#614. I used an Otus but purchased a Milvus

By Dallas Thomas | Opinion

Jun 30

<Pascal> Please welcome new contributor Dallas Thomas. Dallas has the good fortune of living in Australia and has faced the hardship of being introduced to DearSusan through the hands of co-author Philippe (PB, in the text below). In spite of this, Dallas decided to contribute to the blog and – most surprising of all – to continue seeing Philippe (!), which shows just how robust the Aussies really are.  As you will see below, Dallas had to face a similarly tough choice with lenses. Dallas, thanks a lot for the contribution. I’ll now shut up, the virtual floor is yours. </Pascal>

During the time I‘d spent in Paris earlier this year I meet PB at a Paris Photo Meet Up Group in the Sorbonne area in April. We chatted as you do and to cut a long story short, we firstly became shooting buddies, then friends.

On our first early morning shoot, along the photogenic Saint Martin Canal, I was offered the use of either the Otus 55 or 28, I opted for the 28 as I’m a wide guy. MF now that’s a new thing for me, it took only a few shots to get the hang of having to do that little bit of extra work before taking the shot.

PB told me to shoot it “wide open” and I did. The bokeh, the bokeh is something to behold. This is from someone who uses primes about 80% of the time and loves bokeh.



I wasn’t sure what to expect from using top shelf glass. After PP some of the images I noticed there was something different about them. What was it? I couldn’t put my finger on it immediately?

When I uploaded some images to the web, I could see a distinct pleasing difference between my previous shots taken with a proprietary lens and the Otus. My companion/partner also noticed the difference and she is a point and shoot photographer; but has a much keener eye than I.

At some point GAS struck, it didn’t require immediate attention, but something that would need to be treated in the short-term. I think we’ve all experienced this from time to time.



On my next excursion with PB, I started asking questions about the lenses that Dr Zeiss makes and the attributes of each. He duly explained in detail the subtle differences and offered his opinions.

Alas the Otus as much as I admire its IQ and bokeh, did I tell you about the bokeh. I couldn’t justify the cost and as I also shoot seascapes, its lack of weather-sealing was another issue for me.

So another long story short, on my arrival back in Sydney in early June I became the proud owner of the Milvus 1.4/50. Why the 50 over a wider Zeiss lens you may ask? Well, I have a wide prime which is more than acceptable for now, but my old 50, well it’s a nifty 1.8, it was an easy decision.

The first outing was but brief with Mil, only 33 frames were shot and this was on a new body also, it was sacrilege so only shot for a short time. The results were as expected and in some cases they exceeded expectations, the bokeh appears more creamy than the Otus, to my eye.



For the record the first image shot wide open with the 2nd at 3.2.

Over the coming months as I get to know and understand Mil more, I will convey my thoughts and observations. How does Mil compare to its predecessor the nifty 1.8/50 and another lens in my kit the 2.8/24-70 at 50 and dare I say how I think it performs to the mighty Otus 55.

Interesting times ahead; maybe some controversy, who knows?

As I’m only starting this project should any of you wish to know my thoughts or deliberations on any specific aspects please let me know and I will endeavour to incorporate them in the future post.

I will leave you with this question which lens was used for these shots: Milvus/Otus or neither.




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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Hi Dallas – I suppose I qualify as a kangaroo, too, although really, even though I was born here and I’ve spent most of my life here, I still feel strangely likely a visitor, peering through a window. I guess I failed “Migration 101”.

    I shoot my more serious stuff with a pair of Otus lenses – the 28mm w/angle and the 55mm standard prime – but I’ve never used a Milvus, so I really can’t tell which of your photos are which. Once you get up to the level of the handful of lenses at the top, there’s not a huge difference. The war’s not over, either – Sigma’s ART tele is supposedly outperforming the equivalent Otus, although I don’t find the ART 50mm to be as good as the Otus 55mm. (I have both, and I do like the ART 50 – but I love the Otus 55mm more).

