Veydra was a startup lens company with a solid idea that met its demise far too soon. As is the case with any ambitious idea with a lot of potential, there were curves and pitfalls that couldn’t be avoided. I had a front row seat to the entire adventure as a design consultant, a vendor, and a customer. The following is that account from my perspective.
If there’s one thing that we can all agree on it’s that digital photography has revolutionized the world of lenses. It has brought about demand for lenses the likes of which we haven’t seen since the initial boom of 35mm consumer cameras which lasted decades. However, in the age of instant gratification and quick profits we’ve seen new products fall almost as quickly as they rise. Veydra was different. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
With the Micro 4/3 format creating waves in the industry thanks to Panasonic’s GH series of cameras and the widely popular Blackmagic line of cameras, the format became the “new 16mm”. It allowed budding cinematographers to achieve cinematic results without breaking the bank (or their back, thanks to the obvious size/weight benefits). During its infancy, Micro 4/3 for cinema meant one of two courses in regards to lenses. You were either using an adapted lens that was most likely intended for a much larger format or you were using a native Micro 4/3 lens from Panasonic, Leica, Olympus, or Voigtlander. While most native options were not ideal for cinema thanks to their electronic controls, Voigtlander made a range of ultra high-speed fully manual lenses that were a nearly perfect match for the sensor format. The Nokton Primes had a blistering f/0.95 aperture which provided a very cinematic shallow depth of field. But they were relatively hard to find, and were still merely an adaptation from a photo lens.
This is where Ryan Avery saw an opportunity. I first met Ryan during his time at Schneider Optics where he was responsible in-part for the Cine-Xenar Primes as well as the Xenon FF Primes. He was no stranger to the film industry and the needs of cinematographers thanks to his time at Ritz Camera, Samy’s Camera, Schneider Optics and Filmtools.
The Micro 4/3 format was obviously becoming a solid option for filmmakers, but nobody was making purpose-built cinema primes for the format and mount system. Enter: Jim Zhang. Jim was an optical/mechanical engineer that previously worked for Century Optics. Century was acquired by Schneider Optics in June 2000 and in 2007 Ryan and Jim met while both employed by Schneider Optics. After Jim had parted ways with Schneider, had manufacturing capacity and Ryan had product knowledge and a unique idea. An idea really began to take shape at this point.
Jim and Ryan began designing a lens around the small form factor that Micro 4/3 fans had become used to. The ultra shallow flange depth of the format meant that the lenses could produce excellent image quality while staying relatively compact. Jim found a design that met this criteria and the project moved forward.
With preliminary design done, Ryan and Jim reached out to me to consult on their final design and construction. We spent several months going back and forth refining the final product to something that wasn’t just another cine lens, but something appropriate for the Micro 4/3 format and its operators. At this point, the product needed a name. That credit can be awarded to a mutual friend of Ryan and I, cinematographer and fellow lens geek Phil Holland who gave Ryan a list of name ideas. Veydra stood out above the rest. Its Greek meaning of “bright” was a perfect fit. Thus, the Veydra brand was born. Production began in 2014 with a base set of 12mm, 16mm, 25mm, 35mm, and 50mm, all T2.2.
With the designs finalized and production ramping up, the world was given its first glimpse of Veydra Mini Primes in the form of a Kickstarter campaign designed to spread the word and build support for the brand. The Kickstarter had a goal of $50,000 which was demolished in less than a week. In the end, the campaign generated $272,000 in pledges; nearly five times the original goal. It became very clear that the demand for this product was underestimated. Production continued and initial deliveries were scheduled for early 2015 for the 16, 25, 35, and 50mm with the 12mm to follow shortly after.
Relatively speaking, Veydra lenses were produced in very small batches which can drive manufacturing costs through the roof. To combat this, production and assembly was managed by Jim Zhang at a factory in China. Once the lenses were completed, they were shipped to Ryan in the U.S. where they were checked to ensure standards were met, then packaged and prepared for delivery to customers and dealers.
Quality control standards had to be reasonable, but not too tight in order to keep yields decent. Anything that the Veydra brand lacked in quality control tolerance was made up for in customer support. Lenses that didn’t meet customers expectations or developed flaws during normal use were swiftly replaced resulting in a near cult following of the Veydra products. The combination of customer satisfaction and sheer brand loyalty was higher than anticipated and as a result gave the Veydra company a platform on which to pursue additional products.
Once again, looking for solutions that served their operators rather than “just another lens,” Ryan and Jim began working on an 85mm to compliment the rest of the lineup. With the addition of the 85mm, cinematographers began asking for larger format lenses. While the Veydra Mini Primes were meant for the Micro 4/3 format, we found that they produced an illumination circle that accommodated APS-C sensors. Arguably the most enthusiastic mirrorless system of the time was the Sony E mount which had a very similar flange depth making the Mini Primes an ideal option.
