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 …
… to Paris …
… to Stuttgart …
… to Aalen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ?
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.
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 !
“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.
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.
Oh, and, the future Zeiss camera !!!!
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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