Cinematographer James Cawley tested the new ZEISS Milvus 2.8/15 and Milvus 2/135 in Grand Teton National Park. Learn about his experiences in this post.
“The mountains are calling and I must go …”
I received a package from ZEISS that contained several lenses from the wonderful Milvus family and was asked to put them to the test. Included in the box was the Milvus 2.8/15 and Milvus 2/135 lenses. Looking at my reflection in the glass as I inspected them I was suddenly inspired by a quote by John Muir, who has inspired so much of my work, and I knew where these lenses needed to be tested. And just like that, after a few phone calls and a car packed with jerky, energy drinks and a ton of photo/video equipment I was on my way.
2:00 am, the next morning
Driving through the night I arrived in Grand Teton National Park in the darkness and setup basecamp in an area on the banks of Jackson Lake in Wyoming. Signs were posted everywhere warning about bears and noting a recent bear encounter in the area which made setting up alone in the dark a little tense. As I settled into the tent shadows of pine trees crept across the nylon dome illuminated by the approach of headlights. My lifelong friend and fellow nature photographer/videographer Ben arrived, also driving through the night from Boise to join
in on this lens testing adventure.
Two hours later after catching a quick nap we headed out into the park to find our first setup location. We only had three days between other projects and we would make them count. My plan was to test the versatility of the lenses while showcasing the iconic beauty of the Wyoming landscape. The goal was to shoot with the two main lenses that ZEISS had sent as much as possible to see how they performed in different lighting conditions, gear setups and on different cameras. With the Milvus 2.8/15 I mapped out locations to shoot epic wide and gimbal shots knowing that I would need to get close to foreground elements and as close to the iconic Tetons as possible. The Milvus 2/135 was used to get details and time lapses of the mountain peaks while also compressing scenes to create stunning compositions.
Lens field testing and my thoughts
Over the next few days, on little to no sleep, I put these lenses though multiple setups including:
- General photography and time lapses on the Canon 5D III
- Video testing with the Sony α7s II in 1080/4K resolutions
- Motion testing with video (α7s II) and time lapse (5D III) with SYRP 3 axis controller
- Gimbal tests with the Milvus 2.8/15
- Low light (stars) and transitional lighting tests (sunrise/sunset)
Its always very important to me that lenses are built well, work in a multitude of light variations effectively and overall have a good amount of sharpness. I usual when testing new ZEISS products I was blown away by all aspects of these lenses. The Milvus line of lenses are known for their sharpness, sleek and strong build and image quality and these two newcomers fit right in.
My experience with the Milvus 2.8/15
Ultra wide angle lenses are a staple of my nature and recreational based work. One of the biggest challenges these super wide lenses face in general is the tendency towards vignetting and distortion. I have used the Canon 16-35mm L series for allot of this type of work in the past, however, after using this ZEISS 15mm I am so impressed with the difference in quality that I don’t think I can go back to the Canon. First off, the clarity and sharpness was unbelievable for such a wide lens. Next, the there was little to absolutely no distortion to correct and I never encountered any kind of visible vignetting. Needless to say, this is something I was very impressed with and it made editing and processing a breeze.
In addition, I found this lens to be the best “gimbal lens” I have ever used. I was using the Sony α7s II with a Metabones EF adaptor on the Ronin for these tests. The lens was easy to balance with the gimbal and it’s wide angle resulted in some amazing super sharp 4K footage.
My experience with the Milvus 2/135
When it comes to landscape photography and videography many people underestimate the power of a long lens. A telephoto lens is always part of my gear set for these type of shoots and this lens fit right in. To visually showcase vast landscapes the compression of foreground and background this lens provides is outstanding along with its sharpness and clarity. For many of the tight shots in the test video I was able to be long distance away, but still compose a very intimate and unique shot of the area. One example of which seen in this video was shot at the Snake River Overlook made famous by Ansel Adams. The key to showcasing a scene like this is compression as the Tetons in the background need to lie at the back of the trees in the foreground and leading lines of the Snake river. Using a long lens like this also allowed me to stand back shoot over the large crowd of photographers battling for position on the overlook itself.
After three amazing days camping in the beautiful Teton wilderness we experienced freak storms, beautiful sunrises/sunsets and breathtaking views from the top of these iconic mountains to the lowland prairies that lie beneath them. It’s important to choose your lenses wisely when attempting something such as this as quality, weight and perspective of angle play a huge role in the success of nature photography/videography.
Overall I came back very impressed with these lenses and would absolutely include them in my gear bag on a similar project whether it a personal or paid client project. After this testing I know they not only will get the job done, but will give me the best image possible while working under the multiple conditions and setups required while in the wilderness.
During this adventure my good friend and fellow nature photographer Ben Barnett was kind enough to drop everything to assist me in these tests from a photography centric perspective. Here is what he had to say after our 3 day field test using the lenses:
“Landscape photography often has it’s challenges, one of those is choosing the right lens for your composition. I find myself drawn to prime lenses and these were great ones for nature photography. The 15mm and 135mm provided tack sharp images from our trip. The build quality really plays a heavy role in my decision making as to which lens I want in my pack while in the backcountry and these were built very well and were light weight. I constantly find myself in crazy weather and rough and uneven terrain, having a lens that is rugged and built well is a must for landscape photography. The Milvus line is amazing and these two new lenses will really fit in perfectly and fulfill any photographers needs.”
As a cinematographer with a passon for photography I agree with Ben. These lenses are perfect for any photographer and also work great for anyone looking to shoot high quality video. I am very satisfied with the results of this test and I’m very excited to shoot with these lenses again on future projects.
See more of James Cawley’s work on his website: www.ExploringFilmmaker.com