In the Field with the Just Announced Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8

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Zeiss continues to stun with the rate at which they pump out near-perfect glass, this time with the introduction of the Batis 135mm f/2.8 lens for full-frame Sony E-mount cameras. Before jumping into our hands-on impressions, let me run through the core features and specs of this new lens. It is a relatively compact telephoto lens with an f/2.8 maximum aperture, an apochromatic Sonnar design, fast autofocus, and built-in optical stabilization. In addition, it is weather sealed and designed to match the construction and considerations of Sony’s full-frame mirrorless system—being compact, yet extremely high performing.

One might wonder why Zeiss didn’t choose to go with a faster aperture, along the lines of the company’s Milvus 135mm. This was to create a lens that balances and handles naturally with the sleeker mirrorless bodies. The lens is a near-ideal match for the a7-series cameras, and I appreciated the comfortable operation and a lighter bag much more than having that extra stop. The lens also has a smooth rubber focusing ring and, as with the other Batis lenses, an OLED screen for focus distance and depth of field. One foible I must mention is Sony and Zeiss’s co-implementation of a notorious focus-by-wire system. Compared to the manual focus Loxia line or even Sony’s latest G Master lenses, the finicky manual focusing of this lens is disappointing, especially with everything else feeling extremely good.

Photographs © Shawn Steiner

The lens feels great when you pick it up, but it really impresses once you see how sharp it can be, even wide open. As you can see from the samples, the f/2.8 aperture isn’t really a limitation. Thise lens captures smooth bokeh and extremely shallow depth of field when wide open. And, thanks to the apochromatic design, I never had a single instance of chromatic aberration during my tests. These features are what distinguish Zeiss’s Batis 135mm from the rest of the pack, especially since it has practically no distortion and is an extremely flattering focal length for portraits, making it an easy choice for users looking for their new go-to headshot lens.

Optically, I would say this is one of the best lenses for the Sony E-mount system. The optical construction features 14 elements in 11 groups and it can focus as close as 2.9'. This minimum focus distance is about what I would expect from such a focal length, but it still lets you get close enough to capture detail shots or to isolate just the head of your subject. Flare is a non-issue, thanks to the renowned T* coating and included lens hood.

Add in the fact that it has fast, responsive autofocus and support for Sony’s Eye AF feature, and you have an extremely capable lens. On top of this, the Batis 135mm features optical stabilization, making it just the second Zeiss lens to do so—quite helpful when shooting handheld. It is threaded for 67mm filters, matching the Batis 25mm and 85mm. If you want a compact telephoto portrait lens for your mirrorless Sony camera, this one is going to be tough to beat, especially if you want autofocus and stabilization.

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A lot of portriat lenses coming out lately for the A7 series cameras, Sony FE 100mm f/2.8 OSS, Sony FE 85 f/1.4, Zeiss Batis 85 f/1.8, Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 macro OSS, Sigma 135mm f/1.8, the popular Petzval 85 2.2 with different Bokeh shapes and now this one. Not familiar with a good portrait mm and finding most without IS (do to I guess on a tripod mostly) but tring to have less in a bag have a two for one portrait and macro seems the best deal and if you can afford a A7rm2 with in camera IS you can just stay with your less expensive (NEVER CHEAP) glass with no IS. So for cost effectiveness lay out $1k more for a A7rm2. I watch a lot of B&H videos and see everything from 24mm to 135mm being used on a lot of different cameras. And someone could just start with a A6500 and a non IS 50mm f/1.4 or 1.8 lens. I know you are tring to sell this one and it is so hard to compare ALL with the bokeh factor an issue for the widest f/# But this does look good when looking for a lens that will communicate with the camera also.

Most portrait work will not be tripod based, and the need for IS as a requirement is overrated. People shot short to mid telephoto portraits for ages with no IS. You wouldn't buy this lens for the bokeh, you would buy it for the reach. There isn't an ideal portrait length, it depends on what you want - 85 and 135 are different and complementary. These are all pretty insanely priced though.

Wow - I've been waiting for a native e mount 135mm - and this looks great - but the price is insane, even for e mount. 2k for a 2.8 prime? I guess I shouldn't be surprised given that I had to pay 1k for the nifty fifty at the time...it's a great lens, but it's still just a 55 1.8. 

I love my A7rII and I keep hoping it's going to grow into a feasible replacement system for my Nikons, and with lens prices and choices like this, it just isn't happening. Sure, I can get a cheap old 135mm and adapt it, and I do that for most of my lenses right now, but when it comes to using the Sony for paid work all but native lenses can be too finicky. 

Since right now I only use mirrorless as a second system I have been wondering whether the switch to m4/3 would be more appropriate...I could buy into m43, get 2 lenses for the price of this one. 

Can you attribute the lack of CAs entirely to the apo-chromatic design? Was there any post-processing, either in-camera or afterwards? I'm asking, because frequently we see comments about the lack of optical aberrations on images that had correction for said aberrations performed, sometimes even automatically. This is great for still images, but if you're shooting video, it's another story.

Hi Bruce,

I didn't do any post-processing to remove aberrations (just basic adjustments to contrast, exposure, and color), and I have as many in-camera corrections turned off as possible. So, while I cannot defnitively say that it is absolutely free of CA since some background processing could still take place beyond my control, I will say that I could not find a single instance of it during my testing. And from a technical standpoint, if it is a true apochromatic design it should effectively eliminate CA.

Yes, if you can count on certain corrections being automatically done. all you can do is design up to the point where perfect chromatic borders are seen.

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