After 2 months of ownership and some 900 images, these are my thoughts on the Zeiss Milvus 1.4/50.
Here is a link to the original article #614. I used an Otus but purchased a Milvus
Firstly, yes it’s a keeper why, I will go into that a little later, the 50 has since been joined by the 2.8/21 Milvus, but that’s a story for another time. They both will be joined by the new 1.4/35 when it becomes available “downunder”, in about a months time I’m told.
A manual focus lens, to some, may seem like old school and out of date. These were my thoughts prior to experiencing the Zeiss Otus in April this year. I quickly adapted to the concept; being a Nikon shooter I don’t have EVF and am limited to using the “Nikon focus assist DOT” in the view finder while shooting hand-held. Of course, manual focus on a tripod is close to a no brainer with live view.
The Otus has a long throw about 3/4 of turn from memory and makes locating optimum focus relatively easy. The Milvus does not have the same length of throw so focusing can take a little longer and at times does get frustrating when hand-held on close-ups wide open.
Philippe gave me a tip early on, to open the lens to widest aperture focus and then stop down to the desired aperture.
The famous Zeiss micro contrasts is something I quickly fell in love with and it continues still. It’s something that I find very hard to put into words it has to be seen to be totally appreciated.
Bokeh, well that’s what top shelf glass is renowned for and the 50 does not disappoint as I have said in the previous post I am a confirmed “Bokeh Slut” to quote Philippe. Is this regard the 50 performs well against the Otus, which do you think?
It’s so soft and creamy.
My original plan was to compare images taken by Nikon 1.8/50 & 28/24-70 (at 50mm) and the Zeiss 1.4/50 at various apertures.
Unfortunately, the web is not a good place to compare images taken by quality glass (yes the 1.8/50 is far from being quality) due to resolution limitations. In my last article the nifty 50 was mistaken for an Otus, but on a good quality screen or print they can easily be identified by their look. That’s only one of the many reasons why we should all print more of our images than we do, me included so we can better appreciate our work as it was originally intended to be viewed.
The bottom line is the Zeiss 50 out performed the other lens in my opinion at all aperture. Sharpness, micro contrast and the overall look which I know is very subjective.
In summary of course its a keeper due to what I’ve said above about its image quality. Yes it does have drawbacks to name 3, manual focus, weight and size, not to mention the price. These are out weighed in my opinion by the image quality, bokeh, build quality and the overall feel of the Zeiss Milvus 1.4/50.
I’m not qualified to say how the Milvus line stacks up against the Otus, some YouTubers say they perform to about 95% of the Otus you be the judge.
Given the price differential and that the Milvus line are fully weather sealed I think they are a winner and the way to go, if you want that little extra and the absolute best then the Otus is for you.
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Hi Dallas, wonderful photographs with a wonderful lens. Thanks for this update !
I once told Philippe – and still stand by that comment – that if starting my lens shopping from scratch today, my choice would be the Milvus range. My Otus 85 is fabulous and the 28 is probably one of the best lenses ever made. But the Milvus 85 is even more thrilling, with a tiny bit more CA but even better bokeh and a slightly more playful look. My experience with the 50/1.4 is not as extensive but my few photos convinced me of its very similar and very classy nature. Your photographs confirm that.
In my opinion the lack of AF brings with it a pleasant focusing mechanism and far fewer constraints regarding the weight of the glass to move around, hence fewer aspherics and a much nicer look. Except for sports photographers, my sincere feeling is that AF takes away far more than it adds. A negative ROI which almost every reviewer confirms in the form of hunting, missed focus … I’m really greatful there are still some manufacturers out there with the intelligence and guts to make things the way they should 🙂
Pascal, as someone who started his photography journey with AF, and who has only ever owned 1 MF lens (Sony 135mm F2.8 STF), it is obvious that EVF cameras make the using MF lenses possible whilst most SLR viewfinders in the AF age didn’t. I do tend to use either MF or DMF (AF followed by clutch release for MF fine tuning) for tripod based work, but one of the reasons I use DMF is that in low light and the camera set for long exposures, MF using the EVF or live view feed is almost impossible as it has to be brightened so much that it resembles a rainbow coloured hail storm! Even for daylight work, when using open aperture, I find it very difficult to tell in the EVF (with focus peaking or magnified view) when something is in critical focus, as unless I am trying to focus on something with decent contrast, the ability to see the exact focus doesn’t seem easy. Therefore AF or DMF is often just… well… easier. For street work, often in lower light, I’ve never even tried using MF as AF and face detection just seem to reliably get the job done efficiently. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the process of slowing down that MF tends to enforce, but I genuinely curious how you “get the job done” in low light or where you need to respond quickly and focus on something that might be about to change?
it’s very true that AF is indispensable in certain situations, such as sports. And I’d happily live with *good* AF all day long. My gripe is not against AF users but against the fact that, for 99% of my shots, AF is simply a hindrance. My process, to answer your initial answer 😉 , is simply to use medium focus peaking and max zoom on all shot. It’s clearly too long a process for sports but takes maybe 2 seconds which is fine with most other subjects. 2 seconds is no longer than a hunting AF takes and focus is absolutely spot on on every shot, which I believe makes a big difference in the final look. In very low light, focus peaking isn’t quite as efficient as it picks up on noise quite a bit. But the zoom still works perfectly and I don’t think focusing is any longer or any less accurate.
