Chris Foley Photo
I've bought and sold a lot of lenses in my day. Partly it's a long-term case of G.A.S. (look it up..) but that's mostly dissipated at this point. I was really searching for a kit that serves me and the way that I like to work and so quite a few lenses have moved in and out of my bag. I talked in a recent post about my street kit perfected and the new-ish 50mm F2 XF lens by Meike is currently my preferred walk-around lens for my street work.
For $89 *yes, really*, this little 50mm is a lot to love. I also enjoy shooting with vintage manual-focus lenses adapted to the Fuji system. Since this lens is a native XF mount lens there's no adapter required which keeps the size and profile down.
Compact, light, sharp & fast, it's a very discreet and capable street lens, but its capability comes at a cost.
WHY IT'S WORTH HAVING
I'm a prime lens guy. Additionally, when I'm working the streets I am in manual focus 80-90% of the time. Fast autofocus is simply not important to me. I enjoy manual focus. It's more fun, makes me feel closer to my work -- more involved, and I find that I have fewer missed shots when I focus manually.
In short, working with manual focus slows me down, engages my brain, and helps me create images that are more personally satisfying.
Compact, lightweight, fast f/2 aperture. Distance markings on the lens barrel make zone-focusing a breeze. It's a joy to work with on the streets and it performs very well at f/5.6 - f/16-ish. I say f/16-ish because its aperture markings go from f/22 to f/8. You sort of have to guess where f/11 and f/16 would be. The Meike aperture rings do not click on 1/3 stops (or even on full stops) so you need to be aware of where the aperture settings are. I deal with this by putting my X-T2 into what could be considered aperture priority mode.
While the aperture ring does not have clicks and stops it's remarkably smooth and well-tooled. The focus ring is also very smooth and easy to work with but with enough resistance to prevent knocking your settings all out of place while dangling from its strap. Nailing focus is very easy when used with Fuji's focus peaking and other manual focus assist features.
IT'S A LITTLE ... WEIRD
Let's talk about image quality.
First, it's not a Fujifilm lens. As Fuji shooters already know, Fuji's line of lenses are optically pleasing to say the least. This lens produces images that are quite a bit different than the images produced by Fuji's native lenses. The Meike lenses that I've bought all feel like vintage Nikon glass to me, but cheaper and without the need for a mount adapter.
I know that some folks reading this post are looking for something in the 50mm range and will be wondering if they can get away with an $89 alternative to Fuji's own 56mmF1.2 lens. The answer is NO. This lens is never going to replace Fuji's 56mm for me. It's not in the same league at all. The image quality from that 56mm lens is excellent while the images that come out of this lens are good.
In situations where I value light weight, discretion, and easy zone-focusing with easy-to-read distance markings over professional image quality this lens is my choice. It's a street lens, and it's perfect (for me) for that use. Will it do portraits? Sure. They're not terrible, and I think it's worth more than the $89 price tag but I'd never take this on a client gig.
Wide open there's a nice, smooth falloff and the out of focus areas are surprisingly smooth and pleasing. That's a huge plus. The downside is that there's very heavy vignetting at f/2 - f/3.5 or so.
Let's get to the cons.
THE BAD NEWS
- Very heavy vignetting from f/2 - f/3.5 with soft focus on the edges. The vignetting and soft focus disappears after f/3.5 - f/5.6 and becomes very sharp edge to edge throughout the rest of the aperture range.
- Significant pincushion distortion. Nothing that can't be corrected in your image editor but it's better if you anticipate the distortion and shoot with it in mind knowing that you might need to do some correction later which might result in a slight crop.
- Aperture ring doesn't click at 1/3 stops or even at full stops as you're likely accustomed to.
- Aperture ring controls the aperture backwards relative to how Meike's 28mm lens goes: f/2 on the left, f/22 on the right. On the Meike 28mm f/22 is on the left with f/2.8 to the right. Whatever. Just weird.
- Hard contrast rendering, particularly in the mid-tone contrast range. If you're not careful you end up with images that look like you cranked your Clarity slider up too high. NOTE: this could be bad for jpeg shooters who make heavy use of Fuji's excellent film simulations; the lens will inject a rather high increase of mid-tone contrast into the image at the capture level which could result in a quality that's difficult to remove from the jpeg. One might be able to customize the jpeg presets to account for this, but you'll need to decide of this is worth the hassle. I can tell you that an 8-hour street photography session with the Fuji 56mm is an exercise in heavy lifting. At $89 there's no reason to not own both lenses and simply reach for the one that best supports the day's shoot.
- The last con I have noticed is that the color rendition changes from aperture to aperture and this can definitely cause issues. I haven't determined if it's a white-balance thing (I shoot on auto white-balance when on the streets) or it's just how this lens deals with color and contrast rendition. I'm not going to bother to test this further as I've gotten used to it and I check for it when I review my images.
The following images reveal the significant pin-cushion distortion inherent with this lens. (Keep in mind that many Fuji lenses do this too but they are auto-corrected in the camera firmware against the lens profile.)
These images will also demonstrate the color shift which occurs between apertures. You'll note that these apertures seem to make some major jumps, but I followed the actual markings that appear on the ring: f/22, f/8, f/5.6, f/3.5, f/2.8, f/2.
Meike 50mm f/22
Meike 50mm f/8
Meike 50mm f/5.6
Meike 50mm f/3.5
Meike 50mm f/2.8
Meike 50mm f/2
Note the strong vignette and the markedly warmer color rendition when compared to the f/22 - f/5.6 images.
I like it. It's small, it's light, it's capable, it's fast, the focus ring is smooth and it's discreet.
Some additional post-processing is required in order to get my images to look and feel consistent with the images produced by my Fujifilm lenses but that's not a huge issue for me as I've gotten my post-production workflow very dialed over the years.
Enjoy the gallery below, and hit me with any questions you might have about this or any other lens.
Click on any image to open the gallery up into a Lightbox.
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