#697. I used and Otus but purchased a Milvus : 9 months on !

By Dallas Thomas | Review

Feb 16

It’s 9 months since I took the step and bought my first Zeiss lens, it was the Milvus 1.4/50 after using Philippe’s legendary Otus 55 and 28 in Paris. See #614 I Used an Otus but purchased a Milvus


Otus 28


Since June the Milvus family has grown to:


You may have guessed I’ve fallen in love Zeiss MF lens, due to  the IQ and that Zeiss look, that’s a personal preference, like shooting what you want to shoot, which is what I enjoy doing now instead of trying to get “likes” on social media or from camera club judges.

Let me explain the 21 replaced my 16 – 35 zoom. After reviewing the focal length most often used in Lightroom, 21 was very close to the large majority, of course there were outliers I was prepared to compromise.


Milvus 21


Milvus 21


Milvus 21


Milvus 21



The 35 was a straight swap for the Nikon 1.8/35.


Milvus 35


Milvus 35


Milvus 35


Milvus 35


Milvus 35


Milvus 35


The 135 was sort of a swap from my Nikon 2.8/105 macro lens which had hardly been used in the 4 years I owned it. The 135 can be used as a macro as it has 1:4 image ratio and with  extension tubes you can get very close. I know some purists would say you really can only use a macro lens for close-ups, again I’m prepared to compromise.


135@ minimum focus distance


135 using 33mm extension tube again at minimum focus distance


In the short time I have owned the 135 it has become a favourite when you need/want to isolate a subject. It’s sharp across all apertures, barrel distortion is none existent and the rendering is very pleasing to the eye even straight out of the camera.


Milvus 135 SOOC


Milvus 135 Processed Image


Milvus 135 @f2


Milvus 135@3.5


Milvus 135@f2


Milvus 135@f14


Now to try and explain why I chose to exchange (I use this term extremely loosely) relatively good Nikon AF Zoom Lens and primes for the expensive heavy manual focus lenses. I now only own 2 zoom lens 2.8/24 – 70 and 4.5-5.6/80 – 400 for wildlife/sport etc and 1.8/50 & 1.8/85, they haven’t been used since before June last year and are gathering dust in my office/camera room.

I find that when using a MF lens I slow right down and really think about the composition that has flashed into my head. Yes I know you can do that also with any camera/lens combination but having to manually focus on your subject makes me a little more careful.
To concentrate to ensure 2 things , firstly composition, and secondly that I nail focus. I have to rely on Nikon’s focus verification in the viewfinder for this and at times it’s not up to speed or could it be operator error, to be totally honest it’s the latter.

The ideal situation would be to use a tripod at all times and use live view, unfortunately it’s not always convenient  to carry and use a tripod. Then good old fashion camera technique must be relied upon and at times it can be hit and miss.  My focus rate for is about say 7 out of 10. I’m prepared to accept that situation.

In a nut shell I’m a happy camper with my decision to go down the Zeiss route and will continue to explore what the lens combination I now own can produce with diligence.

Merci Philippe!


Milvus 50


Milvus 50


Milvus 50


Milvus 50


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  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    One of the things I miss most about using manual focus lenses is being able to set the hyperfocal distance on the distance scale. Using this feature I knew what was going to be in acceptable focus from point A to point B based on the f/stop I was using. This is an extremely useful feature when shooting landscapes, waterfalls, etc.,while using a tripod. I could use the waist-level finder to set my composition, use the hyperfocal distance scale to set my depth of field and sometimes not even look through the viewfinder. That last part was good because sometimes I couldn’t get into position to see through the viewfinder. I used a hand-held light meter for the exposure and I knew when I clicked the shutter what I was going to get.
    BTW, I really like the images that you made with that Milvus 21. I’ve found that most of my wide angle shots are made between 18 to 21mm. I think the Milvus 21 would suit my needs just fine. I have a D850 being delivered today so there might be a Milvus somewhere in my future. Thanks for posting these.

    • Cliff, agree with your comments on MF use, however hyperfocal distance while using the 135 is a skill I’m yet to fully come to gripes with, maybe after a little more practice. I cannot recommend the 21 more highly, at first I was a little disappointed more I shot the more I loved it. The 21 has firmly become my go to lens for landscape and even street photography. I’m sure with the 850 and the 21 you will produce some fine images. Happy to answer any other questions on the 21 you may have.

  • Michael Demeyer says:

    Welcome to the slow photography movement. 🙂

    Some lovely shots, although what’s up with the echo of the structure and trees in the sky of the 3rd 35mm image?

    • Thanks Michael, re the 3rd 35mm shot on inspection I agree there are some horrible artefacts, I think the website has bought them out.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Oops – very severe ghost imaging, Dallas – reading Michael’s comment, I enlarged it on screen, and was startled by it.

        • Pete, as I said not sure what happened??

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            You might care to show it to Zeiss – I suspect it results from internal reflections within the lens, on a low light image – but I seriously don’t want to believe that’s the real cause.

          • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

            Woops – I’m travelling in the opposite direction. I’m not aiming to be Adobe’s biggest customer – I’m working my butt off, trying to minimise the amount of PP I inflict on my images. And funnily enough, it generally yields a better result. It also encourages me – “forces” me! – towards SOOC.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Have we been reading over each other’s shoulders, Dallas? Or have we both been reading over Philippe’s?

    I went the Otus route – it suits me better – but I was interested in reading how you deal with the various different focal lengths. I did it by maintaining spreadsheet records of the META data and seeing what I actually use – after that it was a relatively simply decision, which lenses I needed and which I wouldn’t really miss. And it keeps GAS in the bottle, firmly under control.

    Obviously action ‘togs are going to want their AF, but I do have other cams I can do that stuff with, for the limited times I need it. And I agree – MF does concentrate the mind on process better than having auto everything.

    Otus misses on weather proofing. I guess I console myself on that one by saying they’re so expensive that I want to take better care of them. OK – that’s self delusion. 🙂 I wish Zeiss had gone the extra distance, it seems silly to me that they didn’t.

    That aside – I am so “in love” with the “Otus look” – or perhaps the Zeiss look. The instant you plug one of those lenses into the camera, you can see the difference at once. And it’s splattered all over this selection of your photos, Dallas.

    • Pete, answer to you first question I think we both have!!

      Yes, I love the Otus look, it just have a little more creamy to my eye. No weather sealing was a deal breaker for me without even considering the cost, with weather sealing I think both the 55 & 28 would be in my bag now!!

  • John Wilson says:

    The longest I’ve ever owned a camera is 17 years … a Rolleiflex with a 3.5 Planar. There’s something about the way Zeiss lenses handle light that makes the colours seem to glow. I especially like the street performer (the woman in the top left with that crossleg stance is just too good), the twigs in the water and the tree with the reflection. They all translate very well to BW, especially the twigs.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      My “longest ever” was a Zeiss Super Ikonta that I picked up cheap, second hand, as a teenager – and parted with a couple of years ago. Not that I used it much after I managed to buy a Zeiss Contarex, with the fabulous Zeiss Planar 50mm f2 lens – had that one for over 50 years as well. They scaled up that lens, and fitted it to the Hasselblad that Neil Armstrong & the boys took to the moon! I imagine your Rollei’s lens was also based on it, John. It was one of Zeiss’s best.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    I sometimes need a tripod, but I hate carrying one. So I opted for a light one – where I want it the ground is usually soft, so a *really* stable one wouldn’t make much of a difference.

    Sirui make a couple of not too expensive good light tripods with five leg sections and about a foot long folded.
    I hardly notice carrying mine and it can hold the camera also very close to the ground.
    ( On hard ground in a gusty wind I’d use it half extended with the centerpos removed.)
    – – –

    Some really nice photos,
    my favourites:
    The Padlock,
    The one between the Bridges and the Portrait,
    The Twigs in the water,
    The Reflected tree,
    The Four poles in the water.

  • Kosta says:

    Thank you for a great read. I am headed the same way (4 Zeiss lenses, two classic and two Otuses 55 / 85 / 100 / 135). Used almost exclusively for portraits. One odd advantage of MF over AF that took a long time to discover: if you have let’s say 2 inches of sharpness at a given aperture, AF will place that sharpness one inch forward and once inch back of the AF point distance. With MF, you could focus on, for example, eye lashes and leave all the sharp areas forward of them (where there is nothing, maximizing blur / dreamy look in the face) or you could move it back into the face – not a choice you think of with AF.

    • Interesting point regarding focus something I was not aware of. I’ve only just started doing portraits again and MF is a challenge. The 135 is an amazing lens I love it and am using it more and more for landscape.

  • Adrian says:

    For some reason your post passed me by at the time Dallas.
    I really like the first couple of landscapes at the head of the article, and the last 4 at the end.
    I think it’s fatuous to comment on the colour and contrast of a lens based on web sized jpegs, since so much of the final result is dependant on the post processing to finesse the final look, but these certainly look nice.
    Although the Milvus range seems good, manual focusing is not for me, nor is a collection of relatively heavy primes as when travelling long distance size, weight and flexibility of system are always of “prime” importance – did you see what I did there? 😉
    As I often photograph in available light, which can be low, I can’t get on with MF even using an EVF, since at very large apertures the DOF can be so slim and the brightened EVF image so grainy (in low light) that placing focus accurately is little more than guess work.

    • There are easy to miss Adrian. MF lens are not for everyone and yes the Milvus line is heavy but thats something I’m prepared for. To date I haven’t found them a problem when travelling 18 flights in 9 weeks in South America is reasonable test. Agree you cannot provide CC on images posted on a website. Cheers

  • Arthur says:

    The guy with the tripod on the beach… RWS (Really Wrong Stuff)

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