LENS TEST: ZEISS MILVUS 18MM F/ 2.8
Professional landscape photographer Helen Dixon is looking to update her favourite lens in search of ultimate image quality. Here, she tests the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/ 2.8 to its limits to see if it delivers unbeatable performance
Helen Dixon gets hands- on with this high end optic to find out if it can transform your landscape photography
WHEN CARL ZEISS announced that it was going to update its existing range of classic DSLR lenses with the new Milvus range, I was eager to try out one of these latest incarnations. I opted to test the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/ 2.8 super wide- angle lens, as this is a totally new design and unlike its predecessor, the Zeiss 18mm f/ 3.5 classic. Also, it offered the advantage of boasting a slightly wider focal length than my current wide- angle and workhorse lens – the legendary Zeiss 21mm f/ 2.8 Distagon. The 21mm lens has been around for some time now and is rarely off the front of my Nikon D810, such is its quality, but the wider field- of- view that the 18mm provides would be very welcome!
As a professional landscape photographer, this lens is really appealing to me and it’s sure to be a big hit with many landscape, interior and architectural photographers. However, by offering only manual focus, and the fact that it’s a prime rather than zoom lens, it may not tick all the boxes for everyone. It’s not cheap either; the hefty price tag of around £ 1,860 will put it out of reach for most photographers.
The first thing that you notice when you take the lens out of the box is how well constructed it is – the precision- engineered metal body simply oozes quality. It feels so strong and solid and it feels very balanced when fitted to the camera, despite its weight ( 675 grams for the Nikon- fit). The manual focusing ring is wide and has a very smooth action – it just glides with ease delivering the ultimate manual focusing experience. These are all prestigious traits that we have come to expect from Carl Zeiss lenses. A depth- of- field scale on the lens barrel is clear and precise, and has etched markings for distances marked in feet and metres, which is useful when estimating the amount of depth- of- field at different apertures. The lens is supplied with a metal lens hood that
when fitted, locks on precisely and securely – no risk of cross- threading here!
The filter thread is only 77mm, which is not as wide as you’d expect from a super wide- angle lens; it's a size more commonly found on standard zoom lenses. Therefore, any screw- in filters are not quite so costly to buy. Another welcome feature is that Milvus lenses all benefit from dust and moisture sealing, a must for outdoor photographers braving the elements and dealing with the unpredictable climate. Based in Cornwall, I regularly shoot near the coast so this is a particularly welcome feature. When attaching the lens to the camera I could feel the difference between my non- weathersealed 21mm and the weather- sealed 18mm. It felt tight and secure and I would be more than confident to use it in any inclement weather conditions, or when photographing at the coast.
The optical design comprise 14 elements in 12 groups, each made from premium glass and several boasting aspherical surfaces. A floating element design changes the distance between the elements as you focus, from minimum focus through to infinity, to maximise optical performance. The T* coating used on the elements greatly reduces any lens flare and any problems
caused by strong light sources, which can be an unwanted characteristic of some other lenses. The mechanical design, quality of the optics and the coatings combine with Zeiss's aim of delivering the ultimate in sharpness, flare reduction and minimising unwanted phenomena such as coma, astigmatism and spherical aberration. The Zeiss 18mm lens uses nine aperture blades and when stopped down, produces a lovely 18- point star from any direct light source, such as the sun.
I had a number of weeks to use it to shoot in some of my favourite locations in the south- west and really put it through its paces. The lens took no time at all to get used to out in the field and even if you’re used to autofocus, getting to grips with manual focus won’t take long – you’ll soon begin to understand how easy it is to control and how manual focus isn’t as hard as many would have you believe.
Using Liveview when composing and focusing is now a far more common practice with enthusiast and professional DSLR users and this method definitely makes it so much easier to focus precisely on the scene or subject. By using the image magnifier, you can critically focus the lens, although with such a wide focal length and extensive depth- of- field, this isn’t always necessary, but I always do it as I always aim to maximise image quality.
Light fall- off ( i. e. darkening at the corners/ edges of the frame) is a potential problem with any ultra wide- angle lens used at wider apertures and the Zeiss 18mm is no
THE MECHANICAL DESIGN, QUALITY OF THE OPTICS AND THE COATINGS COMBINE WITH THE AIM OF DELIVERING THE ULTIMATE IN SHARPNESS
Above: The Zeiss 18mm delivered excellent sharpness across the frame. And, being weather- sealed, you don’t need to be shy about using it in inclement weather, or at the coast.
exception. Although there is slight evidence of fall- off at maximum aperture, as soon as you begin to stop down the aperture, the problem quickly disappears and, if necessary, any that does remain can easily be removed in post- production.
Very slight barrel distortion is present as expected, but it’s not extreme and doesn’t distract from the overall quality of the images and again, it’s easily rectified in post. Most importantly is how does the Zeiss 18mm compare in the sharpness rating? The answer is simple: brilliantly. This lens is extremely sharp and certainly impresses throughout the aperture range, only really dropping off at f/ 22 when diffraction occurs. Chromatic aberration is virtually zero across the frame and colour fringing is negligible – I barely noticed it. The corner sharpness is impressive too – this is usually a weak spot in so many lenses, especially at the wide end of the focal length spectrum, but this lens beats my 21mm Distagon in this department and essentially it excels in all other important areas too.
take in the view The wider field- of- view offered by the Milvus 18mm lens over the 21mm Distagon is a welcome addition. Exposure: Four seconds at f/ 13 ( ISO 64)
Exposure: 1.3 seconds at f/ 13 ( ISO 100)