Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Review

Introduction

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 is a manual-aperture, manual-focus ultra-wide-angle prime lens for Canon and Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras. It features an aperture range of f/2.8-f/22, 14 elements in 12 groups, a nine-bladed circular diaphragm for smoother bokeh blur in out of focus areas, and a precision-engineered full-metal casing. The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 retails for £1999 / $2299 in the UK and USA respectively.

Ease of Use

Weighing around 675-720g, depending on the version, and measuring 110mm in length, the all-metal Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 is a big and heavy wide-angle lens. It does feel well-balanced, though, on the Sony A7R II camera that we predominantly tested it with, and even more so on a bigger camera like the Canon EOS 5D-series.

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens mounted on a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens alongside a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens alongside a Sony A7R II

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 boasts superb build quality. The lens’ all-metal casing is dust and moisture resistant and it features a metal mount. With no need for a zoom ring, the manual focussing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate, complete with a useful depth of field scale and hard stops at either end, plus an IR position dot.

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The front of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The front of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The rear of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The rear of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The side of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 has 14 lens elements in 12 groups with a pair of aspherical elements and four anomalous partial dispersion glass elements to help control distortions and aberrations. A nine-bladed rounded diaphragm, combined with the fast maximum aperture, helps provide smooth bokeh blur.

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens in-hand

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens in-hand

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens with the supplied lens hood fitted

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 lens with the supplied lens hood fitted

There’s no optical image stabilisation, but the lens’ ultra-wide-angle focal length and fast maximum aperture alleviate the need for it. A special sealing ring on the bayonet also protects the interface between the camera and the lens. A high-quality petal-shaped metal lens hood is supplied in the box.

Focal Range

The 18mm focal length gives an angle of view of 99.9° on a 35mm full frame sensor.

Field of view at 18mm

Field of view at 18mm

Manual Focusing

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8’s manual focusing ring spans a significant width of the lens barrel and is exceptionally smooth to operate, complete with a useful depth of field scale. It also has a large rotation angle which enables precise focusing and moves smoothly without any play, thus also supporting the intuitive interaction with the focal plane. The precise engravings in meters and feet, together with the depth of focus scale, help make manual focusing a veritable pleasure, especially with the Sony A7R II that we tested the lens with which is very well suited to accurate manual focusing.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is rarely an issue with the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8, so much so that we could only find a few very minor instances of fringing in our test shots.

Chromatic Aberrations Chromatic Aberrations

Light Fall-off and Distortion

Light fall-off is noticeable wide open at f/2.8, though this can easily be corrected in Photoshop. Stop down to f/5.6 and the vignetting is already less prominent, but it is still visible when shooting pale scenes that fill the frame.

Light fall-off at 18mm

Light fall-off at 18mm

Macro

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 is not a macro lens, but the close-focus point is a useful 25cm from the film/sensor plane and it has a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:7.4. The following example illustrates how close you can get to the subject, in this case a CompactFlash card.

Close-up performance

Close-up performance

Bokeh

A major appeal of fast, wide-aperture prime lenses is their ability to produce an eye-catching separation between a sharp subject and a very soft out-of-focus background. The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 generates quite smooth out-of-focus areas through its use of a 9-bladed diaphragm, which provides smoother bokeh than seven or five-blade designs. Bokeh is however a fairly subjective part of a lens’ image quality, so check out these 100% crops to see the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8’s bokeh quality for yourself.

bokeh bokeh
 bokeh bokeh

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.