Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 Review

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Introduction

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 is a manual-aperture, manual-focus ultra-wide-angle prime lens for Canon and Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras. It features an aperture range of f/2.8-f/22, 16 elements in 13 groups, a nine-bladed circular diaphragm for smoother bokeh blur in out of focus areas, and a precision-engineered full-metal casing. The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 retails for £1299 / $1843 in the UK and USA respectively.

Ease of Use

Weighing around 735-850g, depending on the version, and measuring 110mm in length, the all-metal Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 is a big and heavy wide-angle lens. It does feel well-balanced, though, on the Canon EOS 5DS R that we predominantly tested it with.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Canon EOS 5DS R

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Canon EOS 5DS R

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Canon EOS 5DS R

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens alongside a Canon EOS 5DS R

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 boasts superb build quality. The lens’ all-metal casing is dust and moisture resistant and it features a metal mount. With no need for a zoom ring, the manual focussing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate, complete with a useful depth of field scale and hard stops at either end, plus an IR position dot.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The front of the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The rear of the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 has 16 lens elements in 13 groups with four anomalous partial dispersion glass elements to help control distortions and aberrations . A nine-bladed rounded diaphragm, combined with the fast maximum aperture, helps provide smooth bokeh blur.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens in-hand

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 lens with the supplied lens hood fitted

There’s no optical image stabilisation, but the lens’ wide-angle focal length and fast maximum aperture alleviate the need for it. A special sealing ring on the bayonet also protects the interface between the camera and the lens. A round metal lens hood is supplied.

Focal Range

The 21mm focal length gives an angle of view of 90° on a 35mm full frame sensor.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Field of view at 21mm

Manual Focusing

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8’s manual focusing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate, complete with a useful depth of field scale. It also has a large rotation angle which enables precise focusing and moves smoothly without any play, thus also supporting the intuitive interaction with the focal plane. The precise engravings in meters and feet, together with the depth of focus scale, help make manual focusing a veritable pleasure, although the Canon EOS 5DS R that we tested the lens with is not very well suited to accurate manual focusing.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is rarely an issue with the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8, so much so that we could only find a few very minor instances of fringing in our test shots.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Light Fall-off and Distortion

Light fall-off is noticeable wide open at f/1.4, though this is to be expected for such a fast lens and can easily be corrected in Photoshop. Stop down to f/4 and the vignetting is already less prominent, but it is still visible when shooting pale scenes that fill the frame.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Light fall-off at 21mm

Macro

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 is not a macro lens, but the close-focus point is a useful 22cm from the film/sensor plane and a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:5. The following example illustrates how close you can get to the subject, in this case a CompactFlash card.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Close-up performance

Bokeh

A major appeal of fast, wide-aperture prime lenses is their ability to produce an eye-catching separation between a sharp subject and a very soft out-of-focus background. The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 generates smooth out of focus areas through its use of a 9-bladed diaphragm, which provides smoother bokeh than seven or five-blade designs. Bokeh is however a fairly subjective part of a lens’ image quality, so check out these 100% crops to see the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8’s bokeh quality for yourself.

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.

Sharpness at 21mm

Our sharpness tests were conducted using a 50-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS R body mounted to a tripod. The camera’s shutter release was also set on a timer-delay to avoid any possible camera shake. The test subject was shot using ambient lighting, hence some colour and contrast variation is to be expected between apertures.

The full frame at 16mm

The full frame at 21mm

Centre sharpness is high right throughout the entire aperture range, with peak performance between f/4-f/11. F/16 and f/22 are marred slightly by diffraction. At the edges, peak performance is again achieved between f/4-f/11.

Aperture Centre Crop Edge Crop
f/2.8

f/4

f/5.6

f/8

f/11

f/16

f/22

Specifications

Focal length 21 mm
Aperture range f/2.8 – f/22
Focusing range 0,22 m (0.72ft) – ∞
Number of elements/groups 16 / 13
Angular field, diag./horiz./vert. 90° / 81° / 59°
Coverage at close range 120 mm x 180 mm
(4.72‘‘ x 7.09‘‘)
Filter thread M82 x 0.75
Dimensions (with caps) ZF.2: 109,50 mm (4.31‘‘)
ZE: 111,80 mm (4.40‘‘)
Weight ZF.2: 735 g (25.93 oz)
ZE: 851 g (30.02 oz)
Camera mounts F Mount (ZF.2)
EF Mount (ZE)

Conclusion

Rebooting an established optical design, the weather-proof Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 is an excellent ultra-wide-angle prime lens for photographers who have the time and patience to focus manually. You’d expect sharpness to be high across both the frame and aperture range from such a premium optic, and it doesn’t disappoint. In conjunction with the Canon EOS 5DS R test camera shooting at 50 megapixel resolution, detail is exceptionally detailed and sharp. Shooting at the maximum f/2.8 aperture does reveal a minor reduction in sharpness across the frame compared to the rest of the aperture range, but the image is already pin-sharp by f/4.

The Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8 is a pleasure to use, thanks to its superb build quality and smooth focus ring. As this is a manual-focus only lens, you’d expect this aspect of the operation to be intuitive, and so it proved, although the Canon EOS 5Ds isn’t really geared up for accurate manual focusing – we much preferred using it on a Sony A7R II camera via a Metabones adapter, where peaking really helps speed up the process. The fact that it’s also weather-sealed is a real plus point when comparing it to its main rivals.

The equally new Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art is faster, cheaper and offers auto-focusing, but it’s even bigger than the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f/2.8, isn’t weather sealed, doesn’t have quite the same high level of build quality, and you can’t fit circular filters thanks to its large, bulbous front element. Both lenses are excellent optically though, making it tough to choose between them…

(photographyblog.com)

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