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Aug 28

Review: Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar T*

The Zeiss name has been synonymous with high-end optics for a century.  In the past 30 years, they’ve become known for creating lenses with beautiful color and contrast and biting sharpness.  This legacy continues with the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar T* for Sony E-Mount.  Zeiss and Sony have long held a partnership in the photography industry, and Zeiss has collaborated on many Sony E-mount autofocus lenses. However, the new Batis line joins the earlier APS-C Touit line as Zeiss’ only mirrorless autofocus lenses to be designed with the Zeiss name only. This is a lens for which many have high hopes, and for the most part, I feel it meets or exceeds those expectations. Let’s discuss why.

The Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar T*

The Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar T*

Construction and Handling

The Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 sticks with the company’s recent minimalist style.  The lens features similar smooth and contoured body lines in the style of the Otus lenses for SLRs and the Touit lenses for APS-C mirrorless.  The Batis 85mm has a completely metal exterior that has no bulges or protrusions.  It’s simply smooth, contoured metal that flares slightly at the end and comes narrower at the mount.  the only things breaking up the smooth metal body is the fully rubber focus ring and the new OLED display, but both fit in perfectly with the lens styling.  Looking at the front of the lens, you stare directly into the large beautiful front element.  When mounting the included lens hood, the smooth flare at the end carries directly into the hood, such that the lens and hood almost appear to be one piece.

Aesthetically it’s quite striking.  Operationally, it’s a bit fat, but ultimately handles well since the lens is a bit lighter than you’d expect given its appearance. The overall quality of construction appears to be top notch with exceptionally tight tolerances.  The lens includes some sort of internal weather sealing, and a blue gasket surrounds the lens mount, making tight contact with the camera mount to prevent water or dust intrusion.

The lens hood continues the curves of the lens body

The lens hood continues the curves of the lens body

While the large diameter makes it look a bit awkward on smaller e-mount bodies lik the a6000, the Batis 85mm handles fairly well on such a body.  On the full-frame A7 II and A7R II bodies, the large grip makes handling a breeze.   Because of the large diameter, however, it will take up more space in the bag than many other lenses, so plan accordingly. It’s not a petite lens, but given the overall performance, I’m not complaining too much.

The focus ring is entirely smooth rubber, and the movement is smooth and has the perfect amount of resistance.  The operation is excellent, but the tactile feedback is lacking due to the uniform smoothness of the ring.  I’ve never been a big fan of the rubber rings on these recent Zeiss lenses, and that continues here.  The smoothness of operation lets me forgive this a bit, but I’d still prefer a ring with some sort of ribbed texture.

That OLED display that sits in the middle of the lens is used to display focus and depth of field information in either feet or meters, depending on your preference.  I’ve read some reviews that have called this display useless and poorly executed, and I couldn’t disagree more.  A standard depth of field scale for manual focus works fine, but with nowhere near the precision of the one here.  The display flashes “ZEISS” when the camera is powered up or down, and the user can select when it is on during operation.  You can choose to always have the display active; you can choose to only have the display active in DMF or MF mode, or you can choose to turn the display off entirely.  If set to on or if you’re in DMF, the lens will show you the focus and DOF scale when focus is achieved.  This can be nice, but isn’t the pinnacle of importance. However, in manual focus, the display shines.

The OLED display makes dialing in the hyperfocal distance extremely easy

The OLED display makes dialing in the hyperfocal distance extremely easy

When in manual focus mode, the focus distance is shown in the center, with the near and far points of focus for the chosen aperture on either side. If you’re focusing close up, the distance will be shown with a +/- distance in hundredths of a foot to denote depth of field.  It’s a quick and easy way to gauges exactly what will be in focus.  Where’s most handy is in setting hyperfocal distance. Simply select your aperture and adjust the ring until the right hand side clicks to infinity.  In my experience, these markings are very accurate, and hyperfocal distance indeed will keep distant subjects sharp.

As an aside, if you are wondering how to change the settings for the OLED display, it’s done by turning the focus ring.  Turn the focus ring to the left repeatedly and eventually you’ll see “ON  MF  OFF” displayed.  Keep rotating left to pick between these settings for when the display will be used.  Once the ring is turned right again, your setting will be saved.  To switch between meters and feet, simply rotate the ring to the right repeatedly until the display changes to your units of choice.

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

The Batis 85mm f/1.8 has a very quick and quiet autofocus motor. The lens locks swiftly and surely to the subject. I experienced very good focus accuracy and excellent responsiveness in focusing. The lens works excellently with Sony’s Eye AF algorithms as well, and I used it often when shooting portraits. I also found the Batis 85mm to work quite well for continuous autofocus operations, keeping a relatively high percentage of shots in focus in my testing.

The Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 also features optical image stabilization. When used on an A7 II or A7R II, it will work in conjunction with the camera’s in-body stabilization. When used on another body, such as the original A7 series or the a6000, the optical stabilizer adds an extra 2 stops or so of handholdability. While it’s not the most effective stabilizer in the world, an extra 2 stops is handy no matter what. It’s especially useful if using the lens on APS-C, where the field of view is similar to a 128mm lens on full frame.

