Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Review

Zeiss 35mm f/2 Milvus Lens
In-Depth Review

The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens features an ultra-usable 35mm focal length in an ultra-high quality constructed body with great looks. In addition, this lens offers good image quality for a low-for-Zeiss price.

The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens was one of the 6 lenses announced in a single press release, introducing the Zeiss Milvus line. Of those 6 new lenses, only two received new optical designs and this lens was not one of the chosen. That new Zeiss lenses would be amazingly well built was expected, but with the same optics as its predecessor, the Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Classic ZE Lens, the image quality this lens would deliver was a known entity. While the Milvus refresh brings a nicely improved lens, from both an aesthetic perspective and from a durability one (including weather sealing), those already owning the older lens will not likely feel compelled to fund an upgrade for similar image quality.

Before reading any further, you need to know that this lens, like all other Zeiss Milvus lenses, is manual focus only. If AF is a prerequisite for your needs, this lens will not be the right choice for you. If you think a manual focus only lens might work for your applications, this lens is worthy of consideration.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Top View with Hood

Focal Length / Focal Length Range

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Focus on choosing the right focal length first. Focal length matters because it drives focus distance choices and perspective is then determined. Because it drives an ideal perspective for so many uses, the 35mm focal length is a wildly popular choice for inclusion in not only prime lenses, but in essentially all general purpose zoom lenses as well.

The 35mm focal length is a great choice for capturing a natural perspective and general purpose use. It is wide enough to capture the big scene but not so wide that people and other subjects are readily distorted by the close perspective invited by ultra-wide angles. As a prime lens, sneaker zooming to the right subject distance is typically necessary for ideal subject framing and this angle of view makes these adjustments easy.

I'll provide a starter list for uses of the moderately wide angle 35mm focal length, but know that this list is far from conclusive.

The 35mm focal length has long been a first-choice for photojournalists and it is a good choice for street photographers. Event, wedding and portrait photographers appreciate the 35mm focal length for full to mid-body portraits and for group portraits (and perhaps for use in their photo booth). Landscape photographers have plenty of use for the 35mm focal length.

Families love 35mm lenses for capturing their indoor and outdoor events and activities. This focal length is also popular with videographers, especially for creating documentaries. Many medium and large products are ideally captured at 35mm.

I often press whatever lens I'm reviewing at the time into my around-the-house, general purpose lens. I'm always happy when that lens covers 35mm as I know it will work well for a wide range of the most common needs I encounter.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Sample Picture

On an ASP-C/1.6x sensor format body, the 35mm focal length provides an angle of view similar to a 56mm lens on a full frame sensor format body. The 56mm angle of view is close enough to 50mm to be used for all applications this extremely popular "normal" focal length is used for. Those uses coincide with most uses of the 35mm focal length with slightly tighter framing or slightly longer perspective for the same framing being the difference.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Front View

Max Aperture

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Wide apertures are primarily desired for the amount of light they allow to reach the sensor, making camera handholding and action freezing in low light possible. Another big benefit to a wide aperture is the shallow depth of field they provide, causing distracting background details to go out of focus.

I'll call the f/2 aperture in the 35mm focal length semi-fast. Many manufacturers, including Zeiss, have an f/1.4 prime model in 35mm and many zoom options cover the f/2.8 max aperture. Sigma even matches or bests 35mm f/2 with two of their zoom lenses, the full frame 24-35mm f/2 Art Lens and the 18-35mm f/1.8 Art Lens.

At 35mm and f/2, a close subject with a distant background is required to create a strong blur.

Those using the Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 with the Nikon ZF.2 mount have a manual aperture ring available. Additionally featured in this Nikon lens version is a de-clicked aperture feature that can be enabled with the turn of a screw, allowing smooth, completely variable aperture changes (of primary interest to videographers).

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens on Tripod

Image Quality

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Image sharpness, a combination of contrast and resolution, is usually my first concern regarding a lens's image quality. To jump right to the point, this lens has good sharpness across most of the full frame image circle at f/2. Rarely is a lens as sharp at its widest aperture as it is stopped down, and in typical fashion this lens shows a nice increase in sharpness at f/2.8 where details are rendered sharply. Only a slight center of the frame improvement is seen at f/4 with slightly more substantial improvement seen farther out in the image circle. Except in the far outer periphery of the image circle, stopping down to f/5.6 or narrower will result in little visible difference in image sharpness.

Let's look at a real life center-of-the-frame example. The 100% crop images (in the next three example sets) were captured in RAW format with a Canon EOS 5Ds R and processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1".

