Damien Demolder finds out whether the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 is worth its near-four-figure price tag
Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 review: Build and handling
I appreciate that this lens is a tool and as such its cosmetic aesthetic is unimportant to the purchaser driven entirely by logic. Few of us are unlucky enough to deny the attraction and importance of beauty, so I’ll mention here that this lens is, as are all Milvus lenses, very pleasing to the eye. It would have been easy to make a straight-up-and-down cylinder with glass in it, but the designers have gone to some lengths to make something beyond basic necessity.
The soft-sheen paint and wide rubber focus ring look fantastic, and the outline of the barrel and metal hood curve exquisitely. As you might expect, the whole machine is made from metal, which lends both weight and stability to the construction. Even the lens hood, unlike so many of today’s plastic versions, is solid and hard to the touch. There is soft, shallow-pile luxurious felt lining its interior surface.
The hood is massive, being 44mm high, 90mm across and a full 1mm thick, but its shape is perfect for turning back on itself when the lens is not in use, and it fits beautifully, and protectively, over the front end of the barrel. The front end of the barrel fans outwards slightly as it covers the front element, which provides a comfortable gripping point when the lens is being held – even with gloved hands.
Being a lens intended for movies as well as for stills, the manual-focus ring is designed to be easy to handle. It is 22mm wide, and made of a rubber that sticks to the fingers without the need for ribbing. The focus throw is extensive to allow for the tiny adjustments that are necessary with a wide-aperture lens – it needs a rotation of about 220° to take us from the 45cm/1.5ft closest focus position to infinity. Focus markings, along with a depth of field scale, are engraved on the barrel.
I was using the ZF.2 Nikon-mount version of the lens, which is fitted with an aperture ring. The ring offers half-stop clicks between f/1.4 and f/11, and then a full stop to f/16, although body control of the iris allows 1⁄3EV steps to be used. The Nikon version also lets us de-click the ring so we can change aperture during filming without intruding on the audio track.
While the lens does all it can to make life very pleasant indeed, there is nothing it can do about the lack of accommodation modern DSLRs allow for manual-focus systems. It is almost impossible to focus by eye as the modern focus screen does nothing to assist, so we have to use the AF points and the focus confirmation dot in the viewfinder – or tripod-mounted magnified live view. The lens worked beautifully on my Nikon FM3A, though.