August 3, 2022
Hong Kong optics manufacturer, mike, rose somewhat suspiciously to prominence in 2018 with the affordable M43 cinematic prime lenses, and has continued to rapidly expand its range of fixed lenses. Suspiciously, Meike’s products were ‘almost identical’ to the M43 cine lens range by a lackluster competitor, Veydra, which closed the store just a year later.
There is a lot of talk about Chinese manufacturers reverse engineering innovative products by established brands to create cheap imitations. A well-established brand will subcontract to a Chinese factory, someone will steal the IP address and recreate the product with inferior materials. While it sounds reasonable, and accusations have been made about it, that’s not the case with Meike. Instead, the Chinese optics manufacturer speculated that it had struck a deal with one of the founders of Veydra while the company was headed for turmoil.
Meike has now developed a reputation in cinematography, but it remains a “cheap and fun” option for still photo shooters.
It’s unusual for Meike to be slow to develop high-quality fixed optics, with some winning over the cinema lens market. But what it may lack in the quality of still images, it makes up for in quantity. Meike offers a range of lenses for Canon EF, Z, Nikon Z, F, Sony E, Fujifilm X and M43 cameras.
For some perspective on its rapid expansion of shots, Meike recently announced an ASP-C 10mm f2 manual focus prime lens for five mounts, including the Canon RF. Canon just unveiled its first line of RF cameras with crop sensors.
So the team at Meike is either unnaturally intuitive, oriented, and easily able to adapt the design to a different stand, or all of the above.
according to mike
Meike’s roots go back to 1997 with a plastic molding factory. Its client list mainly includes “global well-known companies in the photographic equipment industries in Japan,” according to the vital company.
At this point, the Meike brand has not yet been established. But the mold factory operators thought they could try their hand at designing products similar to what they were helping the Japanese build.
So in 2005 – or 2007, depending on where you get your information – Meike was set up to “make it easy to operate our own brand, strategically directing its core business to research, development, manufacturing and sales on imaging equipment, including the camera lens”. Maybe this included some backup engineering experiments?
We don’t want to imitate that little expensive worldly friend who corrects everyone’s pronunciation of “pho” or “paella” when out for lunch, but let’s get this clear quickly. After he pronounced it “Meek” for a while, research indicates it was apparently “May-kuh.”
Although launched in the mid-20th century, the Meike has been slow to gain a lot of attention. Vigorous Googlin’ shows few references to Meike until 2017. For about a decade it’s been a truly obscure brand, likely selling directly via eBay to cheap bargains who don’t care about red dots and brand names.
YouTube camera hardware reviewer Christopher Frost, a soft-spoken Briton who has reviewed nearly every budget contemporary lens on the planet, uploaded a review of his Meike 35mm f1.7 lens in 2017. It looks like a piece of heavy equipment—completely manual, Including focus and aperture control. But it paid off well for the low £80 (AU$140) price tag.
So it was competing primarily with second-hand, low-cost analog lenses, which photographers could attach to a digital camera with an adapter.
Mike’s big break
Veydra was a startup cinema lens company founded in 2014 through a Kickstarting crowdfunding campaign. It proved unexpectedly popular, as co-founders Ryan Avery and Jim Zhang raised $272,000 to build cinematic prime lenses for the M43 cameras.
According to a blog written by Matthew Duclos, who worked with the Veydra team, the fledgling company was a “small batch” manufacturer, driving up prices.
In March 2017, Veydra’s warehouse was robbed after receiving a large shipment, paralyzing the company and halting production. Behind the scenes, there was a rift between Chang and Avery regarding the company’s direction, which according to Duclos led to bad lawsuits.
This is an excerpt from his message:
Perhaps not coincidentally, when Veydra discontinued stock production after a lawsuit in 2017, a strange new lens started popping up around the web in 2018: Meike. These lenses looked almost identical to the Veydra Mini Primes but at a fraction of the price. Speculation has begun to flood the Veydra Facebook group and forums. How was this possible? Is it possible for someone to copy Mini Primes with such accuracy? Was Veydra selling old stock under a different name? Did someone sell the designs to another company to get around the litigation?
The truth is locked up in lawsuits but it’s not hard to read between the lines. I suspect Jim contracted optical and mechanical designs to an outside manufacturer during production of the original Veydra. The exact relationship and manufacturing path remain unclear but what is clear is that Meike has a much larger and more complex manufacturing process than that of the original factory where the Veydra lenses were produced.
According to Duclos, the Meike’s optical and mechanical design was “strikingly similar,” but better “in nearly all areas.” Cheaper too, thanks to Meike’s extensive in-house manufacturing capabilities.
Material for speculation was introduced when a video clip online showed Avery, the “original co-founder of Veydra” promoting Meike lenses.
In 2019, Veydra went out of business. But as a result came the birth of the Meike cinematic lenses,” Avery says in the video. Meike Cinema primary films have improved coating, performance and optical qualities, as well as mechanical quality. This led to a very large increase in the amount of production, which also reduced the cost.
Online critics speculated that this video was somehow connected to the outcome of the lawsuits.
Since then, Meike has continued to design fixed lenses with features like auto focus and aperture control, but unlike the film industry, it has not yet built a reputation for designing high-quality, affordable products even though its lenses are available.
The first AF lens, released in 2018, was criticized by Frost—who is usually bland and forgiving—for having slow, imprecise, and too noisy AF. AF noise looks like the zoom lens on an old analog lens. Almost nostalgic enough to embrace hipsters!
The AF noise issue has been resolved to some extent by including a stepper motor in a recent upgrade. But it is clear that the AF accuracy is still normal.
While Meike’s new product releases are often covered in global photo media, the local presence in the Australian specialty retail sector is almost non-existent. While the likes of Laowa, Yongnuo and Viltrox are available from some of the biggest retailers.
This short series of articles written by indoor photography Find out the story behind the above mentioned lens manufacturers. Each brand has gained popularity in the world market for a particular line of products, after which the rapid expansion usually follows. Yongnuo with flash players; Viltrox with lens mount adapters; Laowa with specialty twisted lens products; And a mike with M43 cine lenses.
But what is remarkable is that these brands have all appeared in the past few years. And for all those most famous Chinese players, there are still many other players selling cheap items via eBay, Amazon or Alibaba. Waiting for that big break.