Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8: Milvus Ultrawide Joy

Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T*

Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T*

K Madhavan Pillai tests the Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T*, the third and widest prime in Milvus’ ultrawide range, and comes away quite thrilled with its performance.

Highlighting their commitment to photographers, the new 15mm f/2.8 Distagon by Zeiss follows the 18mm and 21mm (both f/2.8 lenses) in the ultrawide range of the Milvus lineup. While the increments in focal length between them may seem rather small, for the serious practitioner, it makes a rather important and pronounced difference in the angle of coverage, framing, shooting style and handling. Like the other Zeiss Milvus lenses, the 15mm is precision milled, beautifully designed and feels simply fantastic in the hand. Of course, the features don’t end here.

The retrofocus Distagon design with floating lens elements promises a high level of optical performance. The Milvus is made of an array of 15 lens elements in 12 groups (five anomalous partial dispersion elements, four aspherical elements). As the lens is focused across the range, the level of axial movements between various lens elements and groups change to enable precise corrections in the image. The T* coating on the glass, along with a construction to eliminate internal reflections, maintains optimal light transmission and improves micro contrast. In fact, the claim by Zeiss is that all the lenses in the Milvus lineup are optimised for full frame sensors with the highest stills and video resolutions

The aperture range extends f/2.8 to f/22. There is an aperture ring very close to the lens mount, and it clicks at half stops up to f/16. For Nikon DSLR video users, a big bonus is that the ZF.2 mount of the 15mm can be ‘declicked’, for smooth aperture transitions while shooting video. Nine aperture blades provide a near circular aperture for smoother, circular bokeh. Unlike competing lenses that come with integral hoods, you can attach filters of a diameter of 95mm to this lens. A detachable metal hood is provided. The Milvus 15mm is sealed against weather, dust and splashes.

This is a manual focus only lens with control over focus enabled with a broad, rubber ring. The focus ring is silky smooth but well dampened, and rotates by about 120 degrees across the range, and stops precisely at infinity and the closest focusing point of 9.8 inches (unlike AF lenses). This allows smooth focus transitions for video, while the hard stop at infinity comes extremely handy for street photography.

In the field, 15mm needs you to be right in the middle of the action. Yet, despite being a MF lens, the Milvus allows you to react quickly. It is optically quite brilliant. Exposure: 1/400sec at f/11 (ISO 800). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

In the field, 15mm needs you to be right in the middle of the action. Yet, despite being a MF lens, the Milvus allows you to react quickly. It is optically quite brilliant. Exposure: 1/400sec at f/11 (ISO 800). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

A focus distance and depth of field scale is embossed into the metal barrel, and nicely spread out. Given the large DOFs possible for 15mm, this comes especially handy. The DOF scale is set for a circle of confusion of 0.03mm… perfectly sufficient for 24MP sensors. One will need to be more stringent with higher resolution sensors, allowing for reduced DOF from what the scale displays. Otherwise, in terms of handling, the 15mm Milvus is a pleasure to use.

The Milvus 15mm is brilliantly sharp for its focal length, with the best optical results from f/5.6 to f/11. At these apertures, sharpness is exemplary edge to edge. I used the lens at f/8 most of the time, relying on hyperfocal distance (with a DOF of 3 feet to infinity) and shifting from it slightly, depending on the main subject placement.

Despite its focal length, there is sizeable foreground and background bokeh at f/2.8, with the lens focused at infinity or at its nearest distances, and it can be used to good effect. Unlike most ultrawide lenses that display sharp edged bokeh, with the Milvus, it is surprisingly smooth. Peripheral sharpness suffers a little wide open, but not badly, and the slight, easily corrected fringing visible only at f/2.8 disappears by f/4. Control over flare with the sun directly in the lens is quite fantastic.

Distortion is extremely well controlled too. In fact, at infinity, one can just about barely make out the curvature at the edges. Of course, for subjects close to the lens at the periphery of the frame, it is more pronounced. But with some basic postprocess corrections, the image looks as if it were shot with a good 24mm!

Priced at Rs. 1,99,950, the Milvus 15mm is a lens with exceptional design, optical performance and handling, that moves quite beyond its focal length competitors. Yet, there are options to consider… from the flexibility of ultrawide zooms with good optics and AF, to lower priced primes. Whether you should buy this lens or not depends on your technical familiarity with using a manual focus prime of this focal length, and the understanding that you get what you pay for, and more importantly, that finesse always comes at a price.

Declick for Nikon mount, design, f/2.8
Excellent distortion and flare control, exemplary sharpness
Build Quality
Metal construction, weathersealing
Excellent distance scale and handling
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, limited service in India
MRP Rs. 1,99,950
Who should buy it? Technically adept landscape, architectural and street photographers.
Why? The optical quality, build and handling are excellent.
Its a Zeiss, and it shows it all the way!
Tags: Review, K Madhavan Pillai, Lens, better photography, Zeiss, Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 Distagon T*