Carl ZEISS Batis 85mm F/1.8 Lens Review

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About Kenneth Hines Jr

Known for his signature vibrant color and deep contrast images, Kenneth shares his photographic adventures from across the country daily with his audience of over 45,000. Kenneth is a Sony Alpha Imaging Collective Ambassador & ZEISS Camera Lenses expert from Atlanta, Georgia, based in New York City, Atlanta & Chicago. His work has been featured on television and in numerous magazines, such as Celebrity Bride Guide, Brides and Life & Style Weekly. He oversees his online community Professor Hines' Choice, which is dedicated to teaching and inspiring people through his content dedicated to the Sony Alpha camera system.

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THE BATIS 85 IS FINALLY MINE!!!! Oh I’m sorry, was I a bit too excited over a lens? My apologies to my fine online community. =)

Back in April I finally had the chance to use the ZEISS Batis 1.8/85mm out in the field, during one of my Engagement sessions and a few weeks later I bought the lens! This has been a lens I’ve been waiting to add to my collection and makes for my fifth ZEISS lens (See my full gear list here).

This review is going to add a few things I normally don’t add in my reviews, but I really wanted to pack this one with as much info as I could possibly share. Since buying this I’ve had many questions about this one, especially in comparison to the Sony FE 1.8/85mm lens. Hopefully this answers all of those questions and also gives you some new insight to this lens as well.

ZEISS Batis 85mm Specs & Images
– Sony E-Mount (FE – Full Frame lens)
– SONNAR Optical Lens Design
– Aperture Range: f/1.8-f/22
– ZEISS T* Anti-Reflective Coating
– 67mm Diameter Filter Thread
– OLED Display for Focus Distance/DoF
– Metal Construction with Dust & Weather Seals
– 29 degrees – Angle of View
– 2.62′ inches (80cm) Minimum Focus Distance
– Optical Steady Shot
– Auto Focus
– 1.05lb (475g) – Weight

Typically an 85mm lens is seen as a “portrait” lens, but it can be used for far more than just portraits! You’ll find a variety of images I’ve used this lens for so far and continue to find various uses for it.

For all of my people photos it’s certainly been my best choice, with the sharpness and color this lens produces it’s just an overall winner. I even love this lens more than my widely used ZEISS FE 1.8/55mm SONNAR, which is an exceptional lens!

Something to note is that this lens is a Full Frame (FE) lens for Sony’s Mirrorless E-Mount cameras, but it can be used on the cropped APS-C cameras, which will give you a 35mm equivalent focal range of 127.5mm.

What I think about the ZEISS Batis 85mm
INCREDIBLE, AMAZING, PHENOMENAL!! What other adjectives would you like for me to say to describe it??

I’ve used well over 40 or so lenses in my career now and this now takes the crown of being the best one I’ve used. Optically this lens produces some of the sharpest images I’ve ever taken and produces such amazing color from it. From the images throughout this review you’ll see the huge 3D like effect, that is common to ZEISS lenses and is very apparent when viewing images from this lens. Even clients who may not have any clue into photography have even said their images look 3D.

I’ve been a fan of the SONNAR lens design from ZEISS and this is the best SONNAR I’ve used from them. With it’s edge-to-edge sharpness, with even exceptional quality wide open (which I use the most) I’m able to not have a worry in the world about getting the perfect shot and missing the perfect shot.

This is the first Batis lens that I’ve owned, but it’s not the first one that I’ve used (first being the ZEISS Batis 2/25mm). This line of lenses has been considered the lenses that are the AF versions of the ZEISS Otus lenses. I must say the image quality is indeed incredible from the Batis. I’ve gotten the chance to use ZEISS Otus as well and they most certainly are some of the best lenses you can get on the market (these lenses however are for Canon & Nikon mounts and you must use an adapter and are manual lenses only).

Some dislike this lens because it isn’t an aperture of f/1.4 and many will choose the Sony FE 1.4/85mm G Master lens instead. I’ve used both lenses and they’re both phenomenal! Even at f/1.8 I still prefer the ZEISS.

What is the ZEISS Batis 85mm good for capturing?
You’d think that with such a longer focal length that the 85mm may not be as versatile as other primes like the 35 or 50mm lenses, but you’d be surprised on what you can capture with this lens. Below I’ve listed just a few of the things I’ve used this lens for (which you’ll also see from all of the sample images in this review) and how my experience in those different genre’s were:

1. Weddings – This lens is an excellent focusing lens, with the reach you may want for not being noticed during a Wedding but having those close up images of a couple at the alter or great images of the couple for those really creative after shots. Of the 5 ZEISS lenses I use for Weddings this is my go to lens to use with the Sony Alpha a7s and Alpha 9 especially, for the speed of the Alpha 9 and the pairing of an incredibly fast and sharp lens with excellent reproduction.

