August 3, 2022
Hong Kong optics manufacturer, Miguel, rose somewhat suspiciously to fame in 2018 with affordable M43 cine primes, and has rapidly expanded its range of primes. It’s suspicious, as Meike’s emerging products were “nearly identical” to a line of M43 cine prime lenses from a declining competitor, Veydra, which closed shop just a year later.
There’s a lot of talk about Chinese manufacturers nefariously reverse-engineering innovative products from established brands to create cheap knockoffs. An established brand will outsource to a Chinese factory, and someone there will steal the IP and recreate the product with inferior materials. While it sounds plausible and accusations have been thrown around, this is not the case with Meike. Rather, there is speculation that the Chinese optics maker struck a deal with a Veydra co-founder as the company headed toward turmoil.
Meike has now made a name for itself in cinematography, but remains a “budget and cheerful” choice for stills photographers.
It is unusual for Meike to have been slow to develop quality optics for still images, while winning some in the market for cinema lenses. But what it may lack in still photography quality, it makes up for in quantity. Meike offers a range of lenses for Canon EF and Z, Nikon Z and F, Sony E, Fujifilm X and M43 cameras.
To provide insight into its rapid expansion into stills, Meike recently announced an ASP-C 10mm f2 manual focus prime lens for five mounts, including the Canon RF. Canon has just introduced its first line of crop-sensor RF cameras.
So Meike’s team is preternaturally intuitive, takes input, can easily adapt a design to a different mount, or all of the above.
According to Meike
Meike’s roots go back to 1997 with a plastics molding factory. Its customers primarily include “world-renowned companies in Japan’s photographic equipment industries,” the company biography states.
At this stage, the Meike brand was not established. But the mold factory operators thought they could try designing products similar to the ones they were helping the Japanese build.
So, in 2005, or 2007, depending on where you get your information, Meike was established to “facilitate the operation of our own brand, strategically directing its core business to the R&D, manufacture and sale of photographic equipment, including camera lenses” . Perhaps this may have included some reserve engineering experiments?
We don’t want to imitate that slightly pompous and worldly friend who corrects everyone’s ‘pho’ or ‘paella’ pronunciation when they’re out for lunch, but let’s clear this up quickly. Having pronounced him ‘Meek’ for a while, research suggests that he is apparently ‘May-kuh’.
Despite its release in the mid-1990s, Meike was slow to gain much interest. Vigorous Googlin’ sees few mentions of Meike until 2017. For about a decade, it was a truly obscure brand, likely sold directly through eBay to stingy bargain hunters who don’t care about red dots and branding.
YouTube camera hardware reviewer Christopher Frost, a soft-spoken Brit who has reviewed just about every cheap contemporary lens on the planet, uploaded a review of a Meike 35mm f1.7 lens back in 2017. Handbook. , including focus and aperture control. But it did produce decent results for the low price of £80 (AUD$140).
Basically, it was competing with inexpensive second-hand analog lenses, which photographers could mount to a digital camera with an adapter.
Meike’s big break
Veydra was a cinema lens startup established in 2014 through a Kickstarting crowdfunding campaign. It proved unexpectedly popular, with the two founders, Ryan Avery and Jim Zhang, raising $272,000 to build premium cine lenses for M43 cameras.
According to a blog post by Matthew Duclos, who worked with the Veydra team, the fledgling company was a “small batch” manufacturer, driving overhead through the roof.
In March 2017, Veydra’s warehouse was raided after receiving a major shipment, paralyzing the company and halting production. Behind the scenes, Zhang and Avery apparently had disputes regarding the direction of the company, which Duclos says led to nasty lawsuits.
Here is an excerpt from his post:
“Perhaps not coincidentally, when Veydra stopped producing inventory after the lawsuit in 2017, a curious new lens started appearing on the web in 2018: Meike. These lenses looked nearly identical to the Veydra Mini Primes but at a fraction of the price. Speculation began to flood Veydra’s Facebook group and forums. How was this possible? Could someone have copied the Mini Primes so carefully? Was Veydra selling old shares under a different name? Did someone sell the designs to another company to avoid litigation?
The truth is locked up in judgments, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. I suspect that Jim contracted the optical and mechanical designs to an outside factory during the original production run of the Veydra. The exact relationship and manufacturing route is still unclear, but what is clear is that Meike has a much larger and more sophisticated manufacturing operation than the original factory in which the Veydra lenses were produced.
According to Duclos, the Meike’s optical and mechanical design was “strikingly similar”, but better “in almost every area”. Cheaper, too, thanks to Meike’s large-scale in-house manufacturing capabilities.
The substance of the speculation was provided when an online video showed Avery, ‘the original co-founder of Veydra’, promoting Meike lenses.
‘In 2019, Veydra closed. But from there came the birth of Meike cine lenses,” says Avery in the video. ‘Meike’s cine primes have improved coatings and performance and optical qualities as well as mechanical quality. This allowed for a very significant increase in the amount of production, which also reduced the cost.”
Experts online speculated that this video was somehow related to the outcome of the lawsuits.
Since then, Meike has gone on to design prime lenses with features like autofocus and aperture control, but unlike the film industry, it has yet to earn a reputation for designing high-quality products, even though its lenses are affordable.
The first autofocus lens, released in 2018, was criticized by Frost, who is normally quite kind and forgiving, for having slow, inaccurate and extremely noisy AF. AF noise sounds like the zoom on an old analog point-and-shoot camera. Almost nostalgic enough for hipsters to embrace!
The AF noise issue has been somewhat resolved with the inclusion of a stepper motor in a recent update. But apparently the AF accuracy is still normal.
While Meike’s new product launches are often covered in the global photo media, local presence in the Australian specialist retail sector is virtually non-existent. While the likes of Laowa, Yongnuo and Viltrox are available at some of the larger retailers.
This miniseries of articles from internal images has explored the history behind the aforementioned lens manufacturers. Each brand has gained popularity in the global marketplace for a specific line of products, and then what typically follows is rapid expansion. Yongnuo with flash triggers; Viltrox with lens mount adapters; Laowa with quirky niche lens products; and Meike with M43 cine lenses.
But the remarkable thing is that all these brands emerged in the last few years. And for all these more ‘established’ Chinese players, there are many others who are still selling cheap products through eBay, Amazon or Alibaba. Waiting for that great opportunity.