Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Review

If you have previously used any of the Zeiss DSLR lenses and especially the Zeiss Milvus lenses, you probably have a good idea of what to expect from the Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens. If you have not previously used a Zeiss lens, you are in for a real treat with the 50 f/2M and any of the Milvus lenses. This simple and simply-fun-to-use lens features very good image quality and ultra-high build quality.

The 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens is one of 6 lenses that Zeiss introduced in a single press release. This was the introduction of the Milvus line with each lens being a direct update from a lens from what is now referred to as the "Classic" line with the 50 f/2M descending from the Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar "Classic" Lens. While all 6 of the lenses received significant upgrades, only two received new optical designs and this lens, the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M, was not one of them.

Note up front that, if autofocus is on your requirements list, this lens is not for you. Zeiss Milvus lenses, though fully supporting auto exposure and aperture, are manual focus only.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Top View with Hood

Focal Length

One reason to buy this lens is for the usefulness of its focal length. The 50mm focal length is often referred to as "normal" on a full frame camera body, approximating how we perceive a scene with our own eyes in field of view and perspective terms. This is the focal length lens that was commonly included in SLR kits back in the film days. While not available in manufacturers' kits today, 50mm prime lenses continue to be very popular.

Here is this focal length demonstrated:

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Sample Picture

This image was captured with this lens' predecessor (if Zeiss can share from the previous lens, I can share from the previous review, right?).

This focal length is great for general purpose use (just leave it mounted to your camera) and it will frequently find application in fashion, portraiture, weddings, parties, events, documentary, lifestyle, sports, architecture, landscape, general studio photography, around-the-house needs and much more. A number of those good uses for this lens include people as subjects. A 50mm lens used on a full frame body is modestly too wide angle for tightly framed head shot portraits (for my taste), but 50mm is very nice for less-tightly-framed head and shoulders, partial body and full body portraits.

The M in the product name refers to Makro (or Macro). This is also the widest focal length currently available in a full frame-compatible DSLR macro lens (though only reaching 0.5x magnification – more about this later). This capability combined with the 50mm focal length makes this lens especially useful for photographing products of a variety of sizes, including food.

Mounted on an APS-C/1.6x FOVCF body, a 50mm lens delivers an angle of view equivalent to an 80mm lens on a full frame body. This tighter angle of view is useful for the same purposes just mentioned and with a longer shooting distance being required for similar subject framing, tighter-framed portraits retain a better perspective.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Front View

Max Aperture

Out of the huge number of lenses making 50mm available, an f/2 max aperture is only moderately wide. Though many f/1.4 50mm primes have a full stop wider opening, f/2 is at least a full stop wider than the max aperture of most zoom lenses set to 50mm.

A wide max aperture provides many advantages, but in a manual focus lens, stopping action in low light is one use that will not likely be embraced with great frequency. The bright viewfinder will especially be appreciated by those manually focusing using this method. Most will find that the biggest wide aperture advantage for this specific lens is the ability to blur the background via a shallow depth of field.

With the very short minimum focus distance this lens has, a very strong background blur can be created. Below is an example of the full range of apertures available in this lens (again borrowed from the "Classic" version review).

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro Lens Aperture Comparison Example

These leaf photos were captured on a table in my studio and lit with a single Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite Flash in a small softbox positioned overhead.

Use shallow depth of field to draw a viewer's eye to your intended subjects.

Here is another f/2 "Classic" sample photo captured at a longer distance:

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Sample Picture

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens on Tripod

Image Quality

On the chart, the Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens turns in somewhat soft image quality at f/2. A very solid increase in sharpness is gained by stopping down to f/2.8 with the corners showing less improvement than the center of the frame. Another noticeable increase in center sharpness is seen at f/4, but the rest of the frame shows some abnormality as the lens is stopped down.

