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Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Review

John Riley reviews the new Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 bright aperture full-frame lens for Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

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Handling and Features
Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Review: Zeiss Milvus 35mm F1,4 Front Element View

The Zeiss Milvus range of manual focus, weather protected lenses are aimed at the top end of the market, delivering exceptional quality and sturdy, long term reliability. The new 35mm f/1.4, based on the Distagon retro focus design, is large, heavy and certainly not inexpensive, so it will be very interesting to see how it performs, using for this review the Canon EOS 5DS R Full Frame 50MP body.


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Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Handling and Features

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Review: Zeiss Milvus 35mm F1,4 Front Oblique View

The packaging itself gives us the impression that we have a high quality, solid product, minimalistic in design but beautifully made, including very high-quality dense foam that protects the lens in transit, the packaging encourages confidence right from the start. The lens itself is metal, heavy at 1174g (Nikon) or 1103g (Canon) and also very large for a 35mm optic. A solid metal lens hood is also provided and this bayonets into place with a smoothness that speaks volumes for the precision of the engineering.

The lens is T* coated, suppressing internal reflections and flare. The whole lens is dust and moisture protected. Filter size is a reasonable 72mm, not too bad in terms of cost. Although 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.

The lens sits very well on the Canon EOS 5DS R used for this review. The balance is excellent, albeit with quite a hefty weight and size to carry around.

Previously I have commented that the rubberised finish on some Zeiss lenses was somewhat prone to picking up specks of dust, but this lens does not seem to have that same problem. The whole of the lens barrel turns to operate the internal focusing, which in effect makes for an enormous focusing ring, part of which is rubberised. The front element does not rotate, making the use of polarisers easier. Focusing is down to 30cm, a fairly standard distance for a full frame 35mm lens. This represents a maximum magnification of 1:4.6.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Review: Zeiss Milvus 35mm F1,4 With Hood On Canon 5dsr

Optical construction is 14 elements in 11 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” and is ideal for portraits. It must be said that a 35mm lens does not leap out as the first choice for portraits as approaching too close will distort the features. Short telephoto lenses from 85mm upwards are more usually used as portrait lenses. However, portraiture is possible if we do not approach too closely.

On the Canon version, there are no other adornments and aperture control is via the camera body. On the Nikon version, there is an aperture ring, set to the smallest aperture if an “A” setting is required. The click stops on the Nikon version can also be switched off, to allow smooth and silent aperture changes when shooting video.

Currently, manual focusing does seem to be very popular, with many lenses on the market at various focal lengths. Ease of focusing depends not only on the lens but also the camera and any focusing aids that may be present. This lens on the Canon EOS 5DS R proved to be very easy to focus, the image snapping in and out very acutely. No doubt the bright f/1.4 aperture has much to do with this, with its razor-thin depth of field.

Overall, the lens is fantastic in use, there being nothing that could get in the way of shooting the images. Its very simplicity is quite refreshing and the feeling of quality adds a certain something to the photographic experience.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Review: Zeiss Milvus 35mm F1,4 Rear Oblique View

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Performance

Central sharpness starts off at a very good level at f/1.4, rising to excellent between f/2 and f/8. At f/11 and f/16 results are very good. The edges are good at f/1.4, sharpening up to very good at f/2. From f/2.8 to f/8 results are excellent, and then very good from f/11 to f/16. There is also a very even balance between centre and edge, so results are crisp over the whole image field.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm 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 Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is controlled to generally less than one-half of a pixel. This results in very little fringing and further corrections in software, although possible, will likely not be needed.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm 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 minimise the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5DS R using Imatest.


Barrel distortion might be expected in a fast 35mm lens, and here it measures a reasonable -1.29%. Again, this can be tackled in software if necessary, but apart from the most demanding architectural shots, this will probably not be needed.

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.

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. The Milvus 35mm f/1.4 has excellent resolution but also has a very smooth bokeh. The image is extremely clean without becoming too fussy. This could be useful for many types of image. Portraits, provided the camera is not too close, landscapes, architecture and flower studies might all have a requirement for smoothly gradated backgrounds, to name a few.

Performance can be summed up as a very well balanced, high-resolution lens with smooth bokeh, low flare and well controlled CA.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Sample Photos


Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Aperture range


Value For Money

The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 is priced at £1699, in Nikon and Canon mounts. It is probably unlikely that the lens would be purchased for use on a crop sensor, so looking at full frame 35mm lenses we have a few possible competitors.

There are the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (£449), Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM (£469), Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD (£599), Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 T* Distagon (FE-Mount £1399) and Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 (£969).

For Nikon, we have the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8 G ED (DX, £449) and the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4 G (£1599). There is also a low-cost Nikon AF 35mm f/2 D at £289.

Sony offers the 35mm f/1.4 G at £1129 and Pentax have the SMC Pentax-FA 35mm f/2 at £529. These figures are included to complete the generally pricing across all marques, but the Milvus lens is only available for Canon and Nikon.

For more options have a look at the Top 10 Best Zeiss Lenses.


Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Verdict

The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 lens is a bright, high-quality optic with smooth bokeh and a very well balanced set of properties. It handles beautifully and is a pleasure to use. It exudes a feeling of quality. It is very likely that it will last for many years before needing any attention. The manual focus is utterly smooth and the point of focus is very easy to achieve.

There is a high price to pay for this, so some hard decisions need to be made. Paying £1699 for a 35mm lens, even an f/1.4 model, is a very high cost and needs to be assessed alongside the amount of use that it might be put to. But for those who want that indefinable something from a lens and are able to meet the cost, then there may be a much clearer choice, especially if 35mm is a focal length that is favoured.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Pros

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

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Cons

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

Overall Verdict

With thanks to CliftonCameras who provided the Canon EOS 5DS R used for testing. 

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Canon EF
Focal Length35mm
Angle of View65°
Max Aperturef/1.4
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size72mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus30cm
BladesNo Data
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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