August 3, 2022
Hong Kong optics manufacturer, Meike, gained somewhat suspicious fame in 2018 with affordable M43 cine primes, and has quickly expanded the range of lenses for photos. It’s suspicious because Meike’s breakthrough products were “nearly identical” to a line of cine M43 primes from a blurring competitor, Veydra, which closed shop just a year later.
There is a lot of talk about Chinese manufacturers nefariously reverse-engineering innovative products from established brands to create cheap counterfeit products. An established brand will outsource a Chinese factory and someone there will steal the IP and remake the product with inferior materials. Although it sounds plausible and accusations have been made, this is not the case with Meike. It has previously been speculated that the Chinese optics maker struck a deal with a Veydra co-founder as the company headed for turmoil.
Meike has since built a reputation in cinematography, but remains a ‘cheap and cheerful’ option for stills photographers.
It’s unusual that Meike has been slow to develop optics for high-quality photos while gaining some in the cine lens market. But what it may lack in photo 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.
For some perspective on the rapid expansion of photos, Meike recently announced an ASP-C 10mm f2 manual focus prime lens for five mounts, including the Canon RF. Canon has only just unveiled its first line of crop-sensor RF cameras.
So Meike’s team is either supernaturally intuitive, tipped, can easily adapt a design to a different holder, or all of the above.
according to Meike
Meike’s roots go back to 1997 with a plastic foundry. Its customers were mainly “global well-known companies in the Japanese photographic equipment industry,” the company says.
At this stage, the Meike brand had not yet been established. But the mold factory operators thought they could try to design products similar to what they helped the Japanese build.
So in 2005 – or 2007, depending on where you get your information from – Meike was founded ‘to facilitate the exploitation of our own brand, strategically directing the main activity towards R&D, production and sales of photographic equipment, including lens for cameras. ‘. Perhaps some reserve engineering experiments were involved here?
We don’t want to imitate that slightly pompous, worldly friend who corrects everyone’s pronunciation of “pho” or “paella” when we eat out, but let’s clear this up quickly. After saying “meek” for a while, research suggests it’s apparently “mei-kuh.”
Despite its launch in the mid-1990s, Meike was slow to gain a lot of interest. In Vigorous Googlin’ Meike is mentioned little until 2017. For about ten years it was a really obscure brand, probably sold directly through eBay to bargain hunters who don’t care about red dots and brand names.
Hardware reviewer for YouTube cameras, Christopher Frosta gentle Brit who has reviewed almost every modern budget lens in the world, uploaded a review from a Meike 35mm f1.7 lens in 2017. It looks like a clunky piece of kit – fully manual, including focus and aperture control. But it delivered decent results for the low price of £80 (AUD $140).
So it essentially competed with cheap second-hand analog lenses, which photographers could mount to a digital camera with an adapter.
Meike’s big break
Veydra was a start-up cinema company that was founded in 2014 through a Kickstarting crowdfunding campaign. It proved unexpectedly popular, with its two founders, Ryan Avery and Jim Zhang, raising US$272K to build prime cine lenses for M43 cameras.
According to an blog post by Matthew Duclosworking with the Veydra team, the fledgling company was a small batch manufacturer, driving overhead costs skyrocketing.
In March 2017, the Veydra warehouse was robbed after receiving a large shipment, paralyzing the company and halting production. Behind the scenes, Zhang and Avery apparently had disagreements over the direction of the company, which, according to Duclos, led to nasty lawsuits.
Here’s an excerpt from his post:
Perhaps not coincidentally, when Veydra stopped producing inventory after the lawsuit in 2017, a curious new lens appeared on the internet in 2018: Meike. These lenses looked almost identical to Veydra Mini Primes, but at a fraction of the price tag. Speculation began to flood the Veydra Facebook group and forums. How was this possible? Could someone copy the Mini Primes so carefully? Did Veydra sell old stock under a different name? Did someone sell the designs to another company to avoid lawsuits?
The truth is locked up in lawsuits, but it’s not hard to read between the lines. I suspect Jim outsourced the optical and mechanical designs to an outside factory during the original Veydra production. The exact relationship and production path are still unclear, but what is clear is that Meike has a much larger, more sophisticated manufacturing operation than that of the original factory that produced Veydra lenses.
According to Duclos, Meike’s optical and mechanical design was ‘remarkably similar’, but better ‘in almost all areas’. Also cheaper thanks to Meike’s large-scale internal production capabilities.
Substance for the speculation was provided when an online video showed Avery, “the original co-founder of Veydra,” promoting Meike lenses.
Veydra went bankrupt in 2019. But from that came the birth of Meike cine lenses,” Avery says in the video. “The Meike cinema primers have improved coatings and performance and optical qualities, as well as mechanical quality. This allowed for a very significant increase in production quantity, which also reduced costs.”
Online experts speculated that this video was somehow related to the outcome of lawsuits.
Since then, Meike has continued to design lenses for photos with features such as autofocus and aperture control, but unlike in the film industry, it has not yet built a reputation for designing high-quality products, although the lenses are affordable.
The first autofocus lens, released in 2018, was criticized by Frost – which is normally quite nice and forgiving – for having slow, inaccurate and extremely noisy AF. The AF noise sounds like the zoom on an old analog point-and-shoot. Almost nostalgic enough for hipsters to embrace!
The problem with AF noise is: somewhat resolved with the inclusion of a stepper motor in a recent upgrade. But apparently the AF accuracy is still ordinary.
While Meike’s new product releases are frequently covered in the global photo media, the local presence in Australian specialty retail is virtually non-existent. While the will of laowa, Yongnuoand felttrox are available from some of the larger retailers.
This miniseries of article by Inside Imaging has researched the story behind the lens manufacturers mentioned above. Each brand has become popular in the global market for a specific product line, and what follows is typically rapid expansion. Yongnuo with flash triggers; Viltrox with lens mount adapters; Laowa with quirky niche lens products; and Meike with M43 cine lenses.
But what is remarkable is that these brands have all been created in recent years. And for all these more ‘established’ Chinese players, there are many others who still sell cheap commodities through eBay, Amazon or Alibaba. Waiting for that big break.
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