Is this new portrait lens for the Sony Alpha 7 series worth its stratospheric price, asks Andy Westlake
Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 review: Features
Zeiss has used an optical formula of 14 elements in 12 groups in this Apo-Sonnar design, which makes it more complex even than the faster Sigma and Sony f/1.8 lenses. Zeiss claims that by experimenting with special glass types during the design it’s been able to miminise all kinds of optical flaws, and practically eliminate chromatic aberration.
An internal focus system is used to drive the lens through its distance range, which culminates at a usefully-close 87cm. It’s not a macro lens, but can still shoot subjects as small as 18.5cm x 12.5cm when used on a full-frame camera. The nine-bladed diaphragm closes down to f/22 in 1/3 stop increments, and gives a distinctly polygonal, rather than circular shape when viewed from the front of the lens. Here you’ll also find a non-rotating 67mm thread for attaching filters, surrounded by a bayonet mount for the deep plastic hood.
Perhaps the most unusual feature is a small OLED panel on the top of the barrel that displays subject distance and depth of field, adapting in real time to changes in the focus and aperture setting. But while on the wideangle lenses in the Batis family this can be useful for hyperfocal and zone focusing techniques, on the 135mm it spends most of its time reminding you how parlously narrow your depth of field is (which indeed is one of the lens’s defining characteristics). This means the scale exists much more for reference purposes than as a focusing aid.
Build and Handling
In typical Zeiss fashion, the Batis 135mm is a solidly-build lens, with a robust metal barrel broken only by the broad, smooth rubberised manual focus ring. The cosmetic design is stylish and minimalist, with blue Zeiss badges on either side to remind you of its pedigree. The section of the barrel immediately adjacent to the mount is the narrowest, to allow space for your fingers to fit around the relatively compact Alpha 7 handgrip. Moving away from the camera body, the barrel flares outwards to form a cylinder 81mm in diameter for most of its length. Right at the front the it curves outwards again, forming a continuous fluid shape with the hood when it’s mounted. The hood can also be reversed over the barrel when it’s not in use.
Dust and moisture sealing is provided, with a blue rubberised seal around the lens mount to combat ingress of water to the camera body. With its 613g weight, the lens feels well balanced on the Alpha 7 II I used for testing – indeed much more so than pictures of the combination might suggest. Zeiss says it has consciously struck a balance between size, weight and light-gathering ability, and I think it’s made a pretty good choice here. The only small handling flaw is that the dark blue alignment dot for mounting the lens is difficult to pick out against the matte black barrel finish.