A quick rummage around Google will return polarising opinions on the Zeiss Batis 135mm, so I thought I’d put together a quick piece on why I decided this lens was a must have for me.
(Technical reviews are readily available, so I promise this won't be another one.)
The 135 Batis is a hardy full-frame lens developed and built specifically for Sony E-mounts. Its weather sealing makes big promises for enduring conditions and it comes with in-built stabilisation and a time-honoured Zeiss APO Sonnar optical design.
The opponents to this lens are vocal about its cost and relative value with a maximum aperture of ‘only’ f2.8. And they’re right in doing so, the 135mm prime lens is a classic portrait led fixed focal length. Photographers buy 135mm prime lenses for their beautifully shallow DoF and bokeh, and most other comparable 135’s come in cheaper than the Batis and usually at f1.8 or f2.0.
Here’s the plot twist. I’m not a portrait photographer, well not really. Since moving away from Nikon and my trusted 70-200 VRll in 2016, my longest E-Mount lens has been the Sony 85mm f1.8. It’s good but it’s left a big gap in my arsenal.
As a landscape photographer, I needed more reach but with the best image quality available in the lightest package possible (after all, weight is one of the main reasons for choosing mirrorless). I also needed a longer lens that could informally cross over for casual portraits of the kids out and about.
A summary of my requirements
1. More reach
2. Image Quality
3. Low weight / bulk
4. Casual portraits
5. Auto-focus (for candid shots when the kids are playing)
Reach, quality and weight
Being ‘only’ an f2.8 doesn’t position the Batis strongly against its 135mm portrait competitors, however it does make it much lighter. As a landscape photographer this is ideal, especially when the majority of my landscape shots will be taken on a tripod between f5.6 – f11.
Prime lenses are optimised to deliver the ultimate image quality at that focal length and here I have a 135mm prime lens without the weight of a 135mm prime lens. That’s requirement number 1, 2 and 3 taken care of, perfectly and without compromise.
Zoom zoom zoom
I needed more reach and I wanted to get it with a native E-mount lens. The obvious contender to the 135mm Batis was the Sony 70-200 f2.8 G Master. I would have loved the zoom but at 1480g it was over twice the weight of the 614g Batis.
What’s more, when it comes to image quality (my second most important requirement) the Batis is simply untouchable. I promised not to make this a technical review, so I’ll stop short at describing the image quality of the Batis as nothing short of spectacular.
As a portrait lens
The interweb forums exploded into frustration when a 135 of this price-point was announced with a maximum aperture of just f2.8. The complaint that many had - at f2.8, the lens couldn’t dissolve backgrounds as well as other f1.8 or f2.0 135’s. To some degree, this is true, but the question to be asked is, does it dissolve them enough?
For me, absolutely. Remember, portraiture only ranked as my fourth most important requirement. None-the-less, for my needs, it over delivers with beautifully well controlled and smooth bokeh, characteristic of its timeless Sonnar design.
The focus on the Batis isn’t terribly slow, but it’s also not terribly accurate. It does the job, for me, but if I were buying it for use at events and weddings, I’d certainly be placing a little more emphasis on this point. The lens also focuses by wire. Some loathe this technical approach, but I don’t mind its unique and smooth tactile feel.
As with the other Batis lenses, this lens also features a very slick OLED distance display. It’s a cool party trick and earns the lens some extra swagger points. Surprisingly, I've already found myself using it - so it might earn some practical points as well.
There’s no denying that this isn’t a cheap lens, but it is a classic lens for true lovers of ultra-high quality fixed focal lengths.
As a landscape photographer, it meets every need I have and it does so with more image quality than I have possibly ever achieved from any lens before it.