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: Image Quality
So now we get down to the nitty gritty – if you’re contemplating dropping this much cash on an f/2.8 prime, you’re going to want it to be good. However in this case your luck is in, because the Batis 135mm isn’t just good – it’s astonishing. Indeed in almost a decade of testing and reviewing lenses, I’ve seen few lenses that come anywhere this close to perfection.
Indeed try as I might, I’ve struggled to find anything that looks like a flaw. Images are sensationally sharp from corner to corner even at f/2.8, and show no hint of chromatic aberration, either longitudinal or lateral. As with any fast lens there’s a degree of vignetting wide open, but its gradual falloff profile means that aesthetically it’s more likely to help outline your subjects than to detract from them. All that’s left to nitpick is some mild pincushion distortion, but if anything this adds a flattering slimming effect to people pictures, and it’s trivial to correct in software when necessary (which can also be done easily in-camera using the Lens Comp menu settings).
Then there’s the bokeh – the rendition of out-of-focus regions of the image. It looks consistently gorgeous, essentially irrespective of subject or background distance and aperture. Indeed with this lens I found myself seeking out interesting backgrounds just to see how it would dissolve them away. You’d get a greater degree of blur from a larger aperture lens, of course, but aesthetically you’ll be hard-pressed to surpass the Batis’s images.
With such a complex multi-element design you might expect the lens to be prone to flare, but again, I found it incredibly well-behaved. Even pointing directly into the sun I saw little loss of contrast, which is impressive for a fast telephoto.
The lens also incudes optical stabilisation and this appears to work very well. Indeed I was regularly able to hand-hold at shutter speeds as low as 1/15sec with little or no visible blur at the pixel level. I tested the lens on an Alpha 7 II which has in-body stabilisation, but because Zeiss cooperates very closely with Sony, in principle the body should have handed pitch and yaw correction to the lens. In normal shooting these are the main contributors to blur from camera shake, so owners of unstabilised first-generation Alpha 7 models should hopefully see similar results.