#448. Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 : Best in Colour or B&W ?

#448. Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 : Best in Colour or B&W ?

Ever since the Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 (specs here) turned up on my doorstep, I’ve been meaning to compare it to my OTUS 85. It’s a natural comparison given the perfect match in focal length, aperture, size, weight and… huge price gap. And the clash of giants will indeed soon be published on these pages.

However, the more I use it, the more it becomes obvious the Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 has incredible qualities of its own that really should be examined individually, for what they are, and not within the narrow context of a value-for-money duel.

Chief among these is colour !

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Crush’s Coaster, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Could this be the lens with the best colour rendition I have ever used ?

Zeiss’ loan of this Milvus coincided with a 3-day Christmas present trip to Disneyland Paris, the perfect opportunity to try my hand at over-the-top colour shots.

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Stripes, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Is this over-the-top enough to prove my point?

What I’m seeing is (a tremendous sensor and) super saturated colours that feel very natural rather than boosted in post-processing.

The colours are very strong, with no cast and with a huge amount of subtlety to them. The tiny variations in hue and luminance across the sky and blue wall, above, make this photograph both larger than life and very realistic. The results are superb.

Ditto below, where the palette of blues and greens is gorgeous.

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Shiny chimney, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7r & Zeiss Milvus 85

The beauty of all this is how very little PP is required to achieve this. In most photographs is was a simple matter of making the shadows less dark. 5 seconds. Done. No sweat, no pain, no screaming (unlike in the elevators below).

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Can you hear the screaming? – ony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Here are a few more examples, all from Disneyland Paris. What do you think?

Animation Gallery, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Animation Gallery, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Gossip column, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7r & Zeiss Milvus 85

Gossip column, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7r & Zeiss Milvus 85

Planet Hollywood, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Planet Hollywood, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Cars & moon, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Cars & moon, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Luigi's Casa Della Tires, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Casa della tires, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

The photograph below sums up the lens’ performance beautifully: bold and perfectly differentiated colours, an ability to liven-up a very low-contrast scene, a slight veil at f/1.4 that makes that wand’s magic come to life, a satin-smooth medium-format look to the statue itself. Just perfect for the shot (handheld and grabbed in a second, ร  la DS).

Mouse Magic, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85 (at f/1.4)

Mouse Magic, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85 (at f/1.4)

All well and good, but what happens when you’re not living in a neon-infested cartoon world?

Let’s more to progressively more subtle and natural sources of lighting to see whether the festival continues or whether dullness sets int (spoiler: it don’t).

Disney village, Disneyland Paris, Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Disney village, Disneyland Paris, Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

(S)TEAKHOUSE, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

(S)TEAKHOUSE, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Once again, the colours are very strong and beautiful, but it’s the subtle changes in hue and delicate shadings (see inside the letters, above or on the hotel walls, below) that make these photographs pop.

Newport Bay Hotel, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Our Hotel, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Four our third step into the natural lighting world, let’s examine what happens during the daylight. In this case a very overcast (and frigid) day. Look at poor Wall-e looking for warmth in Eva’s eyes. The shadings in his claws, on the green front-plate and in the rust-stained body are all first class.

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Beauty and the worried beast – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Outdoors and indoors, natural light is translated into a natural rendering with a very pleasant feeling of “airiness” and ease. Just like some power amps sound happy and free and natural. The images produced are elegant, smooth and just. None of the excess harshness found in some E-Mont offerings, no dull softness either. The Milvus feels effortless and relaxed.

Tea for 2, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Tea for 2, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Cleaning up, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Cleaning up, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

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Different cultures, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

A Milvus in Paris

And now, for something completely different.

Philippe and I have been busy scouting interesting angles and points of view for Ze coming “Spring in Paris” workshop. We were treated to varying light (read: foul weather in the morning and more vibrant brass-monkey weather later in the day) and this was great to put the Milvus 85 to the test when it comes to more heavily post-processed images.DSC08812-2

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Room with a view onto Notre Dame, Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Room with a view, Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

And, finally, covering the spectrum of lighting conditions, some slightly diffused sunlight bathing good ol’ La Dรฉfense, a part of the world I love to hate but has always treated me so right from a photographic point of view.

