Advancements in lens technology have skyrocketed in recent years. Ever since accurate computer modeling came into the equation we have seen lenses get better and better, and now with image sensors pushing 50MP even in full-frame, manufacturers have gotten to work on glass that will meet and exceed these resolutions. Perfect optics isn’t everything though, which is why I think Zeiss’ Milvus 35mm f/1.4 is one of the most masterful designs I’ve seen in years.
Art, such as photography, evoke feelings in the viewer. This is why many shooters still pick lenses based on a nebulous “look” or “feel.” Lensbaby and Meyer-Optik have based their entire business on this idea, but I hesitate to call these outstanding examples because they are usually limited to their single gimmick. Shooters still like to be able to get clean, sharp images when they need it, and the ability to have that look as an option.
Let’s analyze the Milvus I mentioned earlier. Optically this lens is phenomenal, tack sharp all over, effectively clean of chromatic aberrations, and distortion is so well controlled as to be unnoticeable. But, there are still some objective flaws. The most noticeable of these is when working wide open, or close to it, there is a distinct vignetting. In practice this is outstanding, as it leads to the creation of a look in which the subject simply pops off the background. Take the following images for example, in the one on the left it has that feeling that draws you into the subject in the center, whereas on the right it is simply another technically sound photo.
This balance of “flaws” and corrections leads to a lens that is versatile and practical. And, it makes it something that people want to use. Very few professionals want to rely on a Lensbaby, but most want the ability to create images with feeling as well as the critical sharpness and cleanliness only possible with properly designed glass. With the latest Milvus it really proves how hard is it to beat masters, such as those at Zeiss who have such a care for how their lenses look and function.
The images featured here were initially featured on B&H’s Explora blog with my original review of the lens.