A visit to Zeiss and thoughts on the Milvus line

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The mothership

I was fortunate enough to spend the last three days at Zeiss with Lloyd Chambers (update: his blog entry is here) – with a level of access that I suspect that has never been granted before to independent external parties. They were gracious and first class hosts – I don’t think I’ve had that many types of non-alcohlic beer before. We asked every question we could think of and more, and received answers which we had never expected and at a level of depth that has left me deeply, deeply impressed with what the lens team is doing out in Oberkochen. This may seem like a strange way to talk about the new announcement, but bear with me for while; there is method to the madness. 🙂

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Origins: it all began with a microscope.

The atmosphere at Zeiss is a very collegial one: there are doors, but nothing seems to prevent both discussion and excitement spreading between all levels of the team. Everybody is passionate and genuinely excited about their product: many are also keen photographers themselves. Whilst we were there, we had access to everybody right up to Dr. Winfried Scherle, head of the camera lens division. Information and ideas are openly shared, and the products are not developed in silos. However, the business of camera lenses is a very small one overall for Zeiss – semiconductors and medical dominate (Dr. Scherle was joking that they are after the decimal point in Zeiss EUR4.2bn annual turnover). It means that there is both pressure to produce products that can match the other divisions in ROI, but also that there is less restriction on developing unusual product that carries a high business risk and potentially small audience (Touits, Otuses).

Zeiss’ Cine lens division is also rightly famous – the lenses have a very high reputation in the industry, and for good reason. They carry a unique rendering that is consistent throughout all of the lenses in each given series (Master Anamorphic, Master Prime, Ultra Prime, Super Speed, CP.2) and in practical terms it means the director and DOP do not have to worry about each scene in a production carrying a different look – this is especially important where there are a lot of fast cuts. Having used the Master Primes myself last year during the Nissan commercial, I can see why. They are assembled at the Oberkochen HQ in an environment that reminds me less of a factory and more of a watchmaking atelier. Lenses are assembled by hand, adjusted by hand, and QC’d rigorously – but with the latest technology. We were lucky enough to tour the inside of the facility, but had to suit up in full clean room procedure before doing so – this is to control dust. First time rejection rate is high and each lens frequently has to go through multiple adjustments (element recentering etc.) before passing through final QC; MTF and a number of other parameters for each lens are measured live on a specially built K8 machine during assembly. Needless to say, tolerances are extremely tight – as one would expect from lenses that can top $30,000+ each.

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Planetarium at the museum – they sell far more of them than you’d expect.

The obvious question now becomes one of relativity: what does this have to do with the price of fish? It is arguable that the Master Prime line is Zeiss’ halo photographic product. Two things filter down through the rest of the lens families: the obsession with quality control, and recently, the visual consistency within a family. It is not just the Cine lenses that pass through adjustment on the K8: Dr. Hubert Nasse, Senior Scientist (and man of infinite knowledge of optics, responsible for the Otus line amongst other things) says there are over a hundred K8s at Zeiss and partners – all used to inspect and adjust lenses on the production line. The difference between say a Master Prime and a Batis or Touit is one of QC: the Master Primes take a day each to assemble and check/adjust; every single Otus is also tested and adjusted with the K8 machine; the rest of the lenses on a reducing frequency. It of course costs time and money to test and hand-adjust every single lens. We were told it is possible to design something with amazingly good optical performance these days with the power of modern computers – but putting it into glass and making several thousand of them at a price which the average photographer can afford is something else entirely. Design compromises have to be made for ease of production; there is no point in having a very ‘sensitive’ optical design that can be perfect but drops to mediocre if one element carries the slightest misalignment.

In real terms, the measured MTF10/20 represent a lens’ ability to reproduce high contrast gross structure of an image; the MTF40 (40 lp/mm) is for fine details – except that was the standard set by the resolving power of film, not today’s digital sensors. The D810, A7RII, 5DSR etc. need 130lp/mm+ lenses. This bring the natural question: why do we not see measured MTF80 or MTF120 values, especially for manufacturers touting higher performance? Dr. Nasse answered this question very simply: such values are so unstable to measure and so critical of machine alignment (each measurement machine has a huge number of moving components that must be micron-perfect to give a meaningful result) and focus that they are not meaningful. The same lens would be almost certain to deliver different results on different machines – but is likely to do so also on the same machine if remounted and refocused. Somewhat worrying when we are effectively attempting this in the field all the time when photographing…and a very good illustration of why resolution gains can fall off very quickly in practice.

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Lloyd Chambers contemplating history

Despite so much being stacked against us, it is still possible to achieve excellent results in practice a high proportion of the time – otherwise I certainly wouldn’t bother with the cost and weight. More importantly, the glass must continue to be able to deliver as time goes on – both from normal wear and tear and as sensors of increasing resolution place higher demand on the optics. I think this is reflected clearly in the longevity and reliability of Zeiss’ lenses: at the risk of being called a fanboy, I admit to having owned more than 30 from the late 50s all the way through today. None of them have gone back for service (except one Otus which had some forensics done on the rubber ring, and a bit of dust removed) – and there have been zero mechanical failures, and only one questionable or inconsistent sample out of all of those. On top of that, many of the older designs still perform well on modern sensors (though not all) and multiple samples are remarkably consistent – this was demonstrated with a series of production Otuses on Dr. Nasse’s own K8 machine – not only was performance consistent between lenses, but consistent across the entire field within the same lens. Lenses are even tested with multiple wavelengths of light (unlike the single wavelengths of a lot of other testing machines) all the way out to the extreme corners. We saw remarkably little skew and almost no astigmatism. That is an astonishingly good performance on all fronts, and the kind of thing that really builds confidence*.

*We also saw the results of lenses from competitors, including some we brought ourselves. The results…clearly demonstrated why an Otus is an Otus.

If you have this degree of a) consistency and b) longevity even within the consumer lens lines – which has been designed in from scratch with the Otus, and the Batis family, to a lesser extent the Classic line, and intentionally with the new Milvus designs – it means that if you can find something that works for you visually, you will be inclined to keep that set of lenses for a long time. Moreover, you will want to use those lenses for a long time. I have found that personally in the Otus line – I just wish they had more focal lengths – and doubt that will change, short of Zeiss making a set of lenses to my specifications**.

**I will have to win multiple lotteries first.

Much has been said about manual focus, and I agree with the current state of DSLR viewfinders, it’s not very practical in the field. Live view helps, but requires a tripod or bulky LCD magnifier. Combine that with two Otuses and something for the wide end, and you need a chiropractor and a Sherpa. Sony has solved this problem for us to some extent with the A7RII. Live view magnification and the stabiliser extend the working envelope of the Otuses – and any MF lenses – enormously; even if the ergonomics are compromised. And it is much easier to place precise focus that way than with AF – there is still a finite size to the smallest AF box, and it can make the difference between hitting eyelashes or pupil. The reality (and I pointed this out in my review) is the shooting envelope of that combination is MUCH larger than anything a DSLR can currently deliver. Note that yes, I am using Nikon lenses on a Sony body. But what if Sony develops its usual product ADD and decides to discontinue the Alpha mount? I would not want to be stuck with E-mount Otus lenses for a dead system; being 100% mechanical and manual ironically adds a degree of future proofing. I know I can use my Otuses on pretty much anything to come – with the same excellent optics, and a consistent look.

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The first of the Milvus line

I think you can see by this point that the argument for a lens system as opposed to a camera system is starting to make a lot of sense: you have one set of lenses that works on everything, and simply pick the best body for the job. On a tripod, or in a studio setting, I’ll pick the D810 body. In the field, handheld, I’ll pick the Sony. But both will mount Otuses and deliver a consistent look (after profiling the camera, of course). This is massively powerful: but something filmmakers have been enjoying for decades. It is something new to the photographic world, however. Though we also enjoy variety of rendering amongst lenses, I really would prefer to have a consistent rendering that works with my creative vision – if that vision changes, I’ll get new lenses.

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Multiple copies of every lens and different system bodies from Nikon, Canon and Sony were on hand for the media to test

The Milvus is the start of that change at the consumer level: the lenses are also designed to be consistent in color and overall rendering, which is why we have new 1.4/50 and 1.4/85 lenses; the old ones did have a unique rendering but were not consistent even within the rest of the ‘classic’ line (which continues to remain available). Other lenses that do not match will also be redesigned – there is a reason why we now have only six lenses for launch, but far more in the classic line. There have also been significant mechanical changes: aside from a new external design (beware pinching between the end of the barrel and hood, though) and more secure hoods, the lenses now all have full weather sealing, more visible scales, better overall gripability and a selectable clicked or steeples aperture (for video) – there is a small toggle in the rear mount, similar to the Loxia line.

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Milvus 50 on A7RII

I have been shooting and testing the new 50 and 85 for some time now, and find that the gap to the reference – of course the Otus – has been closed quite significantly. The 50mm is now a Distagon, and whilst it is not apochromatic, performance is significantly better than the double Gauss designs (used by pretty much everybody else, including the earlier Zeiss 1.4/50). Wide open resolution is much higher, peaking at f4-5.6. There remains some secondary longitudinal CA (‘bokeh fringing’) but correcting this would require apochromatic correction and increase cost significantly. It is one third the price of the Otus 55, but achieves 90% of the performance.

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Milvus 85 on A7RII

The 85mm is even closer: it carries almost the same optical design as the Otus 85, but minus one aspherical element. Again, this results in some secondary LoCA, lower apochromatic performance and slightly lower micro contrast at wide apertures, but an unexpected benefit. The drawing style is somewhat smoother than the very ‘crisp’ Otus 85 and the fully spherical design means very smooth bokeh without any texture in highlights – this is the one limitation of the Otus 85, and actually a reason to own one for portraits and other similar subject even if you have the Otus. I would say it reaches 95% of the Otus’ performance. Unfortunately, physics dictates performance comes with weight: both are still heavy. Both lenses have remarkable flare and contrast performance thanks to the new coatings: they are very flare resistant and maintain great performance even shooting against the sun. Note that for both lenses, Lloyd Chambers already has an excellent and extensive review up – I plan to produce an extended shooting report in the future when time permits, but I admire his patience for testing things I don’t have the time for.

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Milvus 50 on A7RII. MT is a happy bear right now lens-wise…or at least he will be once the Otus line fills out a bit more…

What we’re seeing is really the start of a significant shift for the serious photographer: the move to mirrorless bringing lens invariance and ease of manual focus is the first part; the second part is family consistency and a sort of focal length invariance for most intended purposes. It means that there is now an even more compelling reason to do some serious research into which of the family ‘looks’ works for your style of photography. The Otuses may be expensive, but if I never have to buy another lens in that focal length again, I think they’re actually a bargain. Choose wisely and that set of lenses can become a lifetime investment. MT

The Zeiss Milvus series is available here from B&H.

