Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 Distagon
Get Zeiss Milvus at B&H Photo.
This series evaluates overall bokeh (foreground and background), color correction, sharpness and overall visual impact.
In Guide to Zeiss, this aperture series from f/1.4 to f/11 includes entire frame images at sizes up to 24 megapixels, along with large crops. Shot on the 42-megapixel Sony A7R II using the Novoflex lens adapter.
Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 Distagon Aperture Series: Four Aspens, Late Dusk (Sony A7R II)
The Zeiss ZF.2 Milvus 50mm f/1.4 makes a very fine choice on Sony mirrorless for those for whom manual focusing and aperture control are acceptable. For this kind of outdoor shooting, the full manual control over the lens is often a plus.
Four Aspens at Dusk
Aura SSD for 2013 Mac Pro
See also Sony A7R II: Field Usage.
Dan M writes:
So do you think the second price drop for the Nikon D810 means they’re clearing inventory in advance of something to be announced? What, usual pattern is an announcement about 4 months in advance of the earliest arrivals.
Maybe you should see the doctor about some sedatives to have on the shelf should the announcement not include an EVF. There have been a variety of announcements from different companies in the past two years that were news on account of what was not in the new cameras, especially Leica, but I don’t think anything would be more glaring than a D900 with no EVF. The A7RII has to be a wake-up call.
DIGLLOYD: Nikon badly needs a D900 with EVF and 42 or 50 megapixels or so (and 4K video ideally). What is taking so long?
The Nikon D810 is now $500 off. The Nikon D750 is $400 off and there are bundles up to $1100 off. Plus 2% rewards and expedited shipping and extras!
Why the price cuts? The camera market is saturated with users bored out of their minds at five million pounds of DSLR inventory still being shoveled out by the container-shit load*. The only excitement in the market at present is the Sony A7R II—innovation at Canon and Nikon has been dead in its tracks for five years or more. Megapixels and a few more fps do not count folks. Live View was the only significant innovation in years from CaNikon. Well, the wheel was a nice invention too, but time moves on. So that could easily explain the price cuts. I am less hopeful on a D900 for this year at least.
The Nikon D810 is still my venerable workhorse camera, but how would iPhone users feel if 5 years went by and the iPhone 3 were still the current model? The path is trivially easy to closing the gap for CaNikon: add an EVF option, get to 50+ megapixels with high performance CDAF, keep all the good buttons and such. For bonus points, offer a more compact model without an optical viewfinder, which makes 90% of users happier and cuts the cost and size and weight. How much thought is required for that? Not much and it’s not innovation but it would be welcomed.
Funny. Sony could hire me to bitch and moan until they got a design right that would beat the crap out of CaNikon (figuratively speaking). Whatever. That horse can’t even be led to a dry creek.
The (almost) missing part of the equation is lenses, and there I think the only company doing interesting work is Zeiss. And indeed, lenses are the future (and perhaps massively parallel CPUs, in camera, for all sorts of goodies). But lenses rule are still the lovely Real Deal. I love the month of October, such lovely weather**, suitable for many temperaments too.
* Container-ship load. Gosh, I must have hit the wrong key.
** My non-sequiturs are only seemingly so.
Four Aspen, Very Late Dusk
I wrote about the Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon in response to the email from James K.
And just today I was admonished (very mildly) on stepping back to see the big picture, meaning that technical flaws are present in many lenses and yet the total rendering style can be highly desirable when used well. Of course, I’ve blogged on that subject many a time over years.
The rendering style of the Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon is very 3D in feel, particularly at closer range as here. IMO it’s a classic that ought to be in every serious shooter’s bag, along with the ZF.2 25mm f/2.8 Distagon, which if anything has more flaws, and yet has great rendering appeal. I particularly like the 25mm and 28mm focals. They are close in focal length, yet distinctly different.
Shot wide open at f/2 with the Sony A7R II using the Novoflex lens adapter.
Four Aspen, Late Dusk Afer First Autumn Snow
Zeiss Loxia for Sony
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless and Zeiss Milvus at B&H Photo.
