For its new range of lenses, Zeiss has again chosen an interesting bird name: BATIS. Flycatchers and other fast-flying passerines with striking Zorro-style eye-masks belong to that genus.
If the usual birding metaphor is to be believed (the OTUS range is dedicated to f/1.4 lenses, OTUS meaning owl, birds with exceptional night vision, for instance) we can probably guess that speed and ability to track a fast-moving subject will be the main feature of the new range. And that is indeed one of the assets suggested by the official release.
What else can we try to infer from the recent press launch ?
Professional. The word is everywhere on the product page and in the press release.
The ZEISS Batis 2/25 and ZEISS Batis 1.8/85 are the first full-frame autofocus lenses for Sony’s E-mount cameras to be exclusively developed and distributed by ZEISS. […] The lenses are easy to use yet offer professional performance, so they are a sound investment for amateur photographers, too: “Camera sensors are constantly evolving, and so are photographers. Our Batis lenses are the perfect answer to these changing trends and herald a new era of professional photographers using mirrorless full-frame cameras,” says Pollmann.
Now, we can interpret the word professional in several ways: an OTUS lens is undoubtedly professional because of its high price and second-to-none optical performance. But professional can also mean “made for pros”, for instance wedding photographers, implying (again) speed and security. So just as the OTUS promises the best possible look for the studio pro and the esthete, the BATIS is probably aimed squarely at the never-miss-a-shot brigade composed of 2.3% pros and 97.7% amateurs who find that professional security compelling. Good strategic move by Zeiss (there’s so little money on the pro market). But what will the optical quality be like ?
The ZEISS BATIS 2/25 wide-angle lens has ten lens elements in eight groups and draws on the ZEISS Distagon optical design. Four of the lens elements are aspheric on both sides and five are made from special types of glass. The aspheric lens design ensures consistently high image quality over the whole image field and a sharpness that extends right to the edges of the frame.
My Distagon 25/2 has 11 elements in 10 groups. Distagons are often high clarity, high contrast lenses. That lens has been called the best 28mm in the world because its corners are never really perfectly sharp (yet the rest of the frame is almost perfect straight from f/2). So the last sentence of the release may well hint at sharper corner pixels. More than optical quality improvement, though, my guess is that Zeiss have resorted to such a drastic design (4 double aspherics, even the Leica APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH doesn’t go to such extremes) to shed weight for the ultra-fast AF.
Again, a smart move, provided there are no ill side-effects. An unproven rule of thumb dictates that lenses with aspherics trade bokeh quality for optical correction. If Zeiss manage the tour de force of improving on the (truly excellent) Distagon 25/2 ZF2 without sacrificing bokeh (or succumbing to misalignment), this should be an extremely compelling proposition.
The ZEISS Batis 1.8/85 is a moderate tele lens which offers 11 lens elements in eight groups and features the ZEISS Sonnar optical design. The lens elements are made from special types of glass and designed to ensure superior image quality.
Sonnars have a reputation for excellent bokeh (the RX-1 lens is a Sonnar design, the 50/1.5 C-Sonnar also), although I tend to prefer the Planar look used in the OTUS 85/1.4. Still, if the newcomer is even remotely as pleasing as it’s grand-daddy, throwing in stabilisation for fun, it should be an enormous success for Zeiss, at 1/3 the weight and 1/4 the price. Both use 11 lenses, the BATIS in 8 groups, the OTUS in 9. This gives the OTUS an extra degree of liberty but the difference is not that huge. Glass quality and size is obviously inferior to the OTUS, but recent Zeiss offerings have been brilliant exercises in compromise (such as the fab Distagon 1.4/35 ZM) and this BATIS 85/1.8 could prove to be a sterling performer.
I particularly look forward to testing the two. 25mm / 85mm has been my recent travel kit of choice and my current two favourite lenses in these focal range, also from Zeiss, will provide a very interesting comparison point : the OTUS 85/1.4 discussed at length on this blog, and the Distagon 25/2 ZF2, from which the BATIS is a clear design departure but should perform very similarly.
To be perfectly honest, my hopes of a pleasant rendition with the BATIS 25/2 are not high. But Zeiss are on a roll, so let’s hope for a pleasant surprise 🙂
Weather-sealing & AF.
What we can tell is that the emergence of affordable full-frame cameras has all but killed the NEX-7 and its successors, as well as the lenses intended for these, particularly the Touit range. The BATIS seems like a natural extension of that range to the full-frame format. There is a strong visual similarity to back that hypothesis.
What this tells me is that Zeiss feel the Sony E-mount is here to stay. This is no quick ZM update. These 2 lenses are new designs and a clear investment into a system with a promising future, a future into which Zeiss was probably given more than a passing glimpse.
Let’s once again turn to the official in the press release.
The Sony alpha full-frame E-mount system, which currently consists of the 7 family of cameras, is one of the most innovative camera systems on the market and is becoming an increasingly popular choice for professionals and people considering switching from DSLRs. “The ZEISS BATIS lenses are our way of acknowledging this trend and providing creative and ambitious photographers with the expert tools they need.
The weather sealing of the lenses would then probably imply weather sealing on future E-mount cameras. As for the promised super-quick AF, I’m not sure what to read into that. Are Zeiss making sure their lenses are ready for future generations of cameras or is the nearer future of the A7 range geared towards stronger AF performance?
Ergonomic disaster ? (pet rant alert)
Airline pilots dislike fly by wire because it does not communicate what is happening in the wings. Fast lane pilots dislike steer by wire because it masks most of what is happening at the wheel. Happily, focus-by-wire is not as bad, as little feel is required to focus accurately and fast, manually. Plus it (apparently) enables swift AF. And the exquisite auto-magnify allowed by the Loxia should be retained. What’s not to like ?
The revolutionary OLED display of the subject distance implies that we can sell off all our tape measures to buy spare batteries. How very interesting.
But no aperture ring? Really?
Zeiss has designed ergonomic masterpieces like the OTUS range, the ZF2 range and the ZM range. And here they are handing over the lens’ single most important control (since focusing is automatic) to Sony, whose ergonomic achievements are notoriously worse than what a 2 year-old with ADD would have achieved. Uh ! The intended target for these lenses obviously doesn’t compose with DoF.
Since the focal lengths of the new BATIS neatly complement the Loxia lenses, if yet-another-incomplete-lens-range was absolutely necessary, it would have been a nice touch to keep both lines operationally similar.
So, I expect both lenses to be excellent performers, but more designed for the nail-it-every-time school of thought than the make-it-pretty-at-all-costs club. As the president of the latter, I’ll probably be holding on to my current gear, while at the same time really hoping Zeiss proves me wrong 🙂
UPDATE: MTF curves recently disclosed for the BATIS 85/1.8 indicate a very strong performer. More importantly, the first sample photographs confirm the lovely Sonnar look of the images (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/carlzeisslenses/sets/72157651844166820/). A vintage look, ultra-modern performance and AF + Stabilisation, people will gobble these things up faster than Zeiss can make them 😉
MTF curves for the BATIS 25/2 suggest much better infinity performance than my Distagon 25/2 ZF2, whose field curvature prevents sharp corners on flat distant subjects. A good thing. Now, all we need are more samples from Zeiss to reassure us that the look will not be harsh (current flickr feed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carlzeisslenses/sets/72157651844166930/). Fingers crossed.