    MF can be a pain – not so much the fault of the lenses, but the digital world has gone head over heels in love with AF systems, and the actual focusing mechanisms really don’t suit MF as well. The focusing systems we had in the analogue era were far better suited to the task but unfortunately they aren’t available with digital cams. It’s all good if you have the luxury of being able to use Liver View, but that necessitates a tripod and, when I am travelling, that’s not an option. It becomes really tough in poor light – after dark, available light stuff, which I am particularly fond of doing.

    Having spent a lifetime being stubborn and mule headed, that’s no real deterrent to using the lenses I love. And the Otus lenses give me an image quality that’s “to kill & die for”, in the vernacular of the young. An incredible sharpness, clarity, and accuracy in their tonal range and handling of colour.

    For light relief I also use a half frame with a kit zoom (Nikon D7200), a Canon PowerShot G7X Mk II (again, with its inbuilt zoom) and less often, but occasionally, a Nikon S9700 compact that slips into a pocket. They all have their role, and they’re also fun to use and rewarding in the shots they produce. Of course if I want something I can make a huge enlargement from, the full frame and the primes come into their own – but not all photos are ever going to be enlarged up to A3 or bigger, and anyway, each of my cams can do things that the others can’t.

    Having come back from my last trip, I am using the smaller cams to do practice shoots, before I take all the gear out to bag the “real shot” that I am planning for – on the basis practice makes perfect, and the smaller cams are great for doing a practice run to prepare for a serious photograph.

    It’s all very well having a Ferrari (for example) – but a car like that really isn’t suitable for doing the shopping to keep the kitchen running, nor is it practical to drive such a car off-road. Cams and lenses are similar in many ways – I had a studio camera for a while (Linhof 4×5 rail cam), which was great fun, but scarcely suitable for wedding photography (for example) – and my current cams each has its own role to play in my photography.

    Good luck with the Milvus – a much more sensible spend than mine, and it should give you endless pleasure. And you can gloat over the fact you have weather proofing with your lens. It’s OK – I’ll console myself by taking the Otuses out for a shoot.

    • Thanks for you comments Pete. Since writing this article another Milvus has found its way into my bag the 2.8/21 I have yet to use it. Seascape/landscapes are a passion so it will be put to good use maybe the sunset this afternoon from the Fish Markets in Sydney.

      I agree 100% about modern camera’s not being helpful when you use a MF lens well my Nikons anyway, having said that I’m quickly coming to grips being able to focus using the assistance given in the view finder. Liveview is much easier, I have yet to master using it without the aid of a tripod.

      I will now wait for users of another brand to come out and praise there EVF!

      On my last trip I shot some 25,000 images over 9 months LR revealed that 90% of those were taken with my walk around camera a D4S and the remainder on a D800 when I wanted the extra data for possible printing. So for me small is not small.

      I did toss up about getting the 50 ART, this was quickly dismissed due to the lack of weather sealing and I wanted the Zeiss feel that I had briefly enjoyed.

      We both have fine equipment and no doubt will continue to enjoy using them for years to come.


      PS the newly announced 1.4/35 is also on my to get list.

      • jean pierre {pete} guaron says:

        LOL – I’ve had four Zeiss cams and a total of 10 Zeiss lenses, over the past 65 years – they’ve also been very supportive – and I am unashamedly addicted to their gear. Now it’s mostly Nikon cams & Zeiss glass.

        I’ve been ticked off before, for my comments on the megapixel craze, so I won’t start that again. Enough to say that I print most of my photos, and mostly they’re either 4×6 for convenience of 8×10 for display. On occasions I also print A3, but not often. And in that range, I cannot see the advantages of the crazy pixel counts. The dot count on the printer seems to me more of a limitation than the pixel count on the cams anyway. It’s different, of course, for pro’s shooting for companies like Boeing & Lamborghini – but that’s way outside my league.

        Interesting, your comment on LR tagging your usage. I ignore their catalogue system (I have my own – LR didn’t exist when I got started) and maintain my own score card on a spreadsheet (laborious, I know, but I don’t have to deal with 25,000 images, so it’s no problem) – it’s a good discipline, it tells you which toys you really aren’t using and might as well quit.

