Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8: The Milvus March Continues

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

Raj Lalwani tests the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8, another impressive piece of optics, to see how well it can withstand some gruelling tough conditions.

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 was a lens that caught my attention first, when I opened the triad of new Milvus lenses that have been announced, the aforementioned one, a new Milvus 15mm f/2.8 and a 135mm f/2. I was about to head to the Himalayas for an assignment and an 18mm seemed to be wide enough for landscapes and dramatic action photos, and yet, not so wide that it gets overtly difficult to control. The older Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 Distagon lens has been long in the tooth for a while now, so it was interesting to observe how the Milvus does.

To facilitate the use of an ultawide angle, the distance between the rear lens element and the image plane is considerably longer than the focal length. This, in fact, was the principle around which some of the early Distagon lenses were built. The retrofocus design allows you to exercise a good amount of correction , which minimises the kind of aberrations that typically affect lenses of 20mm and below. To control stray flare, the 18mm, like other Milvus lenses, has a T* antireflective coating. Besides this, all the lens edges are provided with a special pitch-black lacquer in a complex manual process. All of these come together to reduce the number of internal reflections, and thus minimise any kind of problems when shooting against the light. A number of times in my assignment, I was forced to shoot in terrible light at high noon. I almost always responded to the challenge by shooting into the light, to maintain drama and avoid harshness. Any other lens in a similar situation would have been caught out, but the Milvus 18mm did admirably well.

Unlike the older 18mm lens, the Milvus is also weathersealed, with special seals against both dust and moisture. Suffice to say that it could survive the constant barrage of muck, gravel and water that came its way during the car rally, which is saying quite something. According to the company, the design of the all-metal housing has been kept in mind to even minimise camera shake, which I can testify for, having shot 1/10sec and 1/15sec photos in rather cold conditions.

The focusing ring has a large rotation angle which enables pinpoint focusing that’s smooth and without any backlash. The distance engravings are clear and detailed, with DOF markers for apertures from f/16 to f/4. Keeping in mind that even f/4 gives a large DOF at 18mm and allows zone focusing easily, this is a good decision. A silent, continuous aperture setting with a declick function make the Milvus a practical choice for dedicated filmmakers, as well.

Sun flare is handled beautifully and distortion control is excellent, even towards the edges. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/22 (ISO 200). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Sun flare is handled beautifully and distortion control is excellent, even towards the edges. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/22 (ISO 200). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The Milvus 18mm f/2.8 has a Floating Elements Design, which ensures that the image performance is maintained, across the entire focusing range, from minimum distance to infinity. The lens does this by changing the axial distance between individual lens elements or element groups, and coupling this with the distance setting. The results are there to see. While it may not be the sharpest Milvus lens we have tested, results are state of the art for this focal length. Centre sharpness is excellent at f/2.8, and stopping down to f/4 gives excellent quality, through and through. The lens lacks the ‘bite’ or microcontrast that some other optics offer, but the subtle rendition of the image gives it a distinctive look, which combined with the high latitude and DR of full frame sensors, facilitates good printmaking. Distortion control is the highlight, with only slight barrel distortion that is correctible and minimal. One tends to forget that the lens is this wide, considering that the usual distortion one expects at 18mm especially towards the corners, is superbly controlled here!

At a price of Rs. 1,69,950, this is an expensive lens. If you are in the market looking for a fast ultrawide, there are other lenses, especially the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 and the Sigma 20mm f/1.4, both excellent lenses that offer faster apertures at a much lower price point. But the premium you pay is reflected in the precision and user experience that the Zeiss offers. If you are a dedicated landscape or architectural photographer, and wish to go wider than the 21mm that the Milvus range also offers, then the 18mm is a worthy investment.

Stepless aperture ring for video, f/2.8
Excellent distortion & flare control, slight visible fringing towards the corners
Build Quality
Metal construction, weathersealing
Excellent distance scale, handles very well
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, limited service in India
MRP Rs. 1,69,950
Who should buy it? Landscape and architectural photographers who shoot a lot in tough conditions.
Why? The Milvus may charge a premium, but the optics
are excellent and the investment will last several years.
Tags: Lens, Milvus, November 2016, Review, Zeiss, Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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