Today we have a quick battle of portrait lenses. Two of them are current mirrorless portrait primes, both of which are extremely highly regarded. The third lens is a rangefinder lens from the 1990s that is still considered to be an utterly phenomenal optic. The battle: Fuji 56mm f/1.2 vs. Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 vs. Zeiss Contax G 90mm f/2.8. The Fuji 56mm f/1.2 (read my full review here) is considered one of the premier lenses of the Fujifilm lens lineup. The 56mm focal length gives a field of view the same as that of an 85mm lens on full frame, while the fast f/1.2 aperture will yield depth of field similar to an f/1.8 lens on full frame. In that vein, the second competitor is the brand new Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar T* (read my full review here) for full frame Sony E-mount cameras. This should match the Fuji’s angle of view and capability to blur the background, though of course the Fuji will allow for faster shutter speeds at the same depth of field and same ISO. The final lens is also a Zeiss lens: the Contax G 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar T*, a rangefinder lens for the autofocus Contax G1 and G2 cameras. The G 90mm has been very highly regarded ever since its release. It’s also a Sonnar design, so the two Zeiss lenses should share a somewhat similar design philosophy.
Tale of the Tape:
Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2: 73.2mm x 69.7mm, 405g, $899
Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8: 92mm x 81mm, 475g, $1199
Contax G 90mm f/2.8: 63mm x 56mm, 240g, Approx $350 used
The tiny Contax G 90mm f/2.8 is made slightly larger than the specifications above by adding the autofocus Techart adapter for E-mount. Both the Fuji 56mm and Batis 85mm lenses are chunky, but the Batis is notably larger, though only slightly heavier. All three lenses are extremely well-built, and all are capable of autofocus, though the Contax G’s autofocus is rather methodical and sometimes prone to misfocus. In this test, the Fuji and Batis lenses utilized autofocus to focus the subject while the Contax G was manually focused to avoid error.
I performed two tests, one of which involved all three lenses. The second test is just between the Fuji and the Batis, and is less methodical. For the first test, I simply set up a focus target for the center and edge of frame, with foliage a good distance behind to evaluate bokeh. All shots were tripod mounted from approximately 7 feet away, a good distance for portraits from the waist up. I took images at roughly full stop apertures from wide open through f/8 on full frame.
For this comparison, I’ve roughly equaled depth of field between the lenses in the compared crops: for example, the line marked f/2.8 / f/4, means that the Fuji was shot at f/2.8 in that row, while the two Zeiss lenses were shot at f/4, providing roughly equal depth of field. The Fuji 56mm was shot on the 16 megapixel Fuji X-T1, while the two Zeiss lenses were shot on the 24 megapixel Sony A7 II. For comparison, the Sony files were reduced to match the pixel dimensions of the Fuji image. This still provides a very slight edge to the Zeiss lenses due to downsampling, but still helps even the fight between the differing camera resolutions.
First, let’s look at center resolution. Below are 100% crops from the 16 megapixel resolution equalized files. Click to open the image in a new window and be sure to zoom in to view at 100%.
Looking at these, it’s quite apparent that in center resolution, all three lenses are exceptional. At wide open f/1.2 (Fuji) and f/1.8 (Batis), the Batis 85mm is showing just a slightly crisper image, and better control of fringing. The Fuji 56mm still looks extremely good, but shows a very small purple tinge to the black letters and slightly lower contrast. By f/1.8-f/2.8, the Fuji is a bit sharper than wide open, and is very close to the Batis and slightly sharper than the Contax G, though the two Zeiss lenses still show a bit stronger contrast. One thing to note here is that the X-Trans sensor array is doing its job in suppressing moire, while the Sony sensor shows some, especially in the Contax shot.
At smaller apertures, the lenses are all simply tack sharp. Surprisingly, the Contax G actually shows a very slight edge over the other two at f/5.6 and f/8, though it’s bordering on negligible. Still a very impressive performance from all three lenses.
Next, let’s take a look at the extreme corners. Again, click to open the crops and zoom in to view at full size:
Here things start to differentiate themselves. The Fuji 56mm shows some corner softness at f/1.2, and still some at f/1.8, though by f/2.8, it’s sharpened up considerably and by f/4 we’ve reached outstanding cross frame sharpness. The Batis 85mm f/1.8, on the other hand, shows very good corner resolution right from f/1.8, improving to outstanding by f/4. The Contax G is also extremely good right from its f/2.8 maximum aperture, but it trails the Batis by a hair at f/2.8 and f/4. By f/5.6 and f/8 (f/4 and f/5.6 on the Fuji), all three lenses are showing excellent cross frame sharpness that is hard to differentiate between them.
Bokeh is very subjective, but I thought I’d show some crops here to see how specular highlights in high contrast areas are handled. The crop is taken from the top center of the image frame, and the slightly narrower FOV of the 90mm lens does lose a bit, which is why its crop is slightly lower than the other two lenses. The Fuji has a 7 bladed aperture, the Contax an 8 bladed aperture and the Batis a 9 bladed aperture.
