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.
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
Batis 25mm @ f/2
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
Batis 25mm @ f/2
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
Batis 25mm @ f8 – no software corrections for distortion
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
Batis 25mm @ f/8
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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