It's not often that you get to work with a really prestigious brand and they end up being super cool with you. Normally there are all sorts of hoops to jump through and lots of emails backwards and forwards, so when I got the opportunity to work with Zeiss, possibly the wordls best manufacturers of camera lenses, it was a big 'yes' from me.
When the lens arrived, the first thing that struck me was the quality of the packaging. You are left in no doubt that you are dealing with a quality product. On first inspection of the lens itself, the metal body had a reassuring weight to it, though not too heavy, and the movement of the focus ring was like silk, so no concerns over build quality. This was further reinforced by the metal lens hood supplied with the lens. You wouldn't expect to have to fork out for a hood after spending so much on a lens, but seeing the time and effort gone into just the hood alone, let's you know that Zeiss aren't messing around.
I was using the Canon fit and couldn't wait to throw it on my 5D Mkiii and get out and play with it. Being a manual focus lens, I knew it would be a slightly different way of shooting than what I was use and it did indeed involve a little more patience and checking the images to ensure they were focused correctly. This was one of my main concerns about the lens but in truth, it actually allowed me to slow down and really take my time over the image, which made the whole process feel more like you were crafting an image, rather than the typical 'run and gun'. This was particularly pleasant as all too often we tend to rush images, without fully thinking them through. With that said, you can still throw the lens to 'infinity' and feel fairly comfortable that you will get a shot, for those more hurried moments.
My normal, go to lens is the Canon 24-105mm L - I love the versatility of it. However, it was clear that in almost every department, the 18mm Milvus was optically superior, as you would expect. It is always nice shooting with Prime lenses but the Milvus offered all-round incredible sharpness, barely any distortion and provide rich and vivid colours, making it ideal for landscapes. For shooting in the city, I was amazed at how it handled linear distortion and virtually no chromatic artefacts. Having the domed front element, it is easy to catch the light and create lens flare, but the provided hood does a great job of cutting that out. It does vignette a little, but I found that this actually was quite pleasing and could easily be removed in post if necessary.
At maximum aperture, f2.8, the lens is very sharp, only falling off very, very slightly at the corners. The bokeh produced was very pleasing though I would imagine most people will be shooting f5.6 upwards for landscape work. The lens is very bright and I found myself stopping down quite a bit, but I favoured the lens somewhere between f5.6-f8, where it was just exceptionally sharp. The 77mm thread on the front of the lens was also a hidden bonus as I already had an adapter for my LEE filter kit and throwing the two together was great fun. Shooting at 18mm means that it is easy to have a lot of negative space, be it sky or land, so using the filter to balance the exposure was a must in some situations but very simple with the Milvus.
So the quality is phenomenal, the output is exceptionally good, so what are the downsides? Well, the main sticking point for most people will, unfortunately, be the price. Coming in at £1500+, it's certainly not a budget option. With advancements being made by other manufacturers, it would be easy to rule out the Zeiss as simply too expensive. However, this is an amazing product. To use a car analogy, there are family saloons out there that will do 0-60 times as quick, if not quicker, than many 'supercars', but it is about how you use them and how they make you feel.
Which leads me on to the second sticking point. Being manual focus will undoubtedly put some people off. However, this is somewhat shortsighted. After a bit of practice, I barely noticed that it was a manual lens. Instead, I felt myself concentrating more on the image I was creating, rather than the lens itself. So should these points put you off? As long as you have deep enough pockets, then absolutely not, it is a truly great kens.
For more information, visit the Zeiss website at - www.zeiss.co.uk
Test images, shot by Jay Sidhu