Hands-on with the Full-Frame Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 Lens

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Zeiss is working hard to fill in the wide-angle gaps of Sony’s full-frame E-mount lens line with its most recent releases, including the brand new Batis 18mm f/2.8. This lens series is known for its unique OLED screen to show the depth-of-field scale and focus distance when in use, and offers blazing-fast autofocus with Sony’s cameras—a welcome anomaly compared to other Zeiss lens designs. Batis optics are also exceptionally lightweight, for perfect pairing with compact mirrorless bodies, and offer excellent weather sealing, as well as a tactile rubber focusing ring. And, Zeiss’s release of the 18mm lens makes it the widest AF-capable native prime for Sony’s E-mount cameras.

We were able to receive a sample of this lens and are happy to report that it performs admirably, with high sharpness and contrast and great control over distortion. I must say that, for an 18mm lens, distortion is amazingly low. It is still there, but much less than anticipated for an ultra-wide-angle lens. Sharpness is also very high, even wide open at f/2.8. It gets better as you stop down; peaking at around f/5.6-8, but all the wider apertures will satisfy many. Vignetting, on the other hand, was very noticeable, even stopped down. To show both distortion and vignetting, there are corrected and uncorrected samples below.

Corrected; Sony a7R II at f/4.5; 1/160 sec.; ISO 100
Uncorrected; Sony a7R II at f/4.5; 1/160 sec.; ISO 100

As an ultra-wide-angle lens, the Batis 18 does have some resistance to flare due to its T* anti-reflective coating, though the convex front element is prone to flaring when a bright light source such as the sun is in the frame. It is very noticeable, and shooters should be cautious during shooting. Another aspect to touch on is sun stars, which, thanks to the 9-blade diaphragm, are depicted as 18-point highlights.

Sony a7R II at f/4.5; 1/125 sec.; ISO 1000
Sony a7R II at f/4.5; 1/125 sec; ISO 2000

Of course, we must talk about the focusing capabilities. First, this Zeiss lens has autofocus—not a normal thing for Zeiss, as the company is limited to the relatively new Touit and Batis lines, but it has implemented it quite well, delivering excellent speed and accuracy. Not once did I feel that the AF was lagging or that it was way off target. This focus-by-wire lens also has a neat trick: an OLED focus distance and depth-of-field scale. This scale makes it easy to focus when shooting from the hip, as well as to check depth of field at certain apertures.

Sony a7R II at f/4.5; 1/250 sec.; ISO 100

After all of this applause, one thing I personally would criticize the Batis on is its heft. I’m not saying it isn’t solid and should be stowed away at the first sign of rain, but after using a couple of Loxia lenses extensively and spending a little time with Otus and Classic lenses, the Batis just doesn’t feel the same. Moving to more plastic components definitely made the lens lighter; allowing it to balance quite nicely on the a7 series bodies, but it lacks the characteristic metal for which other Zeiss lenses are best known.

Sony a7R II at f/4.5; 1/1000 sec.; ISO 100
Sony a7R II at f/2.8; 1/1000 sec.; ISO 100

Keeping in mind that the size and weight is an advantage of the series since it is designed for smaller and lighter mirrorless cameras, there are many other advantages that make it a premium choice, the most notable of which is a rubber gasket at the mount to prevent dust and water from entering. Also, the focusing ring is a smooth rubber with excellent damping that gives manual focusing a great feel. There was just enough resistance to maintain control, without being too difficult. No aperture control here, so filmmakers will probably be best suited to the all-manual Loxia 21mm f/2.8.

Sony a7R II at f/3.5; 1/125 sec.; ISO 640
Sony a7R II at f/2.8; 1/250 sec.; ISO 100

Overall, I was highly impressed with the Batis 18, with its exceptional sharpness and fast, accurate focusing. It leaves little to be desired for full-frame Sony E photographers looking for an ultra-wide prime.

Batis 18mm f/2.8
Lens Mount Sony E (Full Frame)
Focal Length (35mm Equivalent on APS-C) 18mm (27mm)
Maximum Aperture f/2.8
Minimum Aperture f/22
Angle of View 99°
Minimum Focusing Distance 9.8" / 25 cm
Magnification 0.10x
Lens Construction 11 elements / 10 groups
Diaphragm Blades 9, circular
Filter Ring Diameter 77mm
Dimensions 3.9 x 3.2" / 100 x 80mm
Weight 11.6 oz / 330 g

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