Carl Zeiss Milvus 2/35 ZF.2 Nikon lens review: Affordable quality


Announced in September 2015, the $1117 Carl Zeiss Milvus 2/35mm ZF.2 Nikon (Milvus 35mm f/2) is an FX-mount Nikon lens designed specifically for full-frame Nikon DSLRs such as the D800E. The fast f/2 maximum aperture makes it a versatile prime lens for much low-light photography. The 35mm focal length facilitates a field of view akin to human vision (excluding peripheral vision), which makes it a nice focal length for capturing scenes with natural perspectives, and it’s a popular choice for photographers shooting events such as weddings or for environmental portraiture, as well as for interior and architectural photography (if you can get back far enough).

The Milvus 35mm f/2’s aperture range runs between f/2 and f/22, with a minimum focus distance of 30cm. Optical construction utilizes 9 elements in 7 groups; the lens measures 81mm in length, weighs 649g, and has a 58mm screw thread for attaching filters. As mentioned, there’s no auto focus or image stabilization, but the Milvus range electronically couples with your DSLR to record lens data to the EXIF file. The Milvus 35mm f/2 is also compatible with Nikon APS-C-sensor DSLRs such as the D500, where it offers an equivalent 52mm focal length, which is still useful for most general use photography.

 

Highlights

  • Excellent uniform sharpness
  • Minimal distortion
  • All-metal dust and splash proof construction

 

Potential drawbacks

  • Manual focus only
  • No image stabilization
  • Heavy

 

Overall image quality

Overall image quality

If youve been having a point and shoot your whole lifetime, upgrading to a DSLR could be a small daunting task. Dont worry though, it doesnt have to be!The good thing about the D3200 for novices is that its quite menu based. The camera can do a lot of what its larger siblings can, however much of it is still simpler to navigate menus just like on your point and shoot. Theres a question button which will explain what different features of the camera perform if youre unsureIf youre wanting to have a little more control, but still keep the familiarity with a menu based camera, then the D5200 is well worth taking a look at. It will surely give you more space to grow compared to the D3200.For instance my aunt has an older 50mm f/1.2 which Ive been attempting to obtain on long term loan for awhile now. This lens wouldnt have metered on my previous D5000 or D90. With the D7000 or D7100 however, almost any lens from 1977 or newer will either meter and autofocus.So if you’ve got a plethora of older lenses, dont sell them off just yet, you may just need a new camera body.Here you have a few choices. You could be tempted to snag a used D300 for under the purchase price of some of the newer cameras. On the surface this seems like a great idea. Youre getting incredible build quality, even more manual features, and a less expensive cost but Id think twice about doing this.The D300 is a older camera. Many improvements in camera tech have been made, and youll get much better photos and a lot more usable features in a D7100 than one of Nikons older cameras.Stick using the D7100 that’s still nearly half of the price of the least expensive full frame camera that the D600 and theyre essentially the same concerning attributes.

Excellent low-light performance, with an overall DxOMark score of 40 points tested on the Nikon D800E, puts the Milvus 35mm f/2 just inside the top 20 for all prime lenses we’ve tested on the D800E, and in third place for 35mm primes (behind the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A and the Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD).

Overall image quality

Its sharpness score of 29 P-Mpix is outstanding, maximizing a lot of the D800E’s 36Mp resolution, and the Milvus 35mm f/2 offers uniform sharpness across the frame at all aperture settings. It’s very good at the maximum f/2 aperture, too, where it offers around 70% acutance in the field, hits peaks sharpness around 80% acutance at f/2.8, and somewhere in the middle between f/4 and f/11.

Overall image quality

There’s a little barrel curvature of 0.4%, which isn’t surprising for a slightly wide-angle lens, but it’s well-controlled and doesn’t require much post-production correction. Some vignetting of –1.7 EV at f/2 and –1EV at f/2.8 is evident, and although not completely clean between f/4 and f/22, it’s significantly better, with only around 0.33 EV shading in the far corners. It’s a similar story for chromatic aberration, with some noticeable fringing in the far corners at f/2 and f/2.8, and some mild chromatic aberration in the outer field between f/4 and f/22.

Overall image quality

Overall image quality

Overall image quality

 

Image quality compared

Image quality compared

Head-to-head against the $1843 Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 and the now-discontinued Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/2 ZF.2, the newer Milvus 35mm f/2 comes out top for low-light performance and sharpness when tested on the D800E. Lens metrics for distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration are broadly similar, although the Distagon T 35mm f/2 offers an improvement on fringing. The Milvus is just that bit sharper, though, with higher levels of resolution and slightly more uniform results at f/2 compared to its sister models. All three lenses are phenomenally sharp between f/2.8 and f/11, and although the more expensive Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 is exceptional between f/5.6 and f/11, with over 80% acutance in the field, the Milvus is a little more consistent across all aperture settings, resulting in the higher overall sharpness score.

Image quality compared

The Milvus 35mm f/2 also comes out on top compared to the Nikon own-brand 35mm prime options, including the $1697 Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G and the $527 Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G. Despite the slower f/2 maximum aperture, the Milvus lens actually comes out just on top for low-light performance as well, with an overall DxOMark score of 40 points compared to 36 for the Nikon equivalents.

