Zeiss Batis APO Sonnar 135mm f/2.8 Lens Review
Zeiss Batis 135/2.8 APO Sonnar is optically brilliant lens. Sharp with pleasing bokeh and without disturbing color aberrations. It auto focuses fast, silent and hopefully accurate in all conditions. It is neither too big or heavy in comparison to its closest peers and it is recently only 135mm prime with AF for Sony E mount. Optical image stabilization help to use slower speeds, resulting in better image quality (it allows use of lower ISO setting in comparison to non stabilized lens).
Truth is however, that 135mm focal length is the one where most lenses are very good. It is also the focal length that all four of us who have been testing Batis recently, don’t use often. For the portrait it is great choice for full frame cameras, if you have enough space to move at least 1-1.5 m from your subject.
When we tested it in the streets of Prague, we found rather difficult to get used to 135mm as the only lens on the camera, but that is very subjective of course. Through the history, 135mm was very popular focal length though.
If you need something longer than 90mm, reasonable fast with breathtaking image quality, optical stabilization, fast AF, sophisticated design and weatherproof protection, legendary build quality and most of all – prestigious blue Z, Batis 135/2.8 APO Sonnar is the lens for you.
It is great for portraits, landscape end I would dare to say (for the first time for Sony E mount) with Sony A7r II (and probably new APS-C cameras) also for the faster moving subjects (sport). Chasing kids in the garden or shooting Grizzly on the run should be also possible (but not advisable, especially that Grizzly thing).
I won’t pick it up for flower and astro-photography, but otherwise it is hard to find genre, in which this lens won’t excel.
Sell your car, your house, and your kidney and go for it till it last, because there is nothing better that you can find for Sony E within specification!
If you have only one kidney left and yours finances are in the after divorce mode, here are a couple of potential replacements.
Samyang 135/2.0 – This is my lens of choice for the given focal length. It is hard to believe image quality for the price. It is however manual focus lens with reported sample variation problems (I never had bad experience with Samyang lenses though), it is not weather sealed, it has shift toward warm yellowish tones and its build quality is not top-notch (but not bad either). If you are not sure that 135mm is for you, or if you are on the budget, consider Samyang 135/2.0, before you spend more money for something else. Not for sport for sure, but it can be great lens for portraits as well as for the landscape use.
Sony SAL 135/1.8 – If you don’t have a problem with CA, size and weight and LA-EA4 (I do with all three), Sonny Zeiss is fantastic lens too. It is the lens with more distinctive rendering style from the bunch and when you nail the focus it produces very sharp images even wide open. At Batis maximum speed, Sony SAL 135/1.8 ZA is equally sharp in the center (it is weaker toward edges). It has less of light fall of and mechanical vignetting. Quite short minimum focusing distance makes it interesting options for the smaller subjects too. This lens is great for portraits in controlled lighting conditions and not bad for flowers.
Canon EF 135/2 L USM – With Metabones or Sigma MC-11 (I think) it is valid option for Sony E. Especially second-hand prices are very affordable (if you already have adapter) and the lens optical performance is very good, even if its design is quite old. This is valid option for those who needs AF on Sony E.
Legacy lens – There are hundreds of legacy 135mm lenses and that means that most of them are dirty cheap. In terms of optical qualities, don’t expect anything that will come close to modern lenses such as Batis, Samyang, Milvus etc. But for barely 100 USD you can have Carl Zeiss Jena 135/3.5 MC and it is surprisingly sharp lens with good contrast and neutral, smooth bokeh. I would suggest anyone who is starting with longer lenses and is not sure what would be preferable focal length, to buy one of those legacy 135 and try them out. Among best legacy 135 lenses that I tried, Sonnar 135/2.8 C/Y and above mentioned Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 135/3.5 MC are certainly high on the list.
I asked Petr Machan and Pavel Sinagl to answer few questions related to Zeiss Batis 135/2.8 APO Sonnar. Here is what they think about tested lens.
