Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Review

The Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens is one of the finest DSLR lenses ever made. This is a beautiful lens and the beauty is not just skin deep.

In slightly over a 1-year time frame, Zeiss introduced 9 new lenses, creating the Milvus line and obviously, the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens was one of them. Of those 9 new lenses, only 3 received brand new optical designs and this lens was not one of those. However, out of those 9 new lenses, none had less room for improvement than this one. The Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens was optically impressive and I'm sure the designers found little reason to touch this design.

From an optical standpoint, what I said about the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens directly applies to the Milvus variant of this lens. This lens delivers simply stunning image quality. The better a lens performs, the easier it is to evaluate and when perfection is approached, I have to spend far less time figuring out a lens' defects and when they matter.

Of course, having few or no features also lends to a faster evaluation process. On that note, the Zeiss 135 is a manual-focus-only lens, lacks image stabilization and lacks any other selectable-on-the-lens features. While its aperture is automatically controlled by the camera, the Zeiss 135 does little besides providing manual focusing and optical transmission. But it does those tasks extremely well.

The Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* ZE Lens evaluation was one of the easiest I've ever done – this lens approaches perfection – and the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens only improves upon its now Classic-labeled predecessor.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Close Angle View

Focal Length

A manual focus prime lens in the 135mm focal length shouts "portrait lens" to me. This focal length, on either a full frame or APS-C crop sensor format DSLR, provides a very pleasing portrait perspective even when used for tightly framed portraits at near minimum focus distances. Here is a head shot example.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* ZE Lens Sample Picture

Note that, as Zeiss borrowed the optical design from the previous lens, I'm taking the liberty to use some of the sample images from the previous lens in this and the next section.

The "portrait photography" designation is a broad one that covers a wide variety of potential still and video subject framing (from full body to head shots) and a wide variety of potential venues (from indoors to outdoors). Portrait subjects can range from children to seniors and from individuals to large groups.

Whenever people are present, this lens has uses. Think engagements, weddings, parties, events, families and small groups (when adequate working space is available), senior adults, fashion, documentary, lifestyle ... all are a great use for the 135mm focal length.

If you are especially adept at manual focusing, this lens can be used to capture people in motion, such as sports action (including under very poor lighting conditions).

Animal portraits can also be captured. Our golden retriever thinks she needs to be outside whenever one of us is out, but I didn't want her tracking up the fresh snow until I was finished. So, at my request, she sat and watched.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* ZE Lens Golden Retriever Portrait

Then I decided to make her the subject. Snow is a great light reflector, and accentuated by the shallow f/2 depth of field, the dog really popped against the mostly snow background.

A 135mm lens can be used for many other purposes including landscape, product and commercial photography along with general studio applications. Videographers will, again, find similar uses for this lens.

Those using the 135mm focal length on an ASP-C/1.6x FOVCF sensor format camera will have a narrower angle of view to work with, one equivalent to a 216mm focal length used on a full frame camera. While this angle is similarly useful, the uses push toward tighter portraits, smaller products, more-compressed landscapes and away from more general purpose uses.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Front View

Max Aperture

With few exceptions, the f/2 max aperture is the widest available in a 135mm focal length lens. The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens, with a 1/3 stop aperture advantage, is the most recently introduced exception.

The wider the aperture, the more light that is able to reach the imaging sensor. More light reaching the sensor means that a faster shutter speed can be used and subject and camera motion can more easily be stopped in low light circumstances. Handholding even a short telephoto lens in low light levels is possible with f/2 available. This wide aperture is especially valuable after the sun sets, when shooting indoors and under shade including indoors using only ambient window light.

