Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm hands-on, plus FE 28mm f/2 comparison

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Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm hands-on, plus Sony FE 28mm f/2 comparison

By Chad Wadsworth – See his website HERE

Don’t expect this to be a well controlled, thoroughly tested discourse on the new Batis lenses. I literally had each lens for about five minutes at Precision Camera here in Austin, TX where the store was hosting a dealer day. Lucky me when I strolled up to the Sony display and there they were, the new Batis lenses – apparently the only copies in N. America.

With a promise that I wouldn’t run away with the lenses, I was allowed to head outside for some quick test shots. We are talking about a bright strip-mall parking lot – not exactly photo shoot friendly, but I made the best of it. In the short time I had my grubby hands on the lenses, I was able to assess a few things about these new Zeiss jewels.

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First off, they look to be very well built with a design that hews more to the mold of the Otus than the Touit. Since I’m not a huge fan of the Touits’ build I was deeply impressed with the construction of these Batis lenses and I think most photographers will be as well. I didn’t shoot in manual focus mode but did test out the focus ring and found it to be smooth and nicely dampened. With no other control on the lens, it has a minimalist, stout, dare I say handsome look.

Second, the Batis are not small but not large either; a Goldilocks “just right” perhaps? The 85mm is very close in size to the ZA 85mm/1.4 but saves on the weight in glass and bulk of the LA-EA adapter. I’m sure someone out there will be outraged that the lens isn’t rangefinder tiny but it feels great and balances well on the a7II. Same with the 25mm – bigger than the FE 28mm – more so in girth, than length but it still feels right on the camera.

Third, based on my sad selection of available test targets – save the nice model who agreed to let me snap a quick portrait – I’m comfortable making some very early comments about image quality. Keep in mind, these are likely pre-production so yada yada, final product may differ.

We have all seen early samples criticized only to learn the true performance of the lenses at a later date so let’s be patient and take these images at their value – as early indications of what the performance of these Batis may be but not the final word – not even close.

25mm and quick comparison to the FE 28/2*

* note that the comparisons here were shot at different times (10 minutes apart) and aren’t perfectly controlled examples. I tried to match up f-stops but wasn’t always successful. Images were edited to my taste but edits were applied equally between the two lenses (same levels of sharpness, etc.)

I unequivocally adore the FE 28/2. I’ve said it previously and stand by my claim that the lens is a bang for the buck champ – sharper than just about any other 28mm ever produced with equally impressive bokeh for a wide-angle. Of course the FE has its issues, but for a budget optic with this level of sharpness and bokeh, I can live with software based distortion corrections and some occasional CA cleanup, and so should you. Given my admiration for the Sony 28mm, I didn’t think for a second I would have any interest in picking up the new Batis 25mm. I was wrong.

FE 28mm @ f/2

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Batis 25mm @ f/2

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Where the FE 28mm is in-your-face sharp, the Batis looks a bit smoother, yet zoom in to pixel peep and you will see that there’s a similar level of sharpness and micro contrast. The render of the Batis very much reminds me of the ZA 24mm f/2 but without all the field curvature AF issues that were endemic to that A-mount lens.

FE 28mm @ f/2

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Batis 25mm @ f/2

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To test distortion, I shot some straight lines with both lenses and the results were as expected. Without any software corrections, the Batis looks more controlled for distortion than the FE does even with its LR software profile activated. No surprise, but still nice to see. I expect that the Batis will be a boon for architecture and interiors photographers.

FE 28mm @ f/5.6 with Lightroom Profile Correction

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Batis 25mm @ f8 – no software corrections for distortion

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I didn’t notice much CA from the 25mm Batis (there is some) but would need to shoot in more varied conditions. To be fair, I didn’t see much from the FE shots that day either. There was some vignetting in the Batis that I corrected to match-up more closely with the FE shots – not a big deal. This next particularly uninspiring shot was composed to check corner performance in the top right and no color edits were made on these two.

