Photography / Hands-on Review

Zeiss Turns It Up to Eleven with the Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Lens

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Preparations for PhotoPlus Expo have begun, with Zeiss getting a head start with today’s announcement of its latest full-frame lens: the Milvus 25mm f/1.4 for Canon EF and Nikon F. This brings the Milvus lineup to eleven and, while the lens design and look are very familiar at this point, this newcomer does surprise with a whole stop improvement over its predecessor. Replacing the classic Distagon option, this lens uses a more advanced lens design that incorporates two aspherical elements and six special glass elements with anomalous partial dispersion, ensuring excellent control over distortion and aberrations.

Zeiss supplied us with an advance copy of the lens to test, and I was very happy to mount it on a Nikon D850 to see how it would perform. The 25mm perspective is quite unique to Zeiss and is a practical choice for landscapes, architecture, and, if used properly, documentary work. The latest Milvus boasts a very fast f/1.4 aperture, meaning that it will likely find itself in the hands of astrophotographers as well as those who prefer shallow depth of field. This works in tandem with a close-focusing distance of just 9.9", which further improves the versatility of the optic and its ability to capture unique imagery.

As far as handling is concerned, the Milvus 25mm is just as precise as any lens Zeiss has made, with 172° of rotation on the rubberized focusing ring. The ZF.2 version, for Nikon, has the added benefit of a physical aperture ring for manual operation if desired. And, though the aperture spring on the D850 is a bit too strong, if you want to adapt the lens for video purposes, the aperture can be de-clicked for completely smooth aperture pulls. If I had one issue with the build of the lens, it is that it’s too well made—solid metal construction and a large aperture result in a massive and heavy lens that can weigh you down, especially if you decide to mount it on a heavy DSLR with a battery grip. A nine-blade aperture is standard for Milvus lenses and it shows up again here for smooth bokeh and stellar sun stars. Zeiss has always been good at creating stars from point light sources and you can see it very clearly in the following images.

The optic is incredibly sharp, even on the 45.7MP sensor of the D850 and shot wide open. The Milvus 25mm does suffer from some predictable characteristics of wide-angle lenses, namely some barrel distortion and softening out at the edges. For distortion, it is noticeable but minor and, with digital corrections so easy in today’s editing software, I think it is worth pointing out that the distortion is very simple, meaning corrections are going to be straightforward and not result in dramatic image changes. Vignetting is standard, nothing to worry about, and it can be quickly corrected by stopping down. One thing I did notice, however, was chromatic aberration when working wide open and in high-contrast scenes. I will say that I didn’t notice it immediately, and it is extremely well-controlled, considering the specs of the lens; once you down-sample the image for the Web, it is very hard to spot.

Overall, this lens is impressive, with a wide-angle perspective and fast f/1.4 aperture and being a Milvus makes it a superb choice for photographers and filmmakers alike with its smooth manual focus and de-click capability. Though a bit heavy, if you were waiting for Zeiss’s 25mm update, this option delivers all the quality you would expect and then some.

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