Zeiss is a lens brand I’d always heard great things about, but had only dreamed of using. Imagine my excitement when I got the chance to try out their Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 ZE Lens.
When I opened the box, I was impressed immediately with the simple, sleek design of the matte black lens. I’ve heard these were heavy lenses but I don’t think I was prepared for quite how heavy it was. In the world of lenses, this thing is a tank. When you’re holding it, there is no doubt it’s been built to last and endure the toughest of situations. But despite its solid design, the focus ring was surprisingly smooth and perfectly responsive to my touch.
I immediately mounted it on my camera and took a quick snap at f/1.4 in my cluttered kitchen. I knew it was a winner when, over my shoulder, I heard my husband yell, “Wow!” He had peeked at my LCD screen. The disaster that was our countertop, (covered in equal parts remodeling supplies and sippy cups,) had dissolved into a velvety, dreamy background, with just a sliver of focus resting on the paint cans. This lens was magic.
Over the next few weeks, I took the Zeiss Milvus everywhere. From our afternoon walks, to soccer games, and on many after-school family adventures. I primarily shoot with my 35mm lens while at home and on day-to-day excursions, so I was excited to see how this compared. This lens is manual focus only and I found there was a bit of a learning curve for me. I didn’t realize how often I depended on my autofocus. My children are very active (and fast!), so I found myself rushing around with them and missing most of my shots initially. But, after a few days, I learned to sit back, have patience, and anticipate better what was about to happen. By doing this, I was able to capture not only sharp images but more authentic moments happening with my family. A total win-win in my book!
I pushed past my comfort zone of working primarily with my children and took this lens out for some landscape and still-life work. It was extraordinary. The colors were exquisite and vibrant. The distortion was hardly detectable at the edges and could easily be corrected post processing. I used the zoom feature on my LCD screen to precisely fine-tune the focus for these shots and this lens was tack sharp. I did not get the chance to take it out for some astro photography, but based on how it performed on landscapes, I don’t have any doubt in it’s ability to capture the stars.
Finally, I have a soft spot for free lensing. Many Nikon mount lenses close down the aperture when unmounted, but I’m happy to report that this Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 does not! In fact, you can completely customize the aperture you want to shoot with and it will stay right there until you adjust it again. Keep in mind, free lensing comes with it’s own risks: An open camera body can be exposed to dust and elements, plus there is the risk of dropping your lens. This is a heavy lens, so it may not be best to use regularly for free lensing… but it was astounding. Perfectly sharp where I wanted focus and the rest of the background fell off to creamy, bokeh, nothingness.
Overall, this exquisite lens exceeded my expectations. As a lover of 35mm lenses, this blew my previous experiences out of the water. The colors and background compression were unlike anything I’ve seen from other 35mm lenses. As was the lack of chromatic aberration and distortion. Add in the solid metal construction and smooth mechanics, Zeiss’ $1,999 price point makes sense; you definitely get what you pay for. Zeiss doesn’t disappoint with this lens.
Words & Photos by Melissa Haugen
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