This friendly fellow begged me for a top hat, so I obliged with the weather-resistant Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 Planar. He was disappointed that I did not have along the new Zeiss Elephantus 200mm f/1.4, as that would have been a better fit.
But not being too picky, the adornment was accepted with grudging satisfaction, we had a few beers* and all was well until I wanted my Milvus back. I had to bring out a gallon of water and explain that I already had consumed a bit too much fluid and that things might get a little “colorful” and that yellow was the perfect photographic color complement to bluish snow... but in the end we parted on good terms.
White Mountain Snowmen prefer Zeiss Milvus weather sealing
White Mountain Snowmen find the Zeiss Milvus 85/1.4 perfect as a classy top hat
Not recommended in general, the Milvus lens hood can be used to scrape snow if need be. Now if only one side were sharp I could lose some beard.
Zeiss Milvus Handles Snow OK
* I don’t drink beer and I don’t take alchohol on my trips (this note to aid the humor-impaired crowd over at dpreview).
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless at B&H Photo.
See yesterday’s post. The weather continues, but not much accumulation at 10,100' elevation. Late dusk last night, I drove to 11,000' elevation and at that altitude there was 3-6 inches of accumulation going to crusty ice, but in low range gearing and with locked differentials it was no problem up or down, even the steep slope approaching Patriarch Grove. Still, the General Grabber AT2 tires while being M+S are definitely not as good as full-on snow tires.
The SteadyShot feature of the Sony A7R II is really handy for shots like this—not absolutely sharp here, but darn close.
Pavement Ends, unpaved White Mountain Road begins
Road Sign for White Mountain Road Destinations, at Schulman Grove
Very difficult working conditions today. I’m cycling through the ZF.2 lenses on the Sony A7R II: 21mm, 25mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm various, Otus 55 and 85, Milvus, etc. More with some, less with others.
Bristlecone in Icy Fog
Iced-up Bristlecone in fog
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless and Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.
To put it simply, if Nikon delivers a D900 with 42 or 50 megapixels or so, and an EVF option, the A7R II will have little appeal to me by comparison (other than using Zeiss Batis and Zeiss Loxia lenses).
I’ll take the Nikon D810 operational behavior and buttons and responsiveness any day over the A7R II. I’ve wasted time constantly with clicks and button presses and trip-me-up lag-time issues in the field—these are simply, ludicrously just wrong and badly designed, unnecessary issues. Especially for a camera that costs a bundle (and more than a Nikon D810!).
Moreover, with cold stiff hands the A7R II sucks (its badly-sized and bacly placed buttons and dials are a bane with stiff fingers and/or gloves). Even the weight of the A7R II is not much of a win when extra batteries are accounted for and/or a lens adapter. So while it is a fine camera, it cannot be called a mature and sensible design by any means.
Joe M writes:
Lloyd, this is to thank you for the frank and accurate assessment of the Sony A7RII on your blog of October 4.
I'm a documentary filmmaker, current A7RII owner and previous Canon and Nikon shooter. My crew also has several D810s and a GH4. We're thinking about getting another A7RII. We also use the Sony 28-135 f/4 cinema lens, which although not optically equal to a Canon/Nikon 70-200, is still a good match for our use.
My experience matches yours exactly. The A7RII has a great sensor and good video features but the clumsy UI and sporadic weird lags are constantly frustrating. The fact you can't put format, Super 35 mode, or exposure bracketing directly on a menu or button is hard to believe. The inability to review a shot while the buffer is draining is yet another frequent irritation.
I tried out the Sony time lapse app -- the intervalometer doesn't work in silent shutter mode! Why!! The A7RII's fully electronic shutter is great for time lapses to avoid wearing out the shutter. Now we get to keep using external intervalometers because their app is stupid.
Our GH4 is an EVF mirrorless camera but its UI has a logical design and it's very reliable. I don't love everything about it but it doesn't have those glaring weird issues like the Sony.
Also like you said it's more than the menu aspect of the UI. It's the myriad of tiny ergonomic touches like button size and spacing, detent strength, texture or guard ridges on the controls, etc. The Sony looks nice gleaming under a spotlight, sitting on a velvet cloth for a product shot. It's not so nice to use in a field environment when you're cold, hot or tired.