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Comments

  1. worldexclusive305 says:

    Thanks for this! I just purchased a Milvus 50mm 1.4 ZF.2 lens for many of the reasons you stated. 1. The abandonment or delay of Sony A mount glass and the possibility of that happening to E-Mount. 2. Nikon uses a Sony sensor in the D810, so I can easily move over to Nikon if the Sony honeymoon comes to an end. The Sony G Master lens showed that better glass means larger and heavier lenses, defeating the purpose of the small compact design of the A7 series. Sony will soon need to resurrect their A99 series to balance out the increased lens weight. Why should we buy into a system that will need to adopt many of the dslr characteristics in order to remain competitive in the pro space? I see mirrorless remaining a great option for casual and prosumers, but for professionals dslr bodies offer better balance, lens availability and pro brand support than Sony. I like my A7ii a lot but just seeing how Mivlus isn’t possible to natively work on E-Mount because of flange distance, tells me that Sony will continue to add flange distance in their lenses instead of the camera body to give the illusion of a compact camera. But looking at my adapted Milvus camera I know this is not a long term system. Nikon for pro work, and Sony for street shooting and travel.

    • The A7 series with its thick sensor cover glass, and lack of offset or special microlenses à la Leica’s M9 or M Typ 240, seems to have been designed for very telecentric/retrofocus lenses. This makes most of the optimal designs more like SLR lenses than compact rangefinder lenses. Only the Zeiss Loxia series seem to have been designed to be especially compact, and these lack the AF that most people seem to expect these days. Photography always seems to be about some sort of compromise to find equipment and techniques that will work to make the images you want to make, and Sony hasn’t discovered any magic physics or engineering to get around the need for large telecentric optics. Perhaps someday diffractive optics will obviate the need for large lenses, they might even be flat, and have lens elements thinner than a human hair, but we are not there yet.

  2. If you’re getting paid for your work then I’d say- everything you mentioned applies. In terms of future proofing your investment and creating a unified and consistent look, it won’t matter for most people. Buy what you want and shoot it. Yes, Sony A mount and FE mount could go extinct at some point in the future. You can always adapt a Canon to a mirrorless not the other way around. Sure- but then again- it may not matter if you aren’t either collecting lenses or engaged in some type of commercial photography.

    I’d also like to point out the pink elephant in the room- computational photography. Moving forward, I believe we’ll see the increased use of folded optics along with sofware assisted digital imaging. L16 is just the beginning but it’s the future more so than any of these lenses proclaim to be which are still working off an old design of image capturing. What will happen to your milvus lenses if computational photography can take inferior optics- work them together in tandum- and through a lasagnia method of layering churn out IQ associated with only the finest MF optics available.

    Just thinking out loud here. I get the sentiment regarding future proofing your glass. Then again, it’s a different market then it has been for the past oh…50 years. Not sure future proofing really exists all that much beyond a decade.

  3. Hello Ming. I havent been long heard of you, but from what i jave read in several of your posts and from postsade by others about you, I trust your judgement on photography. I have been a photographer for some time and am trying to to update and dramatically improve my lens line. I currently use all zooms except for one prime, Nikon 1.8/50. I am primarily a landscape photographer and am also starting to get into night time sky/star photography as well. One lens I will soon be purchasing that lends to both of those areas is the Zeiss Distagon 15mm. I am curious as to your opinion on what other focal lengths you think I should focus on to add to that. I know I will also do the Milvus 100mm Macro later. What lenses thru the center should I consider? Should O stay with all Milvus or look at other lines?

    • I’d add the 50/1.4 Milvus and either the 135/2 APO or 85/1.4 Milvus. Of course there are also the Otuses if budget extends that far…you can’t go wrong there.

  4. Great blog, as always full of wisdom.

    Have your tried a slit image screen with these lenses? I have the s screen on my Canon 6D and can focus the classic ZE 35mm f/1.4 fairly reliably, but doubt I could do so with an 85mm at f/1.4.

    I ordered a split image screen and am saving my pennies for either the classic or new Milvus 85mm, now I only need to decide which 85 will better match my shootInto style (the Milvus) or my existing 35mm (the Classic). I’m thinking that the Milvus is enough improved that any color differences with my 35mm will be easier to deal with in post than ov coming the focus shift of the classic lens and its reduced performance at wide apertures.

    • The only differences between Milvus 35 and classic 35s are coatings and housing; the optics are the same. Split screens will work the same with any lens of a given focal length and aperture.

  5. Hello Ming, Thank you for this very interesting write up. I also enjoyed your review on the Zeiss ZF 2.8/21 Distagon. Is there any improvement in the new Milvus 2.8/21 over the Zf 2.8.21 Distagon? I see that it costs a bit more.

  6. Hi Ming,

    Just recently began reading your blog and am enjoying it very much.

    I am in need of a 50 mm lens for my fine art studio photography and am curious about the rendering differences between the Milvus f/ 1.4 and f/2 lenses. I have asked Zeiss about the Bokeh differences between the two lenses and they have said they are very similar due to both having 9 aperture blades. I’d prefer a lense with a “creamier” Bokeh. Any thoughts about which lense might serve me better in this regard?

  7. I own three lenses Carl Zeiss, Ze. (Distagon T * 2.8 / 21, 2/35 and the Planar 1.4 / 85) Despite having other lenses Canon L-series, which are the Zeiss always in my backpack. When are they going to put on sale in Spain the MILVUS series? I look forward to try and buy the 1.4 / 50.

  8. I just acquired the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G lens for a Nikon D800. The lens is very sharp and, though its build quality cannot touch any Zeiss lens, it cost under $500 new. The lens received very high marks from DXOMark for sharpness, etc. What I wonder is: Is it worth upgrading to the Zeiss Milvus 85mm lens? Could these two lenses be markedly different in terms of sharpness and resolution?

  9. Peter Bowyer says:

    > you have one set of lenses that works on everything, and simply pick the best body for the job. On a tripod, or in a studio setting, I’ll pick the D810 body. In the field, handheld, I’ll pick the Sony. But both will mount Otuses and deliver a consistent look (after profiling the camera, of course).

    I’m confused; do you mean Zeiss are making a camera-agnostic lens plus manufacturer-specific adaptors, so you can buy one lens and use it across manufacturer ranges? That sounds the ultimate in future-proofing, but I suspect I have misunderstood 😉

    • I wish! The lenses are certainly camera agnostic if designed for longer flange distances (and thus higher telecentricity, which means playing nice with short flange mounts), but sadly we’re on our own for now when it comes to adaptors…

  10. Mark Hammond says:

    Much appreciated Ming Thein. For the same reasons as Zeiss’s redesign of them, I never used those exact two lenses in my work – they just never ‘fit’ with the rest of the series and the 85mm’s lack of a close focus distance was difficult to work with. Long and short, would you recommend that I upgrade my set — assuming of course they will also eventually rework the other lenses such as their wonderful 15mm. Sooting Super 35mm sensors makes this one of my most valued lenses….

  11. Mark Hammond says:

    I’ve shot video (log) with Zeiss’ (now) classic series 15,25,35,50,100 for years but I after reading about the new Milvus line I’m not convinced that other than the weather sealing, that I would actual benefit by upgrading. So called uniformity in lens-to-lens in grading is marketing verbiage to me as Resolve quickly solves any slight variances. Also, I am concerned the their new coatings come at the expense of micro-contrast. Am I missing something here? Thanks for your thoughts.

    • I was told that the ones that didn’t match were redesigned – the 50 and 85mms first, and the other missing ones next (which is one of the reasons we didn’t see all of the old FLs rehoused at once). Microcontrast is still as ‘Zeiss’ as ever – nobody else quite has the same signature in that respect, and I doubt they would introduce coatings that would reduce that advantage. I understand the new coatings are closer to the Otus in specification – and those lenses definitely do not lack microcontrast…

  12. I compared the Mothership pic with Lloyd’s. The lens FOV is similar (25 vs 28) but he corrected the perspective. Yours look so much better than his IMHO. In my book a tall structure should look tall !!

    Anyway it shows that the final picture has so much more going than just the equipment…. even the same subject makes the final picture look so much different.

    Nice write up Ming. Love reading your blog.

    • Maybe it is just style issue. Your planetarium shot is also very different than his where there is tighter shot of the planetarium thingy. I generally like more context around the main subject. Others can see differently I guess.

    • His has a little more breathing room though. I chose not to correct as there wasn’t enough space to back up – I also had a 35PC with me, but that would have been even tighter still. Thanks!

  13. Christoph Kügler says:

    Ming, thanks a lot for your informative write up.
    Did you eventually ask Zeiss why they are able and willing to design the Otus 55/85 and the Batis 25/85 to achieve high MTF @ f4/5.6 at 40 lp/mm from center to corner while for all Milvus/Classic (but the 100) including the two new ones 21/35/both50/85 only from center to about 18mm with strong drop towards the image corner. Yes Otus glass is large diameter and heavy, but Batis isn’t.
    And why they kept the 100 design which is so inferior to the 135 regarding sharpness level in general as well regarding longitudinal chromatic aberration.

    • Speed + performance = size + cost. The Otii are 2/3 stop faster than Batis and have to work with much longer flange distances – this complicates the optics significantly. Not all of the Milvus line is optically new; I imagine they will eventually all be refreshed, but their priority for now was a consistent look/drawing style. The 50/85 Milvus were designed to that goal, plus if they were to achieve the same performance as the Otii with essentially the same specification (flange distance, max aperture) they would be the same size and price…

  14. In the back of my mind, I am wondering/wishing that Zeiss just doesn’t replicate classic lens designs with some modern updates. Updates though, not significantly changing the essence of the lens–i.e. they may not be razor sharp WO on 50MP sensors. Something along the lines of “greatest hits” For instance, the Contax N 85 1.4 is superb. The Contax 100 f2 is legendary. How about a FE mount replica of the Contax 100-300/4-5.6. How about an updated contax 85 f2.8, or even the Contarex 85 f2? The Contax N 24-85 is great for what it is, already designed with AF to boot. And along those lines, why not just release a 135 1.8 for FE with slightly reduced size? I feel like half the time lens makers are constantly pushing and trying to reinvent the wheel, when they already have a proven and wonderful product that’s past the ultimate tests–photographers purchasing them. Anyway, I appreciate that sensors are getting more demanding, and I am happy products like the Otus exists, but it wouldn’t be bad thing to get some classic lenses with slight updates/and even AF motors and reasonable prices. Great architectural shots Ming. It’s truly amazing how consistently excellent your output is.

  15. why not lenses for sony E mount? i love the thought of this line – but having converted to sony mirrorless – and loving smaller lenses, and still anxious to see someone design smaller lenses for the mirrorless world!

    • There are – the Loxia line – and I assume more would be forthcoming eventually. I do have worries over longevity of fully electronic lenses, though…especially if one is paying serious money for them; it would be good to know they are still usable on the next generation. This is not a given for Sony…

      • A very good point, especially for users of expensive lenses. There is a lot to go wrong: AF, IS, aperture control, but this is just not limited to Sony, is it?

        • No, but I’d say the age of the other systems and their commitment thus far is more encouraging than Sony’s dropping a product line or business division after a few years… (laptops, mobile phones, A mount…)

          • Yes, but Sony is a business, just like the others, and if certain divisions are haemorrhaging money then the right decision is to get out. Think Panasonic and plasma screens, despite at the time plasma being better than competing lcd technology. OK, things have moved on, and Panasonic are still in the TV business and producing excellent models. But what if you are happy with plasma and want to get it re-gassed?

