The Meike 85mm f/1.8 for Sony full-frame cameras promises a lot of imaging punch at a very attractive price point, but does this manual focus lens deliver the goods on newer cameras like the Sony A7III? Read on for my impression of this lens.
Meike 85mm f/1.8 for Sony Full-Frame Quick Overview
Let’s run down the basic stats and then I’ll get into my overall impression.
- Focal Length: 85mm
- Mount: Sony E Mount (full frame coverage, but also works for APS-C)
- Max/Min Aperture: f/1.8 – f/22
- Aperture Blades: 9
- Focus Type: MF
- Aperture Control: Electronic
- EXIF Passthrough: Yes
- Glass: 9 Elements in 6 Groups
- Filter Thread: 67mm
Overall, I think this is an excellent lens, especially considering the price point is under $200 USD. It comes with a petal hood, lens bag, and front and bag caps. It’s quite large for an 85mm prime lens, but on the flip side it’s also not very heavy. Construction seems to be mostly a metal-plastic composite, with some purely plastic elements and a metal mount bracket. It does feel a little cheap to handle, to be honest. But again, considering the price and wide aperture, there have to compromises somewhere.
Overall, the image quality is very good, in my opinion. The center of the image is exceedingly sharp, and corner sharpness is respectable as well when stopped down to f/2.8 or higher. There doesn’t seem to be a noticeable color bias with this lens. Chromatic aberration is an issue, but only at the widest aperture settings.
There are many positives to this lens and only a few negatives, so let’s get started breaking it all down.
There are a lot of things to like about the Meike 85mm f/1.8, not the least of which is the relatively low price point. It’s quite sharp, even wide open, and really start to pop at f/2.8. Edge and corner sharpness also pick up around f/2.8 and are quite acceptable at f/4 and smaller.
Here’s an example image shot on a Sony A7III. This is a 100% crop from the relative center of the image. Shot details: f/1.8, 1/5000, ISO 125.
Although it is a manual focus lens, there are electrical contacts to allow for control of the aperture from the camera body. In addition to the aperture control, the contacts also pass EXIF values for focal length and aperture back to the camera for embedding in the images. One major annoyance of most manual focus lenses is that your image files won’t have focal length or aperture data stored in the EXIF info (or will have bogus numbers). This makes it really hard to sort by focal length, lens, or aperture in LightRoom and other photo management software. With the Meike 85mm f/1.8, this won’t be a problem.
Additionally, the fact that the camera can control the aperture also means you can shoot in shutter-priority or full-auto exposure modes, in addition to aperture-priority mode. This is not possible with a fully manual lens mounted to a modern body. But with the Meike, you can use all the modes on your camera. This is a very cool advantage to have in a lower-priced manual focus prime lens.
The Meike 85mm f/1.8 also has a USB port to load future firmware updates, which likely will improve performance in various ways.
The Not So Good
Build Quality Issues
As previously mentioned, the build quality feels a little flimsy. It’s plasticy and light for its size. The overall feel of it doesn’t inspire confidence for extended travel or rugged conditions. For studio work or fair-weather applications, this lens should be fine. Just don’t expect it to take a lot of bumps, scrapes, and drops.
The focus ring is well damped with regard to left/right focusing movement, and there is no hard stop once you go past infinity or the minimum focusing distance. However, the ring itself has some slop (looseness) in terms of forward/backward movement. This movement also makes an audible sound (clicking), but doesn’t affect focusing in any way.
At f/1.8, this lens exhibits conspicuous chromatic aberration in highlight edge areas of the image, even in the center of the image. This is especially pronounced in bright or harsh lighting conditions. Honestly, chromatic aberration of this level is very common in lower-priced lenses, including even some more expensive offerings from the OEMs.
The good news is that stopping down to f/2.8 virtually eliminates both purple and green fringing in most shooting scenarios. And even with the maximum aberration at f/1.8, a little tweaking in LightRoom or Photoshop’s RAW editor can mostly or totally mitigate the color fringing.
Sample Image shot at f/2.8, 1/800, ISO 80 (A7III):
Crop Mode is Auto-Selected
I suspect this lens was originally designed for crop sensor cameras, and perhaps in their testing Meike discovered it actually worked well on full-frame bodies as well. I think this primarily because if the camera body (A7II or A7III) is set to automatically change to crop mode if an APS-C lens is attached, it assumes the Meike 85mm is a crop lens and changes to crop mode. In order to get the full resolution of your camera with this lens, you’ll need to go the menu and select “Manual” for the APS-C Super 35mm setting. On the A7III, this is Menu 1, page 1 at the bottom.
This is something that Meike will probably address this in a forthcoming firmware update.
The only really “bad” thing about this lens is a very peculiar, and almost certainly unintentional, anti-feature: with this lens mounted, the IBIS functionality of Sony A7 series and A6000 series cameras is disabled. Say what? Yeah, that’s right. This lens, which could make great use of the stabilization of the IBIS, somehow disables the feature. Crazy, right?
I suspect Meike will remedy this in a forthcoming firmware update. As of the date of this article, there have not been any firmware updates for this lens. I will update this section when an update has been issued.
For the money, this lens is a great performer if you don’t mind manually focusing. It’s electronic control of aperture puts it well ahead of fully manual lenses in terms of shooting mode options and quick adjustments of exposure.