Zeiss Milvus 50mm f1.4 vs Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM: 10x the price and 10x better?!

January 15, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


50mm. The kind of classical Full Format lens. Nikon and Canon are exposing themselves having a drug dealer mentality with their offerings of great affordable glass with 50mm focal range. I cannot speak for the Nikon or Sony equivalent. But the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM is just great! I did a detailed review on the Nifty -Fifty in 2015... http://delightphoto.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/10/-43-for-photographic-beginners-or-the-lack-of-nifty-fifty--ness-part-2 It is in a complete series of 6 blog entry - mostly related to µ43 where this great and cheap offering does not exist.

And please do not forget: The 50mm lenses are turning to 80mm on a crop sensor camera. There they become a very nice field of view for portrait photography. And this is a focal length I like very much, too.

The Zeiss Milvus 50mm f1.4 is one of the lenses in the Milvus line up which is not a mechanical redesign with new coatings like many others, it has got a completely new optical formula. The old 50mm f1.4 was a so called Planar design while the Milvus is a Distagon. 

The EF 50mm f1.8 has it nick names... Nifty Fifty, which is fine but also plastic phantastic. Since the latest version has a metal lens mount the build quality id pretty much ok, It has obviously no weather sealing but therefore the price tag is much less....

Well, the title is a provocation.  10x more in price is hard to justify, but let´s see. 


Build Quality

How to compare a tank with a Riksha? The Zeiss Milvus line up has the best build quality I know for Cameras. All metal design with proper dust and weather sealing. It is heavy. And the manual only focusing works just perfekt. it is a huge difference to the electronic focusing f.i. @ Canon on the EF 100mm f2.8 L IS USM - which I used for the product shots. A great lens - but really not made for manual focus. 270º of focus throw. This makes focusing pretty easy - and it is a lot of fun to use this lens on the mirrorless EOS M5 with focus peaking and a very nicely implemented electronic zoom in the viewfinder....

The Canon: The actual STM version has a metal lens mount (big improvement). It is plastic but the plastic does no feel cheap. So I would say: you get what you pay for: The build quality is fair.

This is a side by side shot of both lenses with their lens caps. The Canon has not much of things to show, just the AF switch and a small focusing ring...

Ok... 67 mm vs 49mm filter diameter....

With the lens hod, the difference in size is a bitt less... but the weight is much more pronounced. still

Image Quality

Comparing image quality it a very difficult topic. You can do it like DXO or the digital picture or others based on measurements pretty scientifically. For me this approach is interesting and very helpful. I read most of these reviews before I buy a lens. For me reviewing lenses on my own means to add some more value to the community. So I think I do have to add some informations which are not present or not present in a way that is easy accessible.

In this case the direct approach is to compare a very good cheep lens with an excellent expensive lens. What I want to show is where are real and visible advantages - but also: where not. 

The first set of images were shot wide open, so f1.4 for the Milvus and f 1.8 for the NiftyFifty.

This is the first shot I compare. It is Stuttgart and the view to the main station.

Shooting wide open you will see really the biggest difference: 

Center The Center was astonishing for me: The EF performs very well: in both categories, sharpness as well as the EF is even a bit better (!) than the Milvus: it as a bit sharper and delivers a bit more contrast... wow! Congrats Canon!!!

But if you go to the corners, what a difference. The Milvus delivers. definitely. Great contrast as well as great sharpness... Above you see the lower right corner, the next image shows the upper left.

What a huge difference. The tower is much much clearer visible... but allows the rest: very low contrast at the EF-Lens...


But what happens if you stop down to f4: As expected: the difference becomes less.

Again: the center performance of the EF is just great.

The lower left is much more usable now, but the Milvus improved too...

At the upper right corner the difference is much less pronounced. The Canon sense is much better now.


When you are shooting prime lenses what you want to get is Bokeh. And Bokeh quality. Please be not irritated: The EOS M5 is not delivering the EXIF Information that the Lens is a Milvus 50mm f1.4. All other EOS Camera´s are transferring this information, but the EOS M5 does not. And Canon says: this is not our problem but the lens manufacturers. This is stupid. 

The Milvus on the left show nice and clean bokeh balls, while the EF shows some business. And the balls of the 50mm are a bit larger - the camera stood own a tripod. The Milvus was shot @ f1.4, while the Canon was working @ f1.8... 

