We first broke news about Zeiss’s new range of Batis lenses in April 2015. We were very excited, not only because they were the world’s first lenses fitted with OLED distance and depth-of-field indicators, but especially because they were available in the 85mm and 25mm focal range.
Zeiss USA has been very good to us. It all started when we first tested their brilliant Loxia 35mm f/2 in front of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Since we are not paid by Zeiss to advertise their gear, we maintain our objectivity and have the creative freedom to structure our tests however we like. It has worked very well as they are some of our most traffic articles. We’ve developed a beautiful partnership.
This past Monday, we received an email from the Marketing Manager of Zeiss Americas offering us their first batch of North American Batis lenses to test and review. We were ready to go and here are our first impressions.
First to Market Advantage
The iPad was the first commercially successful and mass produced touchscreen tablet. Sure Microsoft had the Table PC in 2001, but nobody cared at the time because the technology wasn’t ready yet. The iPad dominated the tablet market for its first two year, holding well over 50% market shares until everybody else finally caught up and undercut the iPad in pricing. Being first to market has its advantages.
The Batis 85mm f/1.8 is Sony FE-mount’s first 85mm autofocus lens. Ideal for indoor or outdoor portraits, headshots, and some sports photography, a fast 85mm is a crown jewel in any lens lineup. The Batis 85mm really has no competition at the moment. Yes, Sony has a new 90mm f/2.8 dedicated macro lens. Sure the focal length can be used for portraits in a pinch, but at f/2.8, it isn’t really fast or bright enough to replace a fast 85mm. You can use a bread knife to cut steak, but your experience really won’t be the same.
The Batis 25mm f/2 is also the widest full frame FE-mount autofocus prime at the moment. The next widest prime would be the Sony 28mm f/2, which we will compare it to in an upcoming lens shootout. At 25mm lens, it is wide enough to capture tight interior spaces or busy city streets, yet it is “normal” enough that portraits or group portraits won’t be massively distorted. It is a “jack-of-all-trades” prime, a perfect option for a single-lens kind of vacation.
Materials and Construction
This section is almost unnecessary, as Zeiss build and quality is the stuff of legends. Carl Zeiss is to lenses as Christian Louboutin’s are to shoes. Each 85mm and 25mm comes with its own petal shaped hood which rotates onto the lens smoothly and confidently.
Each lens is massively weather sealed, most evident when you first twist on the lens onto your FE-mount camera. A blue rubber gasket, smaller and more discrete than those on the Loxias, line the back of each lens mount. Twisting the lens onto the camera takes slightly more effort, but I’m also much more confident with these lenses’ weather sealing claims than those of non-gasketed lenses.
The lens barrels are of metallic construction though they feel different than that of the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. Whereas the 55mm’s metal finish feels cold to the first touch, the 85mm feels normal. Wait… could they be plastic? A quick Google search confirms that they are indeed made from high quality plastic. But you really can’t tell. The finish is slightly shiny and it feels just as solid as aluminum or magnesium when you give it a comforting squeeze. The Batis lenses have arguably the highest quality plastic construction, superior to even that of the superb Sigma Art line.
Size and Weight
While both the 85mm and 25mm are larger than the diminutive Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/2.8, the Batis(es) are lighter. They feel much lighter than they look, undoubtedly because of the plastic construction. Like we’ve said time and time again, metal has a higher perceived quality of construction whereas plastic is often shunned by elitists and snobs. There is nothing wrong with plastic construction. Some of the world’s best lenses are made from plastic. Metal dings easier and are more reactive to temperature extremes.
Before we wrap things up in this short First Impressions article, I’ve got to say that the OLED distance and depth-of-field scale is wonderful. Is it gimmicky? Maybe. But I can see this trend continuing with lenses from other manufacturers as well. It may be a luxury now, but it will also be the future later.
Detractors may argue that having an electronic distance and DOF scale means one more thing to fail. Yes, that may be true. An electric cooking oven may not outlast a wood burning stove, but what you gain through modernization outweighs backwardness and tradition. Connoisseurs will prefer mechanical watches (and Zeiss delivers that with their manual focus Loxia line) but quartz has replaced windup watches as timekeeping devices for decades.
I don’t want to give away too much before our full test but everything is fast and sharp with these lenses. AF is silent, speedy, and dead on. Bokeh, even with the wide 25mm, is delicious.
We have already scheduled portrait shoots with models for each of these lenses, where we will conduct in-depth but entertaining testing. While the 85mm Batis is a specialized portrait lens, the 25mm is also a healthy option if you prefer to have more background in the image. We will be shooting at a certain beach along the coast of Southern California. Stay tuned.
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