VBL: How do you like 135mm focal length in general, how often do you use it?
Petr Machan: I use it rarely, my most used lenses are much wider. However there are times when 135mm suits the purpose and I have such a lens in my arsenal.
Pavel Sinagl: Not my preferred focal length for sure but I use it occasionally
VBL: What do you think of the Zeiss Batis 135/2.8 build quality?
Petr Machan: Quality perception is very good, handling even better. Feel of the soft rubber focus ring is a bit unusual, but the lens fits nicely in the hand, has good grip, it’s not heavy and it balances well on the camera.
Pavel Sinagl: Top notch build quality. Lens feel robust just enough, design is simple, minimalist with clean lines. I like it.
VBL: How did you found its optical qualities after this testing?
Petr Machan: Sharpness is superior, within short testing time I didn’t notice any significant aberrations, colors are pleasing. Rendered images have sort of uniqueness in appearance, I was very pleasantly surprised.
Pavel Sinagl: Optical quality is IMHO its biggest strength. For my purpose, sharpness is exemplary (even at f/2.8). I haven’t noticed any aberrations and colors are nicely neutral. Bokeh at the same time is very smooth and in combination with great sharpness and micro contrast, it render images that are unobtrusive but technically clean.
VBL: How did you find AF?
Petr Machan: We didn’t test it for the sport application but AF responded well. Focusing was fast and reliable, at least for the portraiture session.
Pavel Sinagl: AF can be on Sony A7II quite fast, but with decreasing light and contrast it starts hunting. It happened to me repeatedly, that at close distances, with flexible spot placed on my subject, lens goes through entire focusing range without locking-up. So at the end, instead of AF speed I have problems with AF reliability.
VBL: What do you think of the maximum aperture and related depth of field. Did you find subject separation sufficient within casual use?
Petr Machan: Subject isolation abilities in combination with minimum focusing distance is more than enough and moderate speed allowed designers to create perfectly balanced lens IMHO.
Pavel Sinagl: Aperture f/2.8 is adequate for this type of the lens, but if I were looking for more distinctive shallow DOF character, I would probably look elsewhere.
VBL: Which one of compared lenses would you buy for yourself? a) Sony SAL 135/1.8 ZA, b) Batis 135/2.8, c) Samyang 135/2.0, d) another lens
Petr Machan: I don’t have Sony E system, so for me this is difficult question, but If I do switch to Sony E, Batis would be great choice.
Pavel Sinagl: As I said earlier, If I would look for the universal 135mm lens for its combination of really nice and clean rendering , low weight and with AF, Batis 135/2.8 will be clear choice. For the more distinctive character, especially for the shallow DOF, I would choose Sony SAL 135/1.8 ZA.
VBL: Who would you recommend Batis 135/2.8, to what type of photographers, and why?
Petr Machan: To anyone who wants medium tele lens and has enough space in studio or at home for not only tight head shots. Hmm I think it is ideal for shooting glamour on the beach 🙂
Pavel Sinagl: Batis is great all around 135mm lens for portraits and landscape. I can also see it as a journalist or event medium tele-lens, but to recommend for that, I will need to test AF thoroughly.
VBL: Thank you guys and good luck with tax officer and horny ducks!
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My special thanks goes to Evey Krejcova from Sony and Foto Skoda – the best camera store in Europe IMHO, for lending us Sony A7r II, Mr. Ales Mejdrech, marketing manager of Zeiss Lenses Czech, for lending us Batis 135/2.8 APO Sonnar, my dear friend Thea for hers never to be forgotten support, Mr. Radek Tesik who is running this web with me, and all of you who read this review this far :-).
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All images bellow where post processed to our liking. They should not be considered as a merit for the lens pure optical performance, but they should help you to recognize, what can be achieved as a final output.
Finally, Zeiss had sent you the their very new lens. Great review!
Yes! We got the lens prior to its release, it’s a great achievment for my friends and me here at VBL! If only Sony will go the same route 🙂
Thank you for your kind words!