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

I dropped in a more-strongly sharpened f/2 example to illustrate the potential here. Use f/2.8 to get sharp images with only a slight sharpness benefit being realized at f/4. I didn't bother adding the f/5.6 example as it looks just like the f/4 result.

I should note that my copy of this lens is consistently slightly brighter (as measured in the center of the frame) at f/2.8 than at f/2 or f/4 with equivalent exposures in use. I have equalized the brightness in the above example with -1/6 stop EV.

Want to make a lens look bad? Showing the extreme corner of an ultra-high resolution full frame DSLR image captured with a wide open aperture would be my first choice. It would be a special 35mm lens to render corners razor sharp at its max aperture and while this lens performs well deep into the image circle, it falls short in the extreme periphery.

While extreme full frame corners start out somewhat soft at f/2, they look noticeably brighter with vignetting significantly clearing at f/2.8. Corners sharpen at a decreasing rate through f/8 where they are quite sharp as seen in the images below, taken from the bottom right corner of the frame.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

Here is a different example set taken from the extreme top left corner of the 5Ds R frame.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

While soft corners can make a lens look bad, we must keep this in perspective. Approximately 92% of the frame is similar in sharpness to the center even at f/2 with the similarity percentage increasing steadily at narrower apertures.

As always, full frame DSLR owners should expect some vignetting at wide apertures. At just over 3 stops of corner shading at f/2, the amount is going to be quite noticeable and I'm sure that you already saw this in the corner examples just shared. Stop down by a stop and corner shading clears by a stop, stop down by 2 stops and corner shading clears by 2 stops. That should be easy to remember. A seldom noticed roughly .6 stops of shading remains from f/5.6 through f/8.

Even APS-C DSLR owners may notice about a stop of shading in the corners at f/2, but it is unlikely that vignetting will be noticeable at f/2.8 and narrower.

If the all wavelengths of light in the visible spectrum refracted identically, a lens designer's job would be a lot easier. Because they do not, we get aberrations caused by various wavelengths of light being magnified and focused differently. The most frequently noticed type of CA (Chromatic Aberration), lateral (or transverse) CA, shows as different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently with the mid and especially in the periphery of the image circle showing color fringing at lines of strong contrast (where the greatest difference in wavelengths meet). I'll call it "LatCA". LatCA becomes more pronounced with an ultra-high resolution DSLR in use and here is a worst-case example from a 5Ds R corner:

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Chromatic Aberration

This amount of LatCA is modest and generally not hard to correct in software, especially if a lens-specific correction profile can be used.

Aberrations that are present to some extent are spherical and axial chromatic aberration. Caused by unequally focused colors, these aberrations are primarily affecting image quality at f/2. The spherical aberration clearing has a role in making the center of the frame details become noticeably sharper at f/2.8 and slightly more so at f/4. The example below shows fringing colors in out of focus areas of the image with specular highlights in the foreground showing purple and in the background showing green.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Spherical and Axial Chromatic Aberration

The amount of flare produced by this lens with the sun in the corner of the frame ranges from practically none at f/2 to modest at f/16 with most of the increase happening in the last couple of stops. This lens outperforms its predecessor by a small amount in this aspect, thanks to the improved lens coatings.

With a moderate amount of coma, this lens will turn corner of the frame stars into small flying insects at the f/2 aperture. Here is an example from the top right corner of a 5Ds R frame.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Coma

While not a desirable effect, this is not unusual for lenses of this class.

This lens has a slight amount of barrel distortion that will make straight lines near the borders of the frame appear slightly curved.

One attribute I'm seeing across the entire Milvus line is good quality bokeh, referring to the appearance of the out of focus portions of the image. One of the easiest bokeh aspects to look at is how specular highlights are handled with a stopped-down aperture. As seen in the two examples below, the centers are smoothly filled with the normal outer concentric lines not being harsh.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Bokeh Example

One | Two

With 9 aperture blades, this lens will create strong 18-point star-like effects from point light sources when used with a narrow aperture. These Christmas tree lights were captured at f/16 (not a 100% crop).

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Bokeh Stars Example

Overall, this lens delivers solid image quality that, while not perfect, creates nice images.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Top View


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Image quality is highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with all Zeiss Milvus lenses, that accuracy is completely in your hands. Just like the other Zeiss Milvus lenses, the Milvus 35 is manual focus only. The good news is that you can expect these lenses deliver the ultimate manual focusing experience.

The extremely smooth focusing ring has a considerable 116° of rotation.

