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Meike 35mm T2.1 S35-Prime Cinema Lens Review

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Meike recently announced its new 35mm T2.1 cine lens that covers S35 sized sensors. It is available in either PL or Canon EF mount.

Who is Meike?

The story behind Meike is a little long and complicated and if you need more information than what is presented in the video above check out this article by Matt Duclos.

The optical and mechanical design of the Meike primes appears to bear a striking resemblance to that of the original Veydra lenses, but there are a few key differences. The Meike lenses are claimed to be optically and mechanically better.

Concept

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The lens is being touted as an affordable, compact-sized cine prime lens. It looks to be a good option if you are thinking about getting a dedicated cine prime lens, but don’t have a lot of money to spend. In a lot of ways, lenses like these offer cine-style mechanics at the price point of a normal stills lens,

As I have already mentioned it will cover S35 sized sensors. However, the actual image circle coverage is 33.6mm. Now, this particular lens is only available in Canon EF or PL mounts. The mounts are not swappable. A user swappable EF/PL mount would have made a lot of sense, especially given the target audience for this lens.

Is this lens actually new?

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Meike already makes cinema prime lenses for M4/3, APS-C, and full-frame sized sensors. Lenses are available in Sony E-Mount, Fujifilm X-Mount, and M4/3 mount. The 50mm T2.1 Full-Frame lens is available in PL/EF/RF/E/L/Z mounts.

This new series is slightly different from the existing APS-C coverage lenses they already make. In saying that, there is still a lot of similarities between this new lens and some of the existing models.

Size & Weight

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The 35mm T2.1 tips the scales at 910g (32oz) in PL mount, and 940g (33.16oz) in Canon EF mount. This is still quite a lot of weight for a small lens.

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The PL-mount version is 98.5mm (3.88″) long and the Canon EF mount version is 106.5mm (4.19″) long.

Build Quality

The lens feels solidly made (especially for a lens at this price). The focus and iris rings are nicely weighted, however, the focus ring has noticeably more friction when moving towards infinity than when it is moved back towards its minimum focus distance. This may be a very small and minor issue, but it is worth noting.

Markings

The markings on the lens are shown in both feet and meters, which is a little unusual. I suppose this saves on making multiple versions and it helps to keep the cost down.

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The thing I did notice is that the infinity marking in meters doesn’t line up with the infinity marking for feet. Again, this might be a minor complaint, but both of them should line up.

Other Features

The lens has a 77mm front filter diameter so you can easily attach common sized filters. The front diameter of the lens is 80mm which makes it difficult to attach some matte boxes without an adapter ring, however, some smaller clip-on matte boxes such as the Wooden Camera 4 x 4″ Filter Zip Box for 80-85mm Exterior Diameter Lenses will attach directly to the lens.

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The minimum focusing distance is 48cm (18.9″). The lens has a focus throw of 270 Degrees and both the iris and focus ring feature industry-standard 0.8 pitch gears. It is possible to manually pull focus from infinity to the minimum focusing distance in one go, despite the large 270 degrees of rotation. This is mainly because the physical size of the lens barrel isn’t that big.

Is it actually a cine lens or just a rehoused stills lens?

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According to MEIKE, this is a purpose-built cine design and not a rehoused stills lens.

Optical Structure

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The 35mm T2.1 consists of 12 Elements in 10 Groups. The lens also has 11 aperture blades.

No Breathing?

I tested out the lens by doing large focus throws by hand, and to my eye, there is a little bit of breathing. In saying that, it is very minimal and not distracting. For a lens at this price, the breathing is very well controlled.

No lens technically has zero breathing, but very good cinema glass has such minimal amounts that it is virtually impossible to see. What you will always see is some perspective shift which is normal when refocusing a lens.

Image shift is the change in location of a fixed point after a focus rack. It should be in the same spot after you rack focus.

Perspective shift is the focal length of the lens being modified by the movement of the optics. A slight change in focal length may happen if there is a floating element that moves and is not properly corrected for in the design. Certainly, the great majority of lenses have this issue. It’s also tenths of a mm so not overly noticeable.

Focus breathing is a change in image size so the size of object will get larger as it moves out of frame. That is reproduction size.

In summary, perspective shift is the effective focal length change (angle of view change) and focus shift is reproduction size of the object changing as focus moves. Think of it like Macro. A macro lens can be 1:1 life size reproduction but as you focus it can change the reproduction size. That is focus shift from intentional breathing design. The angle of view is not overly effected in that case because it is flat field focus. On spherical lenses the angle of view does change slightly as you focus rack thus making for perspective/angle of view shift.

Fall off and Vignetting

I didn’t notice any real noticeable fall of or vignetting when using this lens on a BMPCC 6K.

As the lens covers an image circle of 33.6mm I wouldn’t expect to see any vignetting or light fall-off when used on most S35 sized sensors. The BMPCC 6K has a 23.10mm x 12.99 sized sensor.

Sharpness

This isn’t a fast prime lens, so I would expect the sharpness to be pretty good, even when using it wide open at T2.1. As expected, the lens is nice and sharp, even when used wide open.

As you can see in my tests, sharpness does improve as you stop the lens down, but the difference between when the lens is set at T2.1 and T8 isn’t as huge as you may think.

This is a nice sharp lens that can certainly be used wide open. The above tests were shot on the BMPCC 6K in 6144 x 3456.

Lens Flare

I personally didn’t like the lens flare from the Meike, but that is just my personal opinion. Wide-open it does produce quite a bit of veiling and you don’t get much in the way of nice flaring.

The lens does maintain a good amount of contrast even when a bright light source is coming directly down the barrel.

