Review Zeiss Batis 2/40 CF
The Zeiss Batis 2/40mm is a lens that nicely fills the gap between the 25mm and the 85mm Batis. It is bright and can also focus very close and can thus be used as a semi-macro lens. That makes it very versatile.
Universal: Zeiss Batis 2/40mm
The Zeiss 40 mm f/2.0 has a somewhat less common focus at 40 mm, but it is not unique of its kind. Sigma recently released a 40mm in the Art series, and there is a 40mm pancake from Canon for the full-frame SLR models. If you look at the definition of a standard lens, namely a lens with a focal point that corresponds to the diagonal of the sensor, then a 40mm is actually a better standard lens than a 50mm. The diagonal of the sensor is about 43mm. A 40mm is therefore closer than a 50mm. A 40mm also somewhat resembles the popular 35mm that is so useful for documentary photography. And once you are used to this focal point, the Zeiss Batis 2/40mm is a lens that is universally applicable. It lends itself just as well to portraits and close-ups as to street and documentary photography where you show a bit more of the environment than is possible with a 50mm. The Zeiss Batis 2/40mm has the abbreviation CF behind its name. That stands for Close Focus. You can also focus nice and close, so you do not have to bring a separate macro for the smaller details.
BUILD AND autofocus
The Zeiss Batis 2/40 CF has the familiar minimalistic design that characterizes all Batis lenses. The lens is slim at the back and gets wider toward the front. The included lens hood fits over the lens backwards and thus a bit wider. The lens has an almost organic design. The focus ring has no ridges and forms a visual whole with the rest of the lens. That also makes the ring a bit slippery, which can sometimes be a disadvantage in practice. This Batis is the only one of the series that has a switch for limiting the focus range. That's handy, since with close-up shots you can prevent the focus from searching the whole range to infinity or vice versa, searching the close range if you want to focus at two or three meters. The autofocus works quickly and precisely, especially at full aperture, and the focus limiter also helps to prevent unnecessary focusing. The lens has no image stabilization, but that is not a problem because all new full-frame E cameras from Sony have it in the body. The lens is made quite weatherproof, including a gasket on the back to complete the seal on the mount.
The Batis does not have 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 can also be read in the dark and can be switched off when needed. Zeiss shows what can be set and how it works in the following video:
VIGNETTING, FLARE AND DISTORTION
For a reasonably bright lens, the Zeiss Batis 40 mm f/2.0 CF has a limited amount of vignetting. And that is striking, because vignetting is often clearly present with most Zeiss lenses at full aperture and seems to be a kind of character trait of Zeiss lenses. This 40mm Batis doesn't go beyond less than one full stop at f/2 in RAW or a little more than half a stop in jpeg, and that's really good. Those who like to have more vignetting in their shots, because it draws the attention so beautifully to the center of the image, will have to add that in the post-processing. De Batis scores well on vignetting. There is also hardly any flare or glare in backlit shots, and loss of contrast with backlit shots is not perceptible. This is a great lens for taking pictures with the sun in frame.
The distortion of the Zeiss Batis 40 mm f/2.0 CF is also very small. It's half a percent pincushion-shaped in RAW, and in jpeg, this is already corrected in the camera to a tiny bit of barrel distortion. It's just enough to be able to measure, not enough to be bothered in practice. Of course, we did not expect anything else from a standard lens with the price tag of this Zeiss Batis, but it's nice to see that the lens can also live up to the high expectations.
The Zeiss Batis 40 mm f/2.0 CF scores well on sharpness. In RAW, we still see a gradient towards the edges and the corners, especially at full aperture, but after applying the corrections in the camera, you keep a very uniform graph with almost the same high values for the corners as for the center at every aperture in jpeg. Of course, that means that you can also get the same results from the RAWs after post-processing. Chromatic aberrations are almost impossible to find in the pictures. This 40 mm Batis also suffers very little from longitudinal chromatic aberration, a phenomenon where blurred parts in the foreground of the photo lean towards magenta and blurred parts in the background tend toward green. You can see a bit of it in the photo below, taken at a short distance at full aperture with half backlighting. Many other lenses would have more trouble with this, but the Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2.0 CF does an exemplary job.
The Zeiss Batis 2/40 CF differs from other bright standard lenses not only with its deviating focal length, but also due to the ability to focus very close. The shortest setting distance is 24 cm measured from the sensor. If you measure from the front lens, you're left with 14 cm of workspace between your subject and the lens. That's not much for photographing shy critters, but more than sufficient for shots of details or, for example, close-up food photography. The maximum magnification factor is 1:3.3, and the field that you can then capture is 79x117mm. A real macro naturally goes further, to at least 1:2 and preferably up to 1:1, but you can still do a lot with the macro capabilities of the Zeiss Batis 2/40 CF, and if that's enough, then you don't need to take along an extra macro lens. And that's a plus.
There seems to be an issue with the Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2. Apparently, the aperture is closing the closer you focus. The lens we tested wasn't one of the early models. The image above was taken at a very close range and the Exif shows f/2.0. Other people found aperturevalues ranging from - at best - f/2.8 at portrait distances to f/5.6 at the closest distance. Some light loss always occurs when you focus really closely. To which degree this affects the behaviour of the data the camera receives is hard to tell. Another explanation is that the lens automatically stops down to improve image quality at close range. If so, you will also get more depth of field and lose the advantage of a f/2 lens. And that's no good. We were not able to replicate this behaviour with our testmodel. But at least Zeiss has recognized that there is an issue with the lens and has promised a firmware update to solve this problem. The upgrade is available now and can be uploaded to the lens by Batis users themselves. We have not been able to test the new firmware ourselves, but hope to do so in the future.
You can download the new firmware here: Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2 firmware
If you'd like to see some practice shots at full resolution made with this lens, then click on the button below and visit our new gallery:
ConclusiON: Review Zeiss Batis 2/40 CF @ Sony A7R III
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, with all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".