We'll keep using the A7RII and may even get another one, but the moment Nikon or Canon has a full frame EVF camera, good-bye Sony (assuming Sony hasn't improved it by then).
Considering all the "big name" reviewers, I don't understand why nobody else is mentioning these items, but I'm glad you are. IMO you are not being overly critical -- you mention the good features as well. But the others largely aren't mentioning these deficiencies and it gives a misleading impression. They are the ones who are off base, not you.
DIGLLOYD: I give Sony a lot of credit for making the A7R II a lot better camera than the A7R. But a rethink is needed for the A9 or whatever it will be called. Sony needs to hire photographers and get it right—that would be unbeatable given the technical prowess of Sony.
Steven K writes:
I just wanted to say I agree with your assessment 100% about the A7R ll I can only hope that Nikon comes out with what you are calling for or maybe Sony will keep the A mount alive with a more standard size body.
A7 series has a place yet do to its minimal size, endless menus, poor battery life it becomes a real nuisance in terms of usability.
The whole A7 series, though revolutionary in many aspects is still not a true photographer’s tool IMHO . A great gadget with impressive specs, but for me in my hands I just don’t get it.
I think probably the real issue is a lot of us older time photographers who grew up with film, multiple formats, etc., then made the transition to digital over the past 10 years in some ways we are really not the target market for these new “gadgets”
DIGLLOYD: today (a day after writing the above) it was freezing cold, dense fog with blowing snow. I love the A7R II EVF (Nikon, please get a clue for a D900!), but I have now grown to dislike the A7R II controls in such conditions, particularly with gloves (it’s either wear gloves with holes worn in the fingers, or temporarily lose use of my hands after 20 minutes or so). An irritation with the A7R II has been building up all week. Love it, hate it.
Battery life has been reasonable for me: 300 shots or so. I constantly turn the camera on/off however. But the on/off switch itself is badly designed, frequently turning on when cramming back into my pack.
Iced-up Bristlecone in fog
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless at B&H Photo.
What could be better than everyone clearing out for the first serious storm of the season, bearing down from the Pacific Northwest? Here at 10,600' elevation in the White Mountains, it is 32°F with rapid accumulation, and it is beautiful to behold. With a fast 4G signal for internet access (personal hot spot feature on iPhone), I can blog away while I monitor the snow depth. I never let a good storm go to waste, but blowing wet snow is too hard to shoot in, and yes, I do use a filter in such weather. When it lets up, it should be spectacular.
Compare this weather to yesterday’s idyllic conditions.
I have 3/4 tank of gas, foul weather gear and boots, several days food, a sleeping bag good down to 5°F or so, a mountain bike (just in case), and M+S tires (not as good as real snow tires, but heck, I need to give them a test). My (acquired used but well maintained) vehicle has 10.75" of clearance under the entire underbody (off road package). Barring deep drifts, I’m not much concerned with traction (3 differentials that can be locked). Besides, I wanted to give the General Grabber AT2 tires a field test. Anyway, even if I got snowed-in for a day or two, it’s just too early in the season to worry about anything less than a monster 20 year storm. To play it safe, 6 inches of accumulation is my “head to lower elevation” metric, due to the risk of much deeper drifts.
White-Out Snow at 10,600'
A little courage and patience with weather brings the priceless reward of a glorious interlude in nature’s sway. Now I think I’ll have a late lunch, eating some of the extra rainbow trout I cooked last night in my dutch oven.
Hole in the Sky
Trout are good cold too. If properly gutted, they can be cooked with their own roe in place, though the quality of the roe ranged from pretty good to not so good. Curiously, one of them had orange flesh and the others white flesh, even though all were rainbows. Perhaps there was some hybridization with Golden Trout in the gene pool. The one with the orange flesh was best of all, and tasted most like Coho salmon.
