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ZEISS Milvus 21mm f2.8 review

By June 9, 2016 9 Comments

 

When I was asked to become an ambassador for ZEISS, one of the questions was what kind of lens I would like to use. Since I love to photograph architecture and most of my photos are within the 16-23 mm range, I immediately said I’d like to start off with the Milvus 21mm. Almost distortion free, sharp an a maximum aperture of 2.8 it’s the ideal lens for me.

Now, after using the lens for some 4 months, I would like to share my experience with the ZEISS Milvus 2.8/21mm with you.
See how the lens performs at fine art architecture, cityscape, landscape and astro photography.

The review is also made available in Adobe Spark, a beautiful way of presenting the review + photos.
Take a look at the link below and read my review and see a lot of photos made with the Zeiss Milvus 21mm f2.8.

If you have any questions afterwards, feel free to ask them in the comments!

See my review in Adobe Spark
ZEISS Milvus 2.8/21 Review

 

 
ZEISS Milvus 2.8/21 Review Nederlands

When you are going to buy a lens, you read reviews (thank you for reading this one!), you check the different prices and finally you buy the lens in your camera store or online. You sit down at the kitchen table and you are exited. Finally you have the lens you wanted! Unpacking gets the excitement going, how does is look like in real life? The unboxing experience is quite something with any ZEISS lens. Beautiful packed in a great designed box. All the elements packed separately and showcased inside the box. When I opened up the box, I felt the same thing when you unbox Apple products. It adds to the experience, it gets you excited.

Design

The Milvus 21mm f/2.8 is a Distagon-based design. It has 16 elements in 13 groups, four of which are Anomalous Partial Dispersion glass. The elements are a floating design, meaning that they move relative to each other as you focus, thus maintaining performance at all distances.

The lens just looks beautiful. I think it’s one of the most beautiful lenses out there. The front of the lens is big (82mm filter threat) and the lens curves gently towards the front element. Making it a visual appealing lens but also a very ergonomic lens. Because of the curve of the outside of the lens, it lies very naturally in your hand. Because of this, focussing can be done smooth and precise and the ergonomics help to reduce camera shake. Speaking of the focus ring, it’s turning very smooth and has a good rubber grip on it making it easier to fine tune your focus.

Apart from being a visually beautiful lens, it’s also protected against the elements. Weather seals that protect the lens against dust and splashes will enable you to use this lens almost everywhere.

All the elements are packed in an all metal housing and even the lens hood is made out of metal. When you see this lens, you know you are looking at a high quality product.

 

Focus

This lens is a manual focus lens.

Focusing with this lens is a pleasure. The focus ring has a soft rubber grip, which helps turning the ring super smooth even when it’s a bit wet. The travel range is good, letting you fine tune the focus with ease. The distance vs aperture scale on top of the lens is also very useful, and helps you preset the focus or set the focus at the hyperfocal distance with ease.

Last but not least, the focus stops at infinity. Not like Nikon lenses, where you can go past infinity and render everything unsharp which is very annoying. Thus a big plus for Zeiss, making a hard stop at infinity.

Need help with obtaining maximum sharpness with manual focus lenses? Have a look here: Using manual focus

 

Distortion, flare resistance and chromatic aberration

The reason why I chose this lens is because it has almost no distortion. This is a big deal, especially at this range. 21 mm is wide and normally you have noticeable distortion. The way the lens elements are placed they have managed to keep it to a minimum. Same with flare. The Milvus lenses have the t* anti reflective coating, minimising flare. Only in very unfavourable conditions I had flare once (very bright lights at night below me and the camera tilted up 20 degrees). During normal conditions there was almost no flare noticeable.

Chromatic aberration is well handled by this lens and is very light at some times in the corners of the frame. This can be removed by 1 click in post processing software.

 

Zeiss calls this lens “Master of horizons”. Suggesting it use for landscape photography and capturing other wide vistas.

With 21mm and almost no distortion this lens is perfect for a lot of types of photography.

Landscapes, seascapes, architecture, astrophotography to name a few.

I’ve used it for all of the above and I love this lens.

 

Image quality

As you can expect from Zeiss, the images straight out of camera are great. Great contrast and colours, and wow this lens is sharp!

It deliveres images with a punch. The lens is sharp from f2.8 and seems to reach maximum sharpness at around f8. The light falloff at f2.8 is small and pleasing. It can be easily corrected in post with the lens profile correction.

