While ZEISS has developed and co-branded a series of great lenses with Sony (like the Sonnar 55mm f1.8, the Distagon 35mm f1.4 and the Vario-Tessar 16-35 f4), the Batis line, introduced in April 2015, are the first full-frame autofocus lenses built especially for Sony E-Mount full-frame cameras yet exclusively developed and distributed by ZEISS.
Basically what this means is that while Sony/ZEISS lenses are developed completely by ZEISS, they can only be distributed by Sony, while the Batis line, while also completely developed by ZEISS, is distributed by ZEISS itself. In a nutshell, same great lenses. Different methods of distribution. (UPDATE: The above information was provided by the Zeiss distributor here but It was pointed out to me by reader MetAlbertR that the Sony Zeiss lenses are developed by Sony and Carl Zeiss together and then the manufacturing takes place in Sony facilities according to Carl Zeiss specifications. I have checked with Sony Singapore and they have indeed confirmed this to be the case. Apologies for the misinformation and thanks MetAlbertR for pointing that out!)
Now these aren't the first lenses out for the Sony α Series, that distinction goes to the Loxia series (though technically, the Touit lenses can be used on the E-mount but are made for APS-C format cameras). I've rambled on long enough about all that so let's get to the meat of this article, namely a quick review of the Bastis lenses!
The first thing you notice when you take the lenses out of the box is how nondescript they are. The design is minimalist with just one ring for focusing and a small window with an OLED display that lights up when the lens is mounted on a camera and the camera is powered up. The window shows the focusing distance of the lens as well as the depth of field at any given aperture and distance. It may sound gimmicky, but it's actually a fantastic tool for street photographers who want gauge their focus areas and who don't know how to use hyperfocal distance on manual lenses.
The attention to details are amazing though, the metal body feels solid in hand, but isn't excessively heavy and the lens hoods are probably the best designed ever. They meld in so well with the body that they look like part of the design instead of an unwieldy attachment.
A rubberised focus ring is the only moving part of the lens, and while it turns smoothly, I can nit-pick and say that it's situated a little too far back on the lens and too close to the camera body. Maybe I'm too used to focus rings being near the front of lenses, but there were times when I wanted to manual focus or override focus and reached to turn the ring only to realise it was not where I expected it to be.
The lenses are supposed to be weather and dust sealed but I didn't get the chance to test those claims out.
Let's get the technical bits out of the way shall we? The 25mm f2 has ten lens elements in eight groups and uses the Distagon optical design. It has a minimum focusing distance of 20cm and has very good sharpness to the frame edges.
I had the pleasure of attending a wedding of two of my friends and former colleagues at the Straits Times, 2014 Icon de Martell Cordon Bleu winner Neo Xiaobin and her equally talented husband Kevin Lim. I also visited the Superhero Me exhibition at the National Library so the pictures that you see will be mostly from these two places. All pictures were shot on the Sony A7II.
Sorry for the deluge of pictures but I think less talk and more show tends to work better. When I started photography, the only lens I could afford was a 24mm f2.8, and so I ended up shooting almost everything with that for the first two years of my photographic life. Using the 2/25 is like a homecoming for me. The lens is quick to focus, and while it may look a tad big on the A7II, it's comfortable to hold and makes shooting a breeze. Bokeh (ahhh the "B" Word!) is actually not that shallow because of the wideness of the focal length, but you get some nice shallow depth of field when the subject is close to the camera. What can I say? I'm sold!
I shot a lot less with this lens, just because it wasn't a portrait oriented sort of weekend. As most of you know, the 85mm focal length is ideal for portraiture. It compresses facial features nicely and gives a nice fall off to the background. The Batis 85mm f1.8 has all the hallmarks of a great portrait lens. I've always preferred the f1.8 versions of 85mm lenses as the 1.4 versions tend to be too shallow to be of much use. The 1.8/85 is fast to focus and easy to work with. Despite the bulk, the lens looks streamlined (in part to the earlier mentioned lens hood) and it isn't going to give you any sort of workout with it's light weight. The 1.8/85 has 11 elements in eight groups and uses the ZEISS Sonnar design. Unlike the 2/25, it comes with Optical Image Stabilization.
A couple of days isn't enough time for me to give a comprehensive review of the lens, but then again, I never test lenses or pixel peep and prefer to just take them out at shoot them in real world scenarios. The time I did spend with them have convinced me to make them a part of my collection though. While zooms may be useful, primes are always going to be better and more importantly, primes make a photographer think more and be less lazy. The Batis line is kicking off ZEISS' foray into the α Series market in a big way and are a great addition to the ZEISS/Sony co-branded offerings that are already out there. You can be sure there will be no duplication of the product line between ZEISS and ZEISS/Sony which will only end up with the consumers benefiting from an even greater selection of quality lenses.
Shriro has informed me that the lenses will go on sale from the 15th of July 2015 in Singapore (barring any delayed shipments) and will be available in limited quantities at Cathay Photo, TK Foto and Alan Photo. Prices have not been finalised but I will update this post with the price as soon as they are made available.