Thanks Pascal. Philippe did indicate to me that the Milvus line was an excellent option and I’m very glad I went down that alley. I’m not sure about the 85 Milvus finding its way into my bag. I have my trusty Nikon 1.8/85 and it does not get alot of use, other than for portaits and these are not all that regular of late. I did use it a few times while in Paris but got very frustrated with its poor AF on the street, your point. I do find that focal length good for pano’s so maybe after the 35 arrives I will think more about adding a 4th MIlvus to the bag if the current work contract is extended.
Hi Dallas – I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Milvus – I think I’ve spent “enough” for the time being, on glass – but if it’s anything like the Otus, I’d have to agree with you 100%. It is a bit disappointing that Zeiss didn’t attempt to waterproof the Otus (especially considering the price of the thing!) and I don’t suppose the difference in performance between the 55mm Otus and the 50mm Milvus would be all that great. I’ve been a Zeiss junkie since I was a teenager, so the temptation to have their “best ever” lens made the Otus my “perfect choice” – at 75, I’m scarcely likely to have another opportunity to do something like that, anyway!
What makes MF a pain with these lenses is not the lens – it’s the blasted focus systems on the DSLRs. They’re designed around the concept of the gadget-minded millenials’ craving for auto focus and despite the palaver about locking the focus in before you shoot, they really aren’t as satisfactory as the split screen/fresnel ring combination I had on my Contarex for years. But when the focus is spot on, the shots are truly incredible.
Hardest time with MF on my Otus is doing available light stuff at night. I slip up a bit occasionally during normal daylight, but rarely badly enough to care all that much – the Otus brings to mind the comment one of last century’s most famous pianists made in his late 80s – “when I make a mistake, I do it so beautifully that nobody cares!”
Digital reproduction of them, as in that other form of “live screen”, does them no justice at all. I know it’s socially unacceptable behaviour – kind of like rocking up to a dinner party, and not spending the entire evening ignoring everything and everyone, while you fool around on your cellphone, I guess 🙂 – but I still print practically all of my photos. And even with a 6×4, the detail is astounding – something you simply cannot enjoy on a computer screen – or tablet – or cellphone.
One lens I have only seen in my camera shop, but never tried on my cam, is the Nikon 19mm PCE. The guy at the shop has shown me a couple of photos he’s taken with one of these lenses, and it is amazing. “Fair takes yer breath away, mate!”, to resurrect the Aussie vernacular of yesteryear! The sweet spot on that lens is at f/8 (as I believe it is for all the Nikon PCEs), so it’s not exactly the fastest lens – but only idiots like me use those things hand-held (you don’t get much choice in some situations – maybe everyone loves a lover, but not everyone loves you plonking a tripod down, on their premises). But camera on tripod, mirror up, remote release, those things also take technically fabulous photos.
Hi Pete, agree 100% about the camera manufacturers making MF difficult, I don’t ever expect that to change as they only want us to buy there branded lens. No need to try the Milvus if you have the Otus. PCE is something that I have no interest in. I enjoy reading your comments on my and the other posts on DS please keep them up.
My eyesight took a dramatic turn for the worse a few months ago. I have had very successful surgery on my left eye and am scheduled next week to have surgery on my shooting eye. Among many others, one of the things I’m most looking forward to is being able to use manual focus again. Autofocus is great for many things but there are so many times that I want to use manual focus to get that hyperlocal distance background bokeh or to get a precise point of focus in macro work or telephoto work. Manual focus will once again be a valued tool in my box.
Hi Cliff, manual focus is something that I now love as it makes me think more about what I’m doing instead of just blasting away. AF has its place with wildlife and action. Horses for courses as they say. Hope the next eye op is as good as the last.
Dallas, I really like the landscapes towards the end of this item – the lighting and the way it has been drawn/rendered is lovely. Since I personally think camera sensor can have a large impact on how photographs look, is it appropriate to ask what camera you are using you lenses on?
Hi Adrian, I’m tyring to get to do more landscape shots and am enjoying doing so. Also not having to wash off the salt spray off everthing is an added bonus after a shoot like I do with seascapes. These were shot with a Nikon D810 on a tripod with mirror look up. Ther emainder of the shots were with the 810, 800 or D4S.
great photography with these wonderful lenses. I got the 50 and the 21 Milvus, too, for the very same reasons. Rain pouring down at your photo spot ? No worries, mate …
AG, thanks for your kind comments, how do you find the 21?
The 21 – for my purposes – is fabulous. Great micro contrast. Distortion is well under control for architecture with software correction profiles. For nature pics no issue, as distortion levels are minor for a super wide angle.
Thanks for your thoughts.
