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 !
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.
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.
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).
Here are a few more examples, all from Disneyland Paris. What do you think?
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, à la DS).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, finally, covering the spectrum of lighting conditions, some slightly diffused sunlight bathing good ol’ La Défense, a part of the world I love to hate but has always treated me so right from a photographic point of view.
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 …
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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