Awesome review as always. It’s definitely a great lens, but it has a “clinical” look IMO. I have the APO Sonnar F2, which I think I will keep (bought used for almost 40 percent of the price of the Batis). $2000 is way way too much for this lens. What are they thinking?
Well I can’t tell you that the lens is not “clinical” if you sees it so. Part of the problem might be downsizing sample images using bi-cubic algorithm which create sharper results, but might look a bit “clinical” or maybe better – “technical” in a result. IMHO Batis 135/2.8 APO Sonnar is outstanding lens that gives photographer all the freedom to focus on the content and forget about any potential issues such as extensive purple fringing, strong flaring, blooming etc. Its ability to isolate subject is brilliant thank to the explicit center sharpness and high acutance. This creates its character and it also allows extensive post processing. Sonnar 135/1.8 has more blur and it maybe creates more charismatic images out of the box, but it will behave differently in different lighting conditions (more or less CA, better or worse subject isolation, more flaring etc.)
I can see that many comments are related to the price, but when lens is this good, one should be prepared to pay a premium price. I can’t recently afford it and I have many other good 135mm lenses, but if I would use this FL for my paid job (which I don’t), I will sell all the others and go with Batis. This is how much it impresses me 🙂
I have never seen you impressed by a lens as much as this one, which speaks volumes in itself :). I see the great sharpness, high micro contrast, and lack of aberrations. The images look great really. I’m also impressed even more by the Loxia 85, which you reviewed recently. However, as a hobbyist, I cannot stomach the 2k price tag.
In your opinion, is it better than the APO sonnar f2? I have this one, and it’s the best lens I’ve ever used optically. I think the Batis is comparable to the DSLR version, but with some extra micro contrast?
I have used the Samyang, and it’s also great, but does not have nice color rendition as Zeiss lenses.
I never owned the Sony 135, but it is the lens with the most distinguished “character” in the 135mm focal length, despite the CA (as far as I can tell from the images I saw online).
I also owned the Canon 135. It is a good lens, but it’s showing its age now.
I wish the Batis was priced at $1500 as rumored 🙁 Why Zeiss? Why?
I don’t think that Batis is optically better than older APO Sonnar f/2, but it is optimized for Sony E mount, it is smaller, lighter and it has AF and OIS. Image quality will be close call with faster lens offering slightly more blur at the same settings. I am excited about new Batis because it is such a great optical design in the compact and lightweight body with all those additional features. For some, more compact size means that they will carry and use this lens more often and we might see more stunning images from talented people. I find older APO Sonnar f/2 also amazing, but that one is very close in optical performance to the much cheaper Samyang. Batis is the whole new story, very different shooting experience.
Nice review. I’m curious how it renders bokeh with lights in the background. Will they be round or have that cat eye shape?
in the “bokeh” chapter you can see how it goes. As most recent Zeiss lenses, there is pronounced effect of the mechanical vignetting, resulting in the cat eye shaped highlights toward image edges.
You cannot imagine a situation where F2.8 won’t suffice?
How about when the slow aperture forces the ISO up 2-3 stops!
Yes, you can drop the shutter speed to compensate but then you need to be certain that your subjects aren’t moving.
I’m never comfortable dropping shutter speed too much – not for shooting candid people shots anyway.
I use my Batis lenses for travel photography.
By travel photography, I mean traveling alone to a remote place, hiring a guide and going native for a month.
I spent January in Tibet.
I like the light weight, weather sealing and OSS.
Those are big selling points for me, but you cannot substitute a slow lens for a fast lens.
It’s not the same.
There is a reason I travel with fast primes over F2.8 zooms and it’s not the weight 😉
Between f/1.8 and f/2.8 is sligtly over 1 EV stop. Batis 135 has OIS which in combination with IBIS can be more effective than IBIS alone for at least 1 stop.
But that was not my point. I wanted to say that if you’ll have to shot at ISO 1600 or 3200 it doesn’t make such a big difference with modern Sony FF sensors. Choosing moderate speed of f/2.8 results also in a much smaller and lighter body with apochromatic design, fast AF and OIS.
