Review: Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8
There were already teasers online in which Zeiss showed that they would be releasing a new Batis. The new Batis 135mm f/2.8 is the fourth lens in the Batis series, and it is the first 135mm telephoto lens for the Sony A7 system. The choice of f/2.8 for the brightness means it is a relatively light and compact telephoto.
Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 & Sony A7R II @ f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, 800 ISO
BUILD AND autofocus
This lens is only available in Sony E-mount and has, like all Batis lenses, autofocus. Like the Batis 1.8/85, the 135mm is equipped with optical image stabilization. Zeiss does not include this in the type designation, but it is certainly there. The new Batis 2.8/135 is, just like the other lenses in this series, also extra-well sealed to prevent penetration of dust and moisture. The long focal length of 135mm ensures that you can easily take pictures with this lens in which the subject is beautifully contrasted against a blurred background. The Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 is a unique lens, if only because it has such a classic focal length and classic brightness. Other brands that still build a 135mm fixed focal length usually make a bright version of it to create a bokeh monster. That, of course, has direct consequences for the dimensions (diameter (max.) 98 mm/length (without lens hood) 120 mm/(with lens hood) 133 mm), 67 mm filter size and the weight (without lens hood and lens cap: 614 g). Not that this Zeiss is exactly a lightweight, but the balance in combination with a Sony A7 or A9 is still really great. The lens is very solidly built and sealed against dust and moisture. As with all Batis lenses, this lens has no aperture ring. The only control element is the wide focus ring. That ring sends a signal to the camera and is therefore not directly linked to the focus motor. The dampening of the ring is still quite nice, despite this "fly by wire" technique. The ring is just a bit slick, and, especially with wet hands, you have to be careful that you don't let the lens slip out of your hands when changing lenses. A profile on the rubber would have detracted from the beautiful minimalistic design but would be a bit nicer functionally.
The Batis 2.8/135 has an Apo-Sonnar design. Characteristic of Sonnar design is the beautiful bokeh. The lens has 14 lens elements in 11 groups. One of the lens elements is apochromatic, hence it is not an ordinary Sonnar, but an Apo-Sonnar. Chromatic aberrations should therefore be virtually absent. Of course, we look forward to testing this out as soon as the lens is available. The Batis 2.8/135 also has floating elements that ensure that the image quality remains just as good at the shortest setting distances. Just like the other three Batis lenses, the 2.8/135 also has the beautiful OLED display that shows the set distance and the depth of field. The clear display of the depth of field in feet or meters gives you, as a photographer, a lot of control over the positioning of the focus in the shot. The advantage of an OLED display is that it can be read well both during the day and in the dark and that the information adapts to the sensor used. This means that when using a Batis lens on an APS-C camera like the Sony A6500 or A6300, you will see different values for the depth of field than when you use the same lens on a full-frame A7.
The design of the ZEISS Batis lenses is sleek and modern and reminiscent of the optically sublime ZEISS Otus lenses. The Batis lenses are a lot lighter and slimmer and, thanks to the excellent weather resistance of the lenses, they are ideal travel companions. The Batis 2.8/135 has the same filter size as the 25 mm f/2.0 and 85 mm f/1.8 Batis lenses. The ZEISS Batis 2.8/135 will be available in May 2018.
OLED DISTANCE AND FOCAL DEPTH
The Batis is not equipped with printed or engraved markings for the distance setting or the depth of field. Zeiss has come up with something unique for this: an OLED screen on the lens. This shows in black and white the set distance in meters or feet and the depth of field at the set aperture. The advantage of an electronic system is that the information can adapt, and the Batis takes advantage of that. For example, the indication for the depth of field adapts to the sensor size. The screen is also readable in the dark and can be switched off when needed. Zeiss shows what can be set and how it works in the following video:
Focus AND autofocus:
"Manual focusing with the Zeiss Batis is a unique experience."
The only thing you can really critique on the Batis is the autofocus speed and in particular the accuracy. The autofocus is not terribly slow, but it is not a lens that you would want to use for fast-action sports. What surprised us a bit more was that the precision, the accuracy of the XXX, was not very high in our test setup. This is striking for a lens that uses focusing on the sensor. It is not that the lens gets it very wrong, but it can mean that the focus is not quite optimal, and you don't always get the best sharpness.
BUILT-IN IMAGE STABILIZATION
Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 & Sony A7R II @ f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, 800 ISO
The Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 has image stabilization. That image stabilization is not there only for the older Sony cameras without built-in stabilization in the body. It also works with the built-in image stabilization in the new Sony cameras. That image stabilization namely does not work as well with longer focal lengths. With the image stabilization of the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8, you can expect about four real stops' benefit on a Sony A7R II. Up to 1/13th second, we were able to get sharp pictures with the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8. After that, the results dropped off quickly. That's not bad at all for a 135mm on a demanding 42-megapixel sensor that mercilessly shows every trace of blur.
SHARP FROM CORNER TO CORNER
Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 & Sony A7R II @ f/2.8, 1/125 sec 200 ISO
The image quality of the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 is excellent. The lens scores high in terms of sharpness and detail. In jpeg, the lens is actually at its best at full aperture. Stopping down slightly leads to a bit more sharpness in the center, but the corners then already lag slightly behind. In practice, however, the differences are so small that you won't see that. The vignetting in the jpegs is only 0.6 stops, and that is actually negligible. In RAW, we measure without lens corrections. The vignetting is then 1.6 stops without corrections at full aperture. In our tests, this results in slightly darker corners with less contrast and lower measured values. In practice, you can easily correct the vignetting, and then the sharpness of the corners is just fine, even in RAW at full aperture. However, these corrections in the corners will of course cost you something in dynamic range.
We are quite impressed by the bokeh of this Batis. It is "only" an f/2.8 lens, but the bokeh is really nice. Presumably, the Sonnar design has something to do with that. Light sources show beautiful, soft edges in the blur, and there is no sign of noisy structures in blurred objects in the background. The Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 also scores extremely high on chromatic aberration. This is one of the best-corrected lenses that we have tested. Of course, you can also correct chromatic aberration afterwards. But a lens that has already corrected that itself usually scores higher in sharpness. And that is clearly visible with this Batis. That does not mean that the Batis is completely perfect. The lens has a bit more distortion than you would expect for a fixed focal length telephoto lens. On full frame, it is about one and a half percent, uncorrected. Corrected, only 0.156% remains, so almost nothing. In practice, that's nothing to worry about.
Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 & Sony A7R II @ f/2.8, 1/200 sec 800 ISO