I'll explain that issue with a real world, center-of-the-frame example. These images were captured with a Canon EOS 5Ds R in RAW format and processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" (low) and cropped to 100% resolution. The following examples are from the center of the frame.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

As you can see, results at f/2 show some softness that improves modestly with some light sharpening. A nice bump in contrast is seen at f/2.8, with the overall image appearing somewhat sharper (and brighter). With depth of field increasing and a sharper aperture in use, results at f/4 should show increased sharpness at all points in the image. But, the foreground branch gets slightly softer. The clue to this issue is that the most-distant branch (top-center) gets sharper. No improvement in foreground sharpness at f/5.6 further helps to discern the focus shift this lens exhibits.

Let's take a closer look at the focus shift. Using a Datacolor SpyderLensCal as a target, we can see the center of depth of field moves backward in the frame as the aperture is narrowed.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Focus Shift Example

The lens was focused on the "0" line. By f/4, it is very clear that the center of the depth of field has shifted considerably rearward.

Here is an even closer look with a near-minimum focus distance subject.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Sharpness Comparison Example

Moving to an extreme full frame corner comparison (bottom left corner), we see that the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M is rather soft wide open.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Corner Sharpness Comparison Example

While the corners transition to quite sharp by f/11, the transition is rather slow – but steady. If corner sharpness matters to you, this is not likely the right lens for you.

Usually noticeable in a corner of the frame comparison is some vignetting at the widest aperture. In this case, the Zeiss 50mm f/2M shows a typical, about 2.5 stops of light fall-off. At f/2.8, the amount of shading is nearly halved to about 1.4 stops and halved again at f/4 for a seldom-noticed .6 stops. The shading reduction rate quickly comes to an end at f/5.6 with about .4 stops of darkening remaining in the corners.

Lateral CA (Chromatic Aberration) is typically well-controlled in a prime lens and that is the case with this lens. Here is a 100% crop from an extreme EOS 5Ds R corner with lines of strong contrast running tangential (meridional, right angles to radii), subject matter that quickly illuminates latCA.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Chromatic Aberration Example

Much more apparent in this lens is spherical aberration. Let's look at an example:

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Spherical and Axial Aberration Example

The bracelets are silver in color, but clearly there are other fringing colors showing and those colors are different in the foreground vs. the background. As the aperture is narrowed, the SA clears and the fringing colors diminish.

From a flare perspective, this is a very impressive lens, showing very little flaring with the sun in the corner of the frame even at narrow apertures.

Pointing the Zeiss 50mm f/2M at the stars gives us some additional information about the optical performance of this lens, specifically regarding coma. Coma is generally recognized by sharp detail contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. It is most visible in wide aperture corners and significantly resolves when the lens is stopped down. Here is a 100% crop from the top right of an EOS 5Ds R frame.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Coma

The stars do not look so much like a point of light here. By focusing (in Live View) using the corner of the frame (vs. the center), I was able to dial in better-rounded star shapes, but ... the results in the center were no longer sharp.

Prime lenses typically have a linear distortion profile advantage over their zoom counterparts. In this case, the Zeiss Milvus 50M shows just a slight amount of barrel distortion, just barely visible in the full top-of-the-frame width, reduced size image below.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Distortion

See the distortion test chart results for another example or to compare this lens' performance to others.

A very strong aspect of the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens' image quality is its bokeh, referring to the background blur quality. This lens can create a beautiful background that makes your in-focus subject stand out. Here are some examples of stopped down (f/5.6) out of focus specular highlights:

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Bokeh Example

I especially like how smooth the centers of these effects are. This lens' aperture has nine blades and will create 18-point star effects from distant points of light.

Overall, this lens turns in mixed results with the focus shift and spherical aberration being the two biggest negatives to me. Stop down two stops and account for the focus shift by focusing slightly in front of your subjects and this lens will delight.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Angle View


Image quality is highly dependent on accurate focusing and, with all Zeiss Milvus lenses, that accuracy is dependent on you as all lenses in the Zeiss Milvus line are manual focus only. Fortunately, these lenses deliver the ultimate manual focusing experience.