Trout Served Cold With Roe
The General Grabber AT2 255/55 R18 M+S Extra Load is a fine offroad tire (noisier on the road than my preferred Pirelli Scorpion A/T, discontinued severa years ago). Even so, in July a sharp rock punched a hole right through the center of the tread block in Silver Canyon and a 2nd tire was damaged, and that was with nice resilient nearly new tires*. 10-ply tires would be better, but 10-ply tires offer terrible ride and handling on roads. This time of year, I carry a spare wheel with another AT2.
The General Grabber AT2 has some siping to the tread (good for snow), and while it is not all that great a snow tire like Michelin Alpin, it does pretty well as a general M+S tire, at least if the temperature is not too far below in freezing. My custom duct-tape repair job can be seen on the lower right plastic fitting below the bumper itself—classy look—that silver duct tape matches the paint nicely. Sometimes them thar' rocks just pop up out of nowhere.
* I got my money’s worth from America’s Tire Company: At $30 per tire for a damage warranty, the $30 per tire I paid delivered two replacement tires (about $200 each). The places I go, the tire warranty is a steal, so I always buy the warranty.
General Grabber AT2 255/55 R18 M+S Extra Load
Get ZEISS Milvus Lenses For Canon and Nikon (or Sony mirrorless with adapter)
Expected availability Oct 16
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless and Zeiss ZF.2 lens at B&H Photo.
I’ve been shooting various Zeiss ZF.2 DSLR lenses on the Sony A7R II, using the Novoflex adapter. While larger lenses (e.g. Otus) work fine too with the ASTAT tripod collar, it’s not nearly so nice handling the 'rig' as with a smaller and lighter lens.
Most of the Zeiss wide angles (f/2 and f/2.8) meet the size metric for reasonable balance and feel. As does the Zeiss ZF.2 50mm Makro-Planar. It is my intention to present various aperture series with several ZF.2 lenses (hence the varying focal lengths seen in some recent images)*.
So I've been shooting the ZF.2 21/2.8, 25/2.8, 28/2, 35/2, 50/2, 50/1.4, Milvus, etc.
The examples below with the Zeiss ZF.2 50mm Makro-Planar show off its pleasing bokeh. Being a symmetric Planar design with spherical elements (no aspherics), it is not as highly corrected as the Sony/Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar, and this offers quite a different look from the Sonnar. And so it may be preferred by some users (every lens has its own rendering style). But of course there is a lot to be said for native mount and autofocus. Still, if one has DSLR lenses (particularly Nikon F-mount), they are all but universal in usefulness.
* A terribly annoying missing feature in the A7R II is no ability to plug in the focal length and aperture for a non-native lens. For me, this is a big headache, so I have to be careful to folderize and label accordingly, based on that day’s recollection of which lens.
I have to remember which lens (a short video helps me each time I change a lens, I wish the A7R II had an audio clip feature instead). Then when processing, I have to manually set lens info when adapted to Sony, since there is no EXIF info. I use a script to set the info, and sometimes things get mislabeled. These images below are all properly labeled however (50/2 Makro Planar).
Aspen Trunk and Incipient Color
Aspen in Shaded Canyon
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The image below is almost black in all non-sky areas, and has received a maximum shadow boost, revealing a violet ghosting flare. I rather like the total effect, as the dark mood invokes a feeling of the ending of the day, and the season.
Of course, many lenses could not do anywhere near so well as here—this is excellence in flare control and maintenance of contrast in a blindingly bright sky/sun.
Flare control is a lens performance issue generally neglected in lab tests (and lab tests suck for really understanding field behavior). I always shoot a variety of flare shots in the field to see how well the lens actually performs, with the sun in various areas in the frame and just out of the frame. Some lenses are utterly destroyed by flare, even ones that are very expensive. Others do great with the sun in the frame, but suffer massive veiling flare with the sun just out of the frame.
Extreme backlighting with maximum shadow boost, revealing faint ghosting flare
Which Mac? Memory and Storage? Backup Questions? ✓ diglloyd consulting starts you out on solid footing.
Get Sony A7R II mirrorless at B&H Photo.
