Zeiss Batis 85 Review

I have owned several versions of the Zeiss 85mm lenses, but never an autofocus version. (My first Zeiss 85 review is here.) When I picked up the Sony A7R II this spring, it was mainly to take advantage of the awesome line of Zeiss glass in the Sony E-mount, and specifically the Batis 1.8/85. (All of the images in that Sony A7R II review were done with this lens as well - more along the lines of 'first impressions').

Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 Tech Specs

Zeiss Batis 1.8/85

Aside from the Zeiss 2/35 on my RX1R II, this was the first 'proper' autofocus lens I have owned from Zeiss and was my first in the Sony E-Mount system. Previously, I have owned and/or used everything Zeiss ever made in the ZF/ZF.2 (Nikon D/SLR) mount and the ZM (Leica Rangefinder) mount, but they have all been manual focus. Now, It is time to work through the E-mount (Sony Mirrorless). So seeing this sleek design with just one rubbery ring was a whole new visual experience - and a beautiful one at that. I wasn't sure how I would feel about having a blasphemous autofocus Zeiss lens, but I knew how this high speed and high contrast lens rendered and had to take the chance.

I picked up my copy from KEH for a song, and you can see a copy of this review also on their website (slightly different version, of course). Oh, and speaking of KEH, I guess I never made it public, but I have begun writing gear reviews for them as well as creating web content around their camera gear. (Research, product descriptions, and so forth). A review of the Nikon D700 is going live there in a few days, so watch their Twitter feed for the announcement.

OK, let's talk specs for a brief second on a handful of technical stats on this lens.

  • Developed specifically for the Sony E-Mount mirrorless system
  • Lens Design: Sonnar
  • Length: 85 mm
  • Aperture: f/1.8-f/22
  • Minimum Focus: 0.8 m 
  • Elements / Groups: 11/8
  • Angular Field (diag. | horiz. | vert.): 29° / 24° / 16°
  • Length: 92 mm (105 mm with cap)
  • Filter: 67 mm
  • Weight: 452 g
  • Features: Autofocus + Image Stabilization
  • Cost: ~$1199 US

Build and Design

The weatherproof full-frame lens is sculpted to an elegant and smooth design. At 452 g, the Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 has some weight to it, but such a solid feel with its metal construction and high grade plastic hood. Mounted to my A7RII (640 g), the weight is fairly balanced in my hands. 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).

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

Autofocus on the Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 is zippy for my standards. From the minimum focus to infinity, it's just a half second. And silent at that speed to boot. In bright light as well as in shadow, it seemed to have no trouble nailing it. 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.

Zeiss Batis 1.8/85

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.

Though the Mark II line of A7's have built in body Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) it's great that the Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 has OIS it as well, which can be enabled or disabled through the camera. For me, this means shooting in extremely low light without bumping the ISO.

The Results

If you remember me yapping about the timeless design of the Zeiss C Sonnar 1.5/50 ZM on the Leica, well, this has the same kind of draw for me. In a word, it's delicious. As I said earlier, having an autofocus had me a bit nervous - wondering if it'd ruin the experience. So, how does this lens really perform with all that electronic wizardry? Excellent. The lens is sharp at all apertures and, wide open, focus is spot on with edge to edge sharpness. I feel amazing sharpness all around at f/5.6 and ridiculous surgical sharpness happens at f/8 and up. I see little to no chromatic aberration (note above photo of rope course - no correction for CA) in even the most extreme conditions. Vignetting isn't an issue in typical Zeiss fashion at any aperture. I even tried to force some below.

Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 + Sony A7R II

Color

As a portrait lens, I feel you are getting what you 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 1.8/85 + Sony A7R II

Bokeh

You really can't talk about this lens without mentioning the legendary Zeiss bokeh. This lens did not let me down. The bokeh, to state a cliché, is buttery smooth. The Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 gives the professional rendering I expect in a high-quality portrait lens; separating your subject from the background and giving the image a real pop. I see no worming or odd orbs, just a very eye-pleasing field out of focus background.

Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 + Sony A7R II

Summary

The Zeiss Batis 1.8/85 is just a wonderful portrait / short tele lens for the Sony E-Mount. It has a solid build and consistently performs to my high standards in regard to speed, sharpness, and bokeh. For me, it was an excellent first lens in my Sony E-Mount kit and know this one isn't going anywhere.

Currently, I am also testing the Zeiss Batis 2.8/135 and pitting it head to head with this lens, so please stay tuned for that review and compare. I took them both out this weekend for some portrait compares, and I think you'll love to see how these are doing head to head. The Batis 18 and 25 will be a bit later in 2018.

Also in the works is a review of the Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21 which I have been playing with since early summer.  The Loxia 35, 50, and 85 will also be in 2018 for you.

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