#400. Mission to Oberkochen. Meeting the Zeiss team and the new Milvus range

By pascaljappy | News

Sep 11

It’s a long way to Tipperary. T’is an even longer one to Oberkochen, if you ask me.

9 hours in a train from Marseilles …


Marseilles at sunset – Sony A7r

… to Paris …


Hotel de Ville – Olympus OM-D E-M5

… to Stuttgart …


Stuttgart by night – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Ditagon 1.4/35 ZM

… to Aalen.


Pretty Aalen – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

Then a short bus ride to photography Mecca, Zeiss headquarters in Oberkochen. All made totally worth it by the great discussions and the super shooting opportunities offered during the afternoon.

Before that came the main announcement of the day, the launch of a new lens range called Milvus.


Milvus 1.4/50

Recent lens ranges at Zeiss have received the names of birds species. I asked Senior Product Manager Christophe Casenave why and the answer is multi-tiered. The sports optics and photo divisions have been united and some of the senior managers are avid birders (good for them, this author also is). That’s fact 1.

Fact 2 is a decision to rebrand into simpler ranges rather than rely only on the technical design of the lens for its denomination (however, the design priorities and characteristics of these lens types are carried on). This makes it easier to understand how the ranges are segmented and what to buy for your specific needs.


Zeiss museum – Sony A7r & Zeiss Batis 1.8/85

The result is a series of names inspired by birds and their characteristics projected onto the world of lenses. The fast-flying insect-catching Batis for the quick AF range, the wide-eyes Otus owl for the wide aperture perfect-vision top of the range lenses. And so on.


Cello and model – Zeiss Batis 1./85

So what about the Milvus. The name means kite, a species of low-flying and agile raptors.

The new range has interesting design goals. It is meant replace the Classic ZE/ZF.2 range, which will progressively be phased out of production, save for the 50/1.4 and 85/1.4 which have a cult following and will live on.


On yer bike – Zeiss Milvus 2.8/21

And, through slight design adjustments and new coatings, the look produced by all the lenses in the Milvus range is made much more similar (colour, clarity …) than in the previous versions. Since the individual designs perpetuate the 2/28 and other slight oddballs, I doubt the whole range will look strictly identical, but every effort has been made to make rendering consistent.


Heading out – Zeiss Milvus 2.8/21

6 lenses were released today. 4 are modernised Classic lenses : the venerable 2.8/21 (which I tested, and is lovely) see pics on this page and plenty more to come. The 35/2 (maybe tomorrow), the 50/2 Macro (absolutely superb), and the 100/2, with which I could only take a few shots and won’t comment on.


HQ stairs – Zeiss Milvus 21

Two designs are entirely new.

The 1.4/50, a 10 lenses in 8 group Distagon with one aspheric and 4 special glasses. And a really pleasant look. Some of the pictures on this page are made with this lens.

The other is the 1.4/85, of which all available samples disappeared in a microsecond. And for good reason. 11 lenses, 9 groups, 7 special glass lenses (yes 7) and … wait for it … ZERO aspherics. ZERO. Not a one. And that, right there, is one of the reasons I really like Zeiss.


Lunch room – Zeiss Milvus 1

How many lens manufacturers today are willing to sacrifice the lab sharpness results that aspherics make possible in reasonably small packages, just to offer the most interesting look ? Outside Zeiss, probably as many as the Milvus 1.4/85 uses aspherics. None.

So the Milvus 1.4/85 uses no aspherics, so as to provide the most beautiful bokeh possible in that size/price range. It promises to be a magnificent portrait lens.

And that’s another interesting trait of this new range. Rather than strive for perfection like the OTUS, each design makes small sacrifices in the least important department for its intended use. This keeps size and costs reasonable and give very little away in terms of performance.


Stairway to heaven (oh yes) – Zeiss Milvus 1.4/50

That being said, one of the three pillars behind the creation of this new set of lenses is Stability. They are meant to outlast current camera bodies and last well into an even higher-resolution future (70MPix was informally quoted).

So let’s recap: new build, new finish, new features (clickless aperture ring), consistent look and the best possible performance for an intended use at an affordable price point. Not bad, right ?


Zeiss Milvus 1.4/50

My quick inspection of a few samples does reveal one niggle, though. I found the focusing rings quite heavy to operate. Apparently, this is by design, because users of the Classic range have complained that it was too easy to nudge the lens out of focus after painstaking focusing on a tripod. I say: use a Sony and focus peaking and let’s have lighter focusing rings. But to each his own.