The next shot was taken next morning: 

What has blown me away are the 2 images above. look at the chimney of the house in the back. Both lenses are operating @ f1.8. The Milvus blurrs it more or less away!!! So beautiful!!!

Lens Flare

The Zeiss T* Coating is famous. Since my analog times I love what Zeiss is delivering. And the Milvus shows it as well. Both images below were shot with f11. Sharpness is not the issue, but contrast as well as some more pronounced flare artifacts on the EF.

The next image shows this effect even more:

This images are a bit more processed. The Lightroom setting here: Light -100%; Shadow +100%, Clarity +40.

Chromatic Aberrations

The CA comparison was astonishing for me. In the images above CA seams to be pretty well controlled on both lenses. I know that I have shots if the EF, where CA was pretty pronounced... I will have to this topic a bit more in the future - but with proper conditions as well.

Looking Practical

If you shoot just normal stuff using moderate apertures like f 2.8... what comes out?

I took this shot to look how mich I can extract in the dark - as a comparison between the 7D2 and the M5. But I used this image now for a different evaluation. The shot was taken @ f2.8. I guess we all can live with both of them, or?

For me between this 2 shots the difference was at the first look marginal. This shot is cropped in @ 100 %. But after looking it a bit longer: Yes, the Zeiss delivers more contrast, much more contrast....

Some Samples with the Milvus 50mm f1.4

On my last trip to San Francisco I did a couple of shots with the Milvus 50mm f1.4. It is heavy but worth shooting with...

this is a Panorama with high resolution...

This is the 2nd part of the Panorama. above....

This photo shows the skyline of San Francisco from Treasure Island to Golden Gate Bridge. Like the Panorama above the images were shot with a Panorama head. Therefore the size is ca 26000x6000 Pixel; roughly 156 Megapixel.....


I do love the systems for fire extinguishers build into the houses of San Franciso. I shoot a complete serious of them... 

This fellow was great. Later he started singing... And I took a video on that, too. It was amazing how easy that was on the EOS M5... 

Very nice Selfie... especially @ 5ºC...

I do like the geometrical structure of the houses in San Francisco...

Especially the smaller houses are a bit outstanding... 

All the geometrical stuff with high level of contrast is something which the Milvus renders in an outstanding way....

The 50mm range is considered to be the perfect portrait focal lens. I full agree on that. The problem on publishing of portraits is that it is always tricky to get the allowance of the subject. This shot is a bit special. My friend took that photo an Facebook. So it became public.... It is shot @ ISO800, f1.4 1/100s....


First of all: I will not answer the question in the title. I think everybody sees clearly: yes the Milvus 50mm f1.4 is an excellent lens. It is the best 50mm I own and I know. And I love shooting with it. For me it is worth the investment without any doubt. It delivers results which will blow away even experts - so great!!!

But what is clear at the end of this comparison: the outstanding quality of the EF 50mm f1.8 STM: This is the Golf GTI among the lenses. The Mark I GTI. I drove that car 1977 when I got my driving license: It was unbelievable fast, great handling but also very fuel efficient. And price wise pretty reasonable, too. There is no mistake having and using this lens. And it is light. For me it is the perfect 50mm lens for traveling especially with the EOS M5. And for everybody else: It gets the "buy" recommendation even more: Today I know how good this lens is - especially after my comparison with the 10x more expensive Milvus lens. I believe -The EF 50mm f1.8 STM is optically the best 50mm lens Canon is offering - better than the 50mm f1.4 - which I own and it is worse in every regard (!) but also better than the 50mm f1.2 - beside the fact the f1.8 is less than f1.4 or f1.2 - according to DXO (ok. about DXO testings you may think what you like - but it indicates at least something).

What You should buy: I do not know. This is up to you.

  • If you say 1.200 € is by fare too much: I can understand this, too: The EF 50mm f1.8 will give you great images, too. No doubt.
  • If you love the high end contrast, low flare, low CA and sharpness even in the corners wide open and a just mind-blowing bokeh: Yes the Milvus is yours! Invest 1.200€!  And you will be happy!

But please keep in mind: The Milvus is the one and only 50mm f1.4 lens with weather sealing....

Enjoy shooting!


All photos were shot with the Canon EOS M5 or the EOS 5DMkiV. The product shots were taken with the 5D Mk IV and the EF 100mm f2.8 L IS USM.

You will find all photos of the lenses as well as the screenshots of the comparison here: https://goo.gl/rC4zPX




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