- Excellent sharpness
- No flare evident
- Virtually no CA
- Weather resistance
- Filter use possible
- Electronic control of aperture
- Nice bokeh
- Excellent ergonomics
- More compact than 15mm option
- 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 15mm f/2.8 certainly ticked all the boxes and was highly recommended, so let’s find out how this new lens stacks up and whether or not it can achieve the same level of performance.
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 18mm f/2.8 is a solid, beautiful object in its own right, weighing in at 675g (Nikon fit) and 721g (Canon fit). There is a 77mm 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, giving a maximum magnification of 1:7.4
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 a complex 14 elements in 12 groups, using a floating element design to maintain performance at all distances. There are 4 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. The benefits of being able to brave the elements are not to be underestimated.
Handling on the D810 is very nice indeed, manual focusing being better than average for such an ultra-wide lens and rather easier than using the 15mm version. The focusing aid on the D810 is also very useful. The 18mm Distagon design, when first introduced, was a revelation, interestingly being supplied with a special pink-tinged focusing screen for the Zeiss Contarex film cameras. This was to aid focusing, but with modern DSLRs such as the Nikon D810 this is no longer necessary.
There are plenty of wider lenses, but the 18mm has the advantage of being smaller, lighter and easier to focus manually. Its 100 degree diagonal field of view still gives plenty of scope for sweeping panoramas as well as offering the usual steep perspective that a close viewpoint gives. Portraits are more tolerable in terms of distortion, providing we are not too close, and the lens is certainly useful for full and half length shots and groups of people. Users of crop sensor APS-C format cameras would need a 12mm lens to achieve a similar effect.
Central sharpness starts off as already excellent at f/2.8, rising to outstanding at f/4 and f/5.6. Results are excellent from f/8 to f/16 and remain very good even at f/22. With this lens the smallest aperture is well worth having and fully usable, for situations where we want to maximise depth of field.
The edges are very good at f/2.8, excellent from f/4 through to f/16 and still very good at f/22. The performance is commendably even across the frame and in practice every aperture can be used with confidence.
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. This is an exceptionally good performance and further correction in software, whilst possible, will rarely if ever be needed.
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.
The lens exhibits -1.51% 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. There is less distortion with the Milvus 18mm than with the 15mm previously reviewed.
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.
The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens is a lens of the highest calibre and suitable for the most critical work.
Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Sample Photos