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Test Drive – Zeiss Milvus 21/2.8

These days Sony users are feeling the love from Zeiss with the company’s highly regarded Batis lenses and the smaller rangefinder style manual focus Loxia line. While the Batis and Loxia (Zeiss names their lens lines after bird species – due to their visual acuity) are excellent native options, the beauty of the Sony mirrorless system is that we can mount nearly every lens developed for a 35mm sensor. So when I was looking for a 21mm loaner from my friendly Zeiss rep at Precision Camera, he advised that I give the new Milvus 21/2.8 a try.


 

Milvus in hand and mounted on the a7RII, I headed out to The Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX to cover some Indy Car testing.

Designed for an SLR, the Milvus is not a small lens to start and grows even larger when you add the necessary adapter for the Sony E-mount. However, concern over the size and weight diminish once you review your images.

Build quality is outstanding, a younger brother to the more most expensive Otus lenses. The Milvus sports the same smooth rubber focus ring and modern bulbous design elements that Zeiss introduced with the Otus. A Distagon design featuring 16 (elements)/ 13 (groups), Zeiss boasts of “four anomalous partial dispersion glass elements to greatly control distortions and aberrations, as well as increase sharpness and clarity” and of course the company’s Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating. Additionally, the lens is weather sealed both internally and around the mount so you can feel confident using it in inclement weather.

Color and contrast are simply outstanding. In fact, there was so much micro contrast that I could easily manual focus without the aid of focus peaking in the EVF – just look for the moire shimmer and you will know definitively whether your subject is in focus. Running around the pits, following the team as they prepped to get the racers on track, I had absolutely zero mis-focused images, even when shooting wide open.

Bokeh is subjective and a wide angle lens would not be considered the ideal tool, but shooting details up close at f/2.8 – the lens focuses to within a 8.7″ – I was impressed with how the Milvus rendered transitions and highlights. Stopped down, the lens morphed into a different beast with sharpness that is borderline hyperreal.

Clearly, this is a wide angle designed for a new generation of high resolution digital sensors. A lens of this quality should used to great effect for landscapes, architecture and even street or PJ. While I didn’t use the electronic focusing tools on the a7RII, they are available and in my opinion make the Sony platform the definitive choice for a body to shoot these lenses on.

What about downsides? There aren’t many; apart from the size of the lens, there appears to be a minimal amount of distortion that gets handled nicely in the Lightroom profile. Another negative may be the lack of EXIF data read from the lens on the Sony, but if that is important you could look at the native Loxia 21/2.8 option. I’ve got the Loxia on order and will report in a future post on how it compares to the Milvus.

This little hands-on proved the Milvus to not just be great, but truly one of the finest 21mm options on the market. Thanks to Zeiss for literally letting me take it out on the test track!

3 Comments

  1. Great photos I would trade in my rx1rII for the a7rII if a great zeiss lens like this with autofocus was avialble, are there any you can suggest, I did like the A’s autofocus much better, thanks. Colors are amazing, bold but natural looking.

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  2. I am definitely buying a Sony mirror less system. The Sony a7R II or whatever newer version that my be coming this year will be definitely mine. Outstanding photos and breath-taking quality

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    1. Good choice. The a7RII is just an amazing camera.

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