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.
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!
To help this page survive, your donation will be highly appreciated.
I would like to thank all of you who were, are and will support verybiglobo.com, with financial contribution or just with encouraging messages. You can now also support our new model Sara if you fell more comfortable with it – http://www.verybiglobo.com/meet-our-new-model-sara/
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 :-).
If you would like to join us and write reviews for verybiglobo, please send me a short note using contact tab in the header.
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.