Zeiss is hitting double digits with its release of the Milvus 35mm f/1.4, which is the tenth in the company’s DSLR lens family. An updated classic, the wide-angle focal length and fast aperture presents you with outstanding versatility and a unique aesthetic that will really make your subjects shine. It also has a manual-focus design that benefits from the extremely smooth focusing ring, which has a rubberized grip and a long 227° focus throw, for precision. And, as with all the Milvus lenses, this full-frame 35mm will be available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts.
Photographs © Shawn Steiner
Of course, the most important aspect of this lens is the updated optics, now featured in an updated Distagon design that incorporates five anomalous partial dispersion elements and one rear aspherical element to minimize aberrations. It also has the renowned Zeiss T* coating to eliminate flare and ghosting effectively. The all-metal construction is weather sealed, including a blue sealing ring at the lens mount to prevent any intrusions at the camera-lens interface.
We were fortunate enough to be lent a sample unit for early testing and, because the announcement comes on the first day of summer, it was only fitting that I took a trip to Coney Island to test this lens. The updated Distagon design does not disappoint—it delivers outstanding sharpness and contrast, even wide open. That isn’t the main improvement though; Zeiss claims to have effectively eliminated chromatic aberrations in this model and, during our time with it, I couldn’t find a single aberration in my images, even working close at maximum aperture.
The real key to this lens is the ability to create that beautiful look, where the subject just pops off the background, which is due to a combination of vignetting and a slight distortion as you move toward the edges. This, I would say, is a perfect example of lens design, which incorporates outstanding correction and natural “flaws” to create a distinct look, of which photographers can make great use. As you can see from the following images, the subject is isolated due to the shallow depth of field and relatively strong vignetting. But, as you can also tell from the images where the lens is slightly stopped down, the lens quickly eliminates vignetting, providing consistent exposure and clarity from edge to edge.
Operation is exceptionally smooth. The focusing ring has a great rubberized feel that offers no problem gripping and using. One thing to note is that the entire lens barrel rotates during focusing, not just the rubberized ring, so it can be a nuisance to mount or remove from the camera quickly. The lens does feel solid though—the metal construction and weight certainly contribute to that, but I felt comfortable working at the beach with spray and sand occasionally hitting it. And, although I had the Canon-mount version with electronic aperture control, which I adapted to an a7R II, it is worth pointing out that the Nikon version has a physical aperture ring which can be de-clicked, a serious consideration if you do a lot of video work.
If I had to identify a flaw, it would be the potential for flare in some situations. When shooting directly into the sun I didn’t see any, but on occasion under office lights, I could see some coming from the overhead fluorescents. In this case the hood was not on the lens, but lights at the very edge of the frame could be problematic in rare cases. It is also quite large for an everyday lens, but if you are comparing it to the Milvus 35mm f/2, you have the added versatility and look of f/1.4 along with the outstanding sharpness and quality when stopped down, giving you both in a single lens. This lens truly is superb, which should come as no surprise given its price and heritage, and if you want a fast all-around prime, it will be hard to beat the Milvus 35mm f/1.4.