I’ll cut to the chace: the Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar simply delivers beautiful images. While, like essentially all lenses, it isn’t flawless, it performs extremely well in so many ways, and the way this lens draws is special.
The Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 is an exceptionally sharp lens. Right from f/1.8, the lens delivers incredible clarity and sharpness over almost the entire image frame, even when used on the ultra-high resolution A7R II. Only the very corners show a bit of softening at f/1.8. Portraits taken at f/1.8 can display that wonderful mix of exceptional detail and clarity on the eyes while letting the remainder of the image fall away beautifully to blur. The shot below, taken at f/2.5, shows the beautiful blur combined with biting sharpness that the Batis shows at essentially any aperture. Click here for a 100% crop of her left eye.
When stopped down, the lens displays equally impressive resolution, producing files that show tremendous levels of detail right into the extreme corners. It is an eminently impressive lens with regards to image sharpness. It’s worth noting that the lens also displays excellent resolution across the frame on APS-C cameras like the a6000. It’s definitely a lens that can pull double duty on full-frame and APS-C cameras.
Bokeh, or the quality of the out of focus areas of the lens, is of utmost importance in a fast short telephoto lens. Bokeh is also among the most subjective of qualities to discuss. Some photographers prefer lenses that show very soft featureless bokeh. Others prefer some structure, while still others like some character in their lenses, from flaws in the bokeh. I’m somewhere in the middle. I like creamy backgrounds, but also appreciate lenses with a bit of ‘something’ in the background, and the Batis falls into this category.
The bokeh from the 85mm f/1.8 is very good to my eye. It’s generally smooth and neutral, but specular highlights can get a cat’s eye look towards the edges, and the very slightest outlining can be seen on those highlights as well. Overall, the look is gorgeous in the majority of situations, and especially when focused close up. The high sharpness with excellent bokeh gives images depth and dimension. When the lens is focused a bit further out, especially with a busy background, the high contrast of the overall rendering can make the bokeh gain a bit of roughness. It’s not ‘nervous’ per se, as you don’t get double outlines or any other such aberrations, but it simply becomes slightly chunky. Check out the image samples for a wider variety of images showing how the lens deals with background blur.
Color, Contrast and Chromatic Aberration
The typical ‘Zeiss look’ consists of images with high image contrast, excellent fine local contrast and rich, vibrant color. However, Zeiss tends to back off the contrast and saturation a bit when it comes to their classic portrait lenses, and the Batis follows this design philosophy. Images are crisp and clear with good overall macro contrast, but show a little less bite than some other Zeiss lenses with regards to local ‘micro contrast.’ This is a good thing for portraiture, as it allows facial features to take on a nice natural appearance. It’s also just fine for other uses, as it allows for easy post-processing. Things are just about perfect here.
The lens also performs quite well with regards to chromatic aberration. Lateral CA is extremely well controlled, and you’ll be very hard pressed to see it pop up in any images. Longitudinal CA is less well controlled, but it’s still only of minor concern in actual use. You can sometimes see a light green or magenta fringe behind or in front of the focus point, but it’s not bright or well saturated. Some minor purple fringing can be induced, but again, it’s fairly minor.
Distortion, Flare and Vignetting
The one area where the Batis 85mm f/1.8 falters slightly is with regards to distortion. The lens has a profile for JPEGs and within Adobe conversion software that will correct for the native distortion, but optically, there is visible pincushion distortion produced by the lens. I found this to be only really visible when shooting architectural subjects, and it’s uniform enough that it isn’t terrible to view. That said, for those images with straight lines, it’s worth it to correct the distortion. The distortion correction may have a very minor affect on image sharpness, but the lens produces images with such high resolution that I can’t see a difference.
With regards to flare, the Batis 85mm does a decent job in some cases and a poor job in others. With the sun or bright light in the frame, there is minimal reduction in contrast in the image, but bluish purple ghosts can appear around the sun, and green and sometimes purple ghosts can intrude opposite the frame. If the sun is partially obscured, the ghosting will tend to disappear, leaving only images that are clear and with strong contrast. With the deep hood and narrow field of view, flare isn’t an oft encountered situation.
The 85mm f/1.8 shows some rather strong vignetting wide open, but I generally find it pleasing for portrait work. Stopping down reduces vignetting to a negligible level by around f/4.
Overall, the image quality is excellent.