The shallow f/2 depth of field must of course be acceptable to you in these circumstances, but shallow depth of field is another highly desired lens capability, excellent for making the subject pop from a blurred background. The wide f/2 aperture combined with the 135mm focal length used at a close focus distance will melt the background away. I love the shallow DOF look that draws the viewer's attention to the subject by eliminating the background distractions. This capability adds artistic-style imaging to this lens' capabilities list.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* ZE Lens Aperture Comparison Example

The extremely narrow depth of field this lens is capable of must be managed carefully. The crops below are taken from the f/2 head shot portrait shown earlier in the review.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Apo Sonnar T* ZE Lens Sample Crop

In this case, I needed both eyes as sharp as possible and I also wanted her mouth to be in focus. Since the eyes and mouth are not on the same plane at this angle, a compromise was forced. Actually, at this distance, a compromise needs to be made between keeping the eyes and eye lashes in focus as both cannot be made absolutely sharp.

I nailed this EOS 5D Mark III ISO 320 shot, but have to admit that many other attempts were not as successful.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Top View with Hood

Image Quality

You better get a tissue and, if you are in public, rest your chin on your hand to avoid the embarrassment of being seen with your mouth wide open before opening the image quality results for this lens, because the contrast and resolution delivered by this lens is jaw-dropping and drool-worthy. The results are simply stunning. That's what I said about the predecessor lens and it applies to the Milvus 135 as well.

But, since the 135 Classic review, Canon unleashed their ultra-high resolution EOS 5Ds R. This camera brings out the worst in a lens and with 50 megapixels of resolution, I can see a very slight softness in the center of the frame at f/2. If you didn't compare the f/2 results to narrower aperture results, you might not even notice this. With a slight bump in contrast and resolution at f/2.2, only 1/3 stop down, this lens is razor sharp – corner to corner across the entire full frame image. The center of the frame improvement at f/2.8 over f/2.2 is hard to discern and you will be challenged to see any sharpness difference aside from an increased DOF caused by a narrower aperture being selected.

Let's look at a set of 100% resolution crops captured with an EOS 5Ds R in RAW format and processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" (low). The following examples are from the center of the frame.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

When comparing these images, don't confuse increasing depth of field with increasing contrast and resolution. Find the area within the image that shows the least difference in comparisons and you likely have found the plane of sharp focus.

The f/2 results are sharp and the f/2.8 results are about as good as it gets. The f/2 "Sharp" results are sharpened very lightly in Photoshop, illustrating that a little adjustment on the f/2 image makes it especially sharp.

Here is a similar look at the extreme top-left corner of 5Ds R frame.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

This too is as good as it gets. Rarely can I stop showing corner crops at f/2.8 and still illustrate great corner image quality.

The contrast and resolution this lens delivers at a wide open f/2 aperture place it among an elite group of lenses. Very few lenses deliver image quality this good at ultra-wide apertures.

Wide open vignetting from this lens on a full frame body is quite mild, with about 2 stops of shading apparent in the corners. Less than half that amount remains at f/2.8 and by f/4, the shading is negligible. This lens is one of the best available in this regard and even a clear blue sky will show only its own natural gradient at f/4 and narrower apertures.

Lateral (or transverse) CA (Chromatic Aberration) shows as different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing color fringing along lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii) as this is where the greatest difference in the magnification of wavelengths exists. Even when this lens is stress-tested with white-on-black diagonals in the extreme corner of an ultra-high resolution full frame image, very little color separation is apparent.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Lateral Chromatic Aberration Example

A relatively common lens aberration, especially in a fast prime lens, is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are other common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.

In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures. In the following 100% resolution crop images, again, captured with a 5Ds R, we see fringing colors in out of focus areas of the image with specular highlights in the foreground showing a small amount of purple and in the background showing a small amount of green. The slight color fringing this lens exhibits essentially resolves by f/4.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

Spherical aberration is primarily seen at f/2 and this defect clearing allows the center of the frame details to become slightly sharper by f/2.8.

Our standard flare test involves placing the sun in the corner of the frame on a clear day. The longer the focal length, the stronger the effects of flare tend to be (all other attributes remaining the same), but this lens handles this test very nicely. At f/2, there are very minor flaring effects. The effects of flare always become more apparent at narrow apertures, but even at f/16, this lens shows relatively minor flaring.