Dallas and all
You have provided us withe some truly wonderful images. As I reconsider my next changes, the Milvus 50 will certainly be on the list. Between my Sony A7II and M9 I have 3 Zeiss lenses and I do enjoy them and manual focus.
Though concerning cameras, as my eyes age I find I need some form of positive reinforcement that my subject is in focus. Which for me means a rangefinder, focus peaking, or auto-focus. The modern DSLR viewfinders are more of a challenge to me.
With focus peaking I find that I get good results with 5x zoom and looking for the peak color on the edges of my subject. I find that without the moderate zoom in the viewfinder the peaking is easily fooled by contrast changes so the plane of focus is not where you think it is, and using full zoom with a 20-24MP sensor does not have enough resolution for edges on your subject to register and trigger the peak. A 40+ MP sensor may have better results at full zoom. I use this technique both on a tripod and handheld. I was pretty slow handheld when I started, but I am improving with more practice.
I really like the image of the branches coming out of the water.
Paul, you won’t be disappointed if you add the 1.4/50 into your bag. Thansk foryour kind comments on teh image.
Paul, your description of manual focusing with the EVF mirrors my own, hence my earlier question to Pascal and Dallas about their experiences using MF. Your experiences with the EVF and focus peaking somewhat mirror mine – often there may not be enough contrast on edges for the peaking to work, or conversely it gives false readings and the plane of focus isn’t quite where you think. As a result, I find MF at open aperture can be somewhat “hit and miss”. The bigger issue is in low light on a tripod, where I try to focus manually to get a hyperfocal distance and enough DOF. If “setting effect” is turned on, so the EVF previews the actual settings, then it can be very hard to see focus and when zooming etc the EVF just becomes very grainy and peaking often won’t work at all, or it is lost in a snowstorm or chroma noise. (if you turn setting effect off, then the EVF auto gains, but I believe it may also open the aperture to get more light into the live view, so will no longer show the DOF for the set aperture). To be honest, for stopped down work, it can be easier to just put the AF box somewhere in the frame where you think may be the hyperfocal distance. For open aperture work, I always struggle with shallow DOF, manual focus and slight camera movement to or from the subject – AF plus DMF and focus peaking actually seems better in some circumstances.
I think you are correct, we are having similar experiences. Recently I was reviewing images made at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, and my experience was very similar to your description. Which resulted in images which are a little disappointing. Manual focusing after sunset with nothing very close in the near distance was a challenge.
Because of this experience I thought I might try simply using zone focus with the focus mark placed between the maximum numerical distance value and the infinity mark, and stopping down to 5.6-11. I did a couple of test images of this on my A7II with a couple of lenses, and had mixed results depending of the lens used. While one lens was better than the other, neither result was something that seems worth trying more of. In addition, I am half convinced that 24 MP is just not enough to rule out insufficient sensor resolution vs. lens performance when the distance is getting beyond 100 ft (33m).
My best results come when there is something in the near field to focus on. Preferably something that is near the infinity (hyper-focal) point of the lens. I have gotten scary good results with my A7II just focusing on the ground at a point I though was close to the infinity point of the lens and stopping down. To estimate the distance to the infinity point I use 300x the focal length of the lens, which is correct for most 35mm format lenses designed for film; this also make distance estimating easy. I have even considered getting a laser range finder to help with picking a focus point using this technique. At least I could be sure of where the focus range of the lens should end, since most adapters are not good enough to make the distance scale on the lens work properly.
I generally avoid ‘photos of bokeh’,however your 129-Paris…. and 162-Paris… photos may make me review my prejudice. I don’t know why but I think your natural and even-handed tonality is part of the attraction. Not many people can make good minimalist photos without obvious strong graphic compositions these are a great example for avoiding stark and strong contrasts, and having greater impact through subtleties of tone and texture.
Thanks for sharing.
Hi Noel, thanks for your kind comments, both these images where taken with an Otus wide open and this is the situation where they really shine. The Milvis bokeh is diferent but still very attractive.
I very much enjoyed your images Dallas, I’ve no doubts about the role the Milvus plays, but I’m sure your eye and the adroit nature of your photography are a big part of the end result
Dallas, great article, and excellent photography.
I often judge a photography writer on the images they use, valuing their opinion accordingly, and yours are very well done. I recently purchased a Milvus 2/100 for macro. Have been shooting macro flowers for several years with Nikon DSLR and Nikon macro lenses. Now, a whole new world has opened up before me. The 2/100 shot wide open at full magnification has yielded some amazing effects, and re-energized my photography.
I’m having so much fun with this lens, that the 1.4/50 and the 2.8/21 are on my GAS wish list. Probably these 3 lenses and my D810 will be my main kit.
Thanks Robert, I have since added the 1.4/35 and am very impressed, I will pen an article in due course. Macro is something I have only done fleetly but would like to do more of so maybe a 2/100 may find its way into my bag in the future. The 21 is a great lens, be aware it does have some distortion that cannot not be removed in post. It is well documented on the web.