So this one is a lot harder to judge. To my eye, the Fuji 56mm shows the smoothest bokeh in this situation at f/1.2 and f/1.8 (f/1.8 and f/2.8 on the Zeiss lenses). At f/1.8/2.8, the Fuji and Batis are fairly close, while the Contax shows some unsightly yellow and purple tinge to the bokeh. Stopped down further, all three lenses put in a similar performance. The Batis has the roundest highlights due to its 9 bladed aperture, but all are rather close. You be the judge.
Test 1 Conclusion:
All three are obviously stellar optics, with extremely comparable center resolution. When it comes to corner resolution, the Batis 85mm comes out on top, with excellent sharpness in the corners right from f/1.8, while the Fuji lags a bit. Stopped down to medium apertures, however, all three lenses are sharp corner to corner. Bokeh is also very close, with the Fuji showing a bit softer look wide open while the Batis has nice round highlights even at f/8. None of the lenses has perfect bokeh, however. It is apparent to me, though, that one really shouldn’t worry about switching to a system for either the Batis 85mm or the Fuji 56mm…both are truly excellent lenses.
The second test is a really quick down and dirty test that I took with the only model available at the time. Given that this model is two years old, the chances of me getting two identical shots with two different cameras was exactly 0%. That said, here’s a quick ‘real world’ type scenario, taken at f/1.2 on the Fuji 56mm and f/1.8 on the Batis 85mm. Use this simply as a means to evaluate rendering. in this scenario.
What are my thoughts here? Well, I think the Fuji’s bokeh looks nicer here. It’s subtle, but it’s smoother and the lower contrast is very pleasing, and the Fuji colors shine. The Batis shows high contrast and a bit more pop. I will say that in this shot, the Batis is also sharper on the eyes, but given that I can’t guarantee that both lenses were dead-on focused (given that the model was rather energetic and constantly moving), I won’t bother to share the crops. You know how sharpness compares from test #1. So there it is. For those who are curious how these two excellent portrait lenses compare for such shooting, I hope this satisfied your curiosity. As for a clear cut winner: there really isn’t one. The Batis 85mm is definitely the sharper of the two lenses, but with a fast 85mm, that may not be the most important thing, and, with the exception of corner resolution, we’re sort of splitting hairs at this level. That said, having shot the Batis on the ultra-high resolution A7R II (full review here), I will say that it would not surprise me at all that if Fuji had an ultra high resolution body, the Batis may show a much larger resolution lead than is shown here: it’s still exceptionally sharp wide open even on that camera.
29 thoughts on “Fuji 56mm f/1.2 vs. Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 vs. Contax G 90mm f/2.8”
Thank you very much for your very interesting comparison! Would you be able to put the Panasonic Nocticron 42.5mm f1.2 in this battle?
If I owned the Nocticron, I would have put it in. Based on the previous comparison I did between the Nocticron with the Fuji last year, I’d estimate that in this test, the Nocticron would show sharpness levels similar to what’s displayed from the other lenses. Probably in-between the Fuji and the Batis in corner resolution, and pretty close to equal with the Fuji in center resolution. The Nocticron does likely have the nicest bokeh of the bunch, as I found it slightly better than the Fuji’s when I compared the two directly (though at a much closer focus distance).
Very nice, thanks for sharing. Amazing lenses optically. The real comparison comes down only to size and price then.
Well Fuji rendering and colors is definitly much nicer at least for portraits. Just look at boys ears how they are colorized to green/yellow/orange while fuji sample looks nicer rather pink and that is what makes it a better portrait camera.
Second plus points for Fujifilm is high ISO performance. I would rate it higher than Sony A7. Sony produces very ugly looking noise character (lot of blue color noise) while Fuji contains almost no color noise for high ISO shots.
Sadly I own Sony A7 camera and not Fujifilm. And yes I fight with that yellow/green Sony tint everyday. For legacy lenses it’s even much worse because sony fights with auto WB. Olympus get the auto WB more accurately even with old lenses …
Anyway for old legacy lenses FF is well a little bit more friendly (sharper output + no crop factor).
Thanks for sharing, two interestingly different concepts compared here. Would you mind explaining the image procedure a bit: are these samples JPEGs from camera or has some RAW-converter been used? With Fuji at least out-board RAW-conversion is a critical choice.
These are all RAW from Lightroom. And before you assume that the Fuji files are therefore invalid, I checked the RAWs in both Lightroom and Capture One prior to doing the crops, and for this subject matter, LR actually produced the sharpest files. Results from PhotoNinja were near identical to Lightroom for this image, and provided no benefit.
Thank you for the tests!
I found that using a ColorChecker Passport to create a Custom Light Profile makes a *BIG* difference for Photo Ninja. http://www.ultravioletphotography.com/content/index.php/topic/621-photo-ninja-how-to-make-a-custom-light-profile/
As always your test is practical and interesting. It does not seem you can go wrong with the Fuji or Zeiss. Your test reinforces my satisfaction in ordering the Batis. Now if it would just get here. And your model is first rate.
