Zeiss Milvus lenses – Just how good are they in the real world?

New lenses are released all the time by manufacturers.

Zeiss in many ways is ‘King of the the hill’ with unimpeachable quality which dates back to the dawn of camera lens production – in fact Zeiss celebrate their 125th anniversary this year.

I have been lucky enough to be working with Zeiss for the past few years and therefore I tend to get the occasional question from shooters I have met along the way.

But I cannot recall anything like the level of interest from fellow shooters, getting many message – from as far away as Africa and they all ask the same question.

Just how good are the Milvus ?

I do intend to answer that question in full and post a series of real world images some of them shot in an exciting but quite high pressure situation in part two of this post.

Milvus – What’s in a name? On the face of it Milvus does seem to be an unusual name but if you have followed the last few lens releases,by Zeiss you will know it is just the latest in line of families of lenses named after birds, Otus is an owl, Loxia is a finch, Batis is a flycatcher and Milvus is a Red Kite a majestic and agile raptor. Whether you approve of the naming strategy or not it does give a clue to,the fact that Zeiss is not your run off the mill manufacturer – Zeiss is a thinker.

But why do we need the Milvus? What was wrong with the ZE and ZF lenses?

I could baffle you and myself by referring to lens data sheets  so I will give you my, concise I hope take on it.

Let me state right here right now there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the ZE and ZF lenses, which are now referred to as the ‘classics’

It really all is about the march of time and as excellent and joyous the Classics (still) are to use they are from another time – a time before increasingly high density and unforgiving seniors came into being.

Camera are so good these days and capable of delivering such remarkable detail they will expose any weak link in the chain and often that can be the lens.

With this in mind Zeiss revisited the ZE and ZF range and today we have the Milvus range.

Some of the lenses in the Milvus range feature and entirely new optical design – notably the 50mm F1.4 and 85mm F1.4 and some of the designs were just tweaked with new coatings and minor enhancements.

The result being cutting edge lenses cloaked in 21st century dust proofed housings which are a delight to use.

As a stills lens range I can attest to just how,good they are but there is more than just a little ‘nod’ to video shooters with all the Milvus family being colour matched, meaning no battle with color correction in post if shooting with different focal lengths, the ZF lenses capable of having the aperture ring ‘declicked’ by the user(a la Loxia)

I was lucky enough to use the Milvus 50mm F1.4 and the Milvus 100mm F2.0 in a real world assignment ahead of launch. In appearance they could not be more different to the Classic Zeiss lenses i have used for some years now. Very modern and contemporary bringing the physical appearance of the lenses bang up to date.

The all new 50mm has an interesting optical design quirk – the front lens lament is actually concave   , not convex which I had not previous seen before.

How did they fare? How did I manage manual focus in the fast moving and sometimes dramatic scenario Festival of St Felix in Vilafranca in Catalonia where teams to compete to build the remarkable human towers?

Just how good are they in the real world?

I had been considering shooting the festival of St Felix in Vilafranca in Catalonia for a little while and when the chance came to try the new Milvus lenses at the event I made the decision to shoot the event entirely on the Milvus 50mm F1.4 and Milvus 100mm F2.0 macro, an easy enough decision I hear you say but there is the small nagging matter of focusing – I’m 51 and my eyes are not as good as they were and it is quite a while since I have shot action in a live news situation. No matter how brilliant a lens is if you can’t focus it accurately then it is all for nothing. Let’s just say my palms were sweating just a little more than they would have normally been – even though the mercury in the thermometer was pushing north of 30 deg C (86F)

I was pleasantly surprised – very pleasantly surprised.

My palms may have been sweaty but the new focusing ring, is smooth rubber (a la Otus) not milled metal was a treat to use.