While most photographers are not using a 135mm lens to photograph the night sky (unless they are using a tracking mount), the stars on a clear night provide a great test subject. These subjects are about as infinity as most of us care about and the lenses rendering of their pin-point size and shape show us attributes of the lens, including coma. Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma is most visible in wide aperture corners and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Also made apparent in night sky image corners is LatCA (again) and astigmatism.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Coma

With the top right corner of the frame (shown above) positioned near the north star, star trails are minimized and ... these stars are very impressively round. A tiny amount of LatCA is showing, but the corner performance of this lens is quite impressive.

Feel free to place straight lines close and parallel to the frame borders when using this lens, because with negligible distortion, those lines will stay straight and parallel. This attribute has many advantages and avoiding destructive distortion correction automatically gives this lens' images higher quality.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Distortion

Not only can this lens create a strong background blur, it can create a high quality-appearing background blur. As you can guess from the sun star effect example shown below (captured at f/16), this lens has 9 aperture blades.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Sunstar Effect Example

These blades, when stopped down, affect the blur quality (bokeh). The first two examples below are 100% crops, showing out of focus specular highlights captured at f/5.6.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Bokeh Example

While the individual aperture blades are apparent and the normal concentric border rings are present, the interior of the circles is very smoothly rendered. The third image above shows a distant tree being rendered at the same aperture. This image is a crop, but it is modestly reduced to show a bigger picture of the bokeh and again, it seems quite nice to me.

This lens uses an Apochromatic Sonnar optical design including four anomalous partial dispersion elements and, overall, this lens delivers stellar image quality.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Extended Top View with Hood


As previously clarified, the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens (like all other Canon and Nikon-mount Zeiss lenses) does not feature autofocus. Image quality is highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with a manual focus lens, that accuracy is completely in your hands. Fortunately, Zeiss designs some of the ultimate manual focus systems.

With a huge 270° range of solid, extremely smooth, nicely-damped rotation with no play, it is easy to precisely fine tune the 135's focus setting, even considering how shallow the depth of field is at f/2. Of course, adjusting from minimum focus distance to infinity requires a very significant turn (multiple turns actually) of this large diameter focus ring,

The focus ring is smooth in a second way. The focus ring is flush with the lens barrel and is substantially-sized, consuming much of the non-extending portion of the lens barrel, though only a portion of it is rubber coated. With that smooth-surfaced rubber coating transitioning to smooth metal without a diameter change, it is not always easy to find the grippier portion of the focus ring by touch. Like the rest of the exterior of this lens, the focus ring is all metal with the exception of the relatively small rubber section of the ring. While this focus ring requires an ideal amount of rotational force to adjust it, the metal portion of the ring is quite smooth and there is a tendency for grip slip if not grasping firmly or if wearing gloves and not grasping the rubberized area (which is not especially easy to tactilely find).

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Extended Top View

As seen above and like its predecessor, the Zeiss 135 extends with focusing, reaching its longest extension at its minimum focus distance. Somewhat unusual with this lens' predecessor was that its focus ring also moved outward with the extension. That setup was not my favorite design as the camera and lens become back-heavy when holding the extended focus ring. One of the Milvus improvements is the elimination of that issue. The focus ring now remains in its position as the lens extends.

As with all Milvus lenses, infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops which means that focus distance settings/marks are easily repeatable, an attribute highly valued by videographers. Most lenses including this one focus past their actual infinity setting to account for needs in extreme temperatures.

The Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus provides a DOF (Depth of Field) scale, though even with the large amount of rotation, this ring on a 135mm lens can include aperture marks only as wide as f/11.

Of note, including for videographers, those planning to use focus stacking techniques and those needed to critically frame a scene, is that this lens changes the size of subjects in the frame by a moderate amount during mid or longer focus distance adjustments. Subjects not only come into and go out of focus, but they become larger or smaller while doing so.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Top View

Focus accuracy is 100% your responsibility with a manual focus-only lens. In the old days, manual focusing was all we had. But, we were given bright viewfinders with split image rangefinders and microprisms.

