Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2.0 Apo Sonnar T* Lens Review

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Pros
  • Excellent sharpness throughout
  • No flare evident
  • Apo chromatic
  • Weather resistance
  • Electronic control of aperture
  • Beautiful bokeh
  • Excellent ergonomics
Cons
  • Manual focus only
  • Very high price

Zeiss Milvus 135mm F2 Front Oblique View

The Zeiss Milvus range claims to offer the very highest quality. Manual focus only, the Milvus lenses are available in ZF.2 fit for Nikon and ZE fit for Canon. The 15mm and 18mm Milvus lenses recently reviewed proved to be of the highest calibre, so now let’s look at the 135mm f/2 and see if it achieves the same distinction as its siblings.

Handling and Features

Zeiss Milvus 135mm F2 Vertical View

Made in Japan, the manufacturing quality is not in doubt. The metal finish is beautifully engineered and all controls are as smooth as silk. The Milvus 135mm f/2 is a solid, beautiful object in its own right, weighing in at a hefty 1059g (Nikon fit) and 1123g (Canon fit). There is a 77mm filter thread.

The metal lens hood has a flocked interior and bayonets onto the lens very precisely. This should protect the front element as well as helping to avoid flare. When we peer into that front element we see the aperture of 9 blades, virtually circular to enhance the bokeh of the lens. The Zeiss T* coatings render the glass almost invisible to the eye.

There is little to adorn the lens, but what there is offers good ergonomics. The focusing ring is very smooth and a pleasure to use. In the case of the 135mm there is no internal focusing, but the lens racks forwards as we focus in the traditional way. This does mean that the overall length extends as we focus closer. A depth of field scale is offered, but there are only markings for f/11 to f/22, there being so little depth of field that it is of limited usefulness. Markings are clear and distances given in feet and metres. Focusing is down to 0.8m, or 31.44 inches (2.62 feet), giving a maximum magnification of 1:4. This is one quarter life size and is usefully close for a 135mm lens.

 

Zeiss Milvus 135mm F2 With Hood On Nikon D810

The aperture ring has soft but positive click stops and in the Nikon version can actually be de-clicked using a small screw on the metal lens mount. On the Nikon D810 used for this review, the aperture is controlled by the camera, so the aperture ring on the lens is set to its click stop position of f/22.

Optical construction is 11 elements in 8 groups, using a floating element design to maintain performance at all distances. There are 4 Anomalous Partial Dispersion elements to further enhance the performance. The lens is designated as apochromatic, which means all the colours are focused on the same point, preventing colour fringing. As we will see later, this is highly effective.

Finally, the lens is resistant to moisture and dust, which is a definite benefit and one increasingly found at all levels of lens manufacture. The benefits of being able to brave the elements are not to be underestimated.

Handling the lens is a total pleasure. The slim depth of field means that focusing is a breeze – the sharpest point of focus is very easy to judge as it snaps in and out very acutely. This makes manual focusing so much easier than with wide angle lenses. However, depth of field is very small, so accurate focusing still needs care to make the most of the available definition.

Zeiss Milvus 135mm F2 Rear Oblique View

Performance

Central sharpness is excellent all the way from f/2 to f/16, touching on outstanding at the peak of f/5.6. It is still very good at f/22, making the inclusion of the smallest aperture meaningful as it can be used with confidence.

The edges are also excellent from f/2 to f/16, just dropping to very good at f/22.

Zeiss Milvus 135mm MTF Chart

MTF Chart

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very low indeed, and should be with a lens described as apochromatic. This means that all three colours of light (RGB) are fully corrected for and will focus on the same point. Hence there will be no fringing. Of course, some lenses perform better than others and this Zeiss Milvus lens is as near to fully corrected as we could hope. There will be no need for any further correction in software.

Zeiss Milvus 135mm CA Chart

CA Chart

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens’ inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

There is also very little distortion, with a measurement of just +0.233% pincushion. This is very unlikely to be noticed at all.

Flare resistance is superb, it being almost impossible to induce any at all. Even shots directly towards the sun maintain their contrast and sharpness.

Bokeh with longer lenses has a much more obvious quality. The 135mm is towards the limit of being able to describe it as a short telephoto and the consequence is that out of focus backgrounds are very easy to achieve. They also look magnificent, effectively putting all our attention on the isolated foreground subject.

This is a very high level of performance, making the Milvus range suitable for the most critical use.

Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2.0 Sample Photos

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