For the past few years I have mainly been shooting with Sony cameras. The mirror less revolution is moving forward and taking no prisoners. However, just recently I have been feeling nostalgic and thinking quite a bit about my Nikon cameras which I use to praise and love so much. That mass of metal which feels like no other camera when firmly grasped tightly is really quite comforting. Lets face it, there is a big difference between holding a large DSLR and a small mirror less camera and no matter how advanced and feature packed a new mirror less camera is, it still does not give me that level of comfort and confidence in reliability I get when holding a Nikon D5 or other DSLR.
I recently purchased a Nikon D5 and have been longing for a nice short tele to play with. I have always been fond of the 135 focal length and when mated to a nice DSLR, it results in one of my most enjoyable shooting experiences. I feel the 135 gives you that extra reach and separation that an 85 or 100 just misses. So when I called Zeiss to see if I could get the new Milvus 135 for testing I was pleasantly surprised to hear they had one available and they would ship it to me. Two days later it arrived along with the continuous rain of dreary Portland But hey, the D5 is weather proof and so is the Milvus. Plus, a little rain makes for good even lighting. So with camera over shoulder, I head out on a Friday for a lunch time stroll and a visit to Pioneer Square for the Holiday Ale Festival where the beer is plentiful, the smiles are abundant and the alcohol makes you feel nice and warm on a cold wet day.
Lets get a few things out of the way. This review or opinion piece is to tell you how the lens performs and handles. We know it is the best 135 on the street. We know it out performs the new Nikon 105mm 1.4, we know its a Zeiss, we know it’s manual focus and we know what to expect from it. If you want the scientific details on this lens read what Lloyd Chambers or Roger Cicala will write up after they dissect this beast. I’m just here to tell you some good things and not so good things.
The Milvus 135 is a work of mechanical jewelry. It is sexy looking, built like a tank from metal, weather sealed and big. Coupled with a D5, its quite a load. However, I have just started using a BlackRapid strap over my shoulder which greatly reduces the stress of carrying heavy gear for extended periods of time. It actually is quite amazing how much lighter the camera feels when carried this way.
Now for the elephant in the room. It’s manual focus. If you must have auto focus for the type of photography you do or just can’t focus worth a damn manually, then this lens is not for you. If your photography style or manual focus skills afford you the luxury of shooting manual focus then you have to give this lens a try.
As far as working with this lens in the various situations I ran across, it is pretty forgiving and easy to handle. The magnification aspects of looking through a 135 clearly is advantageous to manual focusing. Even without an EVF, for the most part, you can see when your focus area pops in. The only dislike I have in regards to focusing, is that the focus rotation is close to 270 degree from infinity to minimum focusing distance. Thus, making it a little slower to acquire focus from one extreme to the other. On the other hand, the focus is smooth as butter and although not a macro lens, you can get really damn close to your subject. One would be foolish to pass up on this lens if they do studio or still life work if focusing was a concern.
Color and contrast is superb. Compared to other lenses I shoot with, the results are warmer and richer than from Sigma or Nikon. If you like your images to pop out, this lens will deliver.
Sharpness is amazing. Not a dull soft image besides the out of focus ones due to user error. On a 21 MP Nikon D5, the detail is simply amazing. On a 40+ MP like a Sony I can only image it being unmatched. This lens delivers Otus quality sharpness and contrast.
Bokeh is beautiful creamy smooth and of course subjective. The transition from in focus to out of focus is pleasing and smooth at just about any aperture. Quite honestly if there is any reason alone for this lens, is its beautiful bokeh.
3D separation is something common with telephoto lenses. But, with the 135 Zeiss, it really looks 3D. The separation of subject from surrounding areas controlled with the aperture, combined with color and contrast gives a sense that the subject is floating. It’s quite astonishing to see how this lens delivers in so many ways.
I have seen images form the new Nikon 105mm 1.4. Quite honestly that is quite an impressive lens which delivers stunning results with auto focus technology which the Zeiss does not have. However, both lenses are priced about the same and in my opinion, the Zeiss would be a better choice for many who photograph still or slow moving subjects. Not to mention the charts seem to suggest the Zeiss outperforms the 105 as well. Furthermore, the Nikon is plastic and made in China. Nothing against the Chinese manufacturing sector. But, there is a sense of poor quality control and just recently on some forums, reported issues of QA have surfaced again regarding the 105 having a great deal of dust particles on the inside. No one is perfect and you can expect QA issues form anyone. But lets not fool ourselves. QA issues are more common with Chinese manufacturing then with Japanese.
below are a few from the gallery here for your browsing pleaser.
Zeiss Milvus 135mm f2 APO Sonnar