The Zeiss Milvus 2/135 APO Sonnar is one of the best lenses I’ve ever held. It looks beautiful, has perfect handling and the images it produces….. are just amazing!

When you take the lens in your hand, you know you are holding a ZEISS lens. It is made for a lifetime or even two. Because of the price tag it sure isn’t a lens for everybody, but the price tag is justified for such a masterpiece. This lens gives you a whole lot of value for your money.

Just as I was about to release this review ZEISS came with the wedding weeks. You can save some serious money until 15th of April 2018.

Save up to € 500 during the ZEISS wedding weeks!

From the 1st of march until 15th April 2018 on the list price of ZEISS 85mm and 135mm Portrait lenses.

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Introduction

Last year I sat down at Zeiss and talked about photography and what I wanted to change or add. One of the things that was said to me by people from the industry, was that I could change up my portfolio with some other focal lengths. Being an architecture photographer this made me think… how am I  going to do this? Zeiss Netherlands opted to use the Milvus 135mm. It’s a fantastic lens and it enables you to change things up. “Well let’s step out of my comfort zone and let’s do it! “
What a good decision that was. This lens is simply amazing.

I use it mainly for landscape and architecture. Portrait is what it’s all about with this lens, but I’m just not that good at portraits…
While 135mm screams Portrait photography, I’ll show you that you can shoot anything with it. Super creamy bokeh, superb sharpness and contrast. This lens gives you amazing photo’s right out of camera. At least … when you focus correct, because it’s still a manual focus lens.

Technical specifications
PerformanceFocal length135 mm
Aperture rangef/2.0 – f/22
Camera mountCanon EF-Mount* (ZE) | Nikon F-Mount* (ZF.2)
Format compatibilityFull Frame
Focusing range0,80 m (31.49″) – ∞
Free working distance0,62 m (24.40″) – ∞
Angular field** (diag. | horiz. | vert.)19° / 16° / 11°
Diameter of image field43 mm (1.69″)
Coverage at close range (MOD)**145 x 96 mm (5.71 x 3.78″)
Image ratio at minimum object distance1 : 4
Lens elements | groups11 / 8
Flange focal distanceZE: 44 mm (1.73″) | ZF.2: 46 mm (1.83″)
Entrance pupil position (front of image plane)35 mm (1.36″)
PhysicalFilter threadM77 x 0.75
Rotation angle of focusing ring268°
Diameter max.ZE: 90 mm (3.53″) | ZF.2: 90 mm (3.53″)
Diameter of focusing ringZE: 85 mm (3.35″) | ZF.2: 85 mm (3.35″)
Length (with lens caps)ZE: 132 mm (5.20″) | ZF.2: 129 mm (5.08″)
Length (without lens caps)ZE: 115 mm (4.53″) | ZF.2: 114 mm (4.49″)
WeightZE: 1123 g (39.6 oz) | ZF.2: 1059 g (37.4 oz)
Focal length and aperture

A manual focus 135mm prime lens will scream portrait photography. And it’s a fantastic lens for that. At f/2 the depth of field is so narrow, that your subject will stand out from the super smooth background. The bokeh of this lens is really great. I’m sure that you will love this lens if you are a portrait or wedding photographer.
But also for architecture or cityscape this is a fantastic lens. Because it’s a short tele you get fantastic compression in your frame. Giving you the ability to see the city in a new perspective. This works fantastic in big cities with skyscrapers.
At 135mm the distortion is nearly zero, contrast and sharpness are fantastic and are approaching OTUS quality.

There was a great article at Petapixel, summing up just a few reasons why you should want a 135mm prime in your bag.
Image quality, weight and value for money are a few things that are all three present in the 135mm range.
Subject separation is amazing as well, especially because of the ability to shoot at f/2. When taking photos with a 135mm lens at f/2 your subject wil stand out in a beautiful way from the background, which will have super creamy bokeh.

Create Awesome Images

The possibilities  are endless with the ZEISS Milvus 2/135 APO Sonnar.

Focussing and build quality

Again this is a manual focus lens. Thus the quality of the images is completely in your own hands. Get used to manual focussing or you won’t be able to enjoy the beauty of this amazing lens. Luckily for the most of us the focus Indication on both Nikon and Canon bodies does a good job for acquiring the correct focus.
If you are however on a Sony system, you should check out the Batis 2.8/135mm which has autofocus.