The focus ring is also smooth in its texture – there are no ribs on this ring. This ring consumes most of the lens barrel with the rear half being rubber coated, but not raised. While the metal portion of the focus ring does not provide as much traction as the rubber portion does, I am not finding it as difficult to hold onto as some other Milvus models. This could be due to slightly less rotational force being required, a slightly narrower diameter or ... my fingers are just grippier today (not as likely). You will want to grasp to rubber portion of the ring when wearing gloves.

As expected, there is no play in this focus ring.

All Milvus lenses have hard stops at infinity and minimum focus distances with distant subjects (such as stars) often being sharp *just* before the hard stop at infinity. Focus distance settings/marks are easily repeatable, a feature highly valued by videographers.

The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens provides a full DOF (Depth of Field) scale including aperture marks as wide as f/4. While some other non-Zeiss lenses include depth of field markings, few provide markings wider than f/11.

Of note, primarily for videographers, is that Milvus 35 f/2 subjects change size in the frame by a modest amount with long focus distance adjustments.

As expected for a lens of this class (and for all of the Zeiss lenses I've used to date), the front element does not rotate during focusing. This is important for use of some filter types including circular polarizer filters.

As mentioned, 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 precise manual focusing can be reliably established. The downside of course is that not all situations permit use of the magnified live view method.

With a MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) of 11.8" (300mm), the Zeiss Milvus 35 f/2 can produce a 0.19x MM (Maximum Magnification). This performance is average for the class as seen in the following comparison chart:

ModelMin Focus Distance "(mm)Max Magnification
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens11.0(280)0.21x
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens9.4(240)0.24x
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens11.8(300)0.20x
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens9.8(250)0.16x
Samyang 35mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens11.8(300) 
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens11.8(300)0.19x
Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens7.9(200)0.40x
Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Classic ZE Lens11.8(300)0.20x
Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Milvus Lens11.8(300)0.19x
Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Classic ZE Lens11.8(300)0.16x

To reduce the MFD and thereby increase the MM, mount an extension tube behind this lens – with the understanding that infinity and long distance focusing are sacrificed while doing so. Zeiss does not have teleconverters available and it is unlikely that compatible third party teleconverters exists due to the far rearward placement of lens elements.

Build Quality & Features

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Using a lens with high end build quality is a fun experience and this lens definitely brings that feeling to the table. The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens feels like a solid precision instrument and all photographers can appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the smoothly curving lines of this lens.

Here is a look at the old vs. new Zeiss 35mm f/2 lenses:

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens with Predecessor

The new lens has a considerably modernized shape, but these two lenses appear similar is size and that is not surprising since their optical design is shared.

We first saw this new shape make its appearance in the Zeiss Otus line, with the Milvus lens series now inheriting the smooth overall flow and the smooth rubber focus ring is similarly Otus-like. All lettering and other markings on this lens are etched into the metal lens barrel, focusing ring and lens hood. Having the focal length and aperture so easily visible on the hood is especially nice, making lens ID easier.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Product Images

MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

A characteristic of most Milvus lenses is that the exterior lens barrel is primarily focus ring. And, since the focus ring is what is being used constantly, this design is the right choice. 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. Without autofocus, image stabilization, a zoom range and any other features, this lens needs no switches.

Merge a high quality build with few features and high reliability can be the expected result. Featuring an all-metal exterior, the Milvus 35 f/2 feels like it would last a lifetime and beyond.

As you can see in the product images above, this lens has a small amount of extension when focusing. With the lens hood moving forward, leaving a small but relatively deep gap, it appeared that finger pinching might be a potential. Fortunately, that concern was unfounded. While fingers can get into this crevice, they don't seem to get pinched.

A physical feature new with the Milvus line is dust and moisture sealing. Of course, Zeiss made even this feature visually attractive with a classy blue rear gasket.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Mount

The Zeiss Milvus 21 is a medium-small lens that is sized nicely for use and weighted lightly enough for even long term use. But, one price the Milvus lenses pay for their optimal build quality is in their weight. This lens is the heaviest of the 35mm prime lenses within 1/3 stop of its max aperture and is on par with the f/1.4 variants. The table below shows manufacturer specs and that Zeiss includes the 2.8 oz (79g) lens hood in the weight spec should be taken into consideration.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens26.8(760)3.2 x 4.2(80.4 x 105.5)72mm2015
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens11.8(335)3.1 x 2.5(77.9 x 62.6)67mm2012
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens21.2(600)3.3 x 3.5(83.0 x 89.5)67mm2010
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens10.8(305)2.8 x 2.8(72.0 x 71.5)58mm2014
Samyang 35mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens23.3(660)3.3 x 4.4(83.0 x 111.0)77mm2011
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens23.5(665)3.0 x 3.7(77.0 x 94.0)67mm2012
Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens16.9(479)3.2 x 3.2(80.4 x 81.3)67mm2015
Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Classic Lens29.7(840)3.1 x 3.9(78.0 x 99.3)72mm2010
Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Milvus Lens24.8(702)3.0 x 3.3(77.0 x 83.0)58mm2015
Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Classic Lens18.7(530)2.5 x 3.8(64.0 x 97.0)58mm2010

