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Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Review

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Review - John Riley reviews the new Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 bright aperture full-frame lens for Canon and Nikon.

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Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Zeiss Milvus 25mm F1,4 Front Oblique View
The Zeiss Milvus range of manual focus, weather protected lenses is aimed at the top end of the market, delivering exceptional quality and sturdy, long term reliability. The new 25mm f/1.4 is based on the Distagon retrofocus design. Here we have a close look at this ultra bright wide angle lens, using the full frame Nikon D810 36MP body.  

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Handling and Features

Zeiss Milvus 25mm F1,4 On Nikon D810

The lens is packaged beautifully in the usual Zeiss minimalistic way, something that extends to the instruction manual, with its basic, quite sparse content. The first impression is of a heavy and bulky lens, this Nikon ZF.2 mount version weighing in at a substantial 1090g, measured without front or rear caps. Nonetheless, balance is good on the Nikon D810 and this makes handling in general to be a pleasant, efficient experience. There is no escaping the weight.

The lens is T* coated, suppressing internal reflections and flare. The whole lens is dust and moisture protected. Filter size is 82mm. Though filters can be fitted, such is the potential quality of the glass that I would generally only use the lens hood, which is generously sized and should offer excellent shielding of the front element. Peering into that front element, the effective T* coating enables a clear view of the 9 bladed rounded diaphragm, designed to improve the bokeh, the smooth gradation of the out of focus areas in an image.

The metal lens hood bayonets cleanly into place, another example of slick and smooth manufacture. Behind the hood, the entire lens barrel rotates to effect manual focus, although the front element itself does not rotate. This makes the use of polarising filters much easier. The half of the lens body closest to the camera is rubberised, giving an excellent grip. This rubberised grip does not have a tendency to pick up dust spots, unlike some finishes on some earlier Zeiss lenses. Focusing is down to 0.25m, or just under 10 inches.

Zeiss Milvus 25mm F1,4 With Hood On Nikon D810

The focusing scale is very clearly marked in feet and metres, and for the Nikon version turns in the correct Nikon direction. The Canon (ZE) version of the lens focuses in the reverse direction. This means that users of the respective marques will find that the Zeiss lenses fit into the scheme of operation just the same way that the original marque lenses do. With a manual focus lens this becomes very important as it avoids confusion when swapping lenses. There is also a clear depth of field scale provided.

The ZE (Canon) lens has no other features and the aperture is controlled solely by the camera. The ZF.2 (Nikon) lens has an aperture scale and for the camera to control aperture needs to be set at the minimum aperture of f/16. There is a click stop and a release catch for this auto position. The Nikon version also has a small catch on the lens mount. This enables the aperture ring to be de-clicked, thus allowing step-less and silent aperture changes, particularly useful for video shooting.

Optical construction is 15 elements in 13 groups. There are aspheric elements and anomalous partial dispersion glass is used. Rounded diaphragm blades complete the optical picture, resulting in Zeiss claiming that the lens has “creamy bokeh” - this does ensure that out of focus elements in an image are not reproduced harshly, but instead have a smooth transition.

There are many situations where manual focus is the most viable method, particularly in macro photography, but potentially anywhere if a considered approach is being taken. 25mm is quite wide, at one time it would have been considered ultra-wide, and that does make finding the point of focus a bit more difficult with current AF focusing screens. An obvious solution is to use a tripod and Live View, especially when the image can be magnified. The LV approach works very well in brighter light, but in very low light the noise on the monitor eventually becomes so obtrusive that the method breaks down. The human eye becomes superior again, despite the trickiness of seeing the specific focus point.  

Zeiss Milvus 25mm F1,4 Rear Oblique View

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Performance

Sharpness is simply excellent at every aperture, centre and edge, peaking at around f/8. At especially the middle apertures the figures centre and edge are very close, resulting in a beautiful evenness across the frame.  

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 MTF Charts

How to read our MTF 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.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D810 using Imatest.

 

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is well under control both centre and edge. If further correction is needed, which is doubtful, then we can look at software solutions. This will for most applications be unnecessary.

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D810 using Imatest.

 

Barrel distortion might be expected in a fast 25mm lens, and here it measures a reasonable -1.59%. Again, this can be tackled in software if necessary, but apart from the most demanding architectural shots this will probably not be needed. In any event, for general shots a slight barrelling tends to be accepted. It's what our eyes have become used to.

Flare is well controlled and not generally a problem. In the most demanding of situations, perhaps where the sun is encroaching on the image, it is possible to induce a small amount of flare, but this is an extreme case, and the worst scenario is a slight haze or loss of contrast.

Bokeh is the quality of the out of focus areas in an image. Sometimes with very high resolution lenses it can result in the bokeh being a bit harsh. In this case the bokeh is very well gradated and gives a smooth result can could well be described as creamy. Because of the bright f/1.4 maximum aperture, pleasant out of focus backgrounds can be achieved, despite the naturally deep depth of field with a wide angle lens.


Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Sample Photos

 

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Aperture range

 

Value For Money

The Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 is priced at £1999 including VAT. Looking at what else is on offer in Canon and Nikon mounts, we have the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM (£1499), the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4 G ED (£1829), and the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (£649).

For more options have a look at the Top 10 Best Zeiss Lenses, or have a look at the Top 28 Wide-angle Landscape Lenses.

 

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Verdict

As always, there will be a price to pay for excellence. None of the 24/25mm f/1.4 bright lenses are cheap, but they do represent the cost of high quality optics. The Milvus represents a variation, sacrificing the AF and pulling no punches in weight or bulk, just delivering solid engineering and optical quality.

Manual focus does become more difficult the wider we go and this may well not be for everybody, but there are others who will revel in the sheer tactile joy of handling a precision, traditional style lens.

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Pros

  • Excellent sharpness throughout
  • Low CA
  • Low flare
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Bright f/1.4 aperture
  • Precise manual focusing
  • Dust and moisture resistance
  • ​Superb manufacturing quality

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Cons

  • Price
  • MF may not be everyone's choice
  • Heavy and bulky

Features4/5
Handling4.5/5
Performance4.5/5
Value4/5
Overall Verdict

 

Zeiss Milvus 25mm f/1.4 Specifications

ManufacturerZeiss
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Canon EF
Lens
Focal Length25mm
Angle of View72°
Max Aperturef/1.4
Min Aperturef/16
Filter Size82mm
StabilisedNo
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min Focus25cm
Construction
Blades9
Elements15
Groups13
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight1090g
HeightNo Data

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