The 50mm f/2M's focus ring is extremely smooth with a huge 307° range of rotation. Manually adjusting from minimum focus distance to infinity requires a very significant focus ring turn, but very precise focusing is made available at all focus distances.

Much of the lens barrel is focus ring with this ring aligning flush with the remainder of the barrel. About half of the focus ring is covered in smooth (not ribbed), also-flush rubber. There is no play in this ring. Few non-Zeiss lenses compare to the Zeiss manual focus experience, one of the reasons they are frequently selected for video needs.

As with all Milvus lenses, infinity and minimum focus distances are hard stops 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 also highly valued by videographers.

The Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 provides a to-f/8 DOF (Depth of Field) scale.

Of note, primarily for videographers, is that Milvus 50 f/1.4 subjects change size in the frame by a modest amount during moderate or longer 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. However, the middle section of extending lens barrel does rotate. This is not usually something I notice and it really doesn't matter to me, but Zeiss has reproduction ratio marks (1:2, 1:3, 1:4, 1:5 and 1:10) etched into this inner section of the lens barrel. Instead of being aligned in a neat straight line as is often seen, these marks are aligned to show at the top of the lens when they are rotated into their proper focus distance.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Extended View with Hood

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 DSLRs 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.

As already mentioned, the Zeiss 50mm f/2.0M is a macro (or "Makro") lens, but like the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens and the Zeiss 100mm f/2.0M Milvus Lens, this lens only reaches 0.5x MM (Maximum Magnification) without extension tubes utilized. A 0.5x MM means a 1:2 reproduction ratio, meaning that a subject can be projected onto the imaging sensor at 1/2 its actual size. Of course, the final size of the subject depends on your output choice. A 1" (25.4mm) subject can consume a very significant percentage of your frame and a relatively large monitor can show a subject at many times life-size.

Following is a demonstration of reproduction ratios that I borrowed from the Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro Classic Lens review. The examples are of a large iris captured with a full frame body. Use the mouseover labels below the image to see the specified ratio.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens Maximum Magnification Comparison

Few lenses have a maximum magnification value lower than 1:10 (0.1x), so the 1:10 ratio example is essentially a worst case lens MM. The 0.15x ratio is not unusual for 50mm non-macro lenses (very close to the 1:7.5 example). The 1:5 ratio (0.2x) is not uncommon for today's lenses and 1:4 (0.25x) is a very good ratio for all non-macro lenses. The 1:2 (0.5x) example of course represents MM for the Zeiss 50 f/2M

Here is a table listing some of what I'll refer to as the comparables (I'll explain later) to this lens.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens7.9"(200mm)0.70x
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens9.1"(230mm)0.50x
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens7.9"(200mm)1.00x
Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens9.4"(240mm)5.00x
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens11.8"(300mm)1.00x
Nikon 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro Lens8.6"(219mm)1.00x
Nikon 60mm f/2.8G AF-S Micro Lens7.2"(183mm)1.00x
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens7.5"(190mm)1.00x
Tamron 60mm f/2.0 Di II Macro Lens9.1"(231mm)1.00x
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro F017 Lens11.8"(300mm)1.00x
Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens9.4"(240mm)0.50x
Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens17.3"(440mm)0.50x

As hinted to, another way to get more magnification from this lens (at the expense of long distance focusing capability) is to use an extension tube or tubes. With a relatively short 50mm focal length, a significant amount of magnification is possible with ETs. Zeiss does not currently have teleconverters available, unavailing this potential magnification increase option from Zeiss at least.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Front View on Camera

Build Quality & Features

Zeiss sets the benchmark for lens build quality. The all-metal construction makes this lens feel like it would last a couple of lifetimes. Just working with a lens of this quality adds enjoyment to the task at hand and, having the confidence that the lens will reliably get the job done adds significant peace of mind, a value in itself.

