ZEISS Milvus 2/100 and 2/135 – Review by Dustin Abbott
With the announcement of the “second wave” of lenses in the Milvus lineup from ZEISS there are now a total of 9 lenses in the Milvus lineup with focal lengths from 15mm to 135mm.
by Dustin Abbott
With the announcement of the “second wave” of lenses in the Milvus lineup from ZEISS there are now a total of 9 lenses in the Milvus lineup with focal lengths from 15mm to 135mm. I’ve had a chance to spend time with most of these lenses, and while each lens has its own strengths, none can match the versatility offered by the ZEISS Milvus 2/100M. Though not small, the lens is compact and very easy to bring along. I have heard reports from some people that this lens is their favorite in the Milvus lineup. I can see why, as it brings a tremendous amount of versatility with it. The large aperture makes it a great portrait and wedding lens, while the close focus ability and .50x magnification makes it ready for shooting the details. The buttery smooth focus ring and long focus throw makes it a compelling video lens, and the inclusion of quality weather sealing is a huge asset. The icing on the cake is the exceptional image quality that combines a lovely degree of sharpness and resolution with exquisite bokeh. The only optical stumble that I can see is more chromatic aberrations than what I would like.
During my review period I used the lens at one of my wedding shoots, and found it the perfect tool for capturing tight details of rings or decorations and then transitioning to candid moments or posed pictures. The images had that glossy, professional look that only the best optics can provide; the kind of images that set your work apart. I also fell in love with the lens for my video work, as it uniquely combines that large aperture with the ability to focus down extremely close, meaning that there was a lot that I could do with a single lens.
The 100mm focal length is an excellent portrait focal length. It provides a little more separation of the subject from the background than an 85mm, while not being a bit too long in some situations like a 135mm focal length. All in all, this a very compelling lens, though it comes at a premium price tag. It is also a premium lens, though, and if your tastes run towards things that are made exceptionally well, this lens (like many ZEISS lenses) may just be your cup of tea.
How do you improve upon perfection? While not technically perfect, nor even for everyone due to being a manual focus only lens, the ZEISS APO Sonnar 2/135mm rocked the photography world when it was released less than four years ago with its record setting optical performance. In many ways it paved the way for the Otus series to follow; lenses that broke the mold of what was possible in a camera lens. I reviewed the Sonnar 2/135mm in 2014 and simply blown away by how perfectly sharp and corrected it was. That sharpness went from edge to edge with amazing consistency and no chromatic aberrations could be found. The contrast from the lens made the old school 135mm lenses still being sold by Canon and Nikon look fuzzy by comparison. I lamented the fact that the release of the Otus and then Milvus series from ZEISS ended up relegating the APO Sonnar 2/135mm to slightly forgotten status.
That has now been rectified, however, as the 2/135 has received the Milvus treatment and will be available to the public by the end of October 2016. This includes the upgraded Milvus build, including advanced weather sealing, a new barrel design, and improved coatings. While the Milvus version is a bit longer and heavier, the improved build and moisture resistance in my mind make this a worthy tradeoff. I was reminded afresh during my review period of just how special this lens is. Even candid photos have a unique quality that makes them seem like something from a magazine. Manually focusing a longer focal like this takes some practice, but if you are willing to invest a little more time in your process you will be rewarded with images that other lenses are simply not capable of producing.
I recognize that this lens is not for everyone despite its near optical perfection, so let me get the qualifiers out of the way right up front. The ZEISS Milvus APO Sonnar 135mm f/2 is heavy, expensive, and manual focus only. If that rules you out, feel free to stop reading now. If you choose to read on, be warned: the image quality from the Milvus 135mm is addictive…and just might convert you!