Adding an extra level of quality to the front of your camera can come in various guises. There are lenses that are the same as your camera brand or you could go the third-party route. Arguably, some of the highest quality third-party lenses currently available are from Zeiss. One of these being the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8, developed for the Sony Alpha 35mm.
One thing to note is the Zeiss range is not cheap. Almost in the category of most discerning, which means quality comes first and then you look at the price tag. Fantastic if you’re in this position, but for many, the full package has to justify the cost. Therefore, let’s have a closer look at this lens and what it has to offer.
The Zeiss Batis follows the rest of the range, having a smooth and elegant design. It’s not often you look at a lens and are swayed by its looks, but this is definitely the case here. Externally, the lens couldn’t be any simpler, with just a large manual focus ring and readout display.
The lens barrel is all metal, weatherproofed, and even has features not found in the more expensive Zeiss Otus line. The Zeiss Batis having optical image stabilization and autofocus. This means that along with the camera’s own built-in stabilization, the combo can give you around four stops of slower shutter speed.
Inside the lens, the aperture goes from f/2.8-f/22, with a rounded nine-blade diaphragm. There’s also quite a bit of glass lurking inside, arranged into 14 elements in 11 groups, eight low dispersion elements, wrapped around an Apochromatic Sonnar Optical Design.
At the front of the lens is a nonrotating 67mm filter thread, and everything weighs in at a reasonable 614g. Last but not least, a well-designed lens hood fits seamlessly onto the design.
Overall, the lens looks and feels like a high-quality offering. Exactly what you would expect from a Zeiss built lens.
The Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 in Use
Firstly, a 135mm prime lens provides a medium telephoto perspective with 18 degrees of view. This is going to provide a slightly more compressed image than wider angle lenses and could be good for the likes of portraits or as an alternative to a 70-200mm zoom. Thus, strapping this lens to a Sony A-series camera means we can step back from the action a little and still get those close-up shots.
This lens is autofocus, with a large and ample focus ring with a large rotation angle. The focus ring is very tactile and precise if you want to go fully manual. The OLED display is a great readout solution, especially in low light.
The autofocus system is a great addition, especially when you consider the Otus range is manual only. The linear motor does a speedy job of snapping into focus and really only starts to focus hunt in the lowest of light conditions. It’s extremely quiet which will benefit those shooting video.
As for lens anomalies, starting with chromatic aberration, there are only minimal signs of purple fringing when the lens is fully wide open at f/2.8. The effect is really only evident in very high contrast areas and completely disappears by f/4.
There are a few stops of light falloff in the corners at f/2.8, which almost completely dissipates by f/4. The lens is not completely distortion free. There are slight amounts of pin cushioning, not overly distracting, but a good lens profile should correct things in software.
One advantage of a longer focal length is the quality of background blur or bokeh. The Zeiss Batis has f/2.8 and a nine-bladed diaphragm for achieving such an effect and the results are not disappointing. With close-up subjects, the lens can easily punch out foreground items and produce a nice creamy background. Not as smooth as a wider aperture lens, but still very pleasing.
Although this lens has good center and edge sharpness when wide open, it hits its sharpest at f/4. After f/16, diffraction starts to take its toll. The sharpness of a lens can be judged on many factors, but it’s also about the overall ‘look’ of the images, which counts.
The Zeiss produces excellent renditions, with plenty of clarity and contrast. Even in low light conditions when the aperture is fully open, the combo of image stabilization and f/2.8, means this lens has a lot of scope.
How Does It Compare?
Sony is currently producing a great range of lenses with high-quality optics. To match the quality levels of the Zeiss, but still in the portrait zone, is the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. Just like the Zeiss, it needs to be stopped down a little for the sharpest results and also shows vignetting wide open.
The additional benefit of having f/1.4 can come in very handy in low light conditions and at 85mm, is a great solution for portraits. It’s also quite expensive, but like any high-end optics, you do have to pay for the privilege.
|Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8||Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM|
|Elements||14 elements/ 11 groups||11 elements/ 8 groups|
Because the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 is placed in the premium bracket of lenses, we had initial high expectations. The lens didn’t disappoint, with a high level of sharpness and clarity, worthy of its price tag. Even at high ISO levels, there’s still a lot of detail to the images.
There is slight softening when the lens is fully open at f/2.8, but from f/4 upwards, everything is tack sharp. Background blur is also very smooth, with a good transition of colors. The added bonus of having autofocus and image stabilization in a Zeiss lens is also a major advantage.
Although the Zeiss is a fantastic performer, it does have some caveats. As above, slight softening when fully wide open, but also small amounts of vignetting. If you don’t mind going to f/4 for the best results, then there’s not much to complain about this lens.
There’s the point of at this price level, a wider aperture would have been nice. Having an aperture of f/2.8 means more potential options on the market to choose from, but they may not have that certain Zeiss quality you get from this lens.
The main element that is going to stop people in their tracks is the price point of this lens. Just like all Zeiss offerings, this lens is not cheap at a touch under $2000. Expensive, yes, but if a 135mm prime is a needed part of your lens arsenal and you’re on the Sony platform, then the quality easily justifies the price.