Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Meyer Optik Nocturnus

This is what they call the double whammy: A German holding company created several brands for use on Kickstarter, where they pimped new Made-In-Germany camera lenses at prices of $3,000 or more. Then the “brands” went bankrupt without fulfilling all of their Kickstarter orders. As is common practice on Kickstarter, that doesn’t mean you get your money back. So a lot of people paid three grand and didn’t get a camera lens.

The people who did get their lens? Well, that’s the second part of the double whammy.

As photo-nerd side PetaPixel explains, the “Meyer Optik Nocturnus” was actually just the made-in-China “Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster”, a well-regarded but in no way upscale lens made entirely in China and sold by most outlets for $895. There was, however, one critical difference: some of the engraving on the lens is a pale blue instead of the orange seen on the Mitakon.

This is where the concept of “Made In Germany” gets fuzzy. In the United States, “made in USA” is strictly defined by the FTC. Thankfully, the FTC is willing to enforce these rules in many cases, as Shinola and New Balance can attest. Made In Germany” isn’t quite as strict, and it lacks the same rigorous enforcement. So you can never be sure.

A variety of spaghetti statements made by the former and current license holder for “Meyer Optik” haven’t exactly clarified things. Were these lenses assembled in Germany from Chinese parts? Were they fully-assembled Chinese lenses with blue writing applied in Germany? The most likely scenario is that no assembly or finishing steps were taken in Germany and that the lenses were complete Chinese imports.

Now, before you laugh at these rubes who paid three grand for a 50/50 shot at receiving an $895 Chinese lens, consider that Porsche put a “W” VIN, traditionally meaning W(est Germany), on Boxsters (like mine) which were completed in Finland. Alright, that seems a bit iffy, but most of the parts and panels were German. But if you go to your local Porsche dealer right now, you’ll see that the Cayennes for sale have a “W” VIN despite being manufactured soup-to-nuts in Bratislava. Strictly speaking, Bratislava was only part of Germany between October of 1944, when the Wehrmacht reacted to a pro-Allied uprising in “Independent Slovakia” by occupying the city, and April of 1945, when the Russians marched en masse. This is not much justification for a “Made In Germany” label, is it?

The moral of the story: Don’t trust the label. And if you want a German lens, buy a Zeiss. No, scratch that: 100% of Zeiss lens production is now done in Japan. At least Zeiss puts an honest label on those products, which is more than you’d get from “Meyer Optik”.

32 Replies to “Forget It Jack, It’s Chinatown: Meyer Optik Nocturnus”

  1. AvatarJMcG

    This is why I’m finished with Amazon for anything except books. I was ripped off twice, once on sunglasses and once on a ring for my daughter. Never again.

    Reply
  2. AvatarJohn Van Stry

    Yeah, I don’t do anything other than comics on kickstarter anymore. Every device I’ve bought, except one, has been a scam. They may deliver on the device, but they don’t supply the software the promised, or the device is suddenly on sale by the Chinese manufacturer for a lot less than the kickstarter.
    The one where I actually got what I paid for came 8 months late and the company doing it (which had a history) seriously hurt their reputation in the very exclusive market they deal in.

    Reply
  3. Avatarstingray65

    Reminds me of stories I had seen about European fashion brands using sweatshop Asian labor to make clothing items and then shipping containers of them to Italy where they set up “final assembly and inspection” shops often manned with lowly paid immigrant labor to sew on a few buttons and the label “Made in Italy” to help justify a big retail price tag on a cheaply made product.

    Of course buying an “American” Chevrolet assembled in Mexico with Chinese parts, or “American” Buick made and assembled in China isn’t really much better, although unlike the lens example you will at least get a product for your money. Times have certainly changed – I remember doing repairs on my first car: a used 1971 E3 BMW that was mostly original, and every fuse, bulb, seal, lens, bolt, etc. was marked with “W. Germany” on it – I don’t ever recall handling a part that wasn’t German on that car. Now the biggest car exporter in the United States is “German” BMW.

    Reply
    • AvatarJMcG

      It’s everywhere. The “Amish” quilt shops in Lancaster Co. PA mostly have their quilts made by Hmong refugee women. Living in the county? Some maybe. Buy a Donegal tweed jacket in Donegal? Unless it came from one of two places, it’s likely Chinese. Damn shame, but there it is.

      Reply
    • AvatarJohn C.

      Congratulations on the E3, my first car was a Plymouth Turismo, French engineering with a fortification of American cubic inches, well more than in France any way. Don’t think Lido would have had much luck selling a Turismo 1.4 at least to me.

      Reputationally at least I would have guessed the E3 to be a little iffy electrically, how did the real German stuff hold up for you?

      Reply
  4. AvatarCJinSD

    Made in West Germany was an indicator of a quality product. Reunified Germany has no merit. You can’t fix socialist.

    Reply
    • AvatarJohn Van Stry

      Those are the guys who were 8 months late on the kickstarter I was in. People were getting seriously upset with them.

      Reply
  5. AvatarDaveLemi

    Steve Huff, along with countless other internet “reviewers”, is an absolute shill. I’m not sure what’s worse his hifi or photography reviews. Um…Spirit Boxes?

    Reply
  6. Avatar-Nate

    Wow ~ more priceless education ! .

    I’d never heard of kickstarter and by nature wouldn’t trust it .

    I buy lots of stuff off Amazon, mostly used books and some tools & parts….