Dust on the sensor is generally hard to see at f/5.6 or even f/8, because the rays are not yet highly collimited as they are at f/11 and f/16 (sharp shadow vs diffuse shadow). Of course, big chunk dust (a few hundred microns and larger) can be seen even at f/5.6. And often, detail obscure the spot. It is in areas like sky or other smooth uniform areas that dust becomes obvious.
To test for dust spots, take an image of any uniform surface, like the sky, at f/16. Defocus the lens if the subject has any detail.
As shown below, the Sony A7R II has a dust spot in the sky. I invoked the Sony A7R II anti-dust sensor-shake feature about eight times, holding the camera at various angles in hope that the spot would disappear. It vibrated impressively each time, to no avail, the vibration seemingly too low a frequency to work (ultrasonic would be better).
Taking the lens off, I could see a tiny white spot on the sensor (remember to reverse position from the picture, as with a mirror, up/down are flipped). I never like attempting to clean the sensor with wipes and such (particularly in the field!), and have not done so in years, so I tried something very simple: using a clean new microfiber cloth, I lightly dabbed at the spot just once, and off it came. Which shows that it was not stuck-on in the least, and that the anti-dust sensor cleaning of the A7R II is ineffective at commonplace types of dust spots.
Dust Spot at f/11 with Sony A7R II
Get Zeiss ZF.2 lens and Zeiss ZE lens for Canon EF at B&H Photo. Up to $300 rebates (as of 4 Oct 2015, while supplies last)
After a very long day and 10+ mile hike with 3000' of vertical gain up (and down)—a very long slog—I enjoy the fruits (fauna) of my fishing labor. From a lake apparently hardly ever touched by fishing, where rainbow trout are aggressive feeders. That makes two lakes now (the other with Golden Trout) that are apparently never or hardly ever fished.
While I prefer trout fried with almonds, frying is a tedious job requiring constant attention (and a clean up job of a greasy pan, awkward without water nearby). With a dutch oven (aluminum hard anodized for travel, lower weight) and a wooden Japanese style steamer inside, the job is clean and neat with no grease—just kick back and check for done-ness in about 20 minutes, depending on size of fish (11-14 inches in this case). A sweet potato at the same time is good also.
Steaming Trout in a Dutch Oven over Campfire
A few days prior, this huge (for the elevation) Golden Trout is a feast for the eyes. It has a companion that is even larger—probably a record for the very high elevation. I often fish with a de-barbed hook, which means I don’t land some fish, but it tests my skill (I am generally “deadly” from experience gained as a teenager).
(catch and release with debarbed hook)
Trout are good cold too. If properly gutted, they can be cooked with their own roe in place, though the quality of the roe ranged from pretty good to not so good. Curiously, one of the rainbows I caught another day had orange flesh and the others white flesh, even though all were rainbows. Perhaps there was some hybridization with Golden Trout in the gene pool in the past, with the rainbow displacing the Goldent Trout (I speak of trout from different bodies of water). The rainbow trout with the orange flesh was best of all, and tasted most like Coho salmon.
Trout Served Cold With Roe
Now this excites me: 30 mph winds with snow blowing sideways, as the first snowstorm of the season blows in from the west. Minutes after taking this picture, white-out conditions blew in, reducing visibility to about 50 meters, with heavy side-blown large wet flakes. Initially, the snow was melting as it hit the relatively warm ground, but it has now started to accumulate (12:42 PM). I'm hoping for 8 inches or so (no problem to drive through up here), but that is expecting a lot. If 4-5 inches accumulates, that will make for excellent photography opportunities tomorrow.
Update 12:48 PM: the angry cloudburst (of snow) just parted, showing blue sky to the south. The main front seems to be to the north.
See also my notes on shooting Zeiss ZF.2 lenses on the Sony A7R II. I particularly like the f/2.8 and f/2 ZF.2 wides for their compact form factor (no need to use the Novoflex ASTAT tripod collar for weight reasons).
For Eastern Sierra weather, see Dennis Mattinson’s weather blog. The White Mountains are just to the east of the Sierra Nevada, across the valley.
View from above Patriarch Grove, White Mountains
Warm and dry in my car for now, I’m waiting out the onslaught for the time being. But soon I may suit up with wind pants and waterproof shell and go for a short hike to enjoy the raw weather.