Continue: Image Quality

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

24 comments

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  1. ulfie

    Similar IQ can be gotten with much less expensive lenses.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’m curious as to which lenses you feel qualify? I’ve used a LOT of fast lenses with this field of view, and the Batis is right up at or near the top. You can get close for a lot less, and you can get darn near as good stopped down for a lot less, and you can get outstanding from f/2.8 and beyond that matches for a lot less (with other things). However, I can’t think of a lens f/1.8 or faster that can match this lens in wide open image quality that is significantly cheaper. The PanaLeica 42.5/1.2 Nocticron is pretty close, but it’s more expensive. The Canon 85L II might be close at f/1.8 and beyond, but based on my experience, I think the Batis would beat it in most ways at the same aperture (though it’s slower). The Zeiss 85/2.8 Sonnar and G 90/2.8 Sonnar are pretty close or equal at the same apertures, but both are over a stop slower.

      Even if you find a lens optically similar for a lot less (which I think will be hard), it’s the only fast 85mm that can AF with any real speed on Sony bodies, and it has OIS to boot. It’s not going to be for everyone, but it’s a stellar optic. The Batis crushes the Canon 85/1.8 and while the Nikon 85/1.8 is supposedly very good (I haven’t used it), looking at tests, my guess is the Batis outclasses that as well.

      Like it is many ways in photography, that last 5% of performance costs 100% more. I will likely add a Batis 85 to my personal kit sometime in the next year, though for the time being, I’m waiting, and will use my very good Canon FD 85mm f/1.8. That lens is excellent stopped down and even very good wide open, but has nowhere near the bite and sharpness wide open, nor the CA control that the Batis has.

      1. Patrick

        Jordan don’t feed the trolls !

        Fantastic review by the way, thanks !

        1. Gabriel

          Indeed the usual troll nonsense. Batis is awesome!

    2. Hakan

      My batis arrived this week and did a quick comparison with my excellent, damn sharp Fujinon 56 F1.2….All i can say is batis is in another league in terms of sharpness / resolution…i’ve never expected such resolving power at F1.8…bokeh comparison with fuji was also surprising, i was expecting better, smoother bokeh on Fuji but batis won there too…creaamy,,,,butteryy…very very beautiful bokeh and clearly superior to Fuji….I also attached it on A6000, which doesn’t have ibis, but oss on the lens provides tack sharp results down to 1/20sec.,think about it, it’s around 135mm FF Fov… and gives great bokeh again.
      this lens is now my favorite lens and recommend all e-mount users without any hesitation, nobody will regret.

  2. ulfie

    Nikon’s 85mm f/1.8 AF-S Nikkor and in m4/3’s format the Olympus 45mm f1.8 will probably deliver, as I wrote, “similar” IQ. Not everyone needs or even wants the penultimate, super-duper performance. Thus I qualified my reply as “similar IQ.” By similar I’m implying very, very good to excellent IQ can be had with any of these.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I agree that those lenses will deliver very good performance. I owned the Olympus 45/1.8, and it was a stellar lens. It’s not to the level of the Batis with regards to sharpness (nor shallow depth of field ability, but that’s a format thing more than anything) but it is very good. The Olympus 75/1.8 does produce images of similar sharpness to the Batis, but doesn’t control CA nearly as well. It’s also not the same FOV. The Batis isn’t a perfect lens. It’s got it’s quirks, and it is expensive, as most Zeiss lenses are. However, it is also a top tier optic, and as such, you usually will pay top tier price. I do hope Sony releases a less expensive 85/2.8 that’s nice and compact. Perhaps they can use the outstanding C/Y 85/2.8 Sonnar design for it.

    2. Holger

      Having had the Fuji 56/1.2 and still using the 85/1.8g for Nikon, I was lucky to receive an early batch 85 Batis. It is an exceptional lens and became now our favourite. Sharpness and rendering are exceptional. The Nikon is very good, but is nowhere close in rendering and sharpness wide open, which my main reason for using this lens.

      Very nice pictures!

  3. adi

    Good review. Good lens.
    hard to justify the price over a Canon 85mm 1.8 for eg.
    And sony will release soon a 85mm 1.4 G for A7 series soon so let’s see.
    1.8 is too slow for this price. Ok 1.8 is enough 95% of the time but as you said, in photo you pay big price for the last 5%, so why pay this much for a 1.8 portrait prime ?
    Definitely no. 1.4 at least … we can talk.

    1. Gabriel

      Not hard at all because this lens is extremely sharp from 1.8 unlike the Canon 85mm so THAT aside from the superior rendering is where the money goes.
      To me is pointless to have a lens of X speed like a 1.8, or 1.4 that are not sharp at those apertures…makes it pointless. If I buy a fast lens I want it to be sharp at the max aperture not having to stop down. Sure if you compare the Canon at 5.6 then it will likely be close in center sharpens but at that F stop…who cares then. I may as well use a kit lens.