FE 28mm @ f8

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Batis 25mm @ f/8

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Alpha shooters are going to be very satisfied having the Batis 25mm in their stable soon. I’ve already added it to my 85mm preorder. For photographers that don’t need the extra 3mm (7 degrees) of view or don’t want to spend the hefty sum of $1,200 on the Batis, the FE 28mm remains an impressive optic, and easy choice.

85mm – quick portrait

For the 85mm, the strip mall presented even fewer targets, but there were a couple of models inside the camera store that were helping out with the dealer demos, so I asked one of them for a quick portrait. She obliged and we snapped this one in about 20 seconds – not ideal, but it gives us some impression of what the lens is capable of. Focus was quick, sure and accurate. Pixel peeping shows excellent sharpness and detail. Bokeh is difficult to fully address here as we had the subject in shade and a challenging bright background, yet the highlights reflecting off automobile rooftops melted away admirably. Some have commented that there is CA visible in the portrait when viewed at 100%. I don’t believe it to be excessive or even unexpected in these backlit conditions. I was intrigued by these comments though so dug into the archive to look at some photos I took with the well regarded ZA 85/1.4 on the a900 a few years ago. I was shocked to see how much CA was present in some of those images, even at f/2.2, so the new Batis may well be a considerable improvement in that area.

Having previously owned said legendary Zeiss 85/1.4 for A-mount, I have been anxiously awaiting an FE replacement but was concerned that the lens would be too large or too slow. Again with the Goldilocks reference but the Batis seems to nail it with just the right dimensions, weight and image quality.

After my brief time with the 85mm I am guessing that it will become a must buy for many Alpha shooters.

Batis 85mm @ f/1.8

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Pre-Order the Batis Lenses:

B&H Photo

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Additional samples…

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50 thoughts on “Zeiss Batis 25mm and 85mm hands-on, plus FE 28mm f/2 comparison

  1. I just bought the Sony FE 28, mostly because the Batis 25 was nowhere available, even in Tokyo. 1-2 months waiting list for the Batis, apparently. I wasn’t confident about how well I could handle the Loxia.

    There are many things to like about the Sony 28. I liked paying for it, and really like carrying it on the camera and handling the combination for a day of street shooting. It feels small and agile. I like that the lens with its small hood doesn’t look expensive or intimidating. It’s sharp, and out of a few hundred point-and-shoot shots the AF missed the subject maybe once. This is a great value lens.

    But, that said, compared to the perfection of the Sony-Zeiss FE 55 the Sony FE 28 feels like looking through a frosted window. Bright lights flare horribly, meaning there is a halo of light smearing into surrounding dark areas. You have to underexpose a fair bit to avoid it. There’s also a lot of fringing and distortion, which the software corrects for you but probably at a loss of detail. Overall, sharp as it is, the FE 28 feels like you’re shooting at a higher ISO than you are.

    Which is not a problem if you’re doing great composition and vibrant colors. A little flaring might even help aesthetically. The FE 28 just doesn’t do the crisp contrast and color of the much more expensive Zeiss-branded glass, which is fair given the 3x difference in price. Will I grow to really like the FE 28 or eventually buy the Batis? I don’t know.

  2. To my eyes the Batis 25 spanks the Sony 28 @ f2 in every way with the possible exception of bokeh, and that’s a subjective call. To be honest, there are not many occasions when I would use either lens wide open.

    The Batis 85 looks incredible. I think it’s going to be hard to keep it out of my bag. Currently, I am using a Contax G 90/2.8 on my A7ii. It is a fabulous lens, but from what I have seen, the Batis is even better, and it’s faster and has AF to boot.

  3. Focus peeking on A7II is great with manual focus lenses so, I’m waiting for the LOXIA line.
    They are small, lightweight with focus and aperture on the lens.

    Maybe a 25mm f/2 LOXIA and 85mm f/1.8 (or f/1.4 if it’s not too big nor heavy).
    Hopefully still this year!