            But, more relevant to a photographic forum, think Canon in 1989 when it introduced its EOS system. Owners of its FD lenses were well and truly bu..ered. But think just how farsighted that decision was. It transferred more or less seamlessly to digital product.

            And, yes, Sony did drop the A mount, but this has to be viewed in Sony’s projection for the future – it wasn’t dslr. And now what do we see? Heated debate on just how long the dslr can survive against EVF and (not just) FF mirrorless systems.

            It has already been reported elsewhere that the innovation in camera technology is not dslr but in CSC. In camera terms, Sony is still the new kid on the block, and I suspect this is what unnerves many.

            • I appreciate that new solutions are required for new technology. That isn’t the problem. The problem is the track record of product ADD conflicting with their assertions that they are a serious professional camera company…when that is unclear. All of the major players have lost money at some point – they kept going, or went bust. Sony might not go bust, but they may well abandon us in the meantime.

          • And I should have added what about Olympus and Panasonic ditching 4/3 in favour of m4/3?

            • We still have back compatibility there. But their initial arguments never made any sense: smaller sensor, but same size lenses and bodies? There are smaller FF DSLRs than the 4/3 product.

              • Ming, but backwards compatibility isn’t even guaranteed. I once owned the Oly E-500 with the 14-54 Pro lens and sold it in favour of a Sony R1 and later got the Panasonic L10 with Leica branded 14-50 f3.8 zoom. This was better than the E-500 but not as good as the R1, OK it is APS-c, and which is equipped with an incredible Zeiss lens. However, having earlier this year bought an Oly E-PL 1 very cheaply to experiment with, guess what? The Panny lens isn’t recognised. I do agree, though, that I find the 4/3 system stymied and stifled by its small sensor, especially if one is a wide angle shooter.

                The thing is, the internet is rife with rumour upon rumour about Sony being in it for the long-haul, and with respect your comments about Sony compared to the likes of Canon and Nikon are weak. It is all conjecture and much too soon to judge. Sony may well indeed pull out of the camera business, but so did many in the days of film. Who would have thought that about Zeiss Ikon? Leica pulled out of slr cameras leaving many of its devoted fans high and dry with no advances in models nor being able to take advantage of Leica’s advances in lens design.

                • Ouch – that does clearly illustrate one of the problems with having multiple makers supposedly adhering to the same standard. It is well known that Oly lenses perform differently on Oly/Panasonic and vice versa – no doubt something to do with software to make you buy the same brand of lenses and camera.

                  Rumor is rumour and meaningless until it happens. Remember the internet also started rumours about me testing something groundbreaking when it was a crappy old $50 compact I found in a desk drawer.

                  I don’t want to see Sony pull out any more than the next guy – remember at this point I do have a nontrivial investment in E mount lenses, bodies and accessories – but I am aware that it might well happen. The same is true of Nikon, Canon et. al. However, some laws of physics and commerce remain: you cannot put a lens with a shorter flange distance on a longer flange distance mount and expect to retain infinity focus, and electronic systems are generally the first to go before mechanical ones – be it failure or lack of support. Sony’s mount is both one of the shortest flange distance and the most electronic; Nikon is the opposite.

                  • That is why after my Leicaflex DMR fiasco, I and my studio just buy the cheapest most cost effective cameras and lenses to get the job done. My neighbors have invested in Sinar 3-color cameras, Phase 1 and so forth. They’ve gone bankrupt and we are still cranking it out. What I can’t solve in camera, one of my retouchers can figure out. Things may change mechanically, but it’s your vision and thought process that keep on top of the game in today’s throwaway society. You will figure out how to create meaningful and beautiful Imagery no matter what type of garbage they try to sell you.

                    • True. I never forget I’m running a business. But I don’t mind investing a little more to enjoy the process, either. The important part is knowing what we want and not what the manufacturers tell us we want…

  16. Now, you can even get more out of the Zeiss lenses, as Sony just announced 14bit raw to be added to A7sii and the others per firmware update (see sonyalpharumors).
    Very nice write-up, by the way. I have not been there personally, but live close to Wetzlar, where Leica has its factory. For me, the 85/1.4 would be too heavy for a 85mm lens. But I am very happy with the Batis, which I find extremely sharp and which, for me, renders also very nicely.

  17. Ming, how would you compare the overall performance of the Milvus 50/1.4 to the Sigma 50/1.4 Art. The Sigma didn’t quite match the performance of the Otus in previous tests I have read but scored well overall. Also, as far as I know, it doesn’t use the double gauss design either. Is performance on par with Milvus?

    • Ming, did you skip this comment on purpose? 🙂

      • No, with 200+ comments it’s pretty easy to miss one. Short answer: I have not had a chance to compare them directly since I don’t own the Sigma. My gut feel is that they’re about on the same level for resolving power, but the Milvus may have a touch more secondary color. Again – this is based on very brief use of the Sigma more than a year ago and not under the same conditions I shot the Milvus.

        • I was giving you a hard time 🙂 I thought since you answered the comments before and after mine you were purposely avoiding the Milvus to Art comparison. Regardless, the Milvus looks like a nice set of lenses but I would much rather have the option to autofocus my lenses. The focus screen on a D810 does not lend itself to manual focus, so Sigma it is. With 100% live view, I can still manual focus the Sigma if needed.

  18. Pieter Kers says:

    Hello Ming Thein, thank you for the article and allthe informative answers.
    I read on the internet that several otus owners do not like the rubber soft touch focus ring
    and say that its beautiful look is only lasting shortly.
    What is you opinion on that ? Would you prefer the old style housing?

    • I think there’s probably a better solution than either, personally. The old style ones were prone to dings and chips, the new ones do get smooth after a while (at least in the tropics; apparently colder climates fare better). My main objection is that you cannot easily distinguish the focusing ring sometimes if you’re in a hurry because it’s all flush with the barrel; I have stuck focusing tabs to my Otii so I have an infinity index and something to grab.

  19. Dirk De Paepe says:

    Hey, Ming. I didn’t tell you yet, but I find the composition of the “Planetarium” picture to be vérrry strong. Maybe because I often (try to) perform a similar thinking process. (LOL.) Anyway, this was absolutely THE point of view and framing for this subject, IMO. Simply perfect. And so verrry strong!

    • Thanks! The museum had absolutely amazing light…which I suppose is appropriate, being Zeiss 🙂

      • White walls, big windows. I love museums for their photographic opportunities.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        That is a very unpresuming statement, Ming. And it’s probably no coincidence indeed that Zeiss has a building wherein the light does wonderfull things. But that’s only the base. I was referring to how you used the lines and planes of the light, and cobined them with those of the building in the subjects withing it to create a perfect “hemiolia” harmony in 2D.

        • Ah, my bad – thanks!

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            I hate this automatic orthography correction! Adding up to an occasional typing error, it delivers an almost unintelligibly text. I wanted to write: “… and combined them with those of the building and the subjects within it …”. And I should have better called it a hemeolia “rhythm”, since “harmony” would be more applicable for colors and shades.
            And to finish, I don’t understand the expression “my bad”, but I guess it’s not that vital.

  20. I’m really not sure they went in the right direction with the new 50 & 85. The diminishing returns for the price of an Otus were already pretty bad (especially the 55), and now it’s a razor’s edge. Plus, the 50 & 85 are not in the same quality (or size/weight) class as some of the other Milvus (especially the 35/2, but I also would’ve liked to have seen some tweaks for CA to the 100/2). I wonder if they would’ve been better off going for 75% of Otus performance (and size) instead of 90%.

    I also wonder if we might see two “tiers” of Milvus emerge: a new 35/1.4 on par with the 50 & 85, pegging the 35/2 as the “lower tier” which perhaps a more reasonably sized ~50 and 85 such as the C/Y 45/2.8 and 85/2.8 could re-emerge to join.

    • You’re not alone: I think they really just need two tiers of lenses. Otus, for speed and perfection; a slower f2.8 line for perfection and small size. But that said, the Milvuses are not a bad balance at all if you can’t afford or don’t need an Otus…

      • Even though it weighs about twice as much as I’d like, the new 85mm/1.4 looks very interesting. I still have the AFD Nikkor 85mm/1.4 which is OK, but the Milvus looks great for landscape, and maybe even astrophotography use. But yeah, a high quality 85/2, preferably under 500grams, would be far better for hikes!

  21. I have a Zeiss Ikon ZM. It is a thing of unsurpassed beauty. I would love for Zeiss to make a competitor to the Leica Q. Any talk of such dreams in Oberkochen?

  22. Interesting writeup and sounds like the trip was very much worth it too! It makes sense that higher resolutions are very unreliable to test. I like tests, I’m for tests as they can pinpoint certain specific performance characteristics better than some pictures in the field. But many tests on the Web are not so well done and too much is extrapolated from them, so I go back to looking at pictures. What’s annoying is that there seems to be a trend to desing certain lenses to test well, even though they are not nearly as exciting in real life shooting. Or maybe it’s a matter of taste.

    I also noted that not too long ago I was having an issue with good choices for short teles, especially models that would have very low LoCA. It drives me crazy to make a shallow DOF closeup or take pictures of aspens in autumn only to look at green edges around highlights. Since then, Zeiss has released no less than three different 85 mm lenses: the Otus, Batis and Milvus. I’m not sure if the latter too would solve my issue, but I would prefer the Batis due to the size and price, only that I’m hesitant to invest in Sony native mount lenses due to the reasons you often bring up. OTOH, using Nikon-mount lenses on adapters is not ergonomically the best solution due to adapter length and the longer flange length requires more optical compromises. I have to see what to do, maybe the Milvus is a good choice.

    • I would say that it isn’t so much ‘unreliable to test’ as consistency is required for a meaningful comparison: you have to test the comparison on the same machine with the same operator in the same way with a consistent protocol. In other words: observe the scientific method to reduce the variables as much as possible.

      As for the LoCA issue: I have shot with all three extensively. The Milvus is probably the weakest of the three; the Batis is not bad, and the Otus has effectively zero LoCA. However, the tradeoff is that in using the aspheric elements to correct for LoCA, we lose the smoothness of background from a spherical design (which the Milvus has).

      • Good to know about the relative LoCA. The old 85/1,4 seemed to render pretty attractive bokeh, but being a very traditional design had multiple issues in accurate reproduction of scenes. Such a smooth transition is attractive though, the big issue being that neither my wallet or back can handle having all different 85 mm lenses at hand (and I don’t think I’m alone with those concerns…)

        I didn’t use “unreliable” in any scientific meaning 🙂 You’re obviously correct. In such cases where the possibility of measurement error is significant, though, the skill of the person(s) performing the testing becomes critical.