In September of 2015 Veydra announced the addition of a Sony E mount option as well as a conversion option for customers who already had the lenses in a different mount. The only downside was the the 12mm simply didn’t have enough illumination to cover Super 35 format. They had also announced a C-Mount option but I only know one person who actually asked for that. …you know who you are.
One of the biggest drawbacks to the Micro 4/3 format is the “crop factor” that comes with it. The quickest way to combat the dreaded crop factor is to use a wider focal length. Veydra had their excellent 12mm but that still only equated to a 24mm equivalent field of view which left customers looking for something wider. Development of an 8.5mm focal length began but never went into full production. Which reminds me… there’s a prototype 8.5mm Veydra somewhere in my office. Instead, a 19mm was introduced at NAB 2016 which bridged the gap between 16mm and 25mm and made it the widest focal length available in Sony E mount for S35 cameras.
The 19mm did go into production and began shipping late 2016. Ryan and Jim had also begun researching an anamorphic variant that used the existing Veydra Mini Primes as the spherical portion paired to a new cylinder group for a 2X squeeze ratio. This project also never came to fruition since the lenses just didn’t have enough coverage to be useful on the GH4 – the ideal camera of the time for shooting Micro 4/3 anamorphic.
At this point, Veydra had a solid following, added a few key focal lengths to their lineup, and pulled the plug on future developments. Not a bad position for a startup lens company. But here is where things began to take a turn. Veydra had one office in Garden Grove, CA which is where all the product came into the U.S. and was stored before shipping to dealers around the country. In March 2017 the Veydra warehouse experienced a break-in shortly after receiving a large shipment from the factory. This theft resulted in the loss of over 200 lenses and months of production time.
Most people consider this break-in to be the catalyst that ended the Veydra brand. However, what was going on behind the scenes was equally devastating to the business. Differences in business direction had already created a rift between co-owners Jim and Ryan. The break-in only made things worse. While Ryan wanted to continue producing innovative lenses that met the needs of cinematographers, Jim merely wanted to recover from the theft and continue selling the current line of lenses. The disagreement in company direction resulted in a series of lawsuits between the two that ultimately settled out of court in 2019. As a result of the lawsuits, Veydra as a company was unable to carry on and closed its doors in 2019.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, when Veydra stopped producing inventory after the lawsuit in 2017, a curious new lens began popping up around the web in 2018: Meike. These lenses looked nearly identical to Veydra Mini Primes but at a fraction of the price tag. Speculation began flooding the Veydra Facebook group and forums. How was this possible? Could someone have copied the Mini Primes that carefully? Was Veydra selling off old stock under a different name? Did someone sell the designs to another company to skirt around litigation? The truth is locked up in lawsuits but it’s not hard to read between the lines. I suspect that Jim contracted the optical and mechanical designs to an outside factory during the original Veydra production. The exact relationship and manufacturing path is still unclear but what is clear is that Meike has a much larger, more sophisticated manufacturing operation than that of the original factory that Veydra lenses were produced in. The optical and mechanical design of the Meike primes is strikingly similar to the original Veydra but with a few key differences. It’s clear that the Meike primes are manufactured by a more sophisticated supplier with higher tolerances. During my initial tests I found that the Meike primes performed better optically in almost all areas. Mechanically, the construction appears to be more consistent and accurate as well. The focus and iris movement are clean and precise with just the right degree of lubrication for a cine lens. Initially, Meike lenses were only available through international purchase over the web which was somewhat sketchy. It’s only recent that Meike have become available from proper retailers like Duclos Lenses and Hot Rod Cameras.
Ah yes, the elephant in the room… If a Veydra Mini Prime retailed for over $1,000 how can Meike possibly produce a better lens for less than half the price?! I don’t have actual production numbers for these two lines of lenses specifically, but I’m certainly familiar with lens manufacturing and production costs and to me this is simply a matter of scale. Meike produces lenses on a much larger scale than Veydra did. Recall earlier in this post that I mentioned Veydra was manufactured in micro batches? The opposite is the case with Meike. They can produce much, much larger quantities which drives the cost way down. And since Meike is both the manufacturer and the vendor, there’s no middle to add points to the retail price. The result is a product that is manufactured more efficiently at higher quality for a fraction of the cost. I have no doubt we’ll be doing more work with Meike lenses since I’ve received a slew of inquiries already. All in good time!
In the end, Veydra was a fantastic idea that enabled thousands of cinematographers to bring their vision to life. Veydra proved that if there’s a product that our industry lacks, passion and creativity can go a long way. RIP Veydra.