Zeiss Batis 135 Review

So, I got my hands on the tasty Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 lens last month. I've been so lucky to have an extraordinary relationship with Zeiss over the past 7 years, allowing me to receive review copies of everything in the Zeiss line-up for my Leica (ZM) and Nikon (ZF/ZF.2) mounts. Sadly, I hadn't grabbed any review lenses from them since moving away from the Leica and Nikon digital a couple years ago. But now that I am on a new mount once again, I decided it's time to run through everything in this Sony E-mount line, so a big shout out to Zeiss for letting me resume this relationship and getting this Batis 135 out to me so fast. 

Last month, I gave a review of my personal copy of the Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 which was also the first E-mount lens I purchased along with the Sony A7R II. I use the 85 mainly as a portrait lens, so I figured giving it a side-by-side with the 135 was the next logical step. I see the 135 length used quite a bit as many people prefer it for portraits, though I still prefer 85 for my use - more on that below. I held off on the side-by-side compare to near the end of the review, so if you only want to see those images, go ahead and scroll down about 3/4 of this page.

OK, so let's get some of the tech specs out of the way, then I will get into my hands on with the glass.

ZEISS BATIS 2.8/135 TECH SPECS

Zeiss Batis 135

For the nerdy, this is (as always) a solid-built full-frame lens designed specifically for the Sony E-Mount system. Like the entire Batis line, the 135 has a dust and weather-sealed construction, allowing for use in just about any environment. It has the classic Zeiss Apo Sonnar optical design (the apochromatic design significantly reduces color fringing and chromatic aberrations for increased clarity, sharpness, and color fidelity) with Zeiss T* anti-reflective coatings to minimize reflections.

The built-in optical image stabilization (OIS) works in tandem with the IS of the A7R II allowing use in unfriendly low-light conditions. The linear motors of the autofocus are fast, smooth, and extremely quiet. Below is a detailed run down of the build of this lens.

  • Developed specifically for the Sony E-Mount mirrorless system
  • Lens Design: Sonnar
  • Length: 135 mm
  • Aperture: f/2.8-f/22
  • Minimum Focus: 0.87 m 
  • Elements / Groups: 14/11
  • Angular Field (diag. | horiz. | vert.): 18° / 15° / 10°
  • Length: 120 mm (133 mm with cap)
  • Filter: 67 mm
  • Weight: 614 g
  • Features: Autofocus + Image Stabilization
  • Cost: ~$1897 US

Build and Design

The weatherproof full-frame lens is sculpted to an elegant and smooth design. At 614 g, the Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 has some weight to it (a smidgen heavier than the 85), and has a solid feel thanks to its metal construction, rubber ring, and high grade plastic hood. Mounted to my Sony A7R II (640 g), the weight is fairly balanced in my hands, perhaps leaning marginally towards the body. The rubber ring is easy to grip in all conditions and rotates smooth (click-less). The lens has a built-in OLED display which gives focus distance and depth of field readings (you can display these in metric or imperial systems). The lens really feels like it's designed to take a beating.

Zeiss Batis 135 + Sony A7R II

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

Autofocus on the Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 is zippy and silent, just like the 85. In bright light as well as in shadow, it seemed to have no trouble nailing focus. There were a couple instances where I saw it hunt just a little for focus - though I wasn't able to reproduce those issues and was quite possibly pilot error. Based on the pixel size of your sensor, the lens will display the accurate focal distance and depth calculations on the OLED display. As an aside, this bright readout is a dream in the dark.

Manual focus feels very smooth as well. Gripping the rubber ring and turning quick gives a very short focus arc. But if you decide to rotate the ring slow, you gain a large sweeping arc for fine tuning your focus. I like that it has the intelligence to know if I need speed or accuracy. I tend to swap between autofocus and manual quite a bit as I am more confident in manual - but have to say the auto really get it right, almost every time.

The image to the right was done with the manner mentioned above, with a slow turn of the rubber ring to get the focus on one of the dead trees in my test swamp by the house. I also took the same image with the autofocus system, and to be honest, the two images are exactly the same, even with the large number of objects here the system could have chosen.

Though the Mark II line of A7's have built in body Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) it's great that the Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 also has OIS, which can be enabled or disabled through the camera. For me, this means shooting in extremely low light without bumping the ISO. I do not do a whole lot of low light shooting, but it is nice to know it's there when I need it. For this image here, the ISO was at 400 and shot at 1/400 at f/2.8. This is about as dim as I ever shoot, and 400 is plenty fast for that.

