- Excellent sharpness
- No flare evident
- Virtually no CA
- Weather resistance
- Filter use possible
- Electronic control of aperture
- Nice bokeh
- Excellent ergonomics
- Manual focus only
- Very high price
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 previously tested Otus lenses were superb but very highly priced, so it will be interesting to see how this lower priced Milvus range fares and whether or not it too delivers the goods, but at a more reachable price level.
Handling and Features
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 15mm f/2.8 is a solid, beautiful object in its own right, weighing in at 880g (Nikon fit) and 947g (Canon fit). There is a 95mm filter thread, although with an ultra-wide lens it would seem prudent to only use filters if absolutely necessary and then to choose thin designs to avoid any vignetting.
The metal lens hood has a flocked interior and bayonets onto the lens very precisely. This should protect the domed front element as well as helping to avoid flare. When we peer into that front element we see the tiny 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. A depth of field scale is also offered and this is very useful when estimating depth of field. Markings are clear and distances given in feet and metres. Focusing is down to 0.25m, or 9.84 inches.
The aperture ring has soft but positive clock 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 a complex 15 elements in 12 groups, using a floating element design to maintain performance at all distances. There are 5 Anomalous Partial Dispersion and 2 Aspherical elements.
Finally, the lens is resistant to moisture and dust, which is a definite benefit and one increasingly found at all levels of lens manufacture.
Handling on the D810 is very nice indeed, manual focusing being better than average for such an ultra-wide lens. The focusing aid on the D810 is also very useful. 15mm lenses are superb for sweeping vistas and getting that really wide feel into a shot, but it is as always essential to look for strong foregrounds or close points of view to make the most of this. It is a way of thinking to get in close, and then closer. Architecture and interiors are also well within the scope of the ultra-wide, portraits less so but sometimes even these can be effective. Very close portraits result in very distorted faces, hardly the best way to flatter the sitter.
Of course, not everyone will appreciate the manual focusing as the only option, but it is not that onerous with wider lenses as long as the ease of focusing is good.
Central sharpness is very impressive, already being excellent at the open aperture of f/2.8 and then approaching an outstanding performance by f/4. f/5.6 to f/11 give outstanding results and sharpness is still excellent at f/16 and f/22.
The edges are not far behind, being very good at f/2.8 and f/4. Sharpness is then excellent from f/5.6 through to f/16 and even at f/22 is very good.
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, both at centre and edge of the image field. It is hard to imagine that most shots would need any further work on this, but if desired the whisker of fringing left could easily be tackled in software.
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 minimise the problem, hence they usually cost more.
The lens exhibits -2.14% of barrel distortion, which is not unexpected. This can be corrected in software, but it can also look perfectly fine in many ultra-wide images.
Flare resistance is excellent, with not a trace of contrast loss or artefacts even when the low sun is right on the edge of the frame.
Bokeh is usually far more obvious in telephoto lenses, so there is no really dramatic effect here. However, with very close subjects it is possible to have some differential focus and the bokeh, the effect on the out of focus background, in these circumstances, seems smooth and pleasant enough.
This is an excellent standard and the Milvus shows itself to be a lens of very high performance.
Old Mill | 1/80 sec | f/8.0 | 15.0 mm | ISO 400
Architecture | 1/320 sec | f/5.6 | 15.0 mm | ISO 400
Autumn Close Up | 1/160 sec | f/11.0 | 15.0 mm | ISO 400
Child Portrait | 1/80 sec | f/2.8 | 15.0 mm | ISO 800
Old Barn And CA Test | 1/100 sec | f/8.0 | 15.0 mm | ISO 400
Orangery | 1/30 sec | f/11.0 | 15.0 mm | ISO 3200
Portrait Amongst Leaves | 1/50 sec | f/5.6 | 15.0 mm | ISO 3200