 

Personally I love to produce fine art black and white architecture photos. For this kind of work, the sharpest images with great contrast saves a lot of work.

Because the images are super sharp, it saves me a lot of time in processing these images to my vision. Making selections with ease and no need to apply extra sharpening.

As said before the distortion is minimal with the ZEISS Milvus 21mm f2.8, so i don’t have to worry about my vertical lines while shooting architecture.

Landscape and cityscape photography

 

With 21mm you can capture wide views in both landscape and cityscapes. The contrast and image sharpness gives you images with a punch. Night scenes are rendered perfectly with good micro contrast and fantastic colors.

If you feel the need to go wider, just capture a panorama.

 

Night photography

For both night and Astro photography you need fast glass. Meaning a lens with f2.8 or wider.

A lot of lenses suffer from loss of sharpness at f2.8 and not giving the image quality you hoped for.

The Milvus 2.8/21mm won’t disappoint you. It will give you sharp images, even at f2.8. Coma is also well handled, although there is some. (Coma can be best described as the stars appearing to have a smal tail (comets) in the corner of the image, instead of sharp dots). This lens is great for aiming your camera to the night sky and capture the Milkyway.

An other plus here is the hard stop at infinity. Focusing at night can be very difficult when there is no bright light available. You have to find a bright star and focus using live view. That’s still the case (always be sure of correct focus), but if you put the lens on infinity (hard stop) it’s focused correctly.

 

Conclusion

I think the ZEISS Milvus range is good value for money. The Milvus 21mm f2.8 comes at € 1725 / $ 1850, which isn’t cheap. But this is an investment for a very long time. You will love the images you can produce with this lens. They are sharp, have fantastic colors and good contrast. Also the creative options you discover by using manual focus can have an influence on your photography.

This lens is craftsmanship and you see it. By the looks of the lens, the materials used and the images it produces. I can highly recommend the ZEISS Milvus 2.8/21mm.

 

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!

9 Comments

  • Alex Foong says:

    I have both the Zeiss classic 21mm & 35mm, how is the performance of the new Mulvis series compared to the Classic series knowing them sharing the same optical formulation?

    I am using them on the Canon 5DsR, a very demanding camera where few lenses actually jive with it.

    Thanks,
    Alex Foong

    • Martijn.Kort says:

      Hi Alex,

      sorry for the late reply, but you know. Holliday! 🙂
      Enjoying a few weeks of no digital commitments.

      I haven’t used the classic Zeiss lenses so I can’t tell you about my personal experience.
      Only thing I can say that the Milvus line blows me away.

      Maybe you can have a look here: http://lenspire.zeiss.com/en/titel/
      There is a comparison the Classic, Milvus and Otus lenses.

      Hope that you will find your answer!

  • Because of this article and Stian’s recommendation I’ve decided to pick one up, it’s hard to find a consistent review with images that the lens should and would be used for, Kudos Martijn, good luck with everything! If you’re ever in Houston, beer on me. hehe.

    • Hi Erik,

      You will definitely love the lens! It’s still the first one that goes on my camera.
      Great for cityscape, architecture, landscape. Share some images made with the lens later on!

  • With the Lee filter system adapter this should be a rockstar! Hopefully I don’t forget about my 14L II, thanks again!

  • Hello, thank you very much for this detailed review. Just a quick question, could i also use this same lens for some portraits as well or just strictly landscapes? Thanks in advance alex

    • Martijn Kort says:

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks a lot! Glad you got all the information you needed. Sure the lens could be used for 3/4 portraits, it’s sharp as hel. But, 21 mm isn’t something you would normally use for portraits. For groups it’s great though. But up close portraits are not too good with 21mm. The distortion of the face isn’t something pleasing…
      For portraits I’d recommend something in the 85-135 mm range.

  • Ron Hallam says:

    I am wondering first IF you will review the Milvus 18 mm f/2.8 > I would like to see data and compare the two before finalizing my choice.

    • Martijn Kort says:

      Hi Ron,

      I will not review the Milvus 18mm as I’ve switched to Sony about a year ago. Anything wider than 35mm won’t really work with an adapter on the Sony.

      I will however make a review of the Zeiss Batis 18mm (for the Sony).
      I have used this lens for a while and am really pleased with the images it produces.

      The Milvus and Batis are comparable in my opinion. If I were you if make the decision based on the mm you need the most.
      I really love the Milvus line and am sure the 18mm wont dissapoint!

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