A few minutes after taking the image further above—white out
Beautiful, but disappointing. I had hoped for some serious snow but the white-out snow gave way 40 minutes later to clear blue sky! Very pretty nonetheless. I've been here in August and seen 4-5 inches accumulate in this area, and even snow down to 8500' in the middle of August.
Envoy Pro mini - In Motion There Exists Great Potential
Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Distagon
Henning K writes:
If you google weather sealing Olympus Pentax you get to an 2013 article on www.thephoblografer.com stating that weather-sealed lenses by Pentax and Olympus do not need a filter in front to be weather sealed(with illustrations). But most Canons except some super-teles do need a filter like UV for instance.
I read another place that a Zeiss representative said the Batis lenses also need that.
I generally do not like to put filters in front, Ialways use a lens shade and have never had any problems.
I use my Pentax in all weather without problems, and would love to know if you have any comments or knowledge about this.
DIGLLOYD: I’ve checked with Zeiss. The Zeiss Batis lenses do NOT need a filter for their weather sealing. This is also true for Zeiss Milvus line which has multiple internal seals at several internal areas (and it’s why focusing has more resistance than the Otus line).
In general, I don’t see this as a major issue: any weather that would deliver water or snow onto the front of the lens would surely ruin any pictures made (water spots and similar). And if it’s blowing sand, a filter is mandatory anyway, to avoid damage to lens coatings (if indeed it is wise to integrate sand and grit into the lens and camera by photographing in such conditions).
On filters: I avoid filters. Recently, I determined that a high quality polarizer can add significant veiling flare under conditions I would not expect it (but not all conditions of course). To put a number to it, I have independent confirmation of a 0.7 stop increase in localized flare. As well, flare can veil the entire image. So my advice is in agreement with Henning: use filters only when absolutely necessary.
Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon (Nikon mount)
James K writes:
I just bought a mint condition Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon on Ebay.
My first test resulted in interesting image. There is a very pronounced 3D like effect that I don’t remember ever seeing before. Am I imagining this?
Curvature of field in abundance. It is an odd lens. Wide angle but with a large close-up focusing range. What images would require this ability?
The lens is not very good at anything over 30 feet.
[a few days later]
I take back the “not much good over 30 feet" comment. I like this 28mm lens.
DIGLLOYD: the Zeiss ZF.2 28mm f/2 Distagon is a classic reportage-style lens that at heart is a film-era design, which I deem most appropriate for environmental portraits and similar. See my previous discussion of the Zeiss 28mm f/2 Distagon as well as Outdoor Portraits (Yosemite) and Environmental Portraits.
There is indeed a 3D effect to its rendering which I like very much. I would liken it to some Leica M lenses, which are well-loved for this effect. And yes, field curvature is part of this effect. My main complaint is that I would like to see an improved version which corrects LOCA completely, and SLOCA better.
I would not consider it the best choice for architecture and classic landscape photography, though it can deliver lovely images nonetheless. There are not really any better alternatives—28mm is a poorly served space. In fact, on the D800E, it easily trumps the Leica M Monochrome with Leica’s 28mm. So it has reserves enough to be a winner over much more expensive gear. Still, I prefer using it at close to medium range. Close-up, it is great fun; see Examples — Close-up.
Modern lenses optimized for a flat field such as the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 don’t have that same feel as the Zeiss ZF.2/ZE 28/2 Distagon. If one wants a flat field, it is best to stick with lenses designed for digital (recent designs). But that same higher level of correction will “draw” differently and may not be preferred by all—some users will pine for the classic look. This is why owning several lenses of the same focal length is not duplicative at all (chosen wisely at least).
As for sharpness at distance, choice of focus matters. See Lundy Canyon Beaver Dam for a distance shot (as well as other examples in the review). One can never be sure of a used lens either.
Four Aspen, Late Dusk
Three Girls Portrait
ƒ/4 @ 1/60 sec handheld, ISO 100 Nikon D800 + Zeiss ZF.2 28/2 Distagon
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