2. Street – You wouldn’t think of this as a first choice for Street photography but it was my go to lens during my exploration with the new Sony Alpha 9 in Chicago. You do have to think more creatively and carefully about your images, but once you figure out the distance needed for your composition this becomes a favorite very quickly!

3. Landscapes/Cityscapes – When you’re at a great distance from a skyline or mountain range this can be a very solid choice. You will have to think a bit about your composition, because where you have far more in the frame with a 16-35mm or 55mm lens this lens will certainly be a tight crop. Don’t reconsider using this, because you’ll be amazed at what you may be able to capture with this tighter frame.

4. Fashion/Lifestyle Portraits – Stellar! You will absolutely love the color and sharpness you get with people images. Paired with the Sony Alpha 9 is an even sweeter treat, as you really get to see how well this lens is at tracking/focusing.

5. Worship – The f/1.8 aperture is great for a lens used for Worship and having that distance means you’re able to be a ways away from the stage while being able to capture some amazing and creative shots with this lens. If you capture a Worship experience that is a concert style of Worship then you’ll fall in love with this lens!

These are many of the things I’ve been able to capture with this lens and still find myself capturing new things with this range. It’s more flexible than one may think, but once you set your mind to using it without switching lenses you’ll find your way through in the greatness you can obtain with it!

What makes the ZEISS Batis 85mm great?
> Focus – This had to be my first bullet point. This lenses focusing is so precise in AF mode that it makes this the best prime lens in my bag. Compared with my ZEISS FE 1.8/55mm Sonnar this lens excels well above that one. That lens usually has the tendency to miss focus occasionally, but I’ve not had that with this lens. It’s extremely great at Focus Tracking as well, something I use far often with lens than any other lens.

> OLED Display – This is a very unique feature for a lens. This display is used for showing electronically your focus distance and the depth of field, which is quite cool if you choose to manually focus your lens.

> Image Quality – It’s everything and then some! With the Sonnar design, you know you’re going to have amazing quality in sharpness, contrast and color vibrancy.

> Build – You’re getting an all metal design lens that’s weather sealed, making this a great lens to have out in the elements.

> Color – You’re always certain to obtain great colored images with any ZEISS lens and this is no exception to that. Many say ZEISS lenses have like a 3D looking effect to them and you certainly do feel that way with this lens and the poppy colors it offers.

> T* Coating – ZEISS lenses are popular for this coating, which reduces lens flare drastically and enhances overall performance of the lens. Whether it’s a filter or lens with this coating you’ll notice the difference from having it vs a lens or filter that doesn’t.

> Optical Steady Shot (OSS) – This lens comes with OSS in the lens, which if you’re like me with an older generation Sony Alpha 7 camera then this is a welcome thing to have, especially in low light usage when hand-held usage may be your only option.

> Bokeh – It may only be a f/1.8 aperture lens, but the bokeh from this lens is absolutely beautiful and buttery smooth! You can certainly see that from a couple of the images included in this review. Photographing wide open is the highlight of using this ZEISS Batis.

Why the ZEISS Batis 1.8/85mm over Sony 1.8/85mm?
This has been a HUGE question and a big debate online, especially since I purchased this lens. I’m going to put to bed why the ZEISS for me was my choice and not the Sony lens.

1. Color – For most the notion is that this isn’t important, as this can be adjusted in Photoshop. I give clients photos straight from the camera after most of my projects so I want the best image right from the start. The ZEISS images have a much more vibrant reproduction than the Sony lens, which comes off a bit more neutral. ZEISS Sonnar lenses also provide high contrast with deeper colors and that’s very evident to me in my photos (reason all of my primes are Sonnar’s). I rather spend more to have what comes straight from the camera be perfect than to pay less and have to work on my photos every time on the computer, which adds up over time.

2. Weather Sealing – I recently did a Fashion shoot in a severe thunderstorm (images from that shoot are in this review) and I needed gear that could be used in the rain. The ZEISS wins here, as the Sony is not weather sealed. This is a huge deal, as I’m an on location Fashion photographer and as that day when I did that shoot was totally unexpected I needed to be prepared for anything and in this case a storm caught us off guard, but it did not stop us from shooting.