I’m not sure what, if anything, special Zeiss has done to the focusing throw on the the new Milvus range but my focusing hit rate was better than I dared hope – by my reckoning 9 out of ten shots razor sharp in fast moving situations too. I was doubtless assisted by fitting the specialist Canon eg-S focusing screen to my Canon 6D but I believe there is more to it than that. I can’t recall getting that many sharp shots on a 100mm in a high pressure situation. It is almost like it is easier to judge the focusing with the beautifully damped and calibrated focusing mechanism.Whatever they have done I am massively grateful. While we are on the subject of Zeiss lens ‘hocus pocus’ I want to talk about the look and feel of the images. I use a Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm lens and one of the defining qualities of this family is that is has a certain ‘pop’ of sharpness and contrast, an undefinable almost 3D quality which until the Otus family I had never previously seen in images from a DSLR and some savvy clients have commented on (yes, really)

Well the good news for those of us who cannot quite financially stretch to the Otus range is that the  Milvus family posses it too, if my experiences are anything to go by, the images having an indefinable sparkle which makes them stand out.

While we are the small matter of resolution what impressed me greatly was even though I was using a Canon 6D with a ‘mere’ 20megapixels was just how well the images held together at 100percent.

Firstly the Zeiss Milvus 50mm F1.4

Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/1600 sec f4.0 ISO 320

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/1600 sec f4.0 ISO 320

100 per cent crop Zeiss Milvus 1/1600 sec; f4.0 ISO 320

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 100 per cent crop 1/1600 sec f4.0 ISO 320

0666 1:1000 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/1000 sec f1.4 ISO 100

0666 100percent 1:1000 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 100percent crop 1/1000 sec f1.4 ISO 100

0672 1:800 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/800 sec f1.4 ISO 100

0672 100 percent crop 1/800 sec; f1.4 ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 100 percent crop 1/800 sec f1.4 ISO 100

Canon 6D 1/800 sec; f1.4 ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/800 sec f1.4 ISO 100

1060 100percent 1:800 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 50mm 100percent crop 1/800 sec f1.4 ISO 100

Now for the Zeiss Milvus 100mm F2.

 

977 1:2000 sec; f:3.5; ISO 500

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 1/2000 sec f3.5 ISO 500

977 100percent 1:2000 sec; f:3.5; ISO 500

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 100 percent crop 1/2000 sec f3.5 ISO 500

960 1:800 sec; f:2.0; ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 1/800sec f2.0 ISO 100

0960 100percent 1:800 sec; f:2.0; ISO 100

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 100 percent crop 1/800sec f2.0 ISO 100

938 1:640 sec; f:5.0; ISO 200

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 1/640sec f5.0 ISO 200

938 100percent 1:640 sec; f:5.0; ISO 200

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 100 percent crop 1/640sec f5.0 ISO 200

06 1:250 sec; f:7.1; ISO 200

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 1/1250sec f7.1 ISO 200

06 100 percent 1:250 sec; f:7.1; ISO 200

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 100 percent crop 1/1250sec f7.1 ISO 200

024 1:1600 sec; f:4.0; ISO 500

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 1/1600sec f4.0 ISO 500

024 100percent 1:1600 sec; f:4.0; ISO 500

Canon 6D Zeiss Milvus 100mm 100percent crop 1/1600sec f4.0 ISO 500

 

Conclusions

Firstly is shows what you can achieve with just a couple of well chosen prime lenses of superb quality – which allow you to crop deep into images and still hold up beautifully, even if it is ‘just’ a 20megapixel camera.

Should you buy one?

That is really down to you but if you are a Canon or Nikon shooter you could do an awful lot worse than to check out the new Milvus range which are significantly more affordable than their ‘big’ Otus brothers while delivering remarkable and useable image quality, something that you might like to bear in mind if you are about to upgrade to something like the Canon 5DS.

One thing I have not mentioned is video – and that is only because I did not shoot any video with the lenses – but if you do shoot video you might like to give these lenses even closer consideration as Zeiss had one eye on video shooters when they made the Milvus range which is colour matched and has a usefully long focus throw.

 

 

 

Written by: Drew Gardner

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