For many more comparisons, review the complete Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Selecting a subset of lenses to compare in a single image for a pro-grade 35mm prime lens with an f/2 max aperture is challenging. Should the selection be targeted to a specific audience (professionals in this case)? Or, should those with similar max aperture specs be chosen? Since Zeiss also has a 35mm f/1.4 lens in their lineup, I decided go with the latter.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right in their fully retracted positions are the following lenses:

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens
Zeiss 35mm f/2.0 Milvus Lens
Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens

While the Canon is the smallest and the Tamron is the largest, the overall differences are not substantial. Put the hoods on these lenses and they appear even more equal.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

I will direct you to the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens to the Canon and Nikon 35mm f/1.4 Lenses. Here is one more comparison that you might find interesting. Also try plugging the Zeiss 35 f/1.4 into one of those comparison slots.

The Zeiss Milvus 35 f/2 Lens accepts standard threaded 58mm filters. These small filters are rather common and not so expensive in relation to the rest of the field.

All of the Zeiss Milvus lenses come with a strong metal hood included. These hoods are designed to beautifully integrate with the lens body, providing a substantially enlarged and comfortable working surface.

The 35's hood is large enough to provide significant protection from bright light and impact while circular polarizer filters remain accessible for adjustment even with the hood in place. Reversed, Milvus hoods stow compactly. These hoods feature interior flocking for maximum light blocking.

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. The Zeiss Milvus front lens cap is one of the nicest 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 slightly more protective design.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Box

Zeiss does not miss with the out-of-the-box experience. Remove the outer box sleeve to find a somewhat large but 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 nice and affordable solutions for single lens storage, transport and carry.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Angle View

Price, Value, Compatibility

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In the beginning of this review, I mentioned "low-for-Zeiss price", but that does not mean low price. You will not find any Zeiss Milvus lenses at the low end of the price range and people buying Zeiss Milvus lenses are not buying these lenses to save money. They want best-available build quality and the experience of using such a lens. High grade build quality does not equate to low price and often you get what you pay for in this regard. But, this is one of the lowest-priced Zeiss DSLR lenses and combined with good image quality, it is a reasonable value.

The Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon mounts. 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 quite low. Zeiss Milvus lenses include a 2 year warranty, twice as long as Canon's USA and international warranties, but less than half as long as Nikon USA's 5-year lens warranties.

The lens used for this review was retail sourced.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Angle View with Hood

Alternatives to the Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens

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The list of alternatives to this lens is daunting and any 35mm prime lens is a direct competitor. That many of the competing lenses have autofocus is a big consideration for many of us. The Zeiss' unbeatable build and manual focus experience will be the primary reasons for choosing the Zeiss, though good image quality is not a missing component.

All f/1.4 competitors have a 2x wider aperture available with prices ranging widely, from considerably less to significantly more than the Zeiss. The review-time-current f/1.4 lenses, in general, have at least somewhat sharper image quality at f/2, especially in the center of the frame. The current top performer, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens, is considerably sharper across the entire frame. The f/1.4s have considerably less vignetting at f/2.

The aperture-similar f/1.8 and f/2 variants are all lighter and all have prices well below the Zeiss. The Zeiss compares better with this group of lenses from a wide open aperture sharpness perspective.

For a specific comparison, the Zeiss is slightly sharper than the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens in the mid-frame area at f/2. The differences subside at narrower apertures. The Canon has image stabilization, giving it a big advantage when being handheld in low light (with motionless subjects of course).

The Zeiss appears modestly sharper than the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens at f/2, though the Nikon has less vignetting.

The Tamron 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens is notably sharper than the Zeiss and has considerably less vignetting than the Zeiss at f/2.

The number of f/2.8 zoom lenses with 35mm in their range is huge and I'm going to direct you to the site's lens comparison tools to help with those evaluations.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2M Lens Side


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The big reason that photographers are going to choose the Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/2 Lens will be to get the unbeatable build quality and best-available manual focus experience. This compact but relatively heavy lens is at the lower end of the Zeiss Milvus price range and delivers good image quality. Of course, the incredibly useful 35mm focal length will not hurt sales.

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