Zeiss Otus design features have been strongly incorporated throughout the Milvus family design. As with the Otus, 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. The smooth overall shape and smooth rubber focus ring are equally Otus-like.

Here is a look at the old vs. new Zeiss 50mm f/2 Macro lenses:

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Compared to Classic

Aside from a considerably modernized shape, the two lenses do not appear radically different and that is not surprising since the optical design inside remains the same. Here is a closer look at this Milvus lens:

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Product Images

MFD |    w/ Hood:  MFD |    Rotated        Compare »

Very noticeable in the above product images is that this lens extends noticeably (1.12"/28.4mm) when the focus ring is rotated toward the short distance extent. The benefit of a lens that changes length is that it is more compact at its retracted size. The tradeoff is that it ... does not remain a fixed size. Not noticeable in these pictures is the very deep-set front lens element that remains deeply set throughout the entire focus distance range.

Without autofocus, image stabilization, a zoom range and any other similar features, this lens needs no switches and that leaves no features aside from focus ring and lens barrel.

Reliability is a feature that Zeiss lenses are often selected for. Merge a very high quality build with few features and high reliability can be the expected result. Featuring an all-metal exterior, the Milvus lenses feel like they would last a very, very long time even with regular professional use.

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 50mm f/2M Lens Mount

Light weight is not a feature that Zeiss lenses are typically selected for. Mix strong metal build quality with a relatively max wide aperture and a relatively light weight lens is not what you get. While this is not an especially heavy lens, it weighs in at near the top of its class even without AF and IS systems included.

Of course, determining which lenses are in the same class is ... challenging. Aside from this lens' predecessor, there are no direct matches. I'll share a list of lenses below, but ... most of the included macro lenses are APS-C only, have been discontinued, are a substantially different focal length and/or have some other significant difference. Most of the non-Zeiss options without macro have a wider max aperture and most of the non-Zeiss lenses have AF.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens21.2 oz(600g)3.3 x 3.7"(83.4 x 93mm)77mm2012
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens5.6 oz(159g)2.7 x 1.5"(69.2 x 39.3mm)49mm2015
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens9.9 oz(280g)2.7 x 2.5"(68 x 63mm)52mm1987
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens11.8 oz(335g)2.9 x 2.8"(73 x 70mm)52mm2006
Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens25.8 oz(730g)3.2 x 3.9"(81 x 98mm)58mm1999
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens22.1 oz(625g)3.1 x 4.8"(77.7 x 123mm)67mm2009
Nikon 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro Lens15.5 oz(440g)2.8 x 2.9"(70 x 74.5mm)62mm2003
Nikon 60mm f/2.8G AF-S Micro Lens15 oz(425g)2.9 x 3.5"(73 x 89mm)62mm2008
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens11.1 oz(315g)2.8 x 2.5"(72 x 64mm)55mm1998
Tamron 60mm f/2.0 Di II Macro Lens14.1 oz(400g)2.9 x 3.1"(73 x 80mm)55mm2010
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro F017 Lens21.5 oz(610g)3.1 x 4.6"(79 x 117.1mm)62mm2016
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens32.5 oz(922g)3.2 x 3.8"(82.5 x 97.5mm)67mm2015
Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens25.8 oz(730g)3.2 x 3"(81 x 75.3mm)67mm2015
Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro Classic Lens18.7 oz(530g)2.8 x 3.5"(72 x 88mm)67mm2010
Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Lens36.4 oz(1030g)3.6 x 5.7"(92.4 x 144mm)77mm2013
Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens29.8 oz(843g)3.2 x 4.1"(80.5 x 104mm)67mm2015

For many more comparisons, review the complete Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Which one of these lenses is most not like the others? I'll pick the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens. Interesting is that it is not a prime lens, but it has a higher native maximum magnification than the 50M.

Shown below are a variety of comparison lenses in their most-retracted state without hoods.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:

Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens
Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens

The same lenses are shown below in their fully extended states (if they extend) with their lens hoods in place.

Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens to other lenses.

A very positive carryover feature from its predecessor is the 67mm filter thread diameter. This particular filter size is not large, is moderately common and has a significant additional benefit relevant to this lens – compatibility with the Canon 67C Macrolite Adapter. With the Macrolite Adapter in place, the Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II Flash and Canon Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX Flash can be used on the Zeiss Milvus 100.

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. The 50 f/2M's hood provides significant protection from both bright light and impact, although the front lens element is tucked deeply into this lens even without the hood. Reversed, Milvus hoods remain compact and this lens will sit on a flat surface very nicely when oriented mount-up with its hood in either orientation. The Milvus hoods feature interior flocking for maximum light blocking.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Cap

Zeiss introduced new front and rear lens cap with the Milvus line. The front cap is both attractive and very easy to use. The rear cap features a double-wall design, a change from the older single-wall cap included with the pre-Milvus 50mm lens. Though I thought the new design appeared more protective, Zeiss indicated that this change is purely aesthetic.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm 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 very protective hinged box with cut-out foam cradling the lens and hood individually 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. Lowepro's Lens Cases get my vote as very nice, affordable and much more compact solutions for single lens storage, transport and carry.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Top View

Price and Value

You probably have not heard anyone buying or recommending Zeiss lenses based on their low pricing. That is simply not Zeiss' niche. This lens is moderately-high priced and many variables must be considered when determining a lens' value. A lens failure on a single big shoot can easily cost far more than the price of this lens and this may be the last lens of this kind that you need to buy. I find value in a lens being fun to use and high build quality adds that factor.

The Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens is available in Canon (reviewed) and Nikon mounts. At this point in the review, I often 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 online retail sourced.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Side View with Hood

Alternatives to the Zeiss 50mm f/2M Milvus Lens

Advising between alternatives for this lens quickly becomes complicated, primarily due to the fact that there are no direct alternatives. If you need native 0.5x macro capabilities at f/2 in a 50mm focal length full frame lens, this lens is likely your choice.

If you are OK with a more-distant perspective but need to retain the f/2 max aperture, consider the Zeiss 100mm f/2M Milvus Lens alternative. I like the 100 f/2M better overall including from an image quality perspective, but tough to take is the 50% higher price tag.

If a longer focal length works and the f/2 max aperture is not a requirement, a lot of great macro lens options are available including the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens. These lenses typically provide a full 1:1 reproduction ratio. While many macro applications do not require AF, the Canon and many others add this useful capability along with image stabilization for maximum versatility.

If going to an even narrower aperture is an option, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens is an interesting lens to compare. The Zeiss 50 and this zoom lens are very dissimilar, but the Canon has a higher native maximum magnification capability and adds options including IS, AF and a long range of focal lengths. The Zeiss is noticeably sharper in the 50mm f/4 comparison.

If the macro capability is not a requirement, there are a plethora of 50mm prime lenses to chose from. Only the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Milvus Lens will deliver the same level of focusing excellence.

Of course, the Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro Classic Lens is still available on retailer shelves at a modestly lower price as of review time and this lens is a direct comparison. Also built extremely well, the classic will likely remain available on the used market for a very long time. That is, if owners are willing to give them up as Zeiss owners tend to keep their treasures. The Milvus lens is heavier and has a larger hood, but it is minimally more aesthetically pleasing, is weather sealed and is arguably nicer to use.

Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens Angle View with Hood


Image quality is one of my highest priorities when lens shopping and this lens, if stopped down a bit and the focus shift is accommodated for, has excellent IQ. Bokeh and flare performance are especially good. In addition, the Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/2M Lens delivers best in class build quality, including weather sealing. Though the lack of autofocus is going to steer many in another direction, this lens does not disappoint from a usefulness perspective, with a feature set ready to tackle a wide range of uses including weddings, portraits and product photography.

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