        • I liked the old 85mm, but only on the 12MP cameras – even then, focus shift was quite obvious. I am guilty of having more ways to 85mm than one really needs (24-120, 85/1.8G, 1.4/85 Milvus, 1.4/85 Otus, 90/3.5 APO Lanthar, 85 PCE…) yet each of those actually serves a niche. But if I could only have one, it’d probably bye the 85 PCE simply because that’s my highest ROI lens – it shoots the majority of my commercial work…

          • I know what you mean, my preferred focal lengths such as 50 are pretty well covered. I have the 85 PC and while I don’t use it often, it’s so useful for product/macro style shots that I couldn’t get rid of it. However, I never really got along with the 85/1.8G; lots of LoCA, focus is not always reliable, exposure is not always reliable, rendering is sometimes bland… I got the Voigtländer 90/3.5 to make up for some of the weaknesses and it delivers well on compactness and handling, but in terms of speed and microcontrast I could do better…SO, I’m looking at the new offerings from Zeiss with great interest.

            • The Voigt 90 is great on size LoCA but requires stopping down to bring the ‘bite’ back. The 85 Otus is of course the king, but not always practical. We keep telling them they need smaller f2.8 Otii…

  23. michael foley says:

    Your photos of the Zeiss building are extraordinary, so evocative: they capture the spirit/geist of the place.

  24. Now that I think of it, when Leica releases the rumoured new system, you might just have Q ergonomics, Panasonic sensor and electronics with adaptable Zeiss glass. Probably costs twice as much as A72 to get into, but as long as you don’t buy any native glass it might be justifiable. Resolution could be an issue, though – based on what you’ve written I’m not sure Leica would like to expose their lens QC to anything above 24 mpix.

    • That could work, actually. But I don’t think the ergonomics of the Q would be suited to the weight of Otuses though…the 7R2 needs the battery grip and some significant amounts of Sugru to the grip to be workable.

  25. Hi Ming, thanks for this nice piece. Did anyone ask your hosts where exactly the Milvus line is produced? I see no “made in X” details on any of the pictures of the lenses….(the Classic line lenses have a clear “made in Japan” label)

  26. As a 60 year old pro, I’ve been on this lens merry-go-round a a few times. I first started apprenticing with a Hungarian fashion photographer in the late 1970’s. He swore to me that nothing beat Leica or Zeiss Lenses. He made most of his money shooting, or I may say man-handling, a Agfa 8″x10″ plate camera with a 14″ Commercial Ektar attached to it. His hand cameras were Leicaflex SL’s and Hasselblads. When he retired, I inherited all his gear and continued using these fine German and Swedish cameras until 2005 when I was forced to go digital. My logical choice was the Leica DMR, which I purchased 3 of. 4 years later Leica stopped making the batteries, so I sold off the whole system. My next logical choice was Sony with the Zeiss Lenses. I continue to grind out a living with this. In all my years only 2 of my clients even showed any interest in my camera system. I recently added a 85mm f1.4 rokinon to achieve a “knock out focus” on one of my assignments. It did the job so well, I’am thinking of getting some more rokinons. By the way, I’am a New York City pro, operating out of my West Village Studio since 1978. I specialize in package and trade ads for many of Dept. Stores and their E-Commerce Sites. By the time the photographs reach their end use, does all this really matter.

    • For most volume jobs, it probably doesn’t. But for your own work, or art, and to keep you waking up in the morning – why use something that doesn’t bring you pleasure?

      • Dont’t get me wrong. Photography has been the greatest thing in my life. It has given me creative freedom, a good living, a beautiful wife. What I am trying to say that trying to achieve technical perfection through new equipment is an endless and unsatisfying journey. A Zeiss ad in a 1950’s Linhof Magazine creates the same need of ownership, as their slick ads do now. Cameras in general have become pinball machines compared to a simpler device that gets your ideas and vision across to its audience.

        • I’m with you on the last one. If there was a simple full 6×6 digital back, I’d still be shooting my V for everything.

          • If you did get your wish, you would see how soft the classic V 50mm F4 and 40mm F4 really are. And so the lens merry-go-round keeps on turning. I enjoy your thoughts and find them really helpful.

            • They are – but the FLE and IF versions pretty good, as are the 120, 150 and 180…the 80 not so much. 60 and 100 supposedly good too.

              • Martin Fritter says:

                Charming and informative exchange. Thanks, gentlemen!

                • I shot with all the classic silver ones for over 25yrs. The only one that would pass today on 6×6 digital back would be the 100mm F3.5. That lens was only made in black. 6×4 foot cropped prints would be made from all of them for in-store signage. No one ever told me my photos were soft. They were never critiqued that way. Right now I am photographing soft goods and textiles that will end up being 7″x7″ 72DPI. on some major retailer’s web site. The Art Director takes my 24mb files, and then blows them up 200%, and tells me how my photos fall short of his expectations. I guess that he spends a lot of time pixel peeping. This is my life in the Digital Age.

                  • The classic C lenses and CF are quite different…as for art directors, I send them CMYK TIFF16s at full resolution – and then they complain they can’t open the files instead. Sigh..:

                    • LoL! Sounds familiar. My printer complains when I mail him the (compressed, lossless) post processed RAWs… Send Jpegs, or TIFF’s if you must, but no RAWs! he screams…

                      Of course, he subsequently does a great job.

  27. James Thomas says:

    If you had a Zeiss 135 F2 would you trade it in for the Milvus 85 1.4?

    • Tough call. I think it would depend on which FL I preferred; the 135 is better optically (no LoCA). I am lucky enough to have both (all three, including the Otus 85) – though this does not make it any easier to decide which to carry, because you certainly cannot comfortably bring all! 🙂

  28. Ming, great writing, as ever. Thanks for the insights. I’m really interested in the new line and quite excited to see how it develops and to see your further testing.

    I am truly interested in these, and the Otus lenses in particular, but the only thing stopping me is the focussing. I’m not really a fan of autofocus. Live view and tripod is too slow for what I need, and a small SLR finder is laborious when manually focusing in a fast paced shoot; it takes the concentration and thought process away from the actual image making which I find counter productive and limiting. I don’t really feel there is any 35mm SLR system that is well suited to manual focusing. In saying that, I am a huge fan of range finder focusing, it’s very quick and precise, so long as you have a well calibrated system which I do, in many ways it’s my preferred method of focus. But then, of corse, there are other inherent offsets with that system too.

    For me and what I do, it’s a combination of Leica M and Medium Format for when I need more, but I’m sure you know Medium Format can be tedious too, but they are well designed and dampened systems that I find easier to shoot hand held that then high density 35mm systems. I find it hard not to feel a cynical with Canon and Nikon, in that they are deliberately making it hard to focus manually to stop you buying Zeiss… I’m hoping Nikon or Canon gives us a full optioned support for Manual Focus. Either a developed accurate range of manual focussing screens/micro prisms or a very high quality EVF (although, I’ve not found an EVF I like yet, but I’m sure I would get used to it). We are certainly in interesting times for development!

  29. Samuel Jessop says:

    A fascinating read, a trip to the Zeiss factory would be amazing.

    Are you able to share any details on the first image? Was this a Milvus lens?

  30. Dirk De Paepe says:

    I loved to read this, Ming. And I have my usual remarks. 🙂
    You write: “But what if Sony develops its usual product ADD and decides to disncontinue the Alpha mount? I would not want to be stuck with E-mount Otus lenses for a dead system”.
    Let’s ask ourselves a few questions here. Will Sony drop photography all together? It’s the biggest sensor manufacturer in the world, providing itself with the state of the art IQ in that regard. It is revolutionising the body technology, coming up with the most advances bodies of the moment, in regard of applying new technology. It’s realizing a fast growing market share. Etc. etc. No they won’t quit.
    IMO, chances that Sony will step out of this market are no bigger than that Canikon would.
    E-mount Otus lenses? The market is evolving towards mirrorless, irreversirally. This means that those large FFDs are no longer necessary. So there will not be any Otus lenses in E-mount, because those would need an “empty tube” at the end. What IS possible, is that Zeiss would make a comparable line in E-mount, with the same quality control and as such the same quality level as Otus. It is very likely that this will happen in time, since the market share of E-mount WILL continue to grow. That’s why I personally will buy only E-mount lenses in the future, since the difference in handling is too big.
    But what about the Canikon mounts? What I wonder is, if Canikon will continue for ever (i.e. yet another few decades) with their much too large FFD for mirrorless. I don’t think they can continue with OVFs for ever for the pro market, a market that is getting more and more convinced (in a very fast pace) of the necessity of an EVF in a pro body. So either they continue with OVF (signing their death warrant), continue with a much too large body (due to the oversized FFD, which is only necessary to accomodate an obsolete mirror system and which will make them further loose market share), or they change their FFD. The latter would be the only reasonable thing to do, but would imply a new mount. Of course they could theoretically keep the same physical mount, but this would make no sense, since none of the existing lenses could be used (without adapter).
    My conclusion: chances are bigger that the existing Canikon mounts will disappear, than that the E-mount will. When thinking logically and in reagard of how fast Sony has come up with answers to the critics of the A7 Mark1 models, we can be absolutely certain that a next generation will leave even fewer things to wish for, as far as Sony won’t already bring (some of) them with a software update on the M2 generation. That’s why I don’t hesitate for a second to invest in E-mount. I agree, Sony has evolved a lot during the last two decades, with some major changes. They have been searching for their place in this industry. But it’s clear to (almost) anybody, that with E-mount, they have found their destination, and their place in the market. E-mount finally fully offers them what they have been looking for, from the first moment that they entered this market: a leading position in advanced photography technology. Of course they won’t change into another mount, just because of “product ADD”. That’s a cheap thought, IMO. They have been looking for their own fully fledged system indeed. But now they arrived. The evolution in the market proves this. And E-mount provides the base for applying all their advanced new future technology. At least for a number of decades to come.
    That’s my honest personal opinion.

    • It may drop the camera part. Sensor margins are much better and the economics known: you have fixed buyers in large quantities, which isn’t necessarily true of cameras.

      I still don’t see any of the commitment to the system I’d expect from something really determined to stay: lots of variations on 35/50/85, zooms, but where’s the speciality stuff? Where’s the quality control? Where are the lighting options, teles etc – the list goes on. Hell, we don’t even have anything approximating pro support. You cannot even wet clean the 7R2 sensor (it is a dust magnet) without potentially damaging the IBIS mechanism or sending it back, and waiting.

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Right, but it’s still a pretty new system. On the verge of being two years old now! Look what they have done in that amount of time. Sony is not going to stop further working on this system, further develloping it. They are moving on with giant steps. They have put a lot of effort in it. They have comitted themselves to the camera market for decades now. They are growing like no one does at this moment. That’s because of all of their efforts and because of E-mount. They may indeed have changed course during those years of their search, which I quite understand. But this system is proving for the first time that they are on the right track now. With E-mount they are on the verge of taking the lead. AND making a conciderable profit! They are not gonna stop now. Would be complete madness. I’m sure they are not mad. The present situation of Sony in the camera market is different from anything before. That’s why full frame E-mount is here to stay. Again, I rather see the present Canikon DSLR mounts disappear in time, being fundamentally obsolete, which simply can’t be fixed.