Batis is not a slow lens, it is just a ted slower than what you call “fast” lenses. If we will compare f/2.8 with f/1.2 than your comment will make more sense.
I never said that slow lens is the same as fast lens BTW. You can enjoy your travel with whatever lens you like. At the end it all come to your personnel preferences…
Well, we will have to disagree on this.
In Tibet, I shot 2x A7r II bodies at the same time, with Batis 85 F1.8 on one and Sony/Zeiss 35mm F1.4 on the other.
The previous year I did the same in Laos and used the Batis 25 F2 before I replaced it with the Sony 35mm F1.4 this year.
F1.4 made a big difference in getting the shots in low light where the F1.8 Batis struggled, hunted or failed to focus at all.
It may be the way I shoot but I tend to shoot in low light but if the excellent Batis 85 F1.8 struggles, then that doesn’t hold out much hope for the F2.8.
Don’t get me wrong on the Batis – I love the 85 more than any other lens on Sony and certainly prefer it to the 85mm F1.8 GM.
I also own Nikon D5/D4s and F2.8 trinity of zooms.
I’d never travel with them.
Not because of the weight, but because F2.8 isn’t good enough in low light, not even on the excellent D5.
Correct me if I am wrong here Colin, but you keep writing about f/1.2 and f/1.4 lenses and you say that yours Batis at f/1.8 struggled to AF.
Earlier you said there is a difference in 2-3 EV in ISO between faster lenses and Batis 135.
We are talking here about 135mm lenses and the only “faster” AF options are f/1.8-f/2. This means that fastest available AF 135, will still struggle to focus in your “travel” scenarios and that same “fastest” 135 is nowhere near 2-3 EV stops of light gain but rather 1 EV.
My comment was related to the tested lens and its competitors not meant in general. Discussing advantages and disadvantages of fast vs “slow” lenses is endless concept and much better suited for related forums.
As someone who makes money for living by shooting portraits among other, I can assure you that I rarely step bellow f/4. If it is darker around, I simply switch to manual focus.
But I respect your priorities, there’s just no need to start your comments in the tone you previously did.
Is there any place to download the full size test images for comparisons?
we are not allowing any original images for download, sorry. It takes lot of time and money to put the review together and we are trying to protect our content.
If you go to Flickr album (link is in the review), you should be able to see and maybe even download images in larger sizes, but it is a clumsy operation. Sorry for inconvenience and understanding.
The best Batis 135/2 review currently on the internet. A very comprehensive post choosing equally competitive equivalents for serious comparisons. After studying this review there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind if this is the right lens for them or not. Well done!
Thank you for your kind words, I am glad if it helps to establish right perspective for those who are considering this type of the lens.
Great work, Viktor and friends. I study MTF, as shown in Zeiss’s ultra accurate data sheets. At infinity, this lens is better overall at f2.8 than it is at f5.6. It is optically (per MTF) as good or better at f2.8 than the Sonnar 135/2 APO is at any aperture, at infinity focus (stronger off axis). At f2.8 it delivers fine detail resolution (40 lpmm) so much better than the 135/2 Sonnar APO at f2 that any loss from one stop higher ISO (for given shutter speed) would be overwhelmed by the much better lens performance (80%-vs-63% contrast, on axis, wide open). It also has IS/AF, much less distortion, at 2/3 the weight, takes 67mm filters. Meet the best 135mm ever made in a technical sense, and lovely bokeh. Price is commensurate with quality here. Perfect complement for Sony a7 series, like the other Loxias and Batises (all in range: f1.8-f2.8 max aperture). cheers.
Thanks Philip, great evaluation and spot on conclusion. While I can’t afford it, I have to agree with you.
The 135/1.8 might be huge and heavy and tricky to focus accurately, but it looks the nicest imho.
it has its strong sides for sure. Its weakest part is quite heavy purple fringing. Batis is clearly superior there and for me, that is terrific achievement and reason why I am ready to tolerate higher price.