Today's DSLR viewfinders are optimized for autofocusing and the provided focusing screen makes precise manual focusing a challenge. Focusing screens can be replaced (either via accessory drop-in replacements or via a service provided by a third party camera service center), but one challenge potentially remains and that is focus calibration. If the focusing screen is not precisely calibrated with the imaging sensor, perfect viewfinder-based focusing can result in a front or back focus condition.

The viewfinder's in-focus indicator light will come on when the camera thinks that accurate focus has been acquired, but this is an imprecise indication. Ideal is to use live view under maximum magnification where very precise manual focusing can be very reliably established. The downside of course is that not all situations permit use of the magnified live view method and that is where your skill comes in. Using a 135mm lens at f/2 will require you to be accurate.

The Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens' optical design has not changed and that means the MFD (Minimum Focusing Distance) and MM (Maximum Magnification) specs remain identical to the Classic version of this lens. And that is another positive attribute as these two lenses are best-in-class in these regards. The 0.25x MM spec bests most non-macro telephoto prime lenses.

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens35.4"(900mm)0.14x
Nikon 105mm f/2D AF DC Lens36.0"(914mm)0.13x
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens17.3"(440mm)0.50x
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens35.4"(900mm)0.19x
Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens48.0"(1220mm)0.14x
Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens31.5"(800mm) 
Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens34.4"(875mm)0.20x
Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens31.5"(800mm)0.25x
Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens31.5"(800mm)0.25x

While a 0.25x MM will not be confused with what a 1.00x macro lens can do, the Milvus 135 lens' close focus ability means that even very tight head shots are possible and small subjects, including many products, are easily within this lens' capabilities.

Maximum magnification from can be significantly increased with the use of extension tubes, which are basically as their name implies, hollow tubes (with electronic connections) that shift a lens farther from the camera. This "extension" allows the lens to focus at closer distances, though at the expense of long distance focusing. For a 135mm lens, I suggest starting with a 25mm sized ET (or, just get an entire set).

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens on Tripod

Build Quality & Features

From a build quality perspective, few lenses compare to Zeiss Milvus lenses. Featuring an all-metal exterior construction, these lenses look and feel as good as they perform. And, for just that reason alone, they are fun to use.

The same optical design is being housed, so a similar shape is not unexpected. While this Milvus lens is obviously different from its Classic predecessor (shown below on the left), it is rather similar in overall shape.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Compared to Classic Lens

The Milvus 135 has the model-line-characteristic smooth design with diameter changes smoothly curving into the profile. The smooth shape combined with the smooth rubber focus ring strongly resemble Zeiss' higher-end Otus lineup. All Milvus lettering and other markings are etched into the metal lens barrel, focusing ring and lens hood as with the Otus. Having the focal length and aperture so easily visible on the hood is especially nice, making lens identification easier.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Product Images

Select View:  MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

Without autofocus, image stabilization, a zoom range and any other features, this lens needs no switches. Without those features, there is considerably less risk for component failure and this metal-constructed lens feels as if it would last for generations of professional use.

The focus ring is primary. There is so much focus ring that just enough fixed lens barrel at the rear of this lens is available to grasp for mounting and dismounting. As seen in the comparison above, this lens extends during focusing with the maximum 1.26" (32mm) extension seen at the minimum focus distance. This lens remains rock-solid even when fully extended.

A physical feature new with the Milvus line is dust and moisture sealing. This feature was made visually attractive by a classy blue rear gasket.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Mount