        Glad you like the D4S – it’s a great camera, and has had rave reviews. It’s 16MP is enough for practically anything, and my eyeballs tell me that a decent lens makes more difference than the 36MP sensor in the D800 (or in my case, D810). Of course the D800 is smaller, but so what? – the D4S has far better AF and for a pro, I don’t think the D800 is much competition.

  • The 800 has been replaced by an 810 as I didn’t want the rumoured 45-46mp replacement so lets leave the MP wars alone.

  • philberphoto says:

    My congratulations, Dallas! So you have Zeiss fever now! I wonder how you will find the 21 Distagon, a legendary lens! And I too am looking at the forthcoming 35 f:1.4, as I no longer have one in my bag…
    Of course, answering your “which is which” is reasonably easy for me, since I know what major difference to look for that isn’t about optics, but that notwithstanding, the look of your Milvus is lovely. Creamy bokeh indeed!

  • The fever can be treated, but it is rather expensive! I have just got back from my first shoot with the 21. First impressions are pleasing. I will keep you posted after I do some PP. I would have been disappointed if you could not tell the diference with “which is which”!!Unfortunately we are going to behind you Europeans according to my dealer the 1.4/35 will not be available here until late September, good things to come those that wait. I’m surprised you want one given the 1.4/28?

  • Sean says:

    Hi Dallas,
    Some of these terrific images look as if they were taken in Sydney. Is this correct?

  • Rudi says:

    I pack the 21 loxia, 28,55,85 Otus, the 135 APO and 100mm Milvus macro on the Sony 7R2 in a Pelican 1510 as my main “truck” kit. Walk about kit is the 21mm loxia, 55 and 90mm sony- zeiss. I will add the new Milvus 35mm when available. I gladly accept MF, $ and weight considerations to get the image quality and consistency across focal lengths that put a sparkle in my somewhat diminished eyesight. At 69 years I positively enjoy the experience of these heavy, expensive, manual focus beautifully engineered hunks of glass… this gear opens up aspects of photographic sensibility that appeals to the painter imbedded in the photographer…superior image precision quietly abiding in the Pelican… a self refferal adventure in consciousness.

  • Sean the 4th,5th and last images where taken in Sydney the remainder in Paris, very perspectic pick up.

  • The anonymous grunter says:

    Dear Dallas,

    enjoyed your contributrion. I took a similar entry into Zeiss glass: Milvus 50 boosting edge-to-edge resolution, micro-contrast and looks of my photos (Canon pro DSLR). From then, other (high quality) glass stayed in the case most of the time. And that though I’m not a 50 mm guy … I like extremes.

    That lead straight to the purchase of the Milvus 21. With the latter I enjoy semi-macro shots/close ups with a defined background. It provides a great 3-D-effect and bokeh.

    Enjoy yours !

    • Thanks for your kind comments. Wide is good, but I need to get the 21 out of the bag and put it to good use, so it will be up early on Thursday morning for a sunrise shoot near the sea. I will try some up close personal shots.

      Regards Dallas

  • The anonymous grunter says:

    Dallas: a hint for working with the 21 Milvus and C1: i found quite different distortion corrections between C1 at 100% and Adobe Camera Raw.

    ACR seems to underdo it a bit, leading to still curved lines close to the edges of the frame . even on APS-C. On the other hand fully straight lines – depending on the motive may lead to an image with a ‘stretched’ or too clean appearance, so I utilise either distortion correction between 77 and 85 % or apply some aspect correction in C1. Maybe it is better with your Nikons.

    Stitching: Affinity photo does a great job automatically and is more stable on my Windows PC than Hugin.

    Enjoy !

    • Thanks AG for the tips, I’m not a user of C1, LR & PS for me, lets not start WW3!

      Distortion correction I find is always hard when using a wide lens. I try and get a balance, but it does depend upon the image and what you are trying to convey IMHO.



  • Arthur says:

    In the photo of the grate and sidewalk, I see some CA on the grate in the area of focus. First a magenta tinge then shifting to green. I’ve shot the Otus 55 (as well as 28 and 85) and haven’t seen this behavior with the Otus.

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