  4. I was just going to get a Canon FD 85mm 1.2L for my A7II and just found out about this Zeiss Batis 85mm. Am I going to make a mistake with the older FD 85mm? 🙂

  5. The batis has 3% distorsion that need to be corrected by software. After distortion correction, the sharpness is reduced by 8% from center to 20% at corner. Don’t expect too much about getting sharp image with it.

  6. Hi,

    I’m about to buy both Fuji X-t1 and Sony A7s.

    On the 85mm focal lengh, I crave for the 56mm 1.2 on the fuji.

    So on the Sony I don’t know how to choose between the Batis 85mm and the 90mm 2.8. With the 90mm I would have a macro lens on my system.

    To be more specific here is the lens range I project :
    – 24mm (16) 1.4 Fuji
    – 28mm 2.0 (and 21mm adapter) Sony
    – 35mm (23) 1.4 Fuji ——– The Zeiss is way too heavy and expensive for me
    – 55mm 1.8 Sony
    – 85mm (56) 1.2 Fuji
    – ??? 90mm 2.8 Sony or 85mm 1.8 Batis ???
    – 135mm 2.0 (90) Fuji

    What do you think ?

    1. My personally find a closer focusing lenses are more useful than the extra light. I generally shoot portraits at 5.6 using my Minolta AF 100mm f2.8 1:1 Macro RS. I have the Sony Zeiss 85mm f1.4 ZA and min focus is annoying.

    2. Gabs

      I suggest that you get 2-3 extension rings in Fuji mount if you are thinking macro will be an occasional need. They will save you weight and bulk, and can be used with any lens. So they also bring a lot of versatility. Another option, depending on your preferred macro subject is a good point & shoot like the RX-100.

      PaulB

  7. Mmmm… This is getting so difficult! I don’t really know if I should go for the Zeiss FE 16-35mm, the 28mm with adapters, or the Batis 25mm. Any suggestions? I feel really tempted by the zoom, but maybe the 25mm or the 28mm could be complemented with a Rokinon 14mm or 12mm fish eye…

    1. Alex I highly recommend the 16-35. It’s crazy sharp 16mm and less so at 35mm. Bokeh is great and colours are natural. The OSS is very well implemented. 1/6 of a second is easy, it’s also my limit for any lens. Distortion is also well handled at less at the 16mm. Less is best used between 16-28mm. The only problem I’ve had is at close ranges the auto focus is inaccurate.

      Here is an 16mm example
      https://goo.gl/photos/sfUPQ911QzMEeZ1J7

      1. Thanks, Phiniox. I didn´t think the f4 aperture would allow for astrophotography work. But it looks very good! What camera where you using?

        1. Alex it was shot using Sony A7 with the 16-35mm F4 OSS. It was first time using that lens to shoot stars. I’ve also had great success shooting with an very old and cheap Tokina AF 19-35mm f3.5-4.5 in A Mount via the LA-EA4 adapter. So f4 isn’t that much of a problem for me, even printed at 40inch height.

  8. Good review Steve, i liked your command & construct of the language, it was descriptive, informative and carefully considered, thanks.(good one) Your giving us viewers the pleasure of imbibing with clarity the thoughts, perceptions and feelings of your minds eye relative to those lenses.

    I can’t see a whole lot of difference between the 28 & 25, both look great, however, the Z85 really shines.

    It has the supple, semi trans-lucid clarity and that distinctive, colourful & fruity radiant rendered patina of Zeiss glass.- [According to my aesthetically subjective & less than expert opinion of the images posted].

    It’s hard to be definitive observing merely from the above posted photos, however, i think Zeiss got that lens right.

    I’d really like to have my way with it in the future.

        1. I pulled steve up for using the word “beats” to describe lenses the other day, probably hates me for it, haha,[after all who the hell am i?lol] was only trying to give some honest constructive feedback cos i like this site and like his style too. Its a good hangout not too bogged down in technical crap.
          You can tell he loves his craft and is enthusiastic. Relate to that.
          We need to trust who were listening to dont we, money gets spent on this stuff?
          Cant always road test everything.
          Anyways my mistake.hahaha/

          good pull up.

