Every now and then a camera comes along that gets everyone excited. This summer it is the Sony A7r II. There are numerous reasons to be thrilled about this new camera and we will cover these in an upcoming review real soon. What’s really exciting is the large number of lenses this platform is capable of using. Sony has a large line of lenses that is continually growing, many with a Zeiss badge. Leica and Canon lenses can be adapted quite easily to the A7 series of cameras with a variety of different adapters. Best of all, Zeiss has decided to jump into the game and provide two new lenses with hopefully more to come. Zeiss has launched the 25mm f/2 and the 85mm 1.8 Batis line of lenses. Like everything Zeiss does, they thought outside of the box and innovated a number of things with these lenses.
Publishers Note: This article contains numerous image downloads so that you can evaluate the images made by these two lenses for yourself. This is the first time we have tried this so let us know if you find it beneficial. We wish we could provide RAW files but the size of these files makes it hard to do bandwidth wise. We will try to put a few RAWs in the actual a7r II review coming up soon.
Michael Reichmann and Kevin Raber share their thoughts on the Zeiss Batis Lenses
Zeiss has made a large and vocal commitment to mirrorless, especially with the introduction of these lenses. You can always count on Zeiss to make incredibly sharp lenses and the Batis lenses (aptly named by Michael and myself as Badass Lenses) are that. This is Zeiss’s first foray into the AutoFocus lens market for Sony. Their previous lenses were manual focus.
The first thing that strikes you about these two lenses is the design–smooth and fluid with no protruding edges. Everything is flush and has a beautiful fit. When you pick these lenses up, you expect them to weigh a bit and you are quickly surprised on how light they are. The familiar knurled focus ring is gone and replaced by a smooth rubber ring that your fingers quickly become acquainted with. The lens hood attaches to the front of the lenses and is sculptured to continue the unique look of the lens right out to the end. When you look at the mount for the lens that attaches to the camera you’ll immediately notice a blue rubber gasket. This is obviously the weather seal for the lens when attached to the camera. It makes for a tight fit and you have to twist just a bit harder to mount the lens.
The big surprise is the OLED distance and depth of field read out on each lens. I know of no other lens that uses this. It only shows when you are in manual focus and it defaults to the Metric system. You quickly learn by rotating the focus ring clockwise you’ll get to a point where it will display in feet. Also, you can rotate it counter clockwise until you have the display on MF only or on all the time. The readout is fast and informative but quite frankly, during my time with the lens, I didn’t use it. Kind of gimmicky but maybe that’s just me.
While the lens is streamlined and looks and feels great, I really miss an F/stop ring. Fuji has them on many of their lenses and Sony introduced one on their new 35mm and 28-135 lens. There is just something so natural about having an f/stop ring where your hand grips the lens. I find myself searching for the control knob on the camera all the time to change f/stops.
The other thing that I miss is a push–pull auto-focus manual-focus ring. The cameras that have this feature like the Sony 90mm lens are fantastic. With the Focus Peaking that an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) camera like the Sony A7 series has, it is a nice feature to catch auto-focus automatically and then just pull back on the lens to go into manual focus for precise focusing or to hold focusing. To me this just the way it should be. Olympus has done a great job with this feature on all the M4/3 Pro Lenses.
Both Batis lenses are built well. You notice the simple design and all metal construction as soon as you take it out of the box – no buttons, switches or obtrusions. The lens shade is made of plastic, which surprised me, but it seems well made and works just fine. I would have thought that Zeiss would have considered a metal lens hood to differentiate the lens from others. Pehaps that may be just the sales / marketing side of me talking.
I did experience some AF issues with both lenses. A few times the lens just wouldn’t find a focus. It continually hunted and would not lock on. I restarted the camera and un-mounted the lens and tried again and it kicked in. Not sure what was going on with that. I thought it might be my camera and so I put another Sony lens on and had no issue. This happened a few times, especially with the 25mm lens. I wonder whether I got a bum lens. The lenses I was using were loaners from Zeiss. I was impressed enough to order my own set of these lens as I am getting back to using primes more.
This brings me to the question, “Do I really need these lens when there are other options?”
These are some other options:
My present Sony lens kit consists of 16mm Sony f/2.8 Fisheye (a-mount w/adapter) $898.00 USD. The 14 16-35mm Sony f/4 FE Zeiss (badge) $1248.99 USD. 24-70mm Sony f/4 FE Zeiss (Badge) $1098.00 USD. The 35mm Sony f/1.4 FE Zeiss (badge) at $1598.00 USD. A 90mm Sony f2.8 FE lens $1098.00 USD. The 70-200mm Sony f/4 G lens and finally the 150-600mm Tamron f/5.6-6.3 Zoom . This a substantial kit and I do hope to invest in the 55mm Sony FE f/1.8 lens Zeiss (badged) in the near future. I have seen some amazing images from this lens. So, with a kit like this where do the Zeiss Batis lenses fit in?