A large, high quality, metal-constructed short telephoto lens with an ultra-wide aperture will show its presence on the scales. This 39.9 oz (1130g) lens has increased in weight by 6.8 oz (193g) over its predecessor and only the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens, with its 1/3 stop wider aperture, barely edges out the Milvus 135 to take the 135mm heavyweight championship.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Lens16.2 oz(460g)3.0 x 2.9"(75 x 74mm)58mm1991
Nikon 105mm f/2D AF DC Lens22.6 oz(640g)3.1 x 4.4"(79 x 111mm)72mm1993
Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens24.0 oz(680g)3.0 x 4.4"(76 x 113mm)67mm2010
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens26.5 oz(750g)3.3 x 4.4"(83 x 112mm)72mm1996
Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens28.8 oz(815g)3.1 x 4.7"(79 x 120mm)72mm1995
Samyang 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens29.3 oz(830g)3.2 x 4.8"(82 x 122mm)77mm2015
Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens39.9 oz(1130g)4 x 4.5"(101.6 x 114.3mm)82mm2017
Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens39.6 oz(1123g)3.5 x 4.5"(89.7 x 115mm)77mm2016
Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens32.8 oz(930g)3.3 x 4.3"(84 x 108mm)77mm2012

For many more comparisons, review the complete Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

While this lens is a bit of a handful and it is heavier than most similar lenses, most will not find this lens uncomfortable to use for reasonably long periods of time. All will know that something of significance is in their hand, but the weight will not bother most. The extra weight can be a benefit, helping to stabilize the lens during focusing and when framing/capturing a picture.

Here is a visual comparison of some of the 135mm lenses:

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens
Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM Lens
Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens
Samyang/Rokinon 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place and at full extension.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens to other lenses.

A key 135mm family member missing from the above picture is the announced, but not yet available, Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. The Sigma is going to be slightly wider but similar in both length and, again, weight.

Like its predecessor, the Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 Lens accepts ultra-common 77mm filters. These filters are not small and are not the least expensive, but finding a lens to share 77mm filters with is not difficult.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Angle View with Hood

All of the Zeiss Milvus lenses come with a very strong metal hood included. These hoods are designed to beautifully integrate with the lens body, providing a substantially enlarged and very comfortable working surface. It seems that fingers should get pinched in the gap between the hood and the focus ring when the lens retracts, but ... my fingers do not get pinched even when I try to do so.

The 135's hood is large enough to provide significant protection from bright light and impact, and the flat top provides a solid surface to stand the lens on. Reversed, Milvus hoods stow compactly. These hoods feature interior flocking for maximum light blocking.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Cap

Milvus line lenses come with an upgraded lens cap. While a lens cap may not seem important, it is a part of the lens that gets a lot of use and that the cap stays properly attached is important for protection of the lens (including when in a case where a loose cap can scratch the front lens element). The Zeiss Milvus front lens cap is one of the best-designed caps I've used, featuring an easily graspable center-and-side-pinch design.

Zeiss Milvus Lens Rear Cap

The rear cap features a double-wall design, a change from the older single-wall cap included with the pre-Milvus lenses. Zeiss says that the purpose for the rear cap redesign is purely aesthetic, though it appears to be a somewhat more protective design.

Zeiss provides a winning box-opening experience. Remove the outer box sleeve to find a somewhat large but very protective hinged box with cut-out foam cradling the lens and hood in place. This box is nice enough that I wish Zeiss had taken the next step of providing a hard plastic shell case with latches or something similar that would hold up better for use in the field. At review time, the Lowepro Lens Cases get my vote for very nice and affordable solutions for single lens storage, transport and carry.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Angle View

Price and Value

"I bought a Zeiss Milvus lens because it was so cheap!" is a statement that will likely never to be heard with sincerity. Like all Zeiss Milvus lenses, this one wears a premium price tag. To put it bluntly, the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens price far exceeds all other 135mm prime lens options. This is a lens purchased by discerning photographers, those who need/want the ultimate image quality and a superior build quality.

The Milvus 135mm f/2 Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon F mounts and adapters allow it to be used on other brand cameras including Sony. At this point in the review, I always include my standard disclaimer, warning of potential issues when using non-camera manufacturer brand lenses. Since the Zeiss Milvus lenses do not include autofocus, I view the risk of incompatibility in existing or future camera introductions as being very low. Zeiss Milvus lenses include a 2 year warranty.