          1. Who used the word “beats” to describe anything? No idea what you said and I never even saw you comment so no idea what you speak of. In any case, this post was not written by me.

  9. The 25/28 & 85 along with the 55 make a near perfect holy trinity for me. Looking forward to tripod shots so we can compare the FOV differences between the Batis 25 and the FE 28.

  10. So I have recently purchased the Zeiss 85mm f1.4 ZA. You call it legendary, which I’ve heard a lot but I don’t see it. It’s soft wide, has very bad AF using the LA-EA4 and costs a lot for a lens with that level of uncontrolled fringing. I will give you the colour and bokeh is very nice. The weight is that bad either.

    Would you trade your 1.4 or this 1.8?

    1. Great question and you bring up an interesting argument. Yes, the ZA 85/1.4 is legendary – excuse the hyperbole – and in my mind it is for the pleasing render (color and bokeh), despite it’s shortcomings, significant CA being one of them.

      Today, it seems as if expectations are skewed towards perfection, yet when a modern lens is delivered with results that exceed those of its predecessors, people claim the lens is “too clinical”.

      So I wonder if this will be the case with the Batis – will photographers end up criticizing it for its lack of character as compared to the ZA, even if its fringing performance in much better or its AF quicker, quieter and more accurate?

      1. Thanks for your insight Chad. I have lots of old lenses and lots of new lenses. Character of glass is something I adore, which is why I love my Minolta AF 100mm f2.8 Macro and 70-210 f4. I was initially very disappointed in the FE 55 1.8 as being to clinical but have grow to love it. I’ve had this problem with FE 16-35 and 70-200, both had underwhelleming colour. Of all the FE glass the 35 2.8 had the most amount of pop.

  11. Thanks for the review, I think this confirms that over time I will get that FE 28 and that Batis 85….then combined with my FE 55 and FE 70-200 i wll have a complete set of awesome lenses with which to take photos!

  12. Would be interesting to see comparisons of the 85mm with the $300-$400 priced and 380 gram light Nikon D 85 1.8 and Canon 85 1.8 on the A7II and A7r

    1. And on the 6D or the D750, respectively.

      As soon as you carry longer or multiple lenses the advantage of mirrorless fades away, partially.

      At least the expensive Sony G and Zeiss lenses will serve and survive several generations of (cheap and disposable) Sony mirrorless bodies.

    2. Would really like to see comparisons with the Nikon 85mm F1.8G lens (not the D) as it’s one of the sharpest lenses available for F mount and retails for $500

      1. Is there an adapter out which allows to use G lenses on the Sony. I suggested the D because of the aperture ring but agree with you that the f1.8G is the better benchmark.

        1. jep, I have one which was produced by Novoflex. It has its own aperture ring and you can use either lenses with or without their own aperture ring. Use it for all of my F-mounts. I like shooting the Otus 85/1.4 with the 7R better than with the D810 because focusing is critical for using it and the Live View function of the Nikon sucks when carrying a heavy weight lens like the Otus.
          Still loving both babes…

  13. I’ll probably go for the 85mm Batis so I can dump my (nice) Sigma 85/1.4 and adapter. The 25mm I’m less sure about. I’m leaning toward the 28mm and adding the wide converters as a versatile and cheaper alternative.

  14. The 85 seems really awesome. Pixel-peeping (sorry!) at the beautiful model shows stunning detail in the glasses and hair. But it sadly also reveals the big noise in the A7/A7II sensor even at base ISO. Almost like film grain. The skin of this – certainly fabulous – model is not very nice to see at pixel level. Regardless of a perfect lens.

  15. Hi,Steve:

    Thanks for the first hand info!
    Can I ask how is the lens oled display quality in door and sunlight compare to the camera LCD/evf?

  16. I eagerly await the 135mm Batis. Once they drop that hallowed and sacred piece of glass then we’ll talk. It must be fast and it must be epic. Sony, drop it like it’s hot!

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