Anyone who has ever shopped for budget lenses knows that most cheap lenses are utter garbage, but there are the occasional exceptions that shine through.
The particular “exception” we’ll be looking at today is the Meike 35mm F1.4, a bright aperture manual lens that actually, admittedly, took me by surprise.
So, how does this cheap little piece of compact glass stack up against its more expensive (and bigger) competitors?
Let’s talk about it.
Looking for a quick summary before jumping in?
- Tiny and lightweight
- Solid build quality
- Fun and concise manual focus
- Dirt cheap
Size & Weight
So, right off the bat, let’s go over the sheer diminutive size and weight of this little lens.
The Meike 35mm F1.4 weighs only 6.7oz (190g), coming in substantially lighter than any fully electronic lens with comparable specs.
Size-wise, it’s actually not quite as small as some of its other manual-focus brothers (like the Neewer 35mm F1.7), but it still stays highly compact at 1.6in (4.1cm).
Thanks to these incredibly compact dimensions, the lens is easily pocketable (when attached to my a6k) and I’ve had no issues stuffing it, along with a bunch of other lenses, into my camera sling.
Is the lens well-built?
Alright, so the lens is smaller than my hand, but is it actually well-built?
Typically, low weight equals low build quality, but that’s not really the case here.
Sure, the lens may be light, but it’s still actually quite heavy despite its small size. As a result, build quality is actually a bit better than I had expected.
Although not quite on par with, say, a Sony G lens, the Meike 35mm F1.4 still has a lens barrel that’s entirely made out of metal, which is awesome to see.
Heck, even the front lens cap is made of metal. It’s a nice, smooth, slip-on kind, which lends itself to feeling quite high quality.
Easy to lose, however, as it is a bit slippery.
Alright, surely you didn’t expect this ultra-budget lens to have weather sealing, and you’d be completely right.
Still though, I include a, “is it weather sealed?” section in all my reviews, so I didn’t want to skip over it here.
Regardless, the lens should still hold up against slight drizzles, just don’t take it into anything too intensive.
Built to last?
So, do I feel as if this lens is built to last? The answer is a resounding… it depends.
Many ultra-budget lens manufacturers, Meike included, have a somewhat shaky reputation for poor quality control. This lens in particular, according to other people who have used and reviewed it, sometimes suffers from a loose lens barrel. My copy was fine, but I figured it was still worth mentioning.
If you get a good copy, I’d argue that the lens is actually quite well-built. Again, not on the same level as a high-end Sony or Sigma, but still much better than I had expected given the price point.
Ergonomically, the lens is, well, small. There’s not really a great gripping point, but it’s so light that this isn’t a big deal.
I found that I was able to aimlessly wander for hours without suffering from any hand fatigue and when I did need to put the lens/camera away, it fit perfectly in my jacket pocket.
I absolutely love small setups.
Finally, beauty is subjective, but I’ve always liked the look of some of these low-budget lenses.
The sleek black metal is quite pleasant to look at, and it contrasts well with the painted (not engraved, sadly) text and number markings on the lens barrel.
Alrighty, next up, let’s talk sharpness! Quick note: my sharpness tests don’t get very scientific, I usually just pixel peep. Don’t expect MTF graphs or anything complicated like that.
To start, shooting wide-open gives decent results, but not anything particularly spectacular.
Centers are typically sharp enough to capture some good detail, but the corners fall off very quickly.
I’d say shooting wide open is only usable for subjects such as portraiture or anything else that’s center-subject focused.
When stopped down, however, the Meike 35mm F1.4 produces shockingly respectable results. Even at F2.8, corners sharpen up substantially and, by F5.6, the lens is actually near-perfect.
I’d argue that, when stopped down, this lens is actually rather strong for almost any kind of shooting.
Optical Quirks & Flaws
So, sharpness is rather decent, but how does the lens handle optical quirks such as distortion, vignette, CA, and flaring?
Let’s start with the bad: distortion.
The lens suffers from moderate/heavy barrel distortion and, unfortunately, as there are no electronic connections, there’s not a one-click fix in Lightroom.
With that being said, the distortion pattern is fairly consistent, so it should still be a pretty quick fix in post. There’s no complex moustache distortion or anything here.
Vignette also suffers a bit. When shooting wide open, the corners of the frame show some pretty moderate darkening.
Stopping down, of course, fixes this, and it should be easy to remedy in post.
On the other hand, chromatic aberrations are very minor and rarely noticeable.
Even in some of my more extreme tests (branches against a sunny sky), the lens still performed quite admirably.
Finally, many budget lenses suffer from flaring, but the Meike 35mm F1.4 really doesn’t.
Shooting directly into the sun does cause a bit of ghosting and loss of contrast, but you’ll typically not have any issues with backlit portraiture or shooting into artificial lighting.
Overall Optical Performance
Overall, I was highly impressed with the optical performance of the Meike 35mm F1.4.
It’s not top-tier by any means, but it’s hard to complain for the price. Sharpness is “good enough”, distortion/vignette are easily manageable, and it produces pretty nice booking (when close to your subject).
Focusing & Aperture
Next up, let’s focus on focusing (see what I did there?).
Like most all-manual lenses, focusing on the Mieke 35mm is a breeze. The focusing ring is quite well-dampened and has nice, hard stops.
If you’re just now considering dabbling into manual lenses, I’d encourage you to read my manual focus guides for either a6000 series cameras or full-frame a7 series cameras. The manual focus guides are a wealth of knowledge and will teach you anything and everything you’d ever need to know about ditching autofocus.
Given that this lens is entirely manual, it also sports a physical aperture ring (as opposed to F-stop being controlled by the camera).
The aperture ring is clickless, which means there are no hard clicks for every stop as you rotate it. While I generally prefer clicked rings myself, I know many photographers (and especially videographers) prefer clickless.
Either way, the aperture ring was also well-dampened enough to where I rarely bumped my aperture out of place accidentally.
My Final Thoughts
Finally, before we round out this review, let’s just run through a couple of alternatives.
Neewer 35mm F1.7
This first and main competitor to this lens would be the fantastic Neewer 35mm F1.7 (link to my full review).
I’ve personally owned the Neewer for years and have truly fell in love with it. Dirt cheap, razor sharp, well-built, and tiny.
What’s not to love?
Sigma 30mm F1.4
This next one is a bit different, as it features autofocus. The Sigma 30mm F1.4, while a bit more expensive than an all-manual lens, is well worth the money.
If you’re on the fence about buying a manual lens and have a bit more money to spend, just pick up the Sigma. I’ve owned it for over four years and I’ve never once regretted my purchase. It’s truly fabulous.
Anywho, if you’re dead-set on picking up a manual focus lens, or if you just have a really tight budget, it’s really hard to go wrong with the Meike 35mm F1.4.
Respectable sharpness, a robust build, and a great manual focus experience all come together to create a mighty little lens at a not-mighty price tag.
If you’re looking to pick up one for yourself, I’ve included a purchase link below. (though also consider spending more on the Sigma…)
Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. That means if you purchase a product through one of my links, I get a (very) small commission. Thank you! 🙂