  4. jacky

    2 people find the price not justified? Good, good… less people on the pre-order line 😀 the waiting line is already 3-4 months long tho

  5. Jaybr

    The Batis 85mm would have got my money, if it was F1.4, or if it was smaller (it’s just too fat).
    The Sony FE 90mm is a better option IMO.
    I bought one, and at F2.8 it’s incredibly sharp, and doubles nicely as a macro lens.
    J

    1. Holger

      If you shoot weddings, then being able to half your ISO by going to 1.8 is important. But otherwise, the macro is an incredible lens.

    2. Gabriel

      No is not better, is a totally different lens.
      You need macro then get the 90mm. You want a better portrait lens then get the Batis. The extra light you get AND very visible extra subject isolation make a big difference.

  6. Gabriel

    Hello!
    Since you have the FD 85mm 1.8 I would love to see some comparison images.
    Although the one I would like to compare to this one is the Mitakon 85mm 1.2 that has been tested to be a beast surpassing the best from Canon and Nikon and I think only beating barely by one lens (dont recall which).
    At 1.8 i would very VERY interesting to compare them.

    I get what you say about 1.8 on this lens been so sharp across the frame..just like my FE 55mm is.. Like you can see something like the FD 50mm 1.4 being not too far off from my 55mm in the very center (well aside from microcontrast) but the moment you move a little off center, the 55mm just murders it. :)

  7. WT21

    Great review, and it does look a lovely lens. I just never know what to do with 85mm, lol!

    I commented mainly to say, though, that I love your reviews and site. Thanks for keeping it up!

  8. Henry

    Thanks for another great review, however my wallet doesn’t appreciate it at all. I am normally immune to GAS, but the Batis lenses are seriously making me consider getting a Sony body (A7rII of course) to use them on to complement my Canon full frame set up. I need to remind myself that I have no issues with creating images my clients and myself love, and that now is a a time in which there are far too many awesome pieces of kit out there… such cool kit and tech that distracts from thinking about photos 😛

  9. Barry Duggan

    Hi,

    Great review of the lens. I am planning on purchasing it.
    Would the auto focus preform as quick on an original a7 as on the a7ii?
    Do you have experience shooting with this lens of both these bodies?

    Thanks

    Barry

  10. Phil

    Lovely lens review, thank you. I’m really torn between this and the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 T* Distagon lens. I shoot primarily dogs/pets with the occasional portrait shoot thrown in for good measure; how would you say the auto focus is for moving subjects?

    Thanks again for the review. Gorgeous lens, but on a slightly different note…even more gorgeous cashier you captured too!

    1. David

      @Phil

      I was lucky enough to try them both for a few days and this is what I settled for my kit:

      35 MM 2.8 Zeiss for a light walk pictures with my a6300 or to have my mom shoot with it and the 85 MM 1.8 Batis for myself to shoot with A7II.

      The 35 MM 1.4 Distagon still lingers in my mind as one of the best 35 MM I’ve ever experienced and I’ve tried to convince myself to get it for my 35 MM kit, but it was extremely heavy…it has the aperture ring and very fancy hood. But after long consideration that I’m not doing any heavy video making and not into using a sling strap or cameras with battery grip, I dropped the Distagon and went with a really light 35mm 2.8 Zeiss. It’s still an awesome lens, but not as gorgeous as the Distagon.

      So, that’s when the Batis 85mm came to my radar. For the weight and price, I am settled with the Batis 85MM F1.8. the F-stop is more than enough for my work which is mainly portraits. It still renders beautiful, popping pictures, bokeh, and gorgeous colour contrast which I drool over and got a mid telephoto lens for me to walk around and take great “stealthy” portraits.

      But in your case of shooting primarily dogs/pets and the occasional portrait shoot, the auto focus on both are extremely fast and you won’t notice it being different. An f1.8 is still a very fast lens…in addition I can’t imagine you being up close with your subject…crouching probably…with a very front-heavy lens.

      My personal advice is to get a light 35mm to shoot close with your subject and a long 50/85mm or longer with an f-stop 1.8 or lower.

      Unless you are dead set on getting the Distagon, these are my suggestions :)

      Hope it helps.

  11. Harvey

    Great review! Does the Batis 85 mm 1.8 focus better in dim light than the Sony 90 mm 2.8?

    1. Jordan Steele

      Yes

  12. Pratyush Pandya

    Good review. I will be ordering it in a day or two. This will be my third lens for a7rii, the others being 55 1.8 and Distagon 351.4 ZM.
    Can hardly wait for this. It will complete my collection. ?

  13. Pratyush Pandya

    Good review. I will be ordering it in a day or two. This will be my third lens for a7rii, the others being 55 1.8 and Distagon 35 1.4 ZM.
    Can hardly wait for this. It will complete my collection.

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