Wide, Wider, Widest: Hands-On Review of Meike’s Ultra-Wide and Fisheye Lenses

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Shooting fish in a barrel takes on a whole new meaning with a trio of ultra-wide and fish-eye lenses from Hongkong MeiKe Digital Technology Co. Ltd. Better known by the designation MeiKe, which according to one source combines the words “beauty” (Mei) and “technology” (Ke), the parent company was founded in 2005 as a manufacturer and exporter of photographic accessories, with a headquarters in Hong Kong and branches in mainland China. In addition to manufacturing a variety of affordably priced battery grips, shutter releases, adapter rings, extension tubes, camera flashes and LED lights, MeiKe offers a line of primarily manual focus lenses compatible with a wide range of camera systems. As of this writing B&H carries 60 MeiKe lenses for use with DSLRs, mirrorless systems, or digital cinema cameras.

Location photographs © Jill Waterman

With my Sony Alpha a6500 at the ready, I opted to try the Sony e-mount versions of the MeiKe MK-12 mm f/2.8 ultra-wide angle, MK-8 mm f/3.5 Fisheye, and MK-6.5 mm f/2 Circular Fisheye.

MK-12mm f/2.8 (left), MK-8mm f/3.5 (center), and MK-6.5mm f/2.0 (right)

All three lenses share the same durable all-metal construction, with a bright red ring toward the collar of the lens barrel, offering a bit of punch to the design. Focusing and aperture rings have a ridged surface to facilitate lens adjustments, with a rubberized covering on the focusing ring for a comfortable grip. Individual lens elements feature a multi-layer nano coating to suppress ghosting and flare, and the 8mm and 12mm versions are fitted with lens hoods to further protect the reflective surface of the glass from aberrant light. Each lens comes packed in a soft pouch with an included lens cloth and sturdy front and rear lens caps of metal and hard plastic.

Manual Focus, You Say?

Why, you might ask, would one choose to work with a manual focus lens in this day of automatic everything? Besides benefitting from the presence of mind required to focus manually on every frame, this process gives the photographer maximum control over the look of an image. Also, the DIY nature of manual focus with an ultra-wide lens avoids potential challenges when trying to lock autofocus on objects that are dimly lit or distorted by the wide angle of view. Besides, the expansive depth of field inherent in ultra-wide lenses makes achieving accurate focus much easier than on longer lenses.

In the field, I found that zone focusing with these lenses is much more convenient than through-the-lens focusing methods. Rather than straining to decipher my camera’s focus peaking when framing up a shot through the lens or on my camera’s LCD screen, it was generally much more efficient to focus by heeding the distance markings engraved on the lens barrel. Of the three lenses, I had the most success using focus peaking on the 12mm, but I still found it to be more of an exercise in frustration than desired.

The MeiKe 12mm f/2.8

Since all the MeiKe lenses I tested are designed for Sony APS-C-format mirrorless cameras, the 12mm lens provides an 18mm equivalent focal length. (It’s worth noting, however, that 12mm versions for Canon EF-M, FUJIFILM X, and Micro Four Thirds mounts offer 19.2mm, 18mm, and 24mm equivalent focal lengths, respectively).

Comprising 12 elements in 10 groups, the MeiKe 12mm has an 88.5° horizontal angle of view, and a minimum focusing distance of 3.94" (10 cm), making it an effective choice for a wide range of pictorial situations, from dramatic cityscapes to descriptive landscapes to detailed close-ups. While its ultra-wide field of view does cause an expected amount of keystoning and perspective distortion in certain instances, lines remain straight, and I found it to provide good definition and detail.

When focusing in on close ups, the lens falls off to an appealing bokeh in the background, especially when profiting from the wide 2.8 aperture setting. During my tests, I found the lens retained good color and contrast and exhibited minimal lens flare, even when shooting toward the sun.

The aperture ring turned smoothly, with slight clicks between stops, yet one detail I found rather odd—and mildly annoying—was the lack of numeric markings to indicate f/stops between F8 and F22. One can feel a slight click, but the lack of physical markings on the lens barrel ruffled my trust factor a bit.

Of the three lenses tested, only the 12mm has a flat enough front lens element to accept a 72mm filter. While the use of a polarizer or neutral density filter would have surely been useful for boosting sky color or minimizing reflections and glare, I didn’t bring any filters along to try during my test shoots.

The MeiKe 8mm f/3.5

Next up: the rectilinear fish-eye, the MeiKe 8mm f/3.5, which has a 12mm equivalent focal length on Sony ASP-C mirrorless cameras (8mm versions for Canon EF-M, FUJIFILM X, and Micro Four Thirds mounts offer 12.8mm, 12mm, and 16mm equivalent focal lengths, respectively).

Comprising 11 elements in 8 groups, the MeiKe 8 has a 200° angle of view horizontally, and a similar minimum focusing distance to its 12mm sibling. As the largest and heaviest lens of the three I tested—1.2 lb (569 g) and 3.03 x 4.29" (77 x 109mm)—this lens was not quite as ergonomically friendly as the others, particularly when grabbing it from my bag to mount on the camera. While its detachable lens hood serves an important function as a buffer against damaging the lens’s bulging convex glass surface and shielding pictures from flare, the corners in several of my pictures show a telltale black/blue fringing caused by the corners of the hood. The magic of Photoshop makes this easily fixable, but I’ve left these defects in the images below as a cautionary reference. Similarly, this lens’s ultra-wide field of view makes it easy for extraneous details, such as feet or loose clothing, to encroach on the edges of the frame—so user beware of these pesky traits.

