An 85mm prime lens has always been a good solution for portrait shots, but the highest-quality versions have always been a bit pricey. This means that if you are on a limited budget and still want good image quality, you have to be more strategic with your choices. This is where the Meike 85mm f/1.8 comes into play, available at a very affordable price point.
Like many things in life, you do eventually get what you pay for. But the Meike 85mm f/1.8 also squeezes out as much optical quality as possible in this price range. And if you read further, you will see exactly what it can do in the field.
First up, the Meike is currently only available for the Canon mount, but there are plans to offer the lens for both Nikon and Sony mounts in the future. The lens is equally capable on both full-frame and APS-C cameras, providing a 136mm viewpoint on the latter. For many portrait photographers, this long focal length works better for certain types of faces.
The lens itself feels extremely well made, with a respectably-sized 67mm front filter thread and the total weight coming in at a very reasonable 424g. The design of the lens is very much like what you would expect from a mid-priced Canon offering, with most of the lens barrel being taken up by the manual focusing ring.
The rest of the lens barrel features a traditional distance scale, along with the usual AF/MF switch. Autofocus has manual override for those times when you need that extra little tweak to the focusing area. The close focusing distance is set at 85cm, which is roughly what we would expect from a traditional 85mm prime lens.
Internally, the glass is arranged with nine elements in six groups, with each element being treated to a multi-layer nano-coating to reduce the usual amount of lens anomalies and to also increase color and contrast. The other aspect that is very much needed on a portrait lens is a wide aperture. The Meike comes with a reasonable f/1.8 aperture for low-light performance.
Using the Meike 85mm f/1.8
For a mid-level lens, the sharpness levels of the Meike 85mm are commendable at f/1.8 in the center of the frame, providing plenty of definition. The overall best results from edge to edge of the frame come in from f/4-f/8, with results still being good up to f/16. After this point diffraction starts to take a toll on the images. If you want the very sharpest results time after time, the sweet spot comes in from f/5.6-f/8.
Sharpness is one thing, but how well a lens handles all the usual amount of anomalies also counts. Chromatic aberration is generally low even when the aperture is set at f/1.8. However, the very cleanest results come in at f/11. But CA is at the levels where they can be easily removed in post-processing software.
Vignetting can be clearly seen in the corners when the aperture is at f/1.8, but this drops considerably by f/4 and continues this way throughout the rest of the aperture range. Distortion levels are also well controlled, with the minimal amount displayed easily corrected in software.
Like all portrait lenses, the bokeh or background blur has to be good enough quality to not be distracting. The Meike is commendable in this area, providing a smooth rendition of colors without any jittery highlights. The overall effect in this area may not be as creamy smooth as the most expensive versions out there, but it’s still very good quality at this price point.
Meike Edges out Yongnuo
For those on a budget who still like the idea of a dedicated prime lens, there are a few not-so-obvious lens makers that can provide good quality optics at very affordable prices. One of these third-party offerings is the Yongnuo YN 85mm f/1.8, which comes in at just under $200 and has largely the same specifications as the Meike 85mm lens.
The Yongnuo has a very plastic-feeling lens barrel, but it has the same basic specifications as the Meike, just with less of an aperture range going from f/1.8-f/18. The internal optics are largely the same, as are the general results. But when lined up together, the Meike has that slight edge in sharpness and overall quality, while also providing slightly better overall color saturation and contrast in a nice 85mm prime package.
|Meike 85mm f/1.8||Yongnuo YN 85mm f/1.8|
|Elements||9 elements/6 groups||9 elements/6 groups|
Meike 85mm f/1.8: Good Value for Your Money
Considering that the Meike 85mm f/1.8 can be picked up for less money than some pro-level filters, it can provide surprisingly good image results. At this price point, many would say you couldn’t complain about any of its features, but even at this price level it still has to deliver reasonable quality. Otherwise, what’s the point?
There are no complaints about the overall functionality of this lens and, while the autofocus system isn’t the fastest on the market, it still works very well for static or slow-moving subjects. The manual focusing side of things is also reasonably accurate, with a smooth-to-turn focusing ring.
The edges of the frame are slightly soft when the aperture is set to f/1.8. That’s not too detrimental at this price level, especially when the lens is stopped down to f/4 and above providing good overall sharpness levels. In essence, the main takeaway here is that you can still produce very good, quality images with this lens, which provides far better results than the price would suggest.
At this price level, the Meike 85mm f/1.8 has better-than-expected optics, with low amounts of chromatic aberration and lens distortion, all contained within a well-made package. The AF system may be slightly noisy for video use and there isn’t any type of weather sealing. But in every other respect, the Meike is definitely worth the money.