    So far so good, I bought a cute little USB double charger that plugs into my vehicle’s cigarette lighter and shows the vehicle’s operating voltage, the numbers are blue and hard to see unless I bend way down close it it, I wrote and they refunded my $ even though I said not to, they didn’t want the device back .

    It’s nice to know some are still fairly honest .

    NONE of those tiny little chargers charge the 1.5 or 2 amperes they claim, the circuit boards they use can’t pass that much current .

    -Nate

    Reply
  7. AvatarTyler

    A fellow in Adrian Michigan runs a delightful wet-shave supply shop. (JB- Maggart.. Recommended for your next commute up north.) A few of the popular shave handle brands are said to be made in such and such EU location. It likely does not mean that they do the machining there as you’d hope. Maybe it’s assembly. Nobody’s quite sure. The shop’s house brand is openly made in China but to the owner’s specs and has proved to be of much higher quality in my user experience.

    Reply
  8. AvatarPaul M.

    I recently bought a set of Wusthoff steak knives for Christmas gift for someone. I love those German built knives, whether Wusthof or Henckel. I have had a set of these before, stainless steel, sharp, serrated blade built for life, with made in Germany printed on them. This time when I got the set, after she opened them, it was curious there were no labels on knives that showed made in Germany. Finally after much checking the paperwork, sure enough they are now made in China. I had to laugh. We are not returning them. They are good quality. But there is no way I would have bought them if they advertised it as such on their site. Teaches me a lesson.

    Reply
      • AvatarPaul M.

        Indeed. They had the same price. I even made sure I went to a custom website for cutlery, as others have said I have been burned on Amazon too before.

        Reply
        • Avatar-Nate

          Glad I hung onto my single Henckel knife ~ it was a gift after my ex wife destroyed yet another decent quality Japanese knife then complained “it’s cheap !” .

          Sad to hear good brands are going to Asia low quality manufacturers yet still charging top prices .

          I find a lot of good quality household products in estate sales…..

          -Nate

          Reply
  9. AvatarJ-Dog

    We bought a Henckel knife set at a store and they were also made in China. I found out about Germany’s loose definition of “Made in” while educating myself on Duesenberg guitars. They imply German construction but my understanding is they are made in Asia then shipped to Germany and handled in some way by “Germans” so that counts. Interesting about Zeiss. Probably better quality that way.

    Reply
    • AvatarJMcG

      Indeed; I recently read a book by Simon Winchester called “The Perfectionists”
      It’s about man’s quest for ever greater precision in manufacture.
      The chapter on the story of Seiko and their Grand Seiko forever disabused me of any bias I may have held against Japanese built goods.
      There was also a very lucid description of the initial Hubble telescope disaster. Really well done book.

      Reply
      • AvatarJohn C.

        I thought you guys would come around to the idea that a German lens now farmed out to Japan would mean an improvement in quality. No evidence required of course.

        Reply
        • AvatarJMcG

          I don’t doubt German quality at all. My Model 70 sports a German made Zeiss ‘scope that’s been flawless. Clear and fog free down to 5 below in northern Quebec. When the Germans farm out their production to China and continue to charge made in Germany prices for said production, I’m finished with them. It’s a long road that doesn’t turn, and I’m interested to see where this all shakes out. I suspect that labeling laws will be the next to go.

          Reply
    • AvatarMark

      Henckels has two different brands: Zwilling J.A. Henckels (with “twin” logo) and J.A. Henckels International (single figure in logo). The former line is produced in Germany, while latter is produced in China and Spain. The International knives are much less expensive.

      Reply
      • AvatarJMcG

        Amazon currently has Zwilling Henckels steak knives with the prestigious Twins logo on the wooden case for sale. Made in Vietnam.

        Reply
  10. AvatarJeff Zekas

    My German grandfather must be turning in his grave. After the war, Germans worked hard to earn a reputation for quality. Those first VW Beetles were, literally, Million Mile Cars, and many are still on the road. Can the same be said for the Mexican-made “New” Beetle?

    Reply
    • Avatar-Nate

      Actually the pre 1955 Beetles were rare to go over 50,000 miles without engine repair, VW used to give medallions to those few that did .

      Mexican air cooled Beetles were top quality unlike the wretched if quirky Brazilian ones….

      Long after Germany stopped producing air cooled Beetles Mexican made ones were shipped to Germany for that market .

      -Nate

      Reply
  11. AvatarTyson Cragg

    My wife owned a 2009 VW Eos that was made in a plant in Portugal, but mysteriously had a “W” as the first digit of the VIN. Porsche wasn’t (isn’t) the only maker to do this (noting the corporate relationship between Porsche and VW).

    Reply
  12. AvatarDaniel Jason Sharpe

    I remember when this hit all over the Micro Thirds forums a while back. I’m invested into the format (several Olympus cameras) with a mix of Olympus and Panasonic lenses. Some are made in China and others Japan. All are exceptionally good.

    Reply
  13. AvatarGreg Hamilton

    Apparently Contax Zeiss Super Speed prime lenses are like Jack’s Porsche. They go up in value. The Contax RTS and RTS II for which they were made are apparently worthless but the lenses are not. Some lenses were made in Japan others were made in West Germany. They were and are excellent lenses. I have the pictures to prove it. There is always some really bizarre but interesting stuff in this blog, which is why many of us read it.

    Reply
  14. AvatarGreg Hamilton

    Here’s a video on the Zeiss Super Speeds comparing them to the famous Zeiss lenses used by Stanley Kubrick. It’s worth a watch:

    Reply

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