Aside from these drawbacks, this lens has a lot of creative potential when used with care in placing the horizon line straight across the center of the field of view, as shown in the three examples above, or eliminating the horizon altogether, as in the lead image at the top of the page.

In many of the situations I photographed, the sun was high in the sky and shining brightly, making it hard to avoid it sneaking into the frame in some shots (see center image above). Nevertheless, I found the image contrast and color remained good. Yet even more significant is the fact that this lens exhibited remarkably little lens flare.

As mentioned earlier, given the extreme depth of field produced by a lens this wide, I found it much simpler to zone focus using the distance markings on the barrel than to attempt focusing through the lens. The focusing ring has a fluid movement and comfortable grip, and the aperture ring smoothly transitions between light clicks from f/3.5 to f/22, with the jump from f/3.5 to f/4.8 being a bit of a wild card as far as a standard numeric progression is concerned.

Fisheye lenses have a certain reputation as a novelty item, and indeed, toying with the funhouse mirror effects this lens can produce by bending straight lines along the edges of the frame in landscape mode or getting in close to emphasize the barrel distortion when shooting vertically can be endlessly amusing. Try it and see for yourself!

The MeiKe 6.5 f/2.0 Circular Fisheye

Last, but not least, is the MeiKe 6.5mm f/2.0 circular fisheye. The term fish-eye was coined by physicist and inventor Robert Wood, based on the wide, hemispherical view he imagined a fish would see when looking up toward the surface from its underwater domain. Instead of letting you see like a fish, this lens is likely to take you down a rabbit hole of visual excitement as soon as you attach it to your camera and remove its sturdy metal cap.

A lens that appears to be rather minimalist-looking with the cap on fully reveals itself in the reflective convex bulge of the glass surface. It’s worth a long admiring look, but don’t touch, since the Meike 6.5’s 190° angle of view makes it impossible to even think of attaching a protective filter or lens hood. When shooting with this lens, make sure to keep the included lens cloth handy, or perhaps even pack an extra microfiber cleaning cloth, since unprotected glass can be a magnet for smudges.

On the inside, 6 elements in 5 groups offer a 9.75mm equivalent focal length on my Sony 6500 (35mm equivalents for Canon EF-M, FUJIFILM X, and Nikon 1 mounts offer 10.4mm, 9.75mm, and 17.55mm, respectively). As its name implies, a circular fisheye delivers a round image shape inside a black rectangle, making it easy to overdose on pictures of round things, as seen below. It’s worth noting that matching your version of this lens to the size of your sensor—full frame, APS-C or CX format—is essential for producing fully circular images. A mismatch will result in an image that crops the circle on two sides.

Nearly half of the lens barrel is dedicated to the rubberized grooves atop the focusing ring, which has a fluid internal motion from a 1.97" (5cm) minimum focusing distance to infinity, and distance markings on the barrel provide a general guide to sharp focus. As the hibiscus flowers demonstrate, this lens has an impressive capability for close focus, and the closer the better when fisheyes are concerned, due to the extreme distortion that occurs as the eye strays from the center.

Four identifying markings on the aperture ring—f/2, 4, 8, and 22—offer a visual guide to the otherwise click-less aperture. While click-less f-stops might appeal to videographers, I’m not sure that it’s so beneficial with this lens, since most people would probably prefer to view such dramatically distorted images as stills rather than motion footage.

When shooting with a circular fisheye, one of the biggest challenges is to keep all appendages, plus associated clothing and accessories, outside the gaping field of view. As you can see from the example below, I occasionally failed at this task, in this case lightly smudging the edge of the lens with moisture from my hand. The brightness of the overall scene made the LCD screen barely readable as I scrambled to grab a quick photo amid passing traffic. Luckily, a careful polishing with the lens cloth returned the glass to pristine condition. Cast shadows falling into the frame can be another tricky point to negotiate. My favorite solution to that challenge was to give myself a Hibiscus head, as in the middle picture above.

A lens like this can cover a huge chunk of sky, so if the sun is shining it will likely end up in a picture or two. Thankfully, the multi-layer nano coating applied to each lens element does a good job at suppressing flare, except for a touch of outward refraction when a point light source is positioned near the edge of the frame, as seen above and below.

While some might consider the pictorial stamp of a circular fisheye as a throwback to the psychedelic era of the 1960s, I see it more as a statement lens. This is not a lens for wafflers or wallflowers—the extreme distortion forces you to take a stand, and the best pictures come out of pushing limits.

For a direct comparison between these three MeiKe lenses, scroll through the photos below for similar views of the same subject with each lens—12mm f/2.8, 8mm f/3.5, 6.5mm f/2.0—successively, from left to right.

Have you tried any of these three MieKe lenses? If so, how did you like them? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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