Very nice review. If the lens can make me take pictures like the ones you have displayed, I will purchase it yesterday 🙂
Seriously, I have the 85 Batis and absolutely love it – but I find the 150mm to be better for my style of photography (my favorite lens is still the Olympus 75mm f/1.8) because of its sharpness and creamy bokeh. I can’t help but think feel that the 85 Batis has perhaps marginally better DOF than the 135, but that is purely speculation. And I do appreciate the relatively small size.
Bottom line, I’ll definitely spend a weekend with it, when my local pro rental shop gets one.
Hi Michael and thank you for your kind words. The main difference between Batis 85 and 135 is in the color chromatic aberration corrections. Batis 85/1.8 is not the worst lens in that regard for sure, but some purple fringing can be seen in high contrast areas. Purity of the Batis 135/2.8 rendition even in the most challenging situation, is what makes it special IMHO. Color artifact can be removed in post processing but it’s luminosity component will remain, softening the edges to the certain amount. This results in a visually lower acutance perception.
Of course, both lenses are fantastic tools and it will certainly depend 100x more on the image content, light and composition, which image would look better if directly compared, than on a little more CA or marginally shallower DOF. The best advise I can usually give is – buy the new lens when you feel that your current equipment limits you in some particular way. Otherwise, invest instead in the learning, traveling, software eduction or arranged photography, that will result in more notable improvement of the photography itself.
Enjoy your B85 and have a great day,
Simply an amazing review and the most comprehensive one that I’ve seen on this new lens by Zeiss. Thank you for the tremendous effort it putting this together! For me personally, the need for this focal length is still up in the air. I use my Batis 85 for the majority of my portrait work, with support from the Sony Zeiss 35mm 1.4 and 55mm 1.8 as needed. Ideally I’d rent the Basis 135 for a photo session to see how I liked it first, so this may be an option. I like working close to my models and feel the 85mm is already pushing it for me, so we’ll see. But, your excellent review has given me the information I needed and this is greatly appreciated!
Thanks Robert and good luck with your purchase decission.
i have it, i love it, i can use it at F2.8 w/o any compromises.
what is described in terms of AF performance may be (partially) attributable to the AF-performance of the A7ii, which is lousy. (I had the A7ii, and now have the A7iii which is much better in AF-performance) Soon i will trial the 135mm Batis in sports scenes than i can speak even more facts based.
1 more thing: take a look at the MTF. This is not marketing blabla that you find from some other companies, it is typical values based on actual measurements => Excellent … and that’s pretty much what you get from this lens
… the poor resolution of the EVF and its poor color fidelity are much much more troublesome when trying to frame great images with this lens.
Also: with 135 mm it is for most of my telework a good choice. where i might need a 200 mm, i use cropping to get there.
I tried the Sigma 1.8/135 => Its DOF is super super thin … IMHO rarely useful. With the Zeiss Batis one gets a much better color rendering.
yes, this is objective and also subjective what i write.
long story short: I love it, also because i trust the Zeiss-branded built-quality much more than that of Sony. I can’t speak about Sigma yet, but i have set my eye on the F1.2/35mm Art series, tough not yet trialed that.
🙂 Who tries Zeiss once… This is an old post, but meanwhile, Sony put a great 135/1.8 GM and Sigma has that 1.8 as you said. You can always stop down f/1.8 lens to f/2.8, but here and there you might need shallower DOF. All that being said, Batis 135/2.8 is an excellent lens, but they all are these days. That’s one of the reasons (besides financial problems) why I stoped reviewing new cameras and lenses on a regular basis.
Honestly, it is all nitpicking and pixel peeping. We might find a few below-average lenses produced in the last decade, but we’ll have to look hard and with the new molding and coatings technologies and computer design development, pick any recent lens that you like and you won’t regret. Just my 2c, but enjoy Zeiss it’s a legend.