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

Digital SLR Photography - - Contents - Test: HE­LEN DIXON

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)

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