When you stop down to T5.6 the flare and veiling are very well controlled. I personally preferred the look of the flare when you use the lens stopped down.

Chromatic Aberration

The lens doesn’t have any real-world visible chromatic aberration.Even if you zoom in 300% when used at T2.1 nothing is visible. The lack of chromatic aberration is nice to see, but in saying that, with a T2.1 lens I didn’t expect to be seeing any in the first place.

Bokeh

Nice bokeh is something you want if you are purchasing a prime lens. Despite only having a T2.1 maximum aperture, because the lens has 11 aperture blades you can create some nice bokeh. The bokeh produced is reasonably nice and round and you can create some beautiful out of focus areas by using the lens wide open. Wide-open at T2.1 you don’t get any chromatic aberration or see any color bleed on the bokeh.

I honestly wasn’t expecting to get great bokeh from an S35 lens with a T2.1 aperture, but the Meike pleasantly surprised me.

Color Tone

The lens is fairly neutral when it comes to color, if anything it is slightly cooler in tone.

The color tone of a lens is really something you should look at closely if you are going to be using both prime and zoom lenses from different manufacturers. Certain prime and zoom lenses work better together than others. What will work for you will also depend on what camera you are using.

Real World Thoughts

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The Meike 35mm T2.1 S35-Prime Cinema is an impressive lens, especially given its relatively low entry cost. The Meike could arguably give much more expensive lenses a run for their money.

Despite only having a T2.1 maximum aperture, the lens is still capable of creating good separation from your background and the bokeh is pleasing.

The build quality and mechanics are good, especially at this price point. While the markings are a little off and the lens rotation has different resistance depending on whether you are moving towards infinity or back towards minimum focus distance, these are things I can certainly live with on an affordable cine prime.

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You may be thinking that the big downside of this lens is that it only covers S35 sensors, however, with a 33.5mm image circle, it isn’t too far away from covering full-frame sensors. In fact, I did a few tests with the lens on the Panasonic S1H to see what modes it would cover.

The Meike was able to cover 4K DCI and UHD full-frame modes on the S1H with almost no vignetting. There is just the tiniest amount in the corners.

If you try to shoot in the 5.9K full frame then there is a tiny bit of vignetting, but it is only very minor.

In the 6K (5952 x 3968) mode you will get a reasonable amount of vignetting, but nothing a little crop in post wouldn’t fix.

With the industry pushing forward with larger sized sensors, investing in S35 glass may not be the best idea. In saying that, the investment in S35 lenses such as these isn’t a large one and if you are primarily shooting with S35 cameras then they are certainly worth looking at.

More Focal Lengths Coming

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MEIKE will be releasing more focal lengths going forward. The company told me that they will have an 18mm, 25mm, 50mm, 75mm, and a 105mm T2.1 with EF/PL mount as well in the future

Price & Availability

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The MIEKE 35mm T2.1 S35-Prime Cine Lens will retail for $539.99 USD and it will start shipping next month.

Competition?

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There is actually not a lot of competition in the S35 cinema prime marketplace, especially for lenses that come in either PL or EF mount. Most cine prime lenses being made today cover full-frame and larger sensors.

This probably gives the Meike lenses a little bit of an edge as they aren’t competing directly against a lot of other lenses.

As far as affordable Canon EF mount cine prime options are concerned, lenses like the SLR Magic APO MicroPrime Cine lenses could be considered competition. They have the same T-stop, however, they cover full-frame and larger sensors.

Do you need a full-frame cinema lens?

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Let’s face it, a lot of us are not shooting on the RED DSMC2 Monstro 8K VV, or an ARRI ALEXA Mini LF, although in saying that, there are now quite a few affordable full-frame digital cinema cameras such as the Canon C500 Mark III, Sony FX9, Kinefinity MAVO LF, and the Z CAM E2-F6 Full-Frame 6K and 8K.

There is certainly a push by manufacturers to bring out full-frame and larger digital cinema cameras, so lenses that cover full-frame and larger sensors are going to become more popular.

I don’t generally shoot on a full-frame digital cinema camera, but I have still personally chosen to invest in full-frame prime lenses. I did this because the industry is moving quickly and I would prefer to spend my money on something that is going to be slightly more future proof than a lens that just covers an S35 sensor. In saying that, S35 glass is generally going to be lighter and more affordable.

Investing in a full-frame lens is going to cost you a lot more money than buying one that just covers S35 sensors, and you need to factor that in when considering what to buy.

Conclusion

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The Meike 35mm T2.1 S35-Prime Cinema Lens surprised me in a good way. I wasn’t really sure how this lens was going to perform or look before I started testing it.

It offers good performance in a relatively lightweight and affordable package. The reason this lens is only $539.99 USD is that it is only T2.1 and it only covers S35 sensors. You usually can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you wanted a faster lens and something that covers larger sensors then the price and size of the lens would both increase.

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The mechanics and build quality are good for a sub $600 USD lens. The 270 degrees of focus rotation allows you to make finite focus adjustments without the associated problems of using stills glass. The barrel is significantly small enough that you can pull focus from infinity to the minimum focus distance by hand.

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Having a 77cm front filter thread allows you to use common sized filters which is important if you plan on using this lens on mirrorless, DSLR, or small-sized digital cinema cameras that don’t have built-in ND.

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The fact that the lens will cover quite a few full-frame sensor cameras when shooting in 4K DCI or UHD adds to its versatility.

Meike has done a really good job with this lens and I think once they have more focal lengths available they are bound to be a popular choice with shooters looking for affordable cine prime lenses.

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