During February I was lucky enough to be given one of the new Zeiss Batis 135mm lenses to test before its release. (The only one in the country !)
There are a few drawbacks with a pre-release lens… the first being that you are told very little about it and all the lens markings are blacked out to try and stop information about the lens leaking out so my first job was to find out a bit about the lens.
I setup my camera on a tripod and using a bottle of wine and a tape measure I was able to work out the minimum focal distance. The easiest way of doing this is to move the camera closer to the subject until you get to the point where it will just focus. I then got out a tape measure and measured from the focal plane indicator on the top of the camera to the bottle of wine and found that it was 87cm. The lens I’ve been using most for my portraiture recently is the 85mm Zeiss Batis lens and that has a minimum focus distance of 80cm so it is not that different in that respect.
This is the Batis 135mm
This is the Batis 85mm
A 135mm lens is great for portraiture and the brief from Zeiss was to use it for my tattoo project that I’ve been working on. Quite a bit of this involves working in peoples homes and it does bring in to play the practicalities of trying to get the space in the image that you want in a confined space. Luckily a lot of the images that I’ve been after have been quite “tight” images so this worked really well.
One thing I have to say that really impressed me was the sharpness of the images. I’m used to the 85mm Batis being sharp but this took it to a whole new level and is similar to the sharpness that I was getting with the Otus range of lenses. (Please see the crop and full size image below)
The lens is a 2.8 lens and not a 1.8 or 1.4 as I know some people were hoping for. I can understand why; for a wider aperture you need physically bigger (and therefore heavier) pieces of glass in the lens. Not only does this mean the whole lens needs to be bigger and heavier but the costs involved in producing it also go up. When you consider the technology in a lens now with the image stabilisation, digital readout on the lens for your depth of field and the focus ring that has a very smooth action and doesn’t hit a “stop” at one end or another it would be easy to produce a lens that is way outside the bounds of what your target market can actually afford to buy….
Having the widest aperture at f2.8 still gives you a lovely soft background; even shooting at f11 the background looked beautifully soft so I don’t think this would present a problem in the real world and to be honest I’d much rather have a camera/lens combination that feels nicely balanced when I hold it ! With the high working ISO’s that the cameras can now use mixed in with both the in-camera and in-lens stabilisation having a wide aperture becomes slightly less important if all you needed it for was enough light (you may still choose to use it for artistic reasons).
The focus with the lens was fast and accurate and when I switched to manual focussing the focus ring was very smooth and easy to use. If you are using this lens for filming then you can have very smooth focus adjustments. The other thing I have noticed about both this lens and the 85mm when filming is that the on-camera audio doesn’t pick up the lens “chatter” in the same way that the Canon does with the 24-105mm lens in fact even when listening carefully you can’t hear the lens stabilisation working which does give you a far better audio recording to mix with.
The lens has now been released and is listed at £1,749 and the first ones should ship in May. I know that Zeiss have but more resource in to their manufacturing after the success of the Batis 85mm lens so hopefully there won’t be quite as many delays in getting hold of it.
Having an expanding range of third party lenses for the Sony A7 series of cameras is quite exciting and shows a level of commitment from the companies involved to Sonys FE mount, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes along next !
I will be putting more articles about my tattoo project on my blog over the next few weeks including the stories behind the tattoos (www.lisabeaney.co.uk)
(And if you are wondering I did have to send the lens back at the end of the month )