Last week I've had the pleasure of being able to shoot and test with the new Zeiss Batis 25mm. I’m mainly a land- and cityscapes photographer so I’ve tried it a lot in this field. Unfortunately, last week in the Netherlands has been extremely hot (hottest weather in ages, literally) with very ‘boring’ weather meaning pure blue skies, no exciting sunsets and no beautiful light to take photos of. That obviously did’t stop me from taking this lens into the field. The lens has been on my Sony A7II since monday. I took it through (extreme) heat, rainy and misty conditions. This post will be aimed at the real world use of this lens. Therefore I’m not going to talk too much about technical stuff. So is this a review? Not really because I haven't been able to test this lens long enough. I'd say it's in between a review and a 'Hands On'!
First thing I can say is that this lens is extremely versatile. If you’re creative you can shoot almost anything with it! It’s great for landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, indoor architecture but I can see this lens also being used a lot for weddings and street photography. You can even use it for a form of macro photography because of it’s close focusing distance of only 20cm.
The lens itself looks -for my taste- extremely nice. I love hi-tech looking stuff and this lens is just that. The lens hood flows beautifully with the lines of the design and shape of the lens. On top of all this, the Batis has an OLED display that shows the Aperture and the actual focus plane (more on that later) Traditional Zeiss lens fans may dislike this design, but I love it! It makes a beautiful package with my A7II and regarding weight feels ‘just right’.
- Left: Zeiss 16-35 f4, middle: Zeiss Batis 25mm, right: Zeiss 55mm f1.8 -
Right when I was driving this lens home, I saw a nice flower field to to test this lens on. I made my way through several stingy plants to get here, but anything for the purpose of a good photo! I made several shots on different apertures and checked them zoomed in on my EVF. The sharpness looked incredible and when I came home I could only confirm that. I’m usually using my 16-35 Zeiss F4 for landscape work. This lens is sharp, but I know that it loses some sharpness at lower apertures. Of course this is very acceptable because it’s a zoom after all. The Batis just doesn’t lose sharpness. All the way down to F2 this lens is absolutely tack sharp from corner to corner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lens so sharp wide open.
f13, 1/250s, ISO 100
Here’s an architectural image with a lot of lines and textures. Shot at f2. The corners basically look like my 16-35 lens at f8! There is some vignetting at f2 though, but this is extremely easy to correct in post so obviously not a big deal.
f2, 15s, ISO 125
100% (corner) crop:
There's also very little distortion. In wide landscapes the horizon sometimes came out distorted in my photos but was easily corrected in LR. There are no LR profiles available for this lens yet so I'm sure this will automatically be solved when or shortly after this lens hits the market. You would expect to use this lens for landscapes, interior shots, maybe street or wedding because of it’s wideangle. But wide open this lens opens many creative possibilities. Mainly because it’s bokeh looks beautiful and super smooth. Here’s a shot of my cat, taken wide open. Look at the beautiful bokeh rings and the extreme sharpness on the focus of the hairs just above the eye.
f2, 1/500s, ISO 100
And because of it’s close focusing distance of 20cm, you can even do some kind of macro experiments with it. This is a shot I took of a bee at minimum focus distance (manually focussed with focus peaking). The bokeh looks very smooth and the bee itself is sharp! I loved experimenting with this lens and think out of the box.
f2, 1/800s, ISO 100
Another thing that obviously came to mind when getting this lens was Astrophotography. I mentioned earlier that the weather was not optimal this week. Add a full moon to it and the list of bad weather is complete. I couldn’t really test the lens for milky way shots (which is already quite hard here in the Netherlands) but I did try to shoot some stars with it at different apertures. I can tell you that everything is tack sharp at f2, but there did appear some slight fringing around some of the stars. This disappeared on higher apertures, but it was not a great deal at f2 even. It only appeared around some stars and could easily be fixed in post. Right now the Samyang lenses are mostly top choice for Sony astrophotographers. Mainly the 14mm f2.8 (that I love) and especially the 24mm f1.4 are probably the most used lenses for astrophotography on the Sony Alpha bodies right now. I’d love to see how the 25mm Batis lens compares to the 24mm Samyang both at f2. My guess is they will be quiet similar in terms of performance around that aperture regarding astrophotography.
f4,5, 25s, ISO 800
The OLED Display
First thing that usually comes up when I read stuff on the internet about the new Batis lenses was probably the Display. The lenses have a display on top of the lens that displays current aperture and the part of the image that is in focus at that moment. Now is this just a gimmick? Definitely not! I really began to love this display and I even dare to say that I miss it now. The great thing about it is that it displays the actual focus distance, and is quite precise. Everything focuses below 1 meter is displayed in 1/10s of a meter. So from 1m it goes all the way down to 0.9, 0.8, etc to 0.2 (20cm). It doesn’t stop here. It actually shows your focus plane, which is extremely useful for landscape photographers. While most die hard landscape photographers know the optimal focus distance for different apertures at different focal lengths, it’s extremely handy to just have this displayed on your lens.
For example, when I put the aperture on 5.6 and my focus on 6 meters in front of me, the displays says that everything is in focus from around 3m to 54m. When I put my focus point on 7 meters, everything is in focus from 3.5m to infinity. So when I take a landscape shot at f5.6, I just turn the focus wheel until the end of my focal plane is at infinity, and then I know I reached the optimal focal plane for that aperture (also called hyperfocal distance).
This feature is so very useful that I wish Zeiss would put that on all of their upcoming lenses. For the Zeiss 25mm it’s easy to calculate it yourself because it’s a prime. But what if Zeiss would put it on their wide angle zooms? I miss it on my 16-35 already!
A few other things about the screen:
Read the manual!
Sometimes it didn’t work for me. I first thought it was broken but it was not. I had to actually read a manual for a change (I never read manuals that come with lenses) and it turns out you can configure the display with the focus wheel. Normally the display does not show anything when you use auto focus. It switches on when you start using manual focus. You can configure it to always ON, OFF or only ON at manual focus (standard mode).
The screen is bright but not too bright. It’s very useful at night but can be hard to read in direct sunlight. Generally you wouldn’t have problems in ‘normal’ daylight but even the PMOLED display cannot handle the sun directly shining on top of it. In fact, if the sun directly shines on it you can not read the display at all. Holding my hand to block the sun made the display readable again though, so It’s actually not that big of a deal but I just thought I’d mention it so you have a general idea about the brightness of the display.
Here’s a comparison in direct sunlight and shade