After ZEISS announced six members of the new Milvus lens family in September 2015, we had the chance for an in-depth view on five of these lenses:
- Milvus 2.8/21 (Distagon design)
- Milvus 2/35 (Distagon design)
- Milvus 1.4/50 (Distagon design)
- Milvus 1.4/85 (Planar design)
- Milvus 2/100 (Makro Planar)
We tested the ZF.2 version (for Nikon F-mount) that comes with a dedicated aperture ring whereas the ZE version (for Canon EF mount) has an aperture controlled electronically by the camera or an adapter. The rubber coated focus ring provides good grip and allows smooth control over the focus. Other technical details like weather sealing or the declickable aperture ring were already explained in my earlier article. I was curious especially about the redesigned Distagon 1.4/50 with floating elements and one aspherical element, as well as the 1.4/85, a new Planar design with solely non-aspherical lens elements (including some floating elements) in order to prioritize a creamy bokeh.
As you can see in this example of the Milvus 1.4/50 attached to the Sony A7, the lenses are quite massive due to their solid construction and excellent build quality. The barrel design and the metal sun hood follow the design of the successful Batis and Otus families:
Milvus 1.4/50 (ZF.2 version) adapted to Sony A7
Let's start with the
The Milvus 2.8/21 is based on the classic Distagon design with 16 elements and a minimum focusing distance of 0.22m. As ZF.2 version it weighs 735g, the ZE version weighs 851g. It is almost free from distortion and has an optimized coating. Let us start with some shots at open aperture:
As you can see from the first example, the lens has good contrasts even in backlight but it is not completely resistant against flares. Background bokeh is pretty nice if you can focus to a close object but there may be some field curvature. If you stop down to f/8 or f/11 you'll get sharp borders and edges as well.
The Milvus is a Distagon design as well with 9 elements (including floating elements) and a minimum focusing distance of 0.3m. It weighs 649g as ZF.2 version and 702g as ZE version. Unfortunately, due to bad weather conditions there was only chance for a few shots.
Already at open aperture it provides high contrast with "3D-pop" and a very nice bokeh:
At f/8 it provides very fine details:
The Milvus 1.4/50 is a new Distagon design with 10 elements (some floating and one aspherical) with a minimum focusing distance of 0.45m. The ZF.2 version weighs 875g, the ZE version 922g. Compared to classic 50mm lenses it is huge but it delivers pin sharp images across the whole frame already at full aperture and one of the nicest bokehs I have seen so far from a 50mm lens:
In some situations you may notice significant axial CAs ("bokeh fringing") if you take a closer look at the water drops (purple fringing in near-out-of-focus areas and cyan fringing in the distance):
100% crop (1:1 pixels) from the image above:
If you want a lens that is more perfect regarding CAs, you may have to consider an apochromatic corrected lens like the mighty Otus 1.4/55.
At f/1.4 you may see - as with almost any fast prime lens - some "cat eyes" from background highlights outside the central area:
If you stop the lens down a little bit, the the circles of confusion become a round shape (almost - due to the 9 aperture blades):
The Milvus 1.4/50 has an excellent flare resistance...
...and - beside incredible detail - it can produce very nice diffraction stars with its nine aperture blades:
100% crop (1:1 pixels) from the image above:
The redesigned 1.4/85 comes with 11 solely spherical elements (some of them floating) in a planar design. ZEISS calls it the "champion of bokeh" particularly suitable for portrait photography, minimum focus distance is 0.8m. The ZF.2 version weighs 1.21 kg, the ZE version 1.28 kg, which is even more than the mighty Otus 1.4/85!
The following shots show a comparison of the Milvus 1.4/85 to the Batis 1.8/85:
...you will propaby notice not a big difference regarding the bokeh.
Both lenses provide very sharp images already at open aperture. Although the following examples are meant to demonstrate the options to play with depth of field and "pop" objects even on a larger distance, you can also see that objects which are in the same focal plane are very sharp and detailed even at the border.
The Zeiss Milvus 2/100 Makro-Planar is a versatile moderate tele lens that can be used for long distance shots, e.g. wildlife as well as for portraits and even as a macro lens for close up reproductions. With f/2.0 it is also the currently fastest 100mm macro lens. Designed with 9 lens elements and a long focus throw it allows a minimum focus distance of 0.44m and an image ratio of 1:2. The ZF.2 version weighs 807g and the ZE version with electronic aperture control weighs 843g.
As you can see in the last example, the Milvus 2/100 can produce a very nice bokeh but it is not free from "bokeh fringing" (axial CA) at open aperture as well.
As a mirrorless shooter always striving for highest achievable image quality with equipment as lightweight and compact as possible when on the move, I must concede that I am in a kind of conflict with the Milvus line. Their extraordinary solid mechanical quality in a wheather sealed metal housing comes for the price of size and weight. Most of the Milvus lenses seem to be better balanced when used on full frame DSLRs but on the other hand, manual focusing is far better supported by mirrorless systems with in-body stabilization working in live view mode with focusing aid by zoom magnification and peaking. For Sony Alpha with FE mount meanwhile you get many native and more compact pendants from Zeiss in the same price range like the Loxia line (a Loxia 21 review will follow soon, stay tuned!) or primes including AF support like the FE 1.8/55 and Batis 1.8/85.
However, the optical quality (sharpness, bokeh, micro contrast, flare resistance, distortion control) - especially of the new designed 1.4/50 and 1.4/85 - is very good, the only weak point is their lack of apochromatic correction so that you will see some axial CAs ("boke fringing") at open aperture especially from the f/1.4 lenses. Usually this type of CA can be removed in post processing quite easily. If you look for "no compromise" apochromatic corrected lenses, you might consider lenses of the Otus line (Otus 1.4/28 review coming soon on this site!) but those do not have features like wheather sealing or declickable aperture ring, which you find in the Milvus line.
Prices will be between 1100 and 1900 EUR depending on the particular model.
Further details and specs for all lenses can be found at http://www.zeiss.de/milvus
Several example pictures of the Milvus 2.8/21, 2/35 and 1.4/50 marked with his watermark were kindly contributed by Phillip Reeve.
Phillip runs a blog with many lens reviews as well and I recommend to take a look at his site on phillipreeve.net - particularly useful if you look for legacy lenses.
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