The photographer William Albert Allard reportedly called the 50mm lens “an extremely good discipline lens; it requires you to see in a more refined way, not just tighter.” Needing both more refinement and more discipline in our lives, we were certainly happy to get our hands on Zeiss’ new Milvus 50mm f/2 to see what this versatile lens could do.
We turned it over to New Jersey photographer and director David Patiño who used it on his Canon 5DS for several portraits.
The Milvus family is an upgrade to Zeiss’s Classic lineup of lenses, offering greater durability and resolving power for higher-resolution camera sensors without the premium price tag of the company’s top-of-the-line Otus series. The Milvus 50mm is a fast full-frame prime lens with an aperture range of f/2-22. It is a manual focus lens with a minimum focusing distance of 1.5 feet, which is typical for lenses in this class. Like all of the lenses in the Milvus family, the 50mm uses T* antireflective coatings.
It accepts 67mm filters and is available in both Canon and Nikon mounts. The Nikon version features a declicked aperture.
The Milvus, like the higher-end Otus, is a beautiful piece of hardware. Patiño describes it as the Apple of the lens world—an apropos description.
The Milvus’ weather-sealed, all-metal body feels like it will easily withstand the test of time and the rigors of the road. The long focus ring provides a smooth, gentle pull so you can glide easily to your desired focus.
At just a smidge over 2 pounds, the Milvus is a stout lens—heavier than both Canon’s 50mm f/1.2 and Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 Art lens. We think the extra weight is worth the trade off given the lens’ build quality and Patiño tells us that while the heft is noticeable, it felt well balanced on the 5DS.
IMAGE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE
Patiño tells us he was very happy with the results from the lens. We compared it to shots he took using his Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM—a more expensive lens, albeit one with autofocusing.
The Milvus does a tremendous job retaining contrast and resolving the pixel-packed 5DS. Vignetting is visible starting faintly at f/4 and definitely noticeable at f/3.5 and down through to f/1.4. Where the Canon lens would pick up some chromatic aberration, we didn’t spot any in the Milvus. Canon’s lens had slightly better corner sharpness wide open through f/5, while the Milvus was appreciably sharper in the corners from f/5 on.
One quirk we noticed was the bokeh—it was a bit more ovular than round in several frames, even when it was produced by different light sources.
This is a pricey lens not to support autofocus. As Patiño says, he’s paid for all those AF points on his 5DS and, more often than not, wants to use them. That said, Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, which does support AF but isn’t weather-sealed and not as sturdy, costs more at $1,349. Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 Art lens comes in under $1,000 and supports AF but also lacks weather sealing.
The image quality of the Milvus 50mm is first rate and the build quality is best-in-class, even if it does entail a little extra heft. Its manual nature means it’s not for everyone, but those who do invest won’t be disappointed.
PROS: Excellent build quality; strong contrast; weather sealed; great resolution.
CONS: Some vignetting below f/4; corner sharpness trails some competitors at wider apertures.