3. Optical Steady Shot – I still use an older generation Sony a7, so this for me is important. On the newer Sony cameras this may not be a big deal, as all the bodies have IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization). Even on the newer cameras having the lens with OSS can improve your low light shooting conditions even further.

There’s a $600 difference between these, but cost wasn’t an issue for me. I wanted the best regardless of cost.

For now, these are my reasons for choosing the Batis. For most these reasons don’t matter and in which case the Sony FE 1.8/85mm would be a perfect budget friendly choice. If those reasons weren’t important to me, would I still buy the ZEISS? I don’t know, but I do know I always had to have an ALL ZEISS Lens lineup, so I probably would still save like krazi to own the ZEISS. I always want the best. It’s the same as what my clients want from me as well.

It’s the same as if you went to a 5 star hotel and instead of sleeping on 800 thread count sheets they had 200 thread count. You’d be upset right? For the money you’re paying you expect everything in that hotel to be the best. That’s no different than a client hiring you who’s wanting the best. You should be showing up with the best possible. It’s not to say the Sony isn’t the best… but there are other options out there that offer even greater, so if you can do it get it! Of course, this is my own opinion/viewpoint. Everyone’s situation is different.

Why the ZEISS Batis 1.8/85mm over Sony 1.4/85mm G Master?
I wasn’t originally going to add a comparison of these two in this review, but I’m certain I’ll get questions on this as well.

1. Optical Steady Shot – (See above in the Sony FE 1.8/85mm segment for 1st reason). Second reason is a lens that’s priced higher should have this, even if it needs or not. The ZEISS Batis does so the Sony one should too, considering it’s much bigger and heavier and balancing would be harder with it and this helps combat that. Again, if you’re using a newer Sony camera then maybe not so much, but at the price I’d like to see that regardless.

2. Reliability – I’ve used this lens three times now (Sony 1.4/85mm G Master) and of those times I’ve had one lens have a focusing issue. This is something I’ve had trouble with on other Sony lenses in my 9 years with Sony. They’ve vastly improved over the years, but ZEISS has greater experience in this (over 170 years experience) and I’ve never had a problem with a single ZEISS lens (be it ZEISS alone or a Sony/ZEISS partnered lens). I have to have reliable gear and ZEISS has always been my best choice.

3. Color/Richness – Optically these lenses are both STELLAR! The ZEISS wins still, because of the overall richness in color and image contrast, providing that unique 3D pop ZEISS is known for, especially with the SONNAR lens design. It’s a trait that if you’ve shot a ZEISS you know exactly that kind of look I’m talking about!

4. Size – I switched to mirrorless to have lighter gear, so the large and heavier size of the Sony G Master just is a bit too much for me. For others this isn’t a big deal, but if I wanted big hefty lenses then I would have stayed with my Sony A-Mount cameras and lenses. I have no problem with f/1.8, if I can have a smaller lens. The bokeh from this lens is still buttery smooth! Trust me, ZEISS knows what they’re doing and they make incredible glass no matter what and I don’t feel like the trade-off of the Sony G Master’s f/1.4 aperture is anything to gripe about. The f/1.4 looks nice from that lens, but the f/1.8 with the famous ZEISS quality is what I like most.

Between these two lenses there’s also a $600 difference, but price wasn’t a concern for me. I wanted the best I could get for my work and I was willing to spend the money to obtain it. In this case the ZEISS Batis, which is the cheapest of the two was my choice. It’s the “in-between” lens of both of the Sony’s, but it suits me and my needs in all regardless and I’m quite happy with my choice.

Conclusion: Who is/isn’t this for?
Anyone who wants a lens without compromises then this is a solid choice! It’s one of the best 85mm lenses for the Sony E-mount and one that’s sure to be a lens used regularly. It’s an amazing lens, what more can I say about it? The photos here I think speak for themselves about what you’re going to get if you purchase this lens.

If budget is a priority for you, but you still want a fantastic lens that provides quality results close to this lens then I don’t think you’d have any problems with going for the Sony FE 1.8/85mm lens.

If you just have to have an f/1.4 lens as well then I’d recommend the Sony FE 1.4/85mm G Master. If you’re one who prefers manual focusing then the ZEISS Otus 1.4/85mm ZF/ZE lens is my number one choice (be mindful these are Canon & Nikon mounted and you’d need an adapter to use this lens). The Otus lens is quite more expensive, but the quality you’ll get from it is well worth the price!

More Photos
All images featured in this review were photographed with the Sony A7, Sony A7s, Sony A7r II and Sony a9. All images have also been post processed from their RAW files, using Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

 


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