        • We can only hope – I’d certainly not want to have bought into a system with a finite lifetime. They did also effectively mothball A-mount after giving users hope there might be a future…and let’s not even talk about phones or computers. The E mount was originally developed for APS-C, and isn’t quite large enough to be optimal for FF – I’ve heard this from several lens designers now; perfect telecentricity is almost impossible because of mechanical vignetting. What they DO need desperately are some photographer-advisers (or if they have them, to actually listen to them) and a pro support network. That would go a long way towards convincing us they’re in it for the long haul. In any case, this is not a Sony discussion…and you know I’m committed since I already bought the A7RII and several lenses.

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            I totally understand you. And I agree.
            BTW, this aticle made clear why I have been a Zeiss enthusiast all my life. I hope that readers aren’t going to call you a Zeiss fan boy, because of your visit, as they (often unrightfully) do with other journalist because of their visit to other manufacturers. It’s normal for a pro reporter to be invited to a factury. And also a pro can have a favorite. That Zeiss is inviting only a few, amongst them you and Lloyd, only speaks of the pro level of the parties involved. Such visit is helpfull to further understand what’s going on and to transfer this to the readers. (Oh, there’s a third person in one of the pictures, togehter with Lloyd. Anybody we can know?)

            • I’m a fanboy of excellence. It doesn’t matter which company is doing it. Commercial reality simply means that if you aren’t objective you’ll quickly get overtaken by your competition, all other things being equal.

              The reason I seem to have settled with Zeiss (only after trying pretty much every other option) is for reasons of consistency (in quality, rendering/look, color, reliability etc.) and because it is clear they don’t cut corners. I have lenses from the 60s which still work just fine, and out of nearly twenty in total, none that have gone back because of problems – that says a lot in my book.

              In the interests of full disclosure, I was not told what to write – or even asked to write anything at all, for that matter. Zeiss actually invited about 40+ international media, but only Lloyd and I got the all-access pass. I believe a lot of it has to do with the fact that we know most of the internal parties personally such as Dr. Nasse..

              The lady you refer to is Nicole Balle, Marketing Manager for Zeiss USA.

          • All systems have a finite lifespan, the A-Mount Sony is now dropping was brought in to replace the MD mount, the Eos Mount replaced FD…

            Only Nikon has stayed with F mount yet even then you won’t get much sense out of some combinations of camera and lens combinations

            • That’s true. I suppose one can look at it both ways: a) longest flange distance = adaptability to everything, or b) not really being ideal for anything…the sheer variety leans us towards a) though. Similar arguments could be made for M, PL mount etc.

            • Yes, It was dumb luck 30 years ago that I decided to buy my first Nikon, though I could have got a nice Contax instead as my mom and aunts ran a photo & music store that was a Yashica/Contax dealer. It was Paul Simon’s fault with that wonderful Kodachrome song mentioning Nikon. Though I came to hate Kodachrome and prefer color negative film, I am still very appreciative of Nikon. Most of the best pictures I’ve shot were using Nikons, and far behind that, Leica M cameras.

              I wasn’t knowledgeable enough at age 20 to realize, despite the excellence of Contax-made Zeiss lenses, that Kyocera were running a secondary or even tertiary camera company of marginal profitability that would not last. The Nikon F-mount has proved quite durable (as has the Leica M-mount, though in a much less affordable and less innovative way). I now have a mix of AF Nikkors and MF Zeiss ZF.2 lenses in my SLR kit, and they both have their strengths, though optically the Zeiss are mostly better.

              The only Zeiss lens I have that I’m ambivalent toward is the 28mm/2, due to its strong rearward field curvature. I just prefer the AFS Nikkor 28/1.8g for its forward field curvature, and it’s quite a good lens when stopped down a bit. The AFS Nikkor 28mm’s manual focusing blows though, even with the reducing gearing it’s just sloppy and too short a focus throw. Zeiss really ought to do a flat-field 28mm/2 or f/2.8, but I suppose they might be thinking it wouldn’t be a big money maker to do a 28mm/2.8, and some people love the current 28mm for environmental portraits and cinematic work, so I suppose they have incentives not to monkey with that “classic” 28mm Hollywood Distagon formula. Oh well, I’ll make do with what I have.

              • The 2/28 Zeiss is a bit of a odd duck: optically it’s pretty bad, but visually, I like it very much. I suppose I’m not the only one since that lens has acquired a bit of a legendary reputation amongst cinematographers. On the 36/42/50MP cameras, it’s really quite poor…

                Give how popular 24/35 are compared to 28, I’m not surprised we don’t have many good options in that range. In my mind though, it’s the perfect ‘single wide’ since it can cover both with ease.

        • Actually not committed to cameras for decades, according to people I know within Sony. The reality is that they do this for profits, and have come close to exiting the camera market entirely more than once. The worker’s environment within Sony still could be vastly improved, and there are many leftovers from the era of the previous CEO. Product cycles in cameras are nearing product cycles in smartphones, which is not entirely healthy for the market. I hope Sony continues in cameras, though I am not yet convinced they will do so.

      • If anything, Sony will sell the camera line to an interested investor, maintaining commercial, r&d etc ties for say the next five years, resurrecting the Konica ór Minolta brand in the process (please, none of that “Ricoh Pentax nonsense; Asahi Pentax would have been infinitely better).

        That mount had better stay, to offer someone the opportunity to develop and bring to market a potentially “legacy” line of lenses. Look at Nikon’s strategy over the decades.

        You know it makes sense Dirk.

        • Hi, Michiel.

          I’m more upbeat on Sony’s camera future; I believe they are in it for the long haul. CSC, not dslr (except for more specialist use i.e. sports photography) is the future. And now, with the news that full 14 bit RAW could be available for some of their cameras via a firmware update (I’d like to see if they can do it for all their 7 series models, though this may not be feasible, the hardware may not be compatible in the first ones) for those that find the 11+7 RAW flawed well, it could result in a Sony re-think.

          If, and I reiterate, if, the update does indeed provide superior performance to Canikon, that would certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons, wouldn’t it? Interesting times ahead.

  31. Perhaps I missed it, but the elephant in the room IMO is the lack of any follow-up comments by either you or Chambers on the next Otus. This, after we all have waited a good year for the announcement. I can only surmise that this means there is one coming and perhaps soon. Can you give us any information please?

  32. Thanks a ton, Ming ! Very exciting and informative write-up. I agree that Zeiss need to produce a smaller, lighter (and less expensive) set for backpackers / trekkers/landscapers and so on — people who can live with smaller apertures. Why, even casual shooters might be tempted to try their hand at MF, given the eye-popping optical results typical of Zeiss glass.
    The closest I’ve got to Zeiss optics is my humble RX100, but do you think there’s any chance Zeiss will someday take a crack at M43? i really hope they plan to do something like that, since there is (I think) a steadily accelerating migration to M43 from APS-C and even FF…and I’m one of the emigrants (my lower back pain has disappeared) 🙂

  33. Charles Nyst says:

    Dear Ming, You write: “I have found that personally in the Otus line – I just wish they had more focal lengths – and doubt that will change, short of Zeiss making a set of lenses to my specifications**”. Understanding and respecting confidentiality and the laws of physics, my question is: “what áre your specifications”?

    • As much as I love the Otuses, it just isn’t practical to carry them all the time if you also need to have other lenses to cover a wider range or other applications – I’d like them smaller, lighter, and can give up a stop or two for that…I rarely shoot wide open anyway.

      • scott devitte says:

        Hi Ming, I am at IBC, Amsterdam, had a chance to play with the Milvus range. Having just recently purchasing the 55 Otus and was trying to decide on the 85 Otus, but balking at the weight and 82mm ring, I think I have found my answer in the 85 Milvus. I actually prefer its rendering- more contax like and it falls perfectly in my hand, though the weight is similar it was love at first touch/sight- them old haptics. And since I often have the B&W variable nd on my lenses, standardizing the 77 ring makes a lot of sense. I am mainly CANON/RED DSMC/A7RII based so I purchased the OTUS in ZE, I understand your argument for ZF being a Nikon shooter, but that reverse focus does not work for me and I actually prefer in camera iris control. And Canon protocol will be around a long time.

        Given that you use and recommend the Voightlander 90 and 180, and that they are small and light, is there anything in the Voightlander line up in the normal and wides that you would use to make a traveling set?

        • scott devitte says:

          And by the way I have fallen totally in love with the 100-300, I have two and cross shoot with RED Dragon. Out doors it lets you be way back from the subject but still real sharp and the rendering- dreamsville.

          • I’ve got one of these too. 🙂

          • scott devitte says:

            And by the way way, I am thinking that a double set of Contax 28,2. Milvus 85,1.4 and Contax 100-300 for matched cross shooting, and a Canon 16-35is,4 and a 24-70is,4 (24-35 cross shoot overlap) 2x Canon 40,2.8. and single Voightlanders- 15,4.5 III, 90,3.5. 180,4. for lightweight needs, along with 2x Dragon Weapon and an A7RII and the latest A7SII (and lots of batteries as the Reds and Sonys are voracious) would be a killer cross shooting, daylight, nightlight, no light, 2/4/6/8k Video, full frame stills, world traveling package. Ha! the universe in a single sentence and two carry ons.

        • I’m not surprised – the 85 Milvus rendering is a bit smoother and the extra bit of resolution from the 85 Otus is probably not visible on 4K anyway. The only thing you will have to watch for is focus breathing – the Otuses are all IF/ close range corrected and have minimal breathing; the Milvus series breathes.

          Unfortunately, Voigt’s normal lenses aren’t up to the 90 or let alone the 180 in quality. The Nikon 45P has quite a nice rendering though (and presumably so would the Contax Zeiss 45/2.8, since they are both Tessars).

      • Dirk De Paepe says:

        Zeiss WILL come with a top line in E-mount. That’s pure logic. They WILL be smaller and lighter. Just what you are looking for.

        • I certainly hope so – and again, we (Lloyd and I) both gave the same feedback to Zeiss…even if we didn’t personally want them, the market is too big to ignore. The only risk is again a lack of longevity because of dependence on electronics. I highly doubt we will be using 2010 lenses in 2060 the same way we are using 1960s lenses now.

          • Dirk De Paepe says:

            Zeiss makes Batis lenses for E-mount, but Loxia’s as well. The latter are no more electronic than Otus or the classic Zeiss DSLR lenses. The guys at Zeiss listen to guys like you. Also serious enthusiast (like me) long for lenses that can offer longevity. So I expect Zeiss to come up with a top E-mount line that will meet your and my requirements. It just makes sense that anybody who pays the price for top quality, will demand longevity.
            BTW, I’m with you regarding those lenses can have a stop less, (like Loxia does). Especially in WA, I don’t really see too much sense in a very fast lens, the more since sensors are evolving towards much higher ISO’s.

            • Yes – the Batis lenses I think may be casualties if something changes electronically – focus and aperture are 100% indirect. Loxias might be okay, though note they are electronic – you may well find yourself with a partially working chip or a changed body protocol not wanting to play nice even if the lens is mechanically fine.

