#348. Zeiss BATIS launch : reading between the lines ?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Apr 26

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.

Zeiss Batis 25/2 and 85/1.8

Zeiss Batis lenses (c) Zeiss

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 ?

The new Zeiss BATIS 25/2 lens

Zeiss BATIS 25/2 (c) Zeiss

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 new Zeiss BATIS 85/1.8 autofocus and stabilized lens

Zeiss BATIS 85/1.8 (c) Zeiss

Optical design.

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 🙂

Imaginary Sony A9 camera (c) ???

Imaginary Sony A9 camera (c) ???

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.

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  • Philberphoto says:

    The success of the Sony A7 series sounded the death knell for the Zeiss Touits. The vast majority of high-end NEX owners migrated to the newer, full-frame Sony, yours truly included. So Zeiss decided that their next release had to be full-frame as well, hence the Batis. And I couldn’t be more pleased with the new announcement, Pascal’s sour grapes notwithstanding…:-)
    My reasons for rejoicing are simple. Zeiss (not Sony-Zeiss,, who are basically Sony) have not released a single lens that was less than competitive, which bodes well for the Batis. Pascal thought the Loxia would be minimal-effort too-little-and-too-late rebadged ZMs, and read what he wrote about his Loxia 50…
    Plus, I own a Touit 12mm, and I love it. It is light, well-built, has AF, and delivers great IQ, all of this for the price of a premium prime lens (we are not talking Otus or Leica M here). I could write just the same for the Batis spec sheet: light, well-built, with AF, promising great IQ.
    Lastly, it is not like we had a lot of choice. In those focal lengths and specifications, there is no alternative to the 25, For the 85mm, there is only the soon-to-be-shipped Sony G FE 90 f:2.8, but it is aimed at different uses and users. For example, Pascal’s excellent Zeiss Distagon ZF.2 25mm f:2.0, with its adapter, chimes in at exactly double the weight of the Batis, 660g. Vs 330g. Not exactly the same, wouldn’t you say?
    Besides, even if it is not Pascal’s (and others’) cup of tea, which I can understand, sort of, if I try really, really hard, its brand of quality-cum-ease-of-use almost guarantees it commercial success, which is all to the good for the future of the FE/A7 system and their owners.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I agree on the last part of this 😉 It is indeed good news for the future of the system. As for the lenses themselves, my grey hair is responsible for my preference of a real aperture ring and I’m merely adopting a wait and see attitute towards the rendering. If it’s as good as my current tools with the bonus of modern plumbing, then hurray. But I’ll not sacrifice looks for convenience. I did that with my car and that’s enough mistake for a whole life time 😉 😉

  • Leonard says:

    I wouldn’t have thought there was much to say about a product that has only been announced and not reviewed in the field, but Pascal’s commentary shows a level of common and technical sense not often exercised on the Net.

  • Ken says:

    A fascinating discussion about the merits and demerits of….lenses which won’t actually be available for another couple of months. Oh Well. If this were DPReview, the argument would be much longer and much more acrimonious. May as well join in. The OLED display is interesting – a minor but not insignificant stage in extending the domain of software in digital cameras. I wonder if Sony will offer in-camera correction for these lenses. And, taking a broader perspective, whether there is any prospect of in-camera correction extending beyond distortion and vignetting – eg into deconvolution sharpening.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Ken. You make a very interesting point. In-camera correction is indeed the great unknown that would justify the switch. I’m reluctant to buy lenses that are so dependant on a particular system (particularly one I’ve had gripes about). But that would change the deal completely. Ah well, only 2 months to go.

  • Omar Tan says:

    I’m not surprise if the upcoming 2 Loxias is a manual version of this 2 lenses, hopefully they can keep the filter size the same as the rest of the Loxia lineup. If I’m not mistaken, it was supposed to be 3 Loxias by end of this year, probably one more will be a 18mm Loxia?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Omar, that’s possible, although you could also argue that Zeiss will want to cover as broad a range as possible with their lenses. I really don’t know. The 18mm seems likely, though, as there is an existing ZM waiting for conversion. But even that is unsure, since the optical formula in the ZM is not easy to convert for the E-mount sensor, I think. Interesting times ahead 😉

  • Olivier says:

    For information, Matt Granger will test the lenses during his trip to Peru soon, we will have a good review then.


  • Kevin Ruiters says:

    Well, regarding the bokeh, the sample images on flickr indicates it’s an excellent lens:

    The comments so far regarding sharpness and contrast from the MTF diagrams puts it in the same league as the OTUS, which is amazing for a lens at this price point. Plus the fact that it has stabilization makes it a no-brainer.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Indeed, the 85/1.8 looks like a wonderful lens. Bokeh appears to look slightly more “vintage” than the OTUS 85/1.4 I’ve been reviewing for the past 2-3 months. Very pleasing. I really look forward to using one. My concerns regarding bokeh are more with the 25/2. But I have no evidence it won’t be good, other than the fact that it’s usually very hard to create a smooth looking les with so many aspherics. But, these days, Zeiss appear to be in such total control of their designs that I expect to be very pleasantly surprised 🙂

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