The Batis looks extremely sharp. Sharper lenses usually have higher contrast at high lp/mm MTF curves, which in my opinion can be clearly seen with the Zeiss. The main branches and roof a clearly distinguishable, whereas they seem to be not clearly rendered/missing in the Fuji shot. Additionally, I have the impression that there are false details in the fine scales. Is there a macro shot showing the crop area to see how the scene looks like?
Moire on the A7 is most likely a sign that the lens is seriously outresolving the sensor. Impressive for the Contax G. I would love to see these two lenses compared on the A7RII, especially now that the Tech-Art adapter supports PDAF. Thanks for the comparison.
Jordan, Have you updated the firmware on the techart adapter to the new firmware and tried the 90 2.8 on the A7rii. I was wondering about the improved speed accuracy (?)
1) My A7RII review sample had already been sent back by the time I did this test (I only had it overlapped with the Batis for one day).
2) My Techart adapter is version 2, and not firmware updatable for PDAF.
Hey Jordan – great comparison. Wanted to get your thoughts – if you have a contax g 90mm already – any strong motivation to replace it with a batis 85mm if you don’t mind the auto/manual focus issues? Any thoughts on how a Leica 90mm elmarit would compare optically?
I have been using the Zeiss 90 Sonnar G for a while now (a7r, a72, a7r2), it quickly became one of my all-time favorite lenses. I do have the Batis on order and expect to use both: the Sonnar for landscapes ( manual focus, tripod), and the Batis for people (hand held and stabilized). I really like the way the Sonnar renders: sharp but delecate and subtle. Based on my experience with the Batis 25 I don’t expect the 85 to be as delicate in rendering.
As an owner of Fuji XF56 and A7ii, planning to buy Batis85 over Fuji56, i was badly looking for that comparison everywhere and found here! many thanks.. from my side,
1.) Batis colors are much better, with too much contrast, right from the lens..I still couldn’t get used to low contrast of Fuji56, surprisingly low.
2.) Batis has definitely that POP thing…
3.) DOF looks same on both lens.(as expected)
4.) As a sharpness freak, batis seems to satisfy me more than enough and combining with great ibis of A7ii, i can get tack sharp photos (with FE55, it’s easy to get razor sharp photos down to 1/13s), that’s a pain with Fuji on the streets, low light, due to lack of IS on both side (lens and body) and forcing me to increase iso, which ends up with too much noise/lack of detail..
Batis will be ordered asap.
Hi Jordan thanks for the great review! A few months ago I picked up the Loxia 50 for my A7 & A7s, and have reveled in how simple and easy it is to get critical focus using peaking and magnification. I find that I really much prefer manual focus over the not so great autofocus on my generation one A7’s. So after a long search through legacy glass my eye has settled on the Contax Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 85mm F 2.8 for the best compromise of IQ, handling (size/weight/MF lens) and value. I’ve read the Contax G sonnar is the same optical design and I was hoping for portraits at 2.8 from the three lenses… (well, at least between the Batis and the Contax). Do you still have them on hand?
I don’t have the Batis. I still have my Contax for the time being. I also had owned the 85/2.8 a few years ago and it is just as stellar. I think you’ll love it.
Thank you so much for the comparison. I have the Fuji 56 but am considering switching to Sony. How does the autofocus compare between the Fuji and Batis? I have the Fuji on XE2 and it is very slow.
No one is mentioning the awesome performance of the 90mm 2.8 Contax! That thing killed it! I would have liked to see a test shot below with it in use. I mean seriously, In the tests…at least to my eye…it edged out the Fuji and easily stacks up with the 85mm Batis. Folks, that’s a 240 dollar lens and it aint new.
I’m impressed to say the least….
Very useful test. Thank you!
Great review, I’ve been trying to decide wether to get the xpro 2 or the Sony a7 II since they are now the same price. This review along with others helps me confirm that moire is a big issue on the Sony. Just wanted to confirm that I’m seeing it right on my computer screen but the shot of your son with the Sony has a very strong moire pattern on the red part of his sleeve and a bit of like green fringing on his ears. Not sure if it’s the zeiss lenses or Sony sensor but that moire plus the distracting background bokeh helps me to decide on Fuji. And I know I really wanted something a little lighter than my d800e and most of the better regular primes on the Sony are large and still heavy.
What about compare Contax G 90mm vs Fuji XF 90mm F2. You wrote, that XF 90 is extremely good. Does it mean that for you XF 90 much better for you for any case?
I tested the Nikon 85mm 1.8 AFS against Contax Zeis 90mm 2.8 Both at F/2.8 on Sony A7. With studioflash
The zeis has a better contrast and als less purple. But most interesting. The zeiss looks much more three dimensional. On the old sensor in my d700 it does well. But also the three dimensional look is gone with the Nikon
Good test, thank you.
I really like read your reviews