              Slower lenses may actually be preferable not just for size but for better optics. It’s much easier to design something that delivers wide open out to the edges if maximum aperture drops a little. On top of that, larger apertures are of limited use with high resolution sensors because it becomes very clear very quickly if you missed focus just a little

          • By 2060 we won’t be using cameras at all. We will all have brain implants that record what our eyes see. The “sensor” will have 1gigapixels which can be cropped to provide what we need a zoom lens for now, and it will be wi-fi so we can record our images to an external storage device as it will work on the Lytro principle. Then in 2062, Sony will have worked out how to incorporate the storage device within the sensor.

            Remember, if you are still around in 2060/62 you read it here first. :D)

        • It is logic: E-mount screams for manual focus high end primes. If Zeiss comes with high-end primes for E-mount, CaNikon must bring mature FF mirrorless cameras soon. And if Canikon will bring such mirrorless cameras before, Zeiss will give us a high-end lens line for mirrorless cameras anyways… I’d stop all investment plans for the next 6 months or so. Something is in the bush for granted.

  34. I may go for one or two of the Milvus range if I can afford/justify them because I agree strongly about the idea of buying into a flexible, relatively future-proof lens system, which is why I’m also partially committing to Sony’s A7 series. In the meantime it’s make do and mend with my C/Y fit Zeiss glass which works, in some cases very well but others less-so, with my A7r and Canon 5DII.

    • Some of the C/Y stuff is great and has no equivalents – the 2.8/35 PC Distagon, for instance, and the 100-300. Others share identical optics with the Classic/ZF.2/ some Milvuses.

      • Keith barefoot says:

        Thanks for the report. One note: Isn’t it well-known that none of the Contax/Yashica lenses share optics with ZE/ZF/Milvus? I wish they did: Where is my 85/2.8 Sonnar for ZF?

        • Not all of them share optics, and not all of them made the transition – the 2.8/35 PC, 2.8/45, 2.8/85, 1.2/50, 1.2/85 and everything above 100mm didn’t make it. But we got the 2.8/15, 1.4/35 new 50 and 85, 2/85 macro and 2/135 APO (and probably a couple of others). In short: it seems the slow/compact/exotics didn’t survive the transition. I’d love a 2.8/45 and 2.8/85 too…

          • Isn’t the 2.8/21 also a carryover from the C/Y days? I remember reading stories about how expensive the C/Y 21mm lenses were on the used market, and after seeing the demand for it, Zeiss reissued the design in ZF/ZE form. It’d be nice if they brought back the 35PC, and I’m sure you’ve already relayed your personal request for that to them …

            • Yes it is – there are a lot of current lenses that are C/Y derivatives. I’d personally like to see the 45/2.8 pancake, 85/2.8, 100-300 and 35 PC back again with modern coatings and housings…

              As for the 35PC, I got a lot of strange looks when I pulled it out – apparently there were <500 made, and even within Zeiss not many people have seen one. It was hideously expensive back in the day, too. One thing has become clear from my own testing of that lens: my C/Y-E adaptor is out of plane. It wasn't with the C/Y-EOS adaptor, fortunately. But with lenses like this, it just goes to show how fine tolerances are before you get a free tilt with that shift…

  35. What was your favorite non-alcholic beer that you tried at Zeiss?

    Thanks for the great write up.

  36. David Newberger says:

    I like your thinking on lenses becoming a long term use on a succession of bodies from different companies. For mounting an Otus or Milvus on A Sony Ar7II is there an advantage to either the Cannon or Nikon mount? Also any preference on adapters? Thanks

    • Go with Nikon, it’s 100% mechanical and you have full aperture control without electronics (plus stepless for video). The Novoflex and Metabones adaptors are the best so far.

    • The are advantages for smart-adapted Canon Mount too: full exif, automatic focal length input for IBIS (unfortunately there is no focus distance to activate 5-Axis in Zeiss lenses) and possibility to focus wide open and automatically stop down for exposure (you’ll get much much cleaner EVF for stopped low light handheld shooting and this can IMO often offset the risk of focus shift). Pick your poison, IMO there is no clearcut winner between Nikon and Canon mount when adapting to Sony. My choise is ZE as I’m a still-only shooter that does a lot of low light, but anyone who does video can put much more weight on the stepless aperture.

      • Agreed, though I’d argue that the smart adaptors can be a bit flakey – I’ve seen some combinations work and others completely fail to. Stop down exposure is a pain for Nikon mount though.

        • Smart adapters can indeed be flakey, have had issues myself with early Metabones adapters. I think the issues are in physical manufacturing tolerances (in addiotion to FW issues) as changing camera angle/grip could occasionally break electronic connectivity. But since Metabones Mark III all the Zeiss ZE lenses I have tested have been rock solid. Was a bit scared when I heard there might have been different manufacturing tolerances in A7R II, but zero issues so far.

  37. I don’t get it. Zeiss introduces a new line of. old lenses in a midern housing. Only two lenses are really new.

    It is a great chance to introduce focussing screens too. But they missed it. The biggest competitor (Sony) in the market for semiconductor hardware is heavily promoted because of mirrorless cameras that are easier to use with manual focus lenses.
    I respect everyone changing camera systems but for me it does not make sense. All major brands come up with new high quality autofocus lenses that will performe at least equal to Zeiss. Take a look at the amazing Canon 11-24 or the 300 F4 from Nikon. The competition is becoming harder. If anyone is in the market for the best wideangle lenses take a look at Canon even if you use an adapter.

    Zeiss made a great marketing job. In the end photography is not about the lenses it’s about creativity. Great ideas sell better than technical perfection. Keep that in mind before spending to much money on camera gear and take a look at old masters who made great photos with analog cameras that were far from entry level standards nowadays.

    • Notice how many of the old lenses do not have Milvus equivalents yet 🙂 It does not take that long to just design a new housing…

      Focusing screens are camera specific. Which cameras do they pick? Who would bear liability for installation? You can bet N and C service won’t touch it, and it’s easy to scratch something permanently in the finder. This assumes the mirror is perfectly aligned from the factory, which it never is. I was pushing hard for dedicated focusing screens too, but I can see more potential downsides for the majority of users.

      High quality AF lenses equal to Zeiss? Theoretically yes, in practice no. Sample variation renders a theoretically great design not so great – and in the case of very sensitive designs like superwides, potentially disastrous. The Nikon 300/4 is beset by VR problems and has variation from horizontal to vertical because of the floating stabilization elements (like many stabilized lenses I’ve seen). In my experience, what sets Zeiss aside is quality control and consistency. It isn’t that some Otuses are brilliant – it’s that *all* of them perform at that level. It’s the same with their other MF lenses, too. The same cannot be said of all N/C etc AF lenses – I know because I will try at least half a dozen samples of *any* lens before making a purchase to ensure I’m not getting a dud.

      There is a real concern about new electronic lenses not necessarily having longevity: focus motors or CPU chips dying and rendering them inoperable is already happening while they are in current production – I’ve experienced it several times with Nikon. 10 years from now, there may no longer be parts. And your $2,000 lens is now a paperweight.

      I give them full credit for marketing, but in this case it actually corresponds with practical use, too.

      • I must admit that you are right in your arguments regarding focus screens. The Canon 11-24 has the best sample variation in class Lensrentals tested a lot of lenses published the analysis of deviations. Zeiss is good but far from excellent. Canon takes the crown for the above mentioned lens.
        I would like to use manual focus lenses but it is almost impossible to focus quick and reliable.

        There was a time when Contax was part of Zeiss. The legendary Contax 645 AF is still in use by many professional photographers because of the AF Zeiss lenses. Even Leica offers a medium format system with autofocus and exceptional lenses.

        In a shrinking market with high competition and more demanding sensors it is likely that lens prices will rise (e.g. Canon 11-24 3000 €). An investment in a 40, 50 or maybe 60 or 80 MP 35mm SLR in the future will be much more expensive than today if you are always looking for the best. The medium format market will get cheaper and closer to reasonable prices. 40MP Hasselblad sell for the same price as a Pentax 645Z at the moment. There is a demand for digital medium format cameras that are better suited for high megapixels.

        So I still don’t get it. One the one hand the high megapixel race is still not over (many technical problems have to be solved to use the old mounts of the film area) and on the other hand the normal humans can no longer focus exactly with manual focus lenses but Zeiss is promoting it as feature of creative decision. Again: Even Leica offers AF-lenses and Zeiss offered them a long time ago too. But do we need all the high megapixels? Isn’t the demanding workflow a pain? Does it make my pictures really better if I shoot Zeiss? People asked about the quality of prints from different cameras couldn’t see much of a difference. Medium format was favored by a bit more than average in really large prints. It seems to make not much of a difference for the majority.

        Only a fraction of customers will ever run an exhibition. Like the most enthusiasts of race bikes are older than 40 and will never be as fast as a teenager. We can not buy success with a equipment in a creative field like photography. It doesn’t make a difference if you use a Zeiss or Nikon lens with a D90 when photographing your kids, except that you’ll get more crisp sharp pictures with the Nikon kit lens. And your kids will not remember you for the great bokeh and sharpness. That*s for sure. For professionals (studio, landscape, commercial) medium format is still king and far from beaten. And remember that it takes a long time to get uses to really to new cameras and lenses. That’s not an easy thing as you know for sure.

        In the end creativity is more important than technical perfection.

        I like your blog but I feel that there is to much talk about technical stuff. I miss book reviews, Photoshop or post processing workflow tips, news about other social media activities, bloggers or websites. I also would like to see more of your creative work. In which direction are you going?

        Best regards

        Marcus

        • Marcus, your last statement is extremely unfair. Please check the archives. My nontechnical articles outnumber technical by 10:1. I post a series of images every alternate day, and have done so since the inception of the site. Why would I do that if I only cared about equipment? If my audience doesn’t read them and prefers gear, that’s outside my control. You yourself ask for Photoshop and postprocessing – that’s technical (and I have plenty of that available, too). Next, ask yourself if you would promote the competition if this were your own site and you sell images for a living. Frankly, what other bloggers are doing has no interest to me. I am here to make photographs I like and my clients like.

          Secondly, there are some photographers who do have an idea that requires resolution and related properties plus the attendant technical skills to support execution of a creative vision. The equipment is merely a tool to support that, and there must be enough of us for the companies to create something so demanding to use: a 50MP camera is one thing, but obtaining maximum performance from an Otus is quite another. I’ve written many articles about this a lot in the past, too – printing, exhibition, transparency, challenging the illusion of ‘real’.

          Car makers offer plenty of choice, almost all of which have capabilities beyond what the average buyer can handle. That does not mean every buyer can drive a car to 10/10ths but it won’t stop them from lusting after (and buying, if funds permit) a Ferrari.

          • I apologize for my statement. There was no intention to be unfair. I just had the feeling that you are constantly reviewing camera equipment and I thought I had read about your goal in one of the early blog posts that was becoming a professional photographer after your career as a consultant. I’m not so familiar with the way to earn money via web 2.0 I must admit and may be I have a old fashioned view on it.

            To come to end with this discussion I think we both can agree to the point that it would be nice to see autofocus lenses from Zeiss and there are many lenses from all manufactures in development to serve demanding high megapixel sensors. Who ever is buying Zeiss lenses will get a great product but it will not necessarily make him a better photographer or more creative person. A masterpiece of engineering is always fascinating (especially to men). In the right hands it becomes the ultimate tool.

