Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 vs Zeiss Otus 85/1.4 vs Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 – Comparative Lens Review
Before we come to the final word of this review, there is one thing, really important to mention – focusing.
Simply said, it is enormously hard to focus this lenses, especially wide open in order to achieve critical sharpness. This applies mainly for the native bodies we tested lenses on – Nikon D800E and Nikon D810. Those modern digital cameras were not made for manual focus lenses and this creates biggest limitation for practical usage. Why should one pay almost 4000 EUR for the “perfect” lens, if he won’t be able to get most of it because of inability to acquire “perfect” focus?
Zeiss have nice article on the focusing topic – http://www.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/en_de/website/photography/what_makes_the_difference/manual_focusing.html. They suggest to use LCD and magnification for the applications where critical sharpness is needed. In practice, using system for the portrait and holding camera in front of you just like a smart-phone is very uncomfortable and any sense of intimacy is lost. (Hoodman type viewfinder and similar devices doesn’t really help, they are rather cumbersome and shooting experience is closer to video recording).
This is not problem of Zeiss, it is the problem of DSLR producers or maybe even DSLR concept recently. Question is, if special focusing screens used in old – manual focus cameras will really help. The tolerance with recent hi-res sensors is so thin at pixel level, that even using LCD and magnification might lead to small focus shift and loss of full resolution potential.
Don’t be confused however, AF is not always best solution either. We are simply approaching the point where technology is going step ahead of human capability to control it and this might be very frustrating from time to time.
Both, Pavel and me were insecure most of the time during portrait session, if we managed to focus properly. Reviewing images on the LCD doesn’t really help, as the resolution of the display is limited. We are not talking here about missing focus completely, but it’s enough to shift it for just 0,1mm and output image of Otus will have similar sharpness as perfectly focused Planar.
Best solution that I was able to find, which gives me more keepers and more confident control of the focus, is using lenses on Sony A7x cameras. However, by using this system I lost beauty of optical viewfinder (for me it is big thing to look through optical viewfinder when talking to my models, because I have entirely different feeling of intimacy and fluent interaction, than when using EVF) and with Otus and Milvus on rather small A7 body, balance was entirely front weighted.
Point of this writing about focusing issues is not to blame anyone, it’s just to raise the question – why do we need all that resolving power of lens and camera, if we are not really able to control it in most situations (unless shooting static subjects in LAB conditions).
Zeiss Otus 85/1.4 ZF.2 – Final Word
Otus 85/1.4 is incredible lens. It is best optically corrected lens that I ever tested. Extremely sharp (when you hit the focus) across almost whole frame from f/1.4, this lens is great tool for shooting in low light or when shallow DOF is required.
Build quality is top-notch, except for the rubberized parts, which could be improved IMHO (collecting all sorts of dirt and scratches and questionable durability) and lack of weather protection. Focusing Otus lens is experience of its own and is something that every enthusiast should try once (at least in the shop :-))
Lack of any sort of chromatic aberration together with great control of most other aberration, mainly spherical, Otus creates strongest pop-up effect of all three lenses at comparable settings. Great micro-contrast and superb flare resistance, help the lens to deliver top quality images in most if not all conditions.
Bokeh is very smooth and creamy both in front and behind subject, but if there are strong circular highlights, “onion rings” effect could be noticed. This effect however showed up in really extreme situations and for most of our tests, Otus had smoothest Bokeh feeling. Otus also suffers from rather heavy vignetting wide open and mechanical vignetting causing “cat eye” highlights shaping toward image edges.
The biggest disadvantage is its price of course. Not only that lens itself cost almost as a small car, but even (quality) filters at 86mm are not cheap.
During this review, I felt in love with this lens, and while Milvus is very close in most aspects and in some even better, I had to buy Otus for myself. That wasn’t rational, but almost entirely emotional decision, and little bit of great sales tactics from Mr. Mejdrech.
If you want the sharpest lens with best controlled aberrations and amazing feeling of manual focus, and money is not the issue, Otus 85/1.4 is still unbeaten in this focal length.
Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 ZF.2 – Final Word
Milvus 85/1.4 beats its almost two-time more expensive rival Otus in several categories. It is weather protected, it has de-clicking aperture, it is much cheaper, it has smaller and much more common filter thread, it doesn’t show “onion rings” in the highlights because it doesn’t use aspheric lens.
Milvus 85/1.4 is as close to Otus 85/1.4 when sharpness is in question, as it only can be. In the center of the frame, they are almost on par (actually indistinguishable in a real life usage) with only slightly worse performance in the corners.
Where Milvus is lagging is chromatic aberration control. Axial CA is not corrected nowhere near Otus level, but final rendition is much improved in comparison to old Planar. (Part of it could be that Planar has other aberrations in the mix, so resulting image looks much worse wide open)
I was slightly disappointed with Milvus focusing mechanism. Is it because the focus ring is basically whole lens barrel, or because too heavy glass elements are moving, or because weather protection sealing used in the gaps of the moving parts, I was missing the super smooth tactile feeling known from other Zeiss lenses (not to speak about Otus). Maybe this will improve with use, but out from the box, Milvus focusing experience was nothing to rave about. (Don’t get me wrong, it is still great and very precise, and it will done the job with perfection, it’s only feeling that I am talking about).
I would say, that Milvus 85/1.4 ZF.2 is much more reasonable purchase than Otus 85/1.4, mainly because the price difference. With Milvus you will get professional lens, beating in optical corrections most of other lenses in this focal length, and staying behind Otus just a tinny bit. If yu are processing your images, or if you are planning to use in camera lens profile correction, I bet that large part of color fringing will be successfully removed. At that point, there is really no reason to go with Otus.
Zeiss Planar 85/1.4 ZF – Final Word
The cheapest lens of the three lags behind in the optical corrections in comparison to the other two. It suffers from Axial chromatic aberration and spherical aberration at the first place, but on the other hand, spherical aberration ads to its specific rendering. Together with its (rather) small size and affordable price, its character and popularity among portrait photographers were main reasons why Zeiss decided to keep it in production as one of only two Classic DSLR lenses.
Stopped down to f/2.8 and smaller it comes actually very close to Otus and Milvus, and most professional photographers won’t shot portraits at wide open aperture anyway. Build quality is top-notch and design is timeless classic. I am almost sure than in couple of years, both Otus and Milvus will look like funny Sci-fi from 60′ while this little Planar will still look like a cool lens.
Focus is smooth and precise, vignetting smallest in this comparison, colors are consistent with other two lenses, flare resistance give nice mixture of control and flaring, bokeh, while not smoothest is very specific.
If you look on our portrait scenes posted above, you might agree with us, that in the real life, Classic Planar has still lot to offer and is sometimes hard to tell apart from Otus or Milvus.
My friend Pavel, actually liked Planar the most, but he is shooting lot on film and thus it makes even more sense.
As we already wrote, all three lenses are great tools, and we can’t say which one is better. We tried to give you as many comparable images as was possible for us to prepare in order to help you draw your own conclusion in case that you are considering purchase of one of them. If we will be forced to give our recommendation, for most universal mixture of all benefits and shortcomings, we agreed that Milvus 85/1.4 will be the one.
Don’t forget that following link – Flickr Collection Of Zeiss Otus vs Milvus vs Planar will take you to the Flickr albums, where you can explore most of the images posted here in full resolution.
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