The reviewed lens was retail-sourced.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Side View with Hood

Alternatives to the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens

Of the comparable 135mm prime lenses: The Zeiss is, by far, the most expensive and the Samyang is, by far, the least expensive. Only the Zeiss and the Samyang/Rokinon do not feature autofocus. The Zeiss and the Sigma are about 10 oz (280g) heavier and these are the only two weather sealed options. The Zeiss and (likely, but not specified) Samyang have a higher maximum magnification (0.25x) than the others (0.20x at best). The Zeiss is the only externally extending lens in the group. While the Sigma remains to be examined, the Zeiss is the best built of the contenders. With those general factors out of the way, let's review some remaining specifics.

The now-over-20-year-old Canon EF 135mm f/2L is a much-loved lens that performs very well. Comparing the Zeiss image quality to the Canon shows that the Zeiss is the sharper lens at f/2, especially in the corners. The Zeiss shows noticeably less spherical aberration at f/2. At f/2.8, the centers are more similar, but the Zeiss continues to have the corner advantage. It is unlikely that you will be able to notice a sharpness difference between these lenses at f/4. The Zeiss' focus ring rotates 270° vs the Canon's 120°, the Zeiss has 9 aperture blades vs. the Canon's 8 and the Zeiss uses larger 77mm filters vs. 72mm. The Canon is compatible with extenders, providing 189mm f/2.8 and 270mm f/4 lens options.

The Nikon 135mm f/2D AF DC Lens is also over 20 years old and sports a look that made me think it was even older. Our Nikon test lens showed very strong spherical/axial aberrations at wide apertures and the Zeiss shows superior image sharpness even stopped down. The Nikon shows less vignetting and more flare. The Zeiss has a longer focus ring rotation (270° vs. 150°) and uses 77mm filters vs. the Nikon's smaller 72mm size.

The other manual focus lens we are looking at here, the Samyang/Rokinon 135mm f/2 ED UMC Lens is at the opposite price extreme, but it is a very surprisingly strong competitor in the image quality comparison. At f/2, the Zeiss is slightly sharper in the center of the frame, but the Samyang is about equally as impressive as the Zeiss in the f/2 corners. Marring the Samyang's otherwise impressive performance is a focus shift issue at narrower apertures, with the plane of sharp focus shifting rearward. The Samyang has nearly an extra stop of vignetting showing in the corners until f/5.6 where these two lenses become closer in this regard. The Samyang shows stronger flare effects.

An unknown at the time of this review is the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens. Sigma has been sending some great lenses out the door recently and this one promises to be another great one. The most expensive competitor, just edging out the Nikon by a few dollars, the Sigma is still priced well under the Zeiss and, for sure, it will provide a 1/3 stop wider aperture along with the autofocus benefit.

Also worth considering is the Milvus 135's predecessor, the Zeiss 135mm f/2 Classic Lens. The Classic lens delivers similar image quality and, while it lasts, has a significant instant rebate available for it, meaning that it will not likely be around very long. The older lens does not have the Milvus treatment including weather sealing, but it delivers stellar image quality.

If the ultra-wide f/2 aperture can be sacrificed, the list of lenses covering the 135mm focal length increase significantly as the common 70-200 f/2.8 class zooms are then included. While these lenses give up a stop of light along with the f/2 background blur and none equal the Zeiss' image sharpness, all of these lenses offer the advantage of a range of focal lengths, autofocus and (most offer) image stabilization, a feature that can compensate for several stops of light if the subjects are not in motion.

Zeiss 135mm f/2 Milvus Lens Front View on Camera


If the Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 Lens featured autofocus, it would be a must-have lens for all serious kits. As it does not, the applications for this lens are more limited. Still, if a manual focus lens works for your 135mm application, this lens is a very highly recommended solution.

The image quality coming from this lens is so high that, it seems to me that Zeiss could have used yellow paint, emblazoned it with the Otus brand name and charged double the price. Still, the price is not low, the lens is not light and AF is not featured, but otherwise, this is another drool-worthy Zeiss lens. It is hard not to love this lens.

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