            Keep on the good work.

            • Marcus, I only review the stuff I think makes sense as an extension of the shooting envelope for my needs – specifically, where the tool is subservient to the creative goal. I just don’t have the time otherwise. I’m going to use it anyway so I might as well anticipate all the email that inevitably comes in 🙂

        • With lenses of certain character, I’ve not found AF to be very useful. For example, the Otus lenses have such a narrow zone-of-focus (not the same thing as DOF) on a high-resolution camera, it’s obvious when focus is missed, even if it’s off by just a little bit, and that little bit is often less than what AF systems miss by. Check out LensRentals’s test of the Canon AF system to see how much lower the MTF50 measurements are when AF is used, compared to liveview manual focus, and that was on a 5DIII, a relatively low resolution camera compared to what we have today.

          You don’t even need a particularly good lens to see slight AF misses. Many lenses will show green (back focus) or magenta (front focus) fringes on high-contrast edges, even if the edges are only very slightly out of focus. This kind of error is easy to see even on web-sized photos.

          Last week, I got to shoot with the Nikon 58/1.4G, which has both colored bokeh fringes and a surprisingly fast in-focus to out-of-focus transition. Coupled with the AF systems’s inaccuracy — this was on a D810 which was fine-tuned to that particular 58mm with a LensAlign target — and a not uncommon tendency to lock onto something else that’s not your subject, it was difficult to get reliably good focus. And because of the lens’s character, it was obvious when something was out of focus. Would a manual focus lens have been better? It would have presented a different set of challenges, but AF brings its own set of problems that are not inconsiderable. The lens is very lovely BTW when everything comes together.

          Finally, the selection of the focus point can really be a creative decision. I often have to choose which of the two or three objects in the frame on which to place the sharpest focus, and that’s driven by what the final photo is trying to say.

          • Seconded, Andre. I use a set of LensAlign’d 1.4Gs (24/58/85), and have constantly wrestled with the idea of ‘downgrading’ them to the 1.8Gs since switching to the D800/D810. They’re simply not reliably good wide open with AF, and because of the rendering properties you mention the 58 is the worst of the lot.

            • I’m not sure Todd … I guess it depends on what you shoot and how much you value the 58’s rendering in particular. I’m usually a high-detail, high-contrast landscape shooter, and was horrified by the central performance of the 58 wide open when I first got it, but it slowly endeared itself to me especially for people. The lens is beautiful, no excuses, at f/5.6, but even wider open, its rendering overcomes its flaws for me. If I took more people photos, the 58 would definitely be on my short list (along with it seems, the 85 Milvus).

              A friend described this lens a particular way and it made sense to me: it renders like a good portrait 85mm (Nikon 85/1.4D would be my example, but I like the 85/1.8D as well), but does it at 58mm, and that’s why it’s special. I don’t know if that made sense, but that analogy works for me.

            • I went the downgrade path. Results were disappointing to unusable wide open with the amount of CA, and if I had to shoot at 2-2.8 anyway, I figured I might as well save weight and put some $$ back in my pocket. Trading the 85 and 24 paid for half of the D800E! (at the time). I think this was the first time I really saw that a) faster and more expensive wasn’t necessarily better and b) had to start thinking in terms of matching lens-sensor performance.

              • Curiously, my 85 has been significantly better behaved with the D810 than it was with the D800; wide open, it’s proved consistently sharper and consistently less afflicted by CA. The 24’s no better though, and as you say, they are heavy lenses (particularly if you’re shooting all day), and for photojournalism I certainly never go below f/2 — the luxury of being able to get reliably sharp images wide open with AF was something we left behind with the D700’s 12MP, I think.

                As for the 58: I think I’m probably looking for similar qualities to you Andre, and I agree it definitely comes alive stopped down; f/4 is its portrait sweet spot for me, where you still get some of that character but with a bit more depth and sharpness. I can live with the engineered-in softness wide open, but the colored bokeh fringe/fastidious AF combo you mention bugs me to the point that I’ve considered sending my copy (an early one) back to Nikon for inspection. I do occasionally wonder if the extra few millimetres over a 50 or even a 55 pushes it into ‘slightly too long’ territory too, to the point where I’ve been flirting with a 35mm 1.8G for a couple of months to fill in the gap between 58 and 24. Don’t tell Ming! ;p

                • The D3 and D700’s AF was pretty magic: leave it in 51-point 3D, and if it locked on sufficiently it would track anything and everything. I went into the 36MP cams assuming they would be the same: not even close. The more I shoot high resolution, the more I find myself using MF anyway; a slight focus change can make an enormous difference in the resulting file.

                  What you really need is a 28/55 Q/Otus combo 😉

                • I am hopeful that the two new Tamrons (35/1.8 and 45/1.8) will help fill some of those gaps. The samples so far look good: not razor sharp, but very pleasant, which would be good for people.

      • I see your point about focusing screen and mirror alignment issues. It makes me so nostalgic for the old days when I could buy extra focusing screens for my old legacy Olympus bodies and insert them myself with the supplied tool. SOMEONE has to step forward with a solution for producing focusing screens for the Otus (and similar) line(s). It would be torture to buy a $4000+ lens and not be confident in focusing properly when a once-in-a-lifetime scene presents itself under fast changing conditions!

        • It’s still possible to swap focus screens on many cameras, such as the Katz-Eye split/image, micro-prism screens for Pentax. These are not-inexpensive, but are reasonably easy to swap if you have a moderately steady hand. They help, but there’s still the question of mirror alignment .

        • The thing is, I’m not sure it’s possible. Even if we had focusing screens that could show true DOF at f1.4 (we don’t), they’re only good if the mirror alignment and screen planarity is perfect – and that’s going to be impossible to achieve without having some serious mechanical fiddling going on. This is partial body disassembly stuff, beyond the ability of 99.9% of owners. Having tried both grinding my own focusing screens (I did it for my 4×5) and disassembling my cameras, I can get pretty close – but still suffer a 20-30% hit rate vs 60%+ with an EVF and no magnification, or 100% with magnification (and no moving subjects). Focusing off-center is out completely because of ray angle issues – that’s a limitation of physics..

  38. Glad you enjoyed a nice trip to Zeiss headquarters!
    Must be great to meet Dr. Nasse and the other master lens designers.
    I think your teddy bear is smiling since I think the new Zeiss Otus will be in Ming’s favorite focal length! 🙂
    Can’t wait for it to be announced and to see your images with it.
    My Conurus converted Contax N 85/1.4 and 55/1.4 lenses have been working on all my Canon cameras for years from 5d, 1ds3, to my 5DsR.
    I think Zeiss could make AF lenses for Canon/Nikon like Sigma and get more market share.
    I enjoy having both AF and MF lenses for different types of shooting.

    • It was a great trip. The bear is just one of the normal reference bears…used here to test separation, chromatic aberration on white edges and ability to render subtle microcontrast variations.

      Unfortunately AF on N/C is out due to patent issues.

  39. Ah the Museum in Oberkochen thanks for making me remember something 😀

  40. Was there any news about the Touit line? I really enjoyed those interiors of the mothership btw : – )

    • Thanks Ben. I would have shot more but everything else was strictly off limits.

      No news on Touit – I fear it may be dead…(though they did not say either way)

      • Lol! It’s not a dead parrot, its only resting! 😉

      • I sincerely hope that Zeiss will make a few more lenses in the Touit line; though I’m not holding my breath. Which would be a shame because Zeiss were quite enthusiastic about the X-Mount when they released their first two Touits. The three so far have all met with almost universal accolades … which is no small feat considering that the Fujinons themselves are no slouches. Which, come to think of it, might have been part of the problem for Zeiss.

        • It’d be interesting to see sales figures from B&H after they slashed the price; I suspect they will prove you right: it’s a price thing.

          • Yeah, the prices were higher than that of the equivalent Fujinons when those Touits first arrived … but also, the focal lengths were a bit of an odd choice. One would have thought Zeiss would have put their energies into non-competing focal lengths to help flesh out options for the X-Mount, but instead they brought out a 32mm f/1.8, a great lens, but duplicating Fuji’s own XF35mm f/1.4R, which itself is a very strong performer.

            Perhaps it’s because the Touits had been designed with the Sony mount in mind first, and then adapted for the Fuji mount; hence “Fuji got what Fuji got”, as it were.

  41. A while ago Roger at LensRentals reported that all brands of adapters he tested exhibited flaws of QC, with the effect of degrading image quality. Further, with sensors of different manufacturers having different microlenses and other differences in optical path there are many reports of difficulty with adapted non-native lenses. Since your standards are so high, what are your thoughts on this — and your solution, i.e. preferred adapters, relative to the A7rII? And, great report of your Zeiss trip. Thank you.

    • Roger is right. I’ve bought multiple adaptors from different companies and basically try to match the best combination – price is actually not a good arbiter. However, in practice, if I need the kind of edge to edge sharpness in one plane which requires perfect adaptors, I will be working on a tripod to stop down anyway – which means the D810 and live view is a better choice anyway.

  42. Hi Ming, very informative article, and good to see you and Lloyd there at Zeiss, a brand that has always fascinated me.

    A question.

    I had Zeiss 35/2.0 ZF.2 for a year on my the D700. Satisfactory (a lot more so than the 50/1.4, which i didn’t like at all for a 50/2.0 which I liked a lot, but sold in exchange for a 58/1.4G when it came out, and which I like even more), but I traded it in for a 35/1.4G almost five years ago, which I still have and like a lot.

    The 35/1.4G is a very robust, workmanlike tool, which produces very satisfactory image quality, fi you acquaint yourself with its peculiarities, mainly field curvature. Still, that Zeiss certainly looks attractive.

    My question is: do you have any thoughts on the differences in images quality between the Milvus 35/2.0 and the Nikkor 35/1.4G?
    The going back to manual focus, on a D810, handheld, no live view, is something I’ll have to decide on for myself (as will be the difference in weight), but you may have an opinion there too.

    Cheers,

    Michiel

    • Thanks Michiel.

      The Milvus 2/35 is optically the same as the old 2/35 classic but with updated coatings. I had one briefly with my D800E, and thought the optics were pretty good if stopped down a little – but 35mm is just not my thing. The new one is a little gem handling-wise though. I cannot comment on relative performance to the 35/1.4G because I haven’t used it.

      I landed up buying the A7RII because it is a much better MF platform than the D810 unless you are working off a tripod…

      • Thanks Ming for your swift and helpful reply. 35mm fl is sort of my thing; the lens that is on my (now) D810 every day unless I have some specific goal, like portraiture, in which case it’s the 58 or the 85.

        “Stopped down a little” is what I usually do. At some early point in my photographic life I was taught, or learned myself, to never use a lens wide open. Close it down one stop, and all troubles go away. Anyway, with those 36MP and up cameras, depth of field is razor thin anyway amd high ISO is acceptable, so f2.8 is fine with me.

