Review: Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4

16 May 2017 | Category: Stills

Review: Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4


We have a number of different 85mm lenses available for hire, which gives you scope to try out a number of different options if you’re considering adding your own 85mm lens to your kit bag. For this test, I was shooting with the Nikon D810.

The Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 is a little different from the rest. It’s a big, heavy, manual focus lens, but it’s known for its sharpness.  

If you find lens design attractive, then the Zeiss Milvus is going to really appeal. It has been beautifully crafted with a matte polish which gives you an impression of just how high quality this lens is. 

Around the base of the lens is an aperture ring, which is ideal for those who are working with older Nikon cameras. Otherwise, if you’re using something like the Nikon D5 or the Nikon D810, you’ll need to set the ring to the f/16 position and use the on-camera controls to set aperture. There’s a small lock button to ensure it doesn’t slip out of the f/16 position, which you’ll need to press if you want to release it for other apertures.

The majority of the body of the lens is taken up with the manual focusing ring. This is half textured with a rubberised coating, which makes it particularly easy to get a grip on when you’re focusing while looking through a viewfinder. Focusing markings are found on the lens, starting at the minimum focusing distance of 0.8 metres, all the way up to infinity. 

Twisting the lens ring is quite a satisfying operation, feeling smooth and precise as you’re moving it to achieve critical focus. If you’re not used to working with a manual focus ring, it may feel a little strange at first to have to use it for every shot - but it soon starts to become second nature. 

If you’re working with an ultra high-resolution camera like the Nikon D810, you’ll need to make sure your focusing is as precise as possible, especially if you’re shooting at wide apertures like f/1.4 or f/2. Focusing and recomposing can also be problematic if you’re shooting through the viewfinder, as moving the camera enough can throw your focus off.

That’s where using Live View in conjunction with this lens really comes into play - especially for still life shots, or reasonably still portrait sitters. You can zoom into 5x or 10x to ensure critical focus, and what's more, when you’re using Live View, you can focus anywhere within the frame.

Most importantly, the image quality from this lens is superb. Although it takes some skill to get focusing right, the sharpness to be had when you do is phenomenal. Furthermore, out of focus areas are rendered beautifully, making it ideal for a number of different subjects. Portraits would be the obvious choice, with the classic 85mm lens making for some flattering results. It’s also useful for still life, and while it’s not a true macro lens, traditional macro-type subjects, such as flowers, look stunning through the sharpness of the Zeiss optics. 

If you would like to try the Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.8, you can find details on its availability here. You can see our full range of Zeiss Milvus lenses, from 15mm to 135mm, here