As with the Zeiss Milvus 1.4/85 before, I took the opportunity of a workshop in Schwäbisch Gmünd during the recent Zeiss press launch to borrow a Batis 25 lens and make a series of test shots in the available time and location. As many of you know and lament, this is a hard lens to get your hands on, so I hope these few lines will prove useful for those of you still sitting on the fence and comforting for those having hit the button and still waiting for delivery.
This lens is light, very lightweight. Coming from a long session with a bulletproof Milvus 85 on the camera, switching to the Batis 25 felt like I’d forgotten to actually mount a lens. Scary, initially, but the lens feels very taut and solid with no rattle or shakes.
The design codes are inherited from the prestigious Otus range and suits the lighter brothers very well. The whole Zeiss offering is getting that new family look that brings a modern edge to a traditional build. Less steampunk, more Apple. This to say the lens sports a very elegant body and, on an A7x camera, is something of a designer statement.
It goes just a little bit down hill, in use. At least for me.
Automatic focusing, on a wide-angle lens, and one that focuses as quickly as this one … why not? When traveling, it coud even be very useful. It’s true that AF imposes constraints on the glass weight and limits the designer in his optical optimisation. But since there is no shortage of quality in this Batis 25, I really can’t complain.
The lack of an aperture ring on the lens bothers me a bit more. Sure, you can set the camera to A mode and chose the aperture via a knob on the camera. It’s not intuitive after 4 dog-lives of doing otherwise, but you soon get use to it. What I really don’t like is not knowing what aperture I’m in. It’s part of my shooting process to choose the aperture as I approach the subject then reset the aperture to f/4 or f/5.6 (whatever is closest to the middle of the aperture range) when the photo is made. Just as I set the focus distance to infinity after a shot. Small things that mean you always know where you are and allow you to capture quick-moving subjects efficiently.
But, again, this is just me. As with all of Zeiss’ range today, the Batis was imagined and designed with a use case in mind and the intended user clearly has fewer white hair than me. Younger generations will likely feel more happy with the equally fast and efficient point & shoot & turn the knob approach.
This house along the Waldstetter Bach will serve as test scene. The following 3 photographs are made at f/2, f/4 and f/8 respectively with no profile correction in LightRoom. Click them to download a full size jpeg.
At 100%, f/2 is visibly less sharp than f/4. However, the subjective quality of the image doesn’t degrade as you open up. All 3 photographs below look almost identical at web resolutions and would probably continue to do so in 16″ prints. No sponginess or smear is to be seen anywhere at wider aperture, which is great on a wide-angle. Chromatic aberration is superbly controlled straight from full aperture (look for tiny green fringes along the roof).
And this, well, fascinating scene, shows how well flare is controlled. The sun is just outside the field at top left.
It seems to me the limits of its optical quality are reached very close up. This bee, on the edge of the frame, at full aperture and at closest focus is not quite as sharp at 100% as more distant subjects (as befits a landscape oriented lens). Still, minimum focusing distance is very useful.
Colours appear very clean. Possibly not as subtle as Zeiss’ very best, but full of life. 3D is very convincing, hardly surprising for a good wide-angle, but the Batis 25 manages to maintain this illusion of depth in the out of focus areas, which is never a given.
A much longer test period would be necessary to evaluate the lens more thoroughly. I hope this can happen soon. But so far, so good 🙂
My personal criteria and tastes for lens quality place neutrality to the front of the scene.
For me, the ability to post-process files in very different ways is a requirement. It’s surprising how many good lenses have a distinct look to them that glows when PP goes with the grain and deteriorate badly when your mood requires something different. My beloved Leica-R lenses are examples of this.
The three photographs below were made within 15 minutes of one another in the same location. The fact they can be made to look so different is a testament to the neutrality of the little Batis. This lens would make a really wonderful travel photography companion.
Subjectively, I don’t think this lens has as much bite and pop as my Distagon 2/25 ZF.2. It is much better behaved, though, and comes with that elegant “satin” rendering that seems to be the recent norm at Zeiss.
It’s easy to see why Zeiss ran out of these sweeties so quickly. In this short period of ownership, there was nothing but good stuff to write about.
In truth, the new AF and build place a question mark over long-term reliability, since Zeiss is a newcomer in that field. But having seen its test procedures, and given its numerous technical partnerships, I wouldn’t lose sleep over this.
It would take much more time to get into the details and find possible faults but, from my short experience with the Batis 25 I’d give it the full thumbs up.
NEW: Signup for DearSusan’s new tutorial on lens testing in the field. 7 aberrations explained plus tips on how to test for them and how to fix their effects in post-processing. It’s totally free and totally awesome 😉
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