        I could go on for hours on the supposed accuracy of AF on DSLRs, starting with what is inside that focus point you selected…

        That Milvus looks attractive… but my 35/1.4G has acquired such a nice, sweaty, sheen on its admittedly (high quality, ha ha) plastic covered exterior…

        Decisions, decisions…

  43. Wonderful and enlightening article Ming. Thank you for sharing your experience at Zeiss. I must say that I am more than a bit envious. Building a lens system certainly does appear to make a great deal of sense and, of course, one simply cannot go wrong with Zeiss.

    Now, if only we could get that darn d810 with an evf (and IBIS)… Or, I might be equally happy had Sony had built the A7RII with lossless raw, better battery life, and improved ergonomics. 🙂 Neither course seems like too much to ask. I just cannot fathom why these developments do not appear to be coming down the pipeline. Oh well.

    • Thanks David. I wish I could share more, but much that was said was confidential and there was absolutely no way we could shoot inside the offices (for obvious reasons) – let alone the labs.

      We can still use the lenses now, at least. The cameras will come…better than the other way around – I still remember scrambling to find a full set of glass that would resolve properly when the D800E was released…

    • Hopefully someone in the camera companies will think of perching an EVF on the shoulder next to the OVF…something like the RX100 4’s should be sufficient…either that or having a fully transparent OLED (they exist!) overlaid on the focus screen so that you can use the same viewfinder optics.

      That way you could get the best of both worlds: battery life and swift autofocus tracking when you want that, and the EVF for critical focusing and evaluating exposure.

  44. Ah, you and your Otus. As Oscar Wilde said, “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” 😉 Seems to be the case, in the right hands.

  45. Thanks Ming, what a gift beeing invited by Zeiss. I’m not the first person addressing the increased weight. I wish Zeiss would give us slower lenses with equally excellent image quality but smaller size and lower weight. The Zeiss’ guideline ‘as fast as possible as large as acceptable’ is a bit of a pain sometimes. Landscape photographers hiking a lot would appreciate lighter high quality equipment a lot. I would like to see a small 2.0/50mm non macro lens or a small 2.8-3.5/25sth wide angle. If mirrorless cameras become mature Zeiss eventually will give us another high quality native lens line with modern designs, that would be smaller. You maybe know more already? Thanks!

  46. What a shame these are manual focus only. I’ve gave up on shooting MF glass on my D810. Life’s too short to faff about with focus magnifiers and the like. It just kills the shooting experience. I can’t imagine a more inappropriate platform for MF glass, than a DSLR. Please Zeiss, step up and make AF happen.

    • I did ask why AF wasn’t happening: one answer was patents, the other answer was to do with electronics and third parties: no use having a brick in five years if the manufacturer decides to change protocols. There is also the problem with imprecision of AF at very high resolutions (even if precise, AF boxes have a finite size and it’s difficult to select a subject inside that). The D810 is not a good camera for MF, but the A7RII is not a good cameras period. (Easy to focus though). One day somebody will eventually get it right…until then, I’d rather have lenses that will be at least somewhat future proof.

      • Unfortunately, MF glass is hardly future proof. Unless you’re happy to just shoot stationary subjects.

        • Lack of AF in the past didn’t prevent people from making great images. Nor does it prevent us now…

          • Be that as it may, there’s no escaping the fact that today’s DSLR’s are a poor platform for shooting with MF glass. I simply don’t see the sense in one company building highly resolving lenses for a different company that builds ultra high resolution cameras when the ability to achieve a high quality end result is hampered by a focussing system that works against you. As you’ve discovered, you’re begrudgingly forced to use Zeiss’ new lenses with a Nikon adapter on a Sony body just to achieve a satisfactory result.

            • Maybe Nikon’s cameras aren’t the best for it.

              (many) Canons have interchangeable focusing screens and the stronger matte screens available make shooting with fast aperture lenses perfectly fine. Kinda ironic given that there are only a handful of native manual focus lenses for Canon while there are hundreds of available manual lenses for Nikon.

            • They are, I agree. But we’re already seeing the slow slide towards mirrorless: MF is very easy with an EVF. What doesn’t make sense is making Sony native mount and then finding your lenses useless when Sony suffers from corporate ADD and decide not to make cameras anymore in a few years (like the A mount, mobile phones, etc.). Neither solution is ideal, but I’d rather the one we have now. At least you can still have the best of both worlds – and lenses like this really must be used on a tripod anyway to extract full performance. There are just too many shot discipline considerations otherwise.

        • It just takes practice; you have to manual focus all the time in order to be able to use it for action. Pros used to use manual focus for everything including sports.

          I shot a tennis game for fun a while back with a manual focus 35-70/3.4 and basically didn’t miss focus; my limit on keepers was catching the timing of the swings. This is with a crop sensor optical viewfinder, no peaking necessary.

          How can I do this? I only ever use manual focus lenses, so I’m perfectly comfortable manually focusing for everything. It’s liberating compositionally. I can focus on something in the extreme corner without holding the directional pad for three seconds to put a focus point in the corner, and immediately change my mind without wrestling with the camera.

          • Ahh, yes. I once did MF for everything and you have reminded me of those days! If anything, I might almost assert that the AF has un-trained me in MF and your words make me miss the level of control. I have enough shots going into the bin with AF having been off from intent, I wonder if I would really have more with MF….

            • The disconnect between autofocus and my intent is a big reason why I prefer manual focus.

              If I autofocus on a flower, will it focus on the pistils and stamen? Or the front edge of the petals? Or the petals in the back?
              In a side profile portrait, is it focusing on the silhouette edge or the nearest eye? Cornea catchlights, iris, or eyelashes? I don’t know where the camera will focus, but I can manually focus where I want.
              How do you autofocus on, for example, a thin reed blowing in the wind? It just doesn’t work, instead locking on the background; you have to use manual focus.

              With autofocus misses, you end up fiddling with the settings or blaming the camera and wondering if you should upgrade to the latest model. But with manual focus, you can simply practice more and upgrade yourself at no cost.

              For example, when I noticed that some of my lenses had some minor focus shift I took some time in live view and memorized the amount of focus ring rotation required to compensate. (1 or 2 millimeters of movement depending on the lens) Then, for distant landscape use where stop-down focus is impractical in the viewfinder, I can focus wide open and then offset the ring that tiny bit before stopping down and capturing the photo with optimal focus. That’s the power of full manual control; one could theoretically program a camera to do that but there’s no way to do that yourself.

              • And what you’re seeing becomes even more critical at higher resolutions, too. I don’t see a solution for the AF precision problem: focusing boxes cannot be made infinitely small, and the range of distances covered inside one box is easily enough to raise issues.

            • I’m actually finding my hit rate to be similar between both for an electronic finder or LCD (but not the optical finder, that’s rubbish).

      • Fully agree Mick, life is too short for manual focus, I’d take one of the top Nikon lenses with AF and manual focus override any day over any of these Zeiss lenses, even if they are very fine creations. Thanks to Ming for the review and very nice images.

  47. Interesting. These strike me as updates of the (now) “classic” line rather than a truly new range (in the way that Otus was and Batis is). Reminds me of the Leica FLE update of the 35mm Summilux ASPH – it made a difference for digital (reducing focus shift) but was not really a “new” lens.

    I’m perhaps being unfair because I’m not looking at the 50 and 85 Milvus (which I’m sure are a big step forward of two lesser performing ZF.2s. I’m looking at the 2.8/21 in particular. I haven’t seen any separate report from anyone on that one, but on paper it looks like a purely cosmetic update off the “classic” (that lens now removed from their site). I would also be interested to know if another strong performing classic – the 100mm Makro-Planar also received any meaningful optical upgrade. It would be hard for them to improve on the 2/135 APO-Sonnar. I guess that at least partly answers why it is not in the initial “upgrade”.

    But where is our “wide Otus”? I do hope they have enough market to roll out to, say, a 6 lens Otus set. As you say, they are relatively future proofed by nature. I do hope they continue that programme.

    Thanks for sharing this report on your visit Ming. It’s great too that they care about QC so much.

    • Only the 50 and 85 got meaningful updates. The rest are coatings and housings only. The 2/135 is very nearly Otus-grade, and frankly if it were released this year it would probably get some minor tuning and be in the Otus line. Note that not all of the classic line were updated…read that how you will.

      They did sell more Otus than expected, but development of something that complex and tuning production tolerances to that level of performance is very difficult indeed – which I suspect is why there is no wide Otus yet.

  48. Did you discuss autofocus? I remember you writing something about patents being the issue rather than proprietary interfaces of the camera AF systems.

    • Yes. And two things came up: the patent issue, and the necessarily electronic nature of AF meaning a lack of future proofing. If the third party changes protocol – not even mount – we may find ourselves SOL with inoperable lenses. Not so for 100% mechanical; it actually makes quite a lot of sense.

  49. Steven Lawrence says:

    I wonder how the 50 F2 will compare with the Nikon 55 F2.8? Both are 1:2 macro and have a similar minimum focusing distance.

  50. When this series was announced, I went looking for full size photo samples from the Otus lenses for the first time and to my surprise I *strongly* disliked the 85 Otus’s rendering, what with background texture improbably coming through when it should have been far out of focus, and what I thought was a harsh transition between in-focus and out-of-focus.

    Would you say the Milvus 85 is better with regards to the transition around the plane of sharp focus? You did already mention the smoother background blur.

    I’m used to my Contax 85/2.8 which has extremely pleasing rendering though it’s certainly not as incredibly razor sharp as these lenses…

    • The Milvus is definitely smoother, but I personally prefer the sharp transition because it allows for more pronounced separation at distance. The Milvus 85 is more flattering (‘smoother’) for portraits.

      • Interesting. I’m looking at 85 Otus/Milvus and 100 Milvus now for Portrait. The handling of the 85Milvus did not please me at all, 100m felt better.Then the Otus is expensive and heavy. What can you advice? I shoot Medium Format as well. On the Canon body I have a 70-200IIIS, amazing lens but I don’t like it for close up portraits at all in it’s rendering.

  51. The term ‘halo photographic product’, LOL, it’s oxymoronic!

  52. Did some reading on the new vs existing lineup.
    Looks to be they only refreshed the other 4 lenses with better styling and sealing, the optical formulae are the same and the only potential improvements are in flare control (what diglloyd wrote). Yet, all of them have at least 100-200g weight added and the ones with new optics are either more than double the weight (1.4/50) or 80% heavier (1.4/85).
    There is not much incentive to upgrade for existing owners except for the 1.4/50 or 1.4/85?

    • Weight is the tradeoff for sealing and better robustness unfortunately. Note that not all of the classic line have immediate Milvus replacements: think for a bit and interpret what that means carefully…

  53. Wonderful write up Ming. What a trip. Excited to see your updates on the new lenses.

Trackbacks

  1. […] my previous trip to Zeiss HQ in Oberkochen, the group was taken to the nearby town of Schwäbish Gmünd for a demo session with […]

  2. […] → Sample pictures taken with the brand new Zeiss Milvus lenses. See additionally Ming Thein’s ideas on the Milvus line. […]

  3. […] → Sample photos taken with the new Zeiss Milvus lenses. See also Ming Thein's thoughts on the Milvus line. […]

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