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: Performance
Carl Zeiss lenses are known for their ability to resolve detail. That, and the build, is what you pay the premium for. I think it is safe to say that this 50mm Milvus is the sharpest lens we’ve tested for some time, and the sharpest by some distance. Its wide-open performance eclipses most other 50mm lenses when they are set at their optimal apertures, but when it is used at f/5.6 it is astonishingly good.
Corner resolution, although behind the centre between f/1.4 and f/5.6, again eclipses some other lenses when their centre resolution is measured, so while I can’t tell you that resolution is even across the frame at all settings, it doesn’t ever drop to anything less than ‘very good’. At all aperture settings, corner and centre resolution measurements are very similar, but they actually come together completely by f/4 and stay that way until f/16. Resolution peaks at f/5.6 and drops away to what we would normally class as ‘excellent’ at f/16. It really is very sharp indeed.
As with all fast lenses, corners don’t always receive the same amount of light as the middle of the frame. The effect is dramatic at f/1.4 but only remains so for a stop, as brightness is evened out by f/2.8. I found the brightness of the frame changes considerably as it lightens noticeably at f/2 and drops back down at f/2.8. The uneven illumination fools the matrix metering of the camera. The effect is that the middle of the frame actually gets darker at f/2, while the outer areas brighten up – like inverted vignetting.
The absence of chromatic fringing is noticeable in images that have high-contrast edges, so trees can maintain their natural colour appearance without the interference of purples, blues and greens. It’s a joy to see such clean edges and not have to correct colour shifts and the grey-line hangovers they so often produce. This is the pay-off we get from the size of the lens and the lengthened light path. Edges this clean really are quite unusual.
I can’t tell you that the lens is completely free of curvilinear distortions, but you really have to test it hard to find them. The barrelling is so moderate that you need to find something very straight and shoot it right at the longest edges of the frame to be able to detect any deviance from normal.