Zeiss Milvus 1.4/50

Zeiss Milvus 1.4/50

One final “fun” fact. Fun, as in jaw-dropping. Zeiss have been working on this project for over two years! Without a leak. Management explains organisational measures taken to ensure that secrecy but our guide in the museum told us of numerous tunnels under the premises, and my guess is that anyone who attempted to leak any news has been locked-up in there with alligators.

Whatever the method, the range is in stock, starting shipping really soon. October 15th !

Zeiss on tour - Sony A7rII & Distagon 1.4/35 ZM

Zeiss on tour – Sony A7rII & Distagon 1.4/35 ZM (oh if I’d had autofocus, I could have blaimed that shot on it, drat!)

“What else ?”, you ask.

Plenty of fascinating and occasionally hilarious talks. What does it tell you when employees are still talking about their work at 11PM after mojitos and burgers ? Some of these guys really are passionate about photography, about a certain philosophy of photography and about quality.

Our tour guide was one such character. Witty, humorous and with an encyclopedia in his mind, this retired gentleman has a communicative passion that can be felt in other members of the team.

Zeiss Milvus 2/50 Macro

Zeiss Milvus 2/50 Macro

It is now well past midnight and I’m flabberknackered. So that’s all for now. I’ll be back with more on this launch and more pics asap. Let me leave you with more photos made with one of the stars of the show for me, the 50/2 Macro.


Zeiss Milvus 2/50 Macro


Zeiss Milvus 2/50 Macro


Zeiss Milvus 2/50 Macro

Oh, and, the future Zeiss camera !!!!


Zeiss Milvus 2/50 Macro

Well, nope, sorry. Ain’t happening. We begged. We threatened. We bribed. We poured Vodka into glasses. We offered to buy planetariums. Nada. Not a flinch. Poker faces all around. That’s tough !


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  • Christer Almqvist says:

    I wish Zeiss would deliver the 85mm Batis they announced very long ago, and which I ordered months ago, rather than announce new lenses. Thank you.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I asked Zeiss about this. Success on the Batis range has been overwhelming and they had not prepared enough stock. Measures have been taken and most orders will be honoured this month. I know how you feel though. But having used the 1.8/85 over these two days, I really think the wait will be worth it. The lens if very light and quick to focus in most situations. And image quality is really very good.

  • Peter Walker says:

    It is quite rude and more than a little annoying to be announcing new lenses when they’ve not managed to deliver the back-orders on the previous range. My retailer can not even give me a delivery date on my back-ordered Batis 25 and Batis 85. With modern production planning techniques and ERP software, it is amazing that a company with the brand reputation of Zeiss don’t even know when they will fulfil orders…

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi, Peter. I totally understand how frustrated you must feel. Zeiss did make some projections about sales but the Batis range is a first for them (AF) and they probably didn’t count on the traditionalist client base to take to AF so avidly. Sales were immediately much higher than the most optimistic predictions. Since then, Zeiss have increased the productions lines and, for the Milvus range, they learned from their mistake and built much larger initial stocks. As for delivery dates, we (at DS) have beeb waiting for a Batis 25 for a long time as well and it arrived on Friday. We were told in Oberkochen that almost every back-ordered client would be served by the end of the month. Hope this helps a little.

  • Claudius says:

    Hi Pascal,

    thanks for the insight. As always your articles are a pleasure to read / view.
    One Question: Why won’t you comment on the 2/100? Just because of your short time with it?
    I unterstand, thatI am asking for a comment on the statement that you won’t comment – I hope this causes no paradox 😀

    Best wishes

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Claudius, thanks for the kind words. The 2/100 was my first choice, but it was a Canon mount and the Metabones adapter crashed my Sony about 5 times. So I gave the lens back and moved on to others in the range. However, I talked to Ming Thein and Drew Gardner separately about the lens and both spoke *very highly* about it. Best wishes, Pascal

  • Ming Thein says:

    Great meeting you there, Pascal – some nice images, too 🙂

    One comment on the stiff focusing rings: I asked them the same thing and was told that it was unavoidable because there are full gaskets around all rotating parts. The Otuses are not weather sealed and have focusing rings that float on teflon roller bearings like the Master Primes.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ming, it was a great pleasure for me too.

      Thank you for the interesting information on the Milvus focusing mechanism. I’m sure users will get used to the stiffer rings very quickly and will love the robustness for many years. Probably a very intelligent compromise in the field.

      All the best,

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