, and has a classic, generic look. There are no idiosyncratic nor minimalist design twists, it just looks like what it is.

Summing up

Cheap can buy quality. The Meike 35mm/f1.4 opens up wide aperture photography for MFT users that cannot justify spending huge amounts on a lens. One has to be comfortable with manual focus and that might take some learning. Do realize yourself, however, that one can focus and frame an image at the same time to be ready for the right moment, much with the same speed as when one has autofocus. At f1.4 one has to select ones object with care. I experienced that wide aperture photography is quite different then just setting the lens too f1.4. For me, that is an area where I still have to learn.

The 70mm equivalent appears to be not my particular cup of tea, as I don’t do portraiture and at street events I’d rather use a 50mm or 60mm lens, and sometimes ‘worse’. But with the close focus ability (>0.4m) of this lens, I can isolate objects and highlight details, what I always look for anyway, with the advantage that I do not have to decide about the zoom when using this lens.

Set to f2.8 till f5.6 the lens delivers clear and crisp images — for portraits f2.8 would still be a good value for one does not always want to have only the eyes to be in focus. Then the lens rewards you with pictures that have an incredible clarity (I think also because there is no need for extensive distortion correction in software).

With ISO 200 being the minimum sensitivity of the EM1-ii, an ND filter comes in handy when you want to use f1.4 on a sunny day. It takes 49mm filters and I happened to sill have a polarization filter which I had bought for my Zuiko 50mm/f1.8 and which reduces exposure about 3 stops.

Elsewhere on the web

I found these reviews which helped me in deciding to buy this lens:
https://alikgriffin.com/meike-35mm-f1-4-review-sample-photos/
https://sonyalpha.blog/2019/05/31/meike-35mm-f1-4/

Image quality

So what does it deliver in terms of picture quality? The lens delivers good image quality right from f1.4. And as ‘good’ always implies ‘good for what’, these are the qualifications I would add to that.

The pictures below are all scaled down to a width of 1920px and can be downloaded; the resolution shots are actual size 400×400 cuts from the images, from the center and the extreme top right corner.

The lens delivers good pictures at f1.4 and is pleasantly sharp and crisp from f2.8. The corners are never as sharp as the center (and an MFT lens uses the better part of the image circle), but at f5.6 one gets the best quality all over. At f8 the image is evenly sharp, but not crisp, at f16 diffraction softens the image visibly.

The widest aperture works best for portrait-like pictures, be it people or objects. Sharpness is good and background and foreground show a nice blur. Small and detailed objects can be less satisfactory because the lens lacks super crispy freshness at f1.4.

To sum up settings for raw-development: the lens needs somewhat more extreme settings for the highlights till blacks (‘selective tone’) in order to get enough ‘punch’; there is only slight vignetting; it needs heavy chroma correction; only slight barrel distortion. There are no profiles for this lens for DxO or Lightroom or other raw-converters so I would advise to shoot raw for correcting these issues in jpegs is never lossless. (Settings: in DxO I use the following settings: selective tone: -80/80/-40/80; vignetting: 15; chroma: 200/12 + purple fringing on; unsharp mask 150/0.75/4/0; distortion: barrel 10.)


These lights in a late December afternoon are a bit too subtle for the lens at f1.4, the string which is in focus does not really stand out (maybe of course it has to do with the photographer).


These berries stand out much better; though a privet is not very interesting in winter, it makes a killer bokeh, or kills the bokeh.

   
There is a definite colour shift when stopping down: the first picture is f1.4, the second f2.

See also the gallery with other pictures that I took for my enjoyment. For the those wondering about resolution, next some test images at the respective f-stops.

Image resolution

The resolution images were converted from the raw files of an Olympus OMD-EM1-ii using DxO Photolab 4.0, without distortion correction, noise reduction, or chroma-correction. The bookshelf was at 1 meter from the camera.


f1.4: Resolution center and top-right


f2.0: Resolution centre & top right


f2.8: Resolution center & top right


f4.0: Resolution center & top right


f5.6: Resolution center & top right


f8: Resolution center & top right

f16: Resolution center & top right

Here is the completely corrected picture at f1.4:

Field curvature

The bookshelves provide a flat surface that is on a short distance. In the field and on the street, there are objects close by and further away. It is important for when you want to place objects and persons in the field and have them all looking kind of decently in focus — see this interesting article on dpreview.com. Following the recipe from that article, here are the edges in the field (about 5m from the camera).