For me personally this was one of the reasons that I switched to Sony with their EVF and focus peaking. It helped me a lot in acquiring faster and more precise focus (with all my MF lenses).
Minimum focus and infinity are both hard stops, like on all other Milvus lenses and the focus range is engraved into the lens barrel.

The focus ring is made of rubber and is big, which I really like. The focus ring turns 270 degrees giving you the opportunity to easily fine tune your focus. When focussing the lens will extend a little to reach it maximum extension at minimum focus distance. The focussing is so smooth and nicely damped that setting the correct focus is really easy.

Build quality is what we are used of ZEISS. Featuring an all metal exterior with the big rubber focus ring. The lens isn’t light, with 1123g it’s a solid lens. But the ergonomics of the lens are well thought off and it lays perfectly in your hands.  The lens is also weather sealed, giving you the freedom to use it in any kind of environment. Apart from the blue seal at the back of the lens it also features internal seals to prevent dust or moisture from entering the lens barrel.

The Milvus 135 f/2 has 11 elements in 8 groups with an aperture range of f/2 to f/22. The close focus distance is only 2.62’/80cm resulting in a 1:4 (0.25x) magnification. This is a big issue as this makes the lens very well suitable for product shots and other commercial works.

Don’t be afraid for bad weather

The resulting image. 135mm @ f2.0

Image quality

If you think about Zeiss, you think about image quality. This lens really comes close to OTUS quality regarding the images it produces. Fantastic (mircro) contrast and superb sharpness and color rendition.

Vignetting is apparent at f/2 with about 1 1/2 stops in the far corners but because it moves into the frame in a very linear fashion, I actually like it.  You could correct it via the lens profiles but I actually leave it just like it is in most of my shots. When stopping down a stop or 2 it’s mostly gone.

Chromatic aberration is something that you don’t find on this lens and all of these things combined make the images look even sharper.

When I took the first images with this lens (on a Nikon D610) of one of my cats, I was blown away by the details that I just captured in the image! When I was walking in a nature reserve I was lucky to find a fox on my path. Look at the details of the fox and the creamy background.

Super creamy background
Very crisp details at f/2.0
Great contrast in the vox
Price and value

This lens isn’t cheap. But at a price of € 2.199,- and the quality it produces you get what you pay for. As said before, this lens really comes close to OTUS quality and regarding the prices of those lenses it’s a very attractive price tag. The Milvus 2/135 APO Sonnar is more expensive as the competition goes for a 135mm prime lens. It’s a lens for those who want or need the ultimate image quality and superior build quality which enables them to shoot anywhere under any conditions.
That being said. This lens gives you a whole lot of value for your money. The quality of your images will blow you away.

Conclusion

This is truly the best lens I have in my bag.
I really love shooting with it and the possibilities are endless. The clarity and sharpness are amazing. When you first look through the viewfinder the first reaction is wow. With f/2 the focus plane is very narrow, but the focus ring has a nice large throw so focussing can be done with ease. The weight of the lens and the way it’t shaped helps keeping it steady. VR might be missing but to me that doesn’t matter that much as my main body is the Sony A7RII with IS in the body.

One thing that might be limiting is that it is a manual focus lens, like all other Milvus lenses. For portraiture you will need to get used to acquiring fast and precise focus, especially at f/2. But if you nail the focus, you are awarded with some superb images.

 

The good

  • Beautiful and ergonomic design
  • Superb sharpness and contrast
  • Weather sealed
  • Flare resistant
  • Beautiful bokeh

The bad

  • No VR/IS
  • Manual focus lens
  • Price tag

Although many people say the price is high and state this as a negative point. Truth is that the quality of this lens is just amazing. I’d say it’s really worth the money.

Example images

As I’m not really a portrait photographer but I want to show you the potential I’ve added 3 images which are not mine, but are taken with the Milvus 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar.
The first 3 portrait photo’s belong to © Blake Gordon – shot for Zeiss, the last one is my little girl.

Martijn.Kort

Martijn.Kort

Fine art photographer focusing on architecture and cityscapes as well as capturing unique moments from the cockpit. Writing about photography techniques and sharing reviews. Ambassador for both ZEISS Netherlands and Nisi Filters.If you like my work, consider following me on Instagram!

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