Interesting optics don’t have to cost a fortune. Andy Westlake tries out some inexpensive lenses to stimulate your creativity - and finds some to avoid, too
Meike 50mm f/1.7
At a glance:
- For mirrorless
- Covers full-frame
- Sony E-mount
This new optic is probably the cheapest native E-mount, full-frame lens available for Sony Alpha 7 users. At first sight, it looks very similar to the fast 50mm primes that were near-universally supplied with 35mm manual-focus SLRs in the 1970s and 1980s. However while it clearly uses a similar double-Gauss formula with 6 elements in 5 groups, a closer look reveals that it’s not merely an old SLR design with an adapter tube added. Instead the optical design has been reworked to be more symmetrical, with a larger rear element. This allows the entire lens unit to be positioned closer to the sensor, giving a more compact overall size. Indeed it’s fully 10mm shorter than Sony’s own autofocus FE 50mm f/1.8.
In terms of construction, the lens uses an all-metal barrel, embellished by a metallic red ring at the front of the broad manual-focus ring – a design flourish that’s shared with several of the firm’s other lenses. The clickless aperture ring is placed at the front of the barrel, directly controlling the 12-bladed diaphragm that gives a near-circular opening at all settings. The lens focuses down to 50cm, and a bayonet mount for the supplied petal-shaped plastic hood surrounds its 52mm filter thread.
Ergonomically, this perhaps isn’t the best of the lenses on test here. Both of the control rings are distinctly stiff, and while this might help videographers get smooth, controlled focus pulls, it hinders photographers who wish to make quick adjustments. There are no depth-of-field markings for zone focusing, and the spacings between the smaller apertures from f/8 to f/22 are tiny, despite these being commonly used on full-frame cameras. Finally, the aperture ring is difficult to distinguish from the focus ring by touch alone, and I found it all-too-easy to operate the wrong one when shooting with the camera to my eye.
The results, however, are worth it. The lens is sharp in the centre at f/1.8, and while the corners are soft at large apertures, they sharpen up very nicely by f/8. Naturally there’s some vignetting at large apertures, but a gentle fall-off profile means it’s not at all offensive, and it disappears by f/4. There’s no visible distortion or lateral chromatic aberration, and background blur is rendered attractively. It’s a great modern interpretation of the classic ‘nifty 50’.