Zeiss Batis 135 Review

The Results

The images coming off this lens are very clean. Wide open at f/2.8 (images #2 and #3 below left), you can see the slightest vignetting which becomes minimal by f/5.6 (see image #1 below left). Center sharpness is just gorgeous, no matter what stop. Take notice at the crop of the seagull below and the lack of CA in any of them. Should note that I didn't go out my way to create any CA with the lens. Again, the images below here are raw. These were taken down in Rye Harbor in NH as I watched the F/V Pinwheel (Wicked Tuna TV show) unload her catch.

The left side is the full raw image and the right side are 100% crops so you can pixel peep.

I think the raw files come off so nice with this lens and very little adjustment is needed in regard to editing. (See this month's post on my Adobe Lightroom Digital Workflow for details). Assuming exposure is right in camera, my one-click editing yields results that really please my eye. As a bonus to that post, here's a little Brody action of raw vs edited. Again, subtle is what pleases me most.

I should note that everything done in this review was with available (usually bright) outdoor light. I only took a couple indoor low(ish) light shots and didn't delve too deep into those as I almost never shoot inside. I'll leave low-light and strobe reviews of this lens up to those that specialize in it. Below are a few more shots from around the harbor in Rye.

Zeiss Batis 135 Review - Wicked Tuna - Pinwheel

Color

The Zeiss Batis line renders colors so close to what I want for a final output that my edits look quite close to the original. Like I said in the 85 review, as a portrait lens, I feel you are getting what you want, need, and expect. The skin tones are marginally muted and warm, though slightly cooler than typical Zeiss glass. It is really close to how I adjust the color in post and is the combination I prefer for my work. I also find this a great walk-around lens in town that handles the vibrant New England colors like a champ. 

Zeiss Batis 135

Bokeh

I had a couple folks mention that f/2.8 wouldn't give off the "buttery Zeiss bokeh" like a 1.8 or faster lens. But keep in mind, this is 135mm, so that wide-open bokeh is plenty gorgeous (see above and below). Absolutely no flaw in that by my standards. Also, scroll down and there are plenty of portrait compares with Tara. That's enough bokeh for me.

Zeiss Batis 135 Review - RAW Portrait

Zeiss Batis 135 Review - RAW Portrait

Zeiss Batis 135 vs Zeiss Batis 85

On to the meaty section - the area I was really curious on.  Could the Batis 135 unseat the Batis 85 as my lens of choice? I asked my friend Tara to go out with me and play with the two lenses to do some side by side shots. Time was limited, so we had some terrible noon lighting* to play with while she was in town. We made the best of it and pitted the two lenses head to head.

Zeiss Batis 135 vs 85

*Pro tip: avoid this light.

First off, size. As you can see to the right, fairly close. They both have internal motors, so length does not change as you focus. Both have identical builds and features. The differences all boil down to optics and length. My head-to-head shots used the same settings to keep things fair. If you want to see the 85 wide open, refer to my review here.

My second note is distance from subject. The 50-85mm range is my preferred distance when working with a subject. I like to be up close and personal. The 135 felt a little long to me. I felt further away and a little disconnected to be honest. The first image below shows the 135 on the left and the 85 on the right. For this image, I stood in the same spot to show how the frame changes with these lengths.  These were both shot with identical settings.

For the two shots below, once again the 135 is on the left. I adjusted my footing to give a similar frame to the two shots. Again, being a few steps further back made me feel disconnected, though asking Tara about it, she felt the same no matter how far back or near I stood. (And yes, I did edit the one on the left to be slightly cooler - so don't compare tone there). The two below was more of an attempt to show a full length portrait. 

The two below (135 left, 85 right) are mainly because they cracked me up. For the 85, Tara was being attacked by a bug - and it was also at f/1.8 so you could see a side-by-side wide open shot from each lens. You can take note of the bokeh and fall off in both, just to get an idea of how these two lenses behave. These are both raw files with no crop or edit, so brightness is a bit wonky.

The shots below (135 left, 85 right) were only about nailing eye focus and sharpness. The two images were taken from the same spot at f/2.8 to again show the difference in length and the resulting field of bokeh. Below each image is its' respective 100% crop. No sharpness adjustments applied and you can notice me dead center in Tara's pupils.

Either way, you are getting one hell of a lens that would be a beautiful addition to an E-mount body.

Summary

Although this is an excellent lens, it won't be replacing the Zeiss Batis 85 in my lineup, though I can definitely see borrowing it from Zeiss again for special occasions. Like I said earlier on, the 135 length is just a bit long for me for regular portrait use. I am just not a 135+ guy. The results of the 135 truly are just amazing, and if that's a length that suits you well, then this could be an excellent addition to your kit.  Super sharp, super clean, and very eye pleasing results. All in all, a fine portrait lens for anyone.

All (edited) images in this set edited with Rebecca Lily's Pro Set IV.