Photography / Buying Guide

The Best Zeiss Lenses of 2017


The name Zeiss dates to the dawn of photography. Founded in 1846, Zeiss lenses are renowned for their high levels of resolving power, contrast, construction, and color rendition. Nowadays, sharp lenses are seemingly a dime a dozen, but few deliver the unique Zeiss optical signature.

In one of the newer series of Zeiss lenses are the manual focus Milvus-series lenses, which offer full-frame coverage. Available in Canon EF and Nikon F lens mounts, common attributes include manual focusing, all-metal weather-sealed construction, rubberized focusing rings, de-clickable aperture rings for smoother, silent video capture, and Zeiss T* anti-reflective coatings.

The Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 ultra wide captures a near-distortion-less 110-degree full-frame angle of view and has 15 elements in 12 groups, including dual aspheric elements, special anomalous partial dispersion glass, and a floating element design for optimized edge sharpness when shooting at close focusing distances. The 15mm/f2.8 Milvus accepts 95mm filters.

Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 ZF.2 Lens

Slightly less wide (and not quite as hefty as its 15mm counterpart) is the Zeiss Milvus 18mm /f2.8, which takes in a 99.9-degree, near distortion-free AoV. The Milvus 18mm features 14 elements in 12 groups, floating and dual aspheric lens elements, 77mm filter threads, and close focusing down to less than 1' (0.25m).

To bring in the New Year, Zeiss has introduced its 11th Milvus-series lens—the Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4, a lens designed for landscapes, street shooting, architecture—especially in low light or after dark, and any other number of wide-field applications. Minimum focusing distance with the new 25mm f/1.4 Milvus is an impressively-close 9.93".

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 ZF.2 Lens

One of the most popular focal lengths for street shooters is 35mm and, to keep everybody happy, Zeiss offers this focal length in a choice of maximum apertures. The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 is based on Zeiss’s legendary Distagon optical formula and features one anomalous partial dispersion element and a floating elements system for optimal image quality at all focusing distances. If speed is important to you, your alternative choice would be the Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4, which features one aspherical element and five low dispersion elements.

For many shooters, nothing beats a “nifty fifty” and here, too, we have a choice of maximum apertures. The Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2 is a Planar design lens with floating elements. A stop faster is the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4, which features a Distagon optical formula with an aspherical element and four anomalous partial dispersion elements.

Portrait shooters have a choice of Milvus lenses. The Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 is a bright “complex Planar optical design” containing a whopping seven anomalous partial dispersion elements and floating elements. If you prefer a slightly longer focal length for shooting portraits (or other suitable subject matter), Zeiss also offers the Milvus 100mm f/2, another Planar-design lens featuring dual anomalous partial dispersion elements and floating elements.

The über-fast Zeiss Milvus 135mm/f2 is perfect for beauty, fashion, portraits, and almost any other situation in which a telephoto lens is called for. It contains 11 elements in 8 groups, accepts 77mm filters, and has an optimized focus rotation angle of 268° for rapid manual focusing. When used wide open, the pictures this lens captures are simply breathtaking.

Additional information about Zeiss’s Milvus-series lenses can be found in the B&H Explora article, In the Field: The New Zeiss Milvus Lenses Ride the Canon 1Dx Mark II.

Zeiss Loxia-series lenses are full-frame, manual focus lenses designed specifically for use with Sony E-mount cameras. As with Zeiss’s Milvus-series, Loxia-series lenses feature all-metal, weather-resistant construction with de-clickable aperture rings for smoother, quieter video capture and Zeiss T* anti-reflective coatings.

Zeiss Loxia 85mm f/2.4 Lens

The widest of the bunch is the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8, a Distagon wide-angle design that features a 91° AoV, four anomalous partial dispersion elements, an aspheric element, and a minimum focus of 9.84" from your subject.

For street shooters, we have the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2 Biogon T*. The Loxia 35 is a compact Biogon design with a single anomalous partial dispersion element. Longer yet is the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2 Planar T*, which should satisfy the needs of fans of normal focal length lenses. Last up is the Zeiss Loxia 85mm f/2.4, a classic Zeiss Sonar design featuring three Anomalous Partial Dispersion Elements packaged in a neat compact form factor.

Zeiss’s Touit-series lenses are designed specifically for Sony APS-C-format E-mount cameras. The widest in the series is the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8, an 18mm-equivalent Distagon-formula lens containing dual aspheric elements and floating elements. If normal lenses are your ticket to ride, Zeiss has the Touit 32mm f/1.8, a truly sharp 48mm equivalent Planar-formula optic. The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Touit Macro lens is available for Sony E-mount and Fujifilm X-mount lenses. Along with life-size (1:1) macro focusing, both lenses feature dual aspheric elements, dual partial dispersion lenses, and a floating element design.

Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8, 32mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/2.8M Lenses Kit

If you shoot with Leica M-series cameras, or adapt M-mount lenses to your mirrorless camera, Zeiss ZM-series lenses deliver incredible image quality at a far lower price than the lenses they flatteringly emulate. Zeiss’s ZM lenses are small and solid—you won’t find a shred of plastic in them, and they are available in a range of focal lengths. All ZM-series lenses feature Zeiss T* coatings.

The widest ZM lens is the Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZM, which features a 110° AoV, a minimum focus distance of 11.8" and, unlike most ultra-wide-angle lenses, accepts filters—72mm, to be precise. Slightly less wide is the Zeiss Distagon T* 18mm f/4 ZM, (silver only) that focuses down to 1.6', accepts 58mm filters, and has a 98° AoV.

Zeiss Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8 ZM Lens

If you’re a fan of 21mm lenses, Zeiss offers a choice of maximum apertures—f/2.8 and a smaller and lighter f/4.5. Both of these Biogon T* lenses are also available in a choice of black or silver. Both versions accept 46mm filters and focus down to 1.6'. Another wider-than-average wide-angle lens is the Zeiss Biogon T* 25mm f/2.8 (silver only). As with the 21mm Biogon, this lens also accepts 46mm filters and focuses down to 1.6'.

The Zeiss Biogon T* 28mm f/2.8 ZM—available in black or silver, is another ZM lens that focuses down to 1.6', accepts 46mm filters, and sports a total of 10 diaphragm blades for silky bokeh.

If a choice of two maximum apertures isn’t enough for you, how about three? In the case of 35mm optics, you can choose between the Zeiss C Biogon T* 35mm f/2 ZM, Zeiss Biogon T* 35mm f/2.8, or Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4. All three focus down to 2.3' and are available in silver, with the f2.8 version also offered in black. The f/1.4 version accepts 49mm filters, while the f/2 and f/2.8 accept 43mm filters. They all deliver excellent results.

Nifty-fifty fans can choose between the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/2 ZM or the slightly faster Zeiss C Sonnar T* 50mm f/1.5 ZM. Both are available in black or silver. It should be noted the f/1.5 version only focuses down to 2.3' while the f/2 version focuses down to 2'. Both are sweet.

Last, we have the Zeiss Tele-Tessar T* 85mm f/4 ZM, which is available in silver or black, both of which focus down to 3' for pleasing head-and-shoulder portraits.

For those seeking the best of the best, we suggest the Zeiss Otus-series lenses for Nikon and Canon. Available in the form of a 28mm f/1.4, a 55mm f/1.4, and an 85mm f/1.4 APO, these manual focus lenses represent the very best in optical design and performance.

Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZE Lens

It should be noted that Zeiss offers many of these lenses in bundled kits. If you’ve had an opportunity to use Zeiss lenses, drop us a line in the Comments section, below, and let us know what you think of them.