Image quality compared

Currently a few years after Im as happy with this decision as ever. Nikons consistent lens mount size over the years permits you to utilize lenses moving back into the 70s and 80s on many of Nikons new DSLR bodies meaning that you can get quality used glass, in a comparatively cheap price.Thats a conversation for another day, however.The bottom line is, youre likely to receive a great camera with an superb range of lenses using either Nikon or Canon. In case you have friends or family members that shoot one or another, and youll be around them often, thats a fantastic enough reason for me to choose either brand.At the exact time of this writing Nikon has 4 cameras that you might be picking between: The D3200, D5200, D90 or even D7100. These will be the most up to date versions, and in some cases you may be contemplating one thats a generation older to be able to save money well discuss that.However before we begin entering the respective versions, Id instead start out by listing a few things that you ought to absolutely quit paying attention to by doing so, youll create your choice a lot easier.These times any new camera is going to have more than enough megapixels for everything you need. Even one on the lower range that has 10-12 will have sufficient detail that you blow your images to poster size with no significant issues, and seriously, how frequently are you doing that?It may be wonderful to have the flexibility, but once you hit 24 megapixels the files sizes are enormous. In my D7100, I rarely, if ever, shoot at the maximum grade level, simply because it simply isnt practical.

It’s just ahead for sharpness, too, with slightly higher overall acutance and improved edge resolution at f/2. Resolution for the Milvus and the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G between f/2.8 and f/11 is very comparable, but the Milvus clearly has the edge over the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G version, which although still good, is slightly softer overall and notably so in the corners.

Image quality compared

Lens metrics for distortion and vignetting are pretty comparable among the three, but the Milvus lens also has the edge for chromatic aberration. While noticeable fringing at f/2 on the Milvus is restricted to the far corners, on both Nikon lenses, specifically the 35mm f/1.4G, the effect is more evident in the outer field, which will have a bigger detrimental impact on your images. Although any noticeable fringing improves as you close down the aperture on the Nikon lenses, the same trend continues up to f/8, where the effect is better controlled on the Milvus. At f/11, chromatic aberration is broadly similar for all three.

Image quality compared

Against the new breed of cheaper high-performance alternatives such as the $899 Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A and the $599 Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, which the Milvus range has in its sights, performance is remarkably close. With slightly improved light transmission, the Sigma and Tamron alternatives rank just ahead overall for low-light performance, but the scores are close.

Image quality compared

The same is true for sharpness, with very comparable results at f/2 and f/2.8. It’s fair to say, however, that both the Tamron and Sigma alternatives hit higher levels of peak sharpness — around 80% acutance — between f/4 and f/8, and although the Milvus remains very good, resolution is a little lower at around 70% at these settings.

Image quality compared

Headline vignetting scores at the maximum aperture are broadly the same, but the Sigma and Tamron offer slightly less corner shading at f/2 and f/2.8 compared to the Milvus. The Sigma is also completely clean from f/4, but the Tamron and Milvus continue to display a tiny bit of vignetting at all apertures.

Image quality compared

Chromatic aberration is also slightly better controlled on the Tamron and Sigma equivalents, and although as discussed it’s not overly problematic on the Milvus, there’s virtually no noticeable fringing on its cheaper competitors.

 

Specifications

  • Nikon F FX mount
  • Constant f/2 maximum aperture
  • Lens made of special glass with anomalous partial dispersion
  • T*® antireflective coating
  • 9 elements arranged in 7 groups
  • 0.3m minimum focus
  • “Floating Elements” design

Conclusion

With an irreproachable reputation for quality, Carl Zeiss lenses have long been the desire of many a photographer. Historically and unfortunately, they’ve often been out of financial reach of many of us, but the new Milvus range looks to address that with some competitively-priced models to challenge the high-performance optics from both own-brand and third-party manufacturers.

Featuring an all-metal construction, manual focus, and Zeiss precision engineering, the Milvus 35mm f/2 is the type of lens that should last a photographer a lifetime. Performance is outstanding, with excellent low-light results, consistently good edge-to-edge sharpness at all apertures, and minimal distortion. All that helps the Milvus 35mm f/2 rank above the more expensive Nikon 35mm f/1.4G and Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 lenses, making it a good value option if you can live with the one stop slower f/2 maximum aperture. It’s pretty much neck and neck with the cheaper Tamron SP and Sigma Art alternatives, however, both of which are giving Zeiss a run for its money in the modern market. These third-party equivalents come with extra features, too, such as autofocus and image stabilization (in the case of the Tamron). If you want some first-class German engineering to attach on the front of your Nikon DSLR, though, the Carl Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 is a beautiful lens and delivers top results.

With its 24 MP detector, an individual might wonder whether the detector resolution is too low by todays standards, provided that we’re seeing more and more resolution on additional cameras. Presently, the D810 gets got the resolution crown and we are likely to see a push towards 40+ MP at the future iterations of that camera. It is funny how a few years back 12 MP was the best you could get and now even cellular devices have more resolution than that. If you are wondering about just how much resolution you really need, have a look at John Shermans funny spin on the topic, where he asserts that 16 MP is sufficient for most photographers outside there.Looking in Nikons full-frame cameras today, we’ve 16 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP sensors available in different cameras. While I really like my D810 for performing specific work like landscapes, working together with 36 MP pictures isn’t always simple, especially when I travel light and need to post-process images quickly. In comparison, 24 MP pictures are a lot faster to work with and when I truly do need more resolution, I can go vertical and take a couple of frames to yield a lot more resolution than 36 MP by means of a panorama stitching technique.When it comes to low-light functionality, you most likely know by now for the most part, it doesn’t actually matter what resolution you shoot with. Once down-sampled, 16 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP all seem virtually identical under ISO 6400. Cameras with higher resolution produce more sound at pixel level (when zoomed into an image at 100%), but not at precisely the exact same output size as others.

 

Also consider

For greater insight into the performance of alternatives to the Carl Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2, please see our Nikon D750 and Nikon D800E best lenses reviews,

as well as the Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di and Nikon 35mm f/1.8G individual lens reviews.

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