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Again, subtlety and delicacy dominate the rendering of this (I hate to say, as the owner of a 125% more expensive OTUS 85) magnificent lens. The backlit humidity veil is well conveyed in the first and the subtle colours of the sidelit second just show how sensitive to light orientation and quality this lens is. Although big and heavy, I can imagine landscape photographers wanting to be out in the field with it …

 

Zeiss Milvus 85 for B&W photography

But what about B&W? Wasn’t there some promise of comparing colour to B&W with that lens?

I lied. Slightly. My usual B&W to colour PP ratio always favours the former. Not with that lens. If you get one for yourself you’ll be finding yourself using it for colour shots most of the time.

That said, tonal subltely undeniably makes a lens great for monochrome use as well. And here are some examples to prove it.

Like father and mouse, Disneyland Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Like father and mouse, Disneyland Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

All the qualities described previously are present here as well, and the lovely 3D and great tones make for a very decent B&W photograph. Although, remembering the scene, I can’t help seeing the photograph in colour in my mind’s eye, I’m quite happy with the greyscale rendition above.

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Prancing horse, Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

This is even truer of the final 3 photographs, where shape was far more important than colour. And here, files take heavy PP admirably. This (again) speaks volumes in favour of the remarkable sensor in the Sony, but there’s no denying the absence of harshness and profusion of detail rendered by the lens make the results very pleasing even without a colour component.

Charging hippo, Paris - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Charging hippo, Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

Even pushed hard for contrast, the photographs remain elegant and relaxed. 3D is very convincing and texture is lovely. Below, this low-contrast scene is made very wintry and dark without any dulness introduced. Darker than in reality, but alive.

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Trees by the Seine, Paris – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Milvus 85

And in this final image, huge contrast enhancements maintain a very rich tonal range and the result never feels brittle or on the edge of introducing artefacts. Again, smoothness and elegance dominate. Very medium format like.

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So, all is not perfect with that lens, as I’ll cover in a few days. But if richness of tone and colour, liveliness and delicacy are your thing, you’re going to find it so difficult to stay away from …

And if you like photographs of Paris, what are you waiting for ?!? Read this page, send us an email and come to join us in photo heaven. You know you want to ๐Ÿ˜‰

 


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8 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Gaudenz F. Bon January 23, 2016

    Hello Pascal,
    very impressive pictures. Owning a Alpha 7rII i would like t ask you what kind of adapter are you using. I thought that the Zeiss Milvus sales in a version for Nikon F and Canon EF.
    I enjoy your pictures and reports
    Best wishes, Gaudenz

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 23, 2016

      Hello Gaudenz,

      thanks for the kind words. I’m currently using a Novoflex adapter for Nikon-mount ZF.2 lenses. I used to own a Nikon D800e and carried some lenses over to the Sony world with this. Particularly the Distagon 25/2. It’s a very basic but very well machined adapter. The commlight alternative is very interesting as EXIF is sorely missed in the Novoflex configuration. So I’ll test one in a few months when teething problems have been sorted.

      Best wishes, Pascal

  2. Avatar
    Wei Zhang January 23, 2016

    Not a hippo. It’s a rhino. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 23, 2016

      Ouch! How right you are. Sorry ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€
      Thanks for noticing, I’ll correct this immediately.

  3. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron January 23, 2016

    I should feel sorry for you, Pascal – being reduced to using an Otus 85 when there’s a Milvus just sitting there, on the shelf in the camera shop. But it would be hypocrisy, because my one great indulgence is the Otus 55mm.

    I loved the photos – especially the subtle colours in ‘Tea for Two’ and ‘Cleaning Up’ – but also in the grey weather shots. We all look for stronger colours (which generally means stronger light) – but a near monochromatic shot which is punched up with a few odd patches of colour that don’t shout, simply provide a bit of lift, is often much more compelling.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 23, 2016

      Hey Pete, it’s a tough world, isn’t it? ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I’ve been running a few informal tests between the Otus and Milvus and the colour quality of the Milvus is extraordinary so far. The Milvus seems capable of just about anything: very saturated scenes are rendered full of punch, dull scenes can be livened up as you describe, and atmosphere (as in the veiled La Defense shots above) is beautifully preserved. Definitely an artist’s lens.

      Cheers

  4. Avatar
    Yeahhh January 26, 2016

    You didn’t had the Batis 85/1.8, right? A comparison to that lens would be nice.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 26, 2016

      Yes, that could be interesting. I’m not really fond of AF lenses (that’s putting it mildly, as they often drive me nuts ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) so don’t have the Batis. But I could maybe ask for one.

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