The question comes down to what are the differences between a Sony – Zeiss lens and a Zeiss – Batis lens? I found the answer on the Zeiss Lens Blog and you’ll find it clears this question up. Sony and Zeiss: What Photographers Should Know About The Partnership.
The 85mm Batis lens is a hard one for me to justify, as the 90mm Macro lens I own at present is so incredible. If you don’t have the 90mm and don’t do macro work then the Batis is a clear choice. The differences will be mainly seen in the Bokeh of the lens but that may not be as noticeable as you’d expect. The 5mm difference really doesn’t amount to much. I don’t shoot a lot of portrait work anymore but if you do, then the Batis would be a no brainer. I’d go as far and say it is the perfect portrait lens. The price difference between the 90mm and 85mm is a hundred dollars so it is not even a factor.
The Batis 25mm lens has my attention and it will be the first Batis lens I purchase. It is light and looks and feels great on the camera. The only way to match focal lengths presently with Sony glass is to use a zoom. It has a fast f/2 aperture. Images made wide open have some softness at the corners and some vignetting. This disappears by the time you get to f/4.5 and on down. You might not even notice it, as it would depend on the subject you are photographing. We have provided sample images below and downloadable files with this article so you explore the images for yourself.
The Zeiss 25mm and 85mm lenses are prime examples of what causes lens lust. They are beautiful and well constructed, delivering excellent image quality. Are they as good as other offerings at the same or close to focal lengths? Well, that is a hard one to answer. We evaluated these lenses while making comparisons with Sony lenses. We made images with the 25mm Batis, 16-35 Sony and the 24-70mm Sony at various f/stops. We also compared the Batis 85mm with the Sony 90mm Macro lens and the 70-200mm Sony lens. The results of our tests are available for download below. All images are clearly marked. Pixel peep away.
The results are like splitting hairs. We found that while the Batis lenses are really good, they run a tight competition with the Sony lenses. The Sony 16-35mm set to around 25mm was a super lens and quite surprisingly so, for a zoom. The 24-70mm held its own too. The real tough call was between the 90mm Sony and the 85mm Batis. The Sony 90mm Macro lens is one incredible lens. It is sharp and it is a Macro. It is big and heavier than the Batis but performs extremely well. The Sony lens has a focus hold button and a sliding AF/MF rings, plus focus limiting switches. It is a very well engineered lens.
Download The Complete 25mm and 85mm Lens Comparison shown above.
This Download consists of an 86 MB zip file with 17 full size JEPGS
Made with the Sony a7r II, the 25mm and 85mm Batis lenses and
various Sony lenses. All images are clearly identified.
It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate between lenses and even cameras these days. There are so many excellent options for photographers. The more Michael and I work with all these different systems, the more we realize that we are only quibbling about small stuff when it comes to what is better or not. Today it is more about what you the photographer needs and what works best for the type of photography you do. Just about any camera, whether it be from Sony, Olympus, Fuji, Samsung and even Nikon and Canon, will deliver the goods. You need to make the choices about what delivers final print size, the weight of the camera, the feel of the camera when working with it and possibly even the glass and system you presently own. There is no question that the marketplace is moving toward mirrorless very fast. In just the last few years the evolution of mirrorless has been astounding. And, yet we still see nothing from Canon or Nikon to counter this trend. There are rumors for sure and one of them says Canon will dominate the mirrorless market within 2 years. For now they will be playing catch up. I wonder where that puts Nikon. No matter, it will be good for us as photographers, but maybe somewhat confusing as we’ll have to continually make new choices about what platform we want to be on. For now, I am betting on Sony and, from what I hear, so are a lot of third party manufacturers and photographers.
I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to recommend the Batis lenses, but I would say that as a photographer using the Sony camera line you have choices and those choices should be factored in when determining which lens you need. For me, I will order the 25mm Batis lens as soon as possible. The 85mm lens can wait since I already have the 90mm Sony Macro lens. As I mentioned, I have a number of primes already, but I lust after the 55mm Sony 1.8 lens which is one of the sharpest lenses on the market. I am curious to see what Zeiss Batis lens comes next. A 135mm, 50-50mm and a 200mm would be on my wish list. What’s on yours?
Images And Image Comparisons
We have included a number of images that are available to download as full size JPEGs for your own evaluation. Shooting information is provided on each downloadable image. We made some minor adjustments, which are indicated in the captions. The images of lens comparisons are straight images with no adjustments just processed out to JPEGs. Capture One was used for all output for these sample images.
The 25mm Batis Lens Images
The Batis 85mm Lens
I hope this review and the sample images have shown you just how good the Batis lenses are. It is our first time providing images for download and we’d welcome feedback on your experience viewing and downloading these images.