Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Lens Review

What is It?
The Zeiss Batis 25mm is an autofocus focus wide angle lens that can be used with any of the Sony mirrorless cameras (E or FE). As such you get a near 24mm on the A7 models, and a near 35mm (equivalent) on the A6xxx models. 

The Batis line is a slight departure for Zeiss, in that they’re modern-style autofocus lenses. When I say modern, I mean modern, right down to the OLED display for focus point (when in manual focus) and depth of field, something that Zeiss got to first, but is now starting to be copied by others.

The 25mm f/2 is reasonably small for its focal length/aperture combo. Nikon’s on 24mm f/1.8 is much bigger in all respects. The 25mm Batis is small enough to consider using on the smaller A6300 (crop sensor) camera, and it is very well balanced on the front of that camera. Not too big, not small on such bodies. As I noted with other Zeiss E-mount lenses: sort of a Goldilocks thing: just enough lens to put my hand under for support while shooting, not too much lens to poke way out in front of the camera.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. That’s a handling discussion. Still, this is a lens that immediately strikes you as appropriate for smaller mirrorless cameras. 

So what’s the actual size and weight? 3.6” (92mm) in length, 3.1” (78mm) in diameter, and 11.8 ounces (335g). 

Internally, the design features 10 elements in 8 groups, with quite a bit of special glass. For Zeiss, it’s a complex design, and a more modern one, even though it’s based on the Distagon designs of the past.

A 10-blade aperture diaphragm is controlled electronically; there is no aperture ring on the lens. 

Near the front of the marked aperture ring is an OLED display that tells you the approximate focus distance, plus near and far depth of field numbers. The DOF is calculated separately for APS (e.g. Sony A6300/6500) and full frame (e.g. A7 model) cameras.

Up front, we have a 67mm filter thread, and Zeiss supplies a petal shaped lens hood that bayonets onto the front of the lens. Lens length and front element position do not change during focus. 

Zeiss's page for the lens is here. The lens sells for US$ 1300 and is made in Japan.

This review is based on one sample borrowed from B&H.

bythom zeiss batis 25mm

How’s it Handle?
Short answer: too smooth. 

This is a fly-by-wire lens for manual focusing. First, the focus ring is a very smooth rubber, one that’s not particularly good for handling when your fingers (or it) are wet. 

Its not perfectly repeatable due to some hysteresis, but the focus ring turns from minimum to maximum distance is just over a half turn, and it does so quietly and extremely smoothly. At the two ends of focus distance, you can be moving the ring slightly and nothing seems to be changing in the OLED. That can be a little disconcerting at first as you can see clear focus changes on the camera’s LCD.

bythom batis oled

Thing is, focus indicators have never been absolutely perfect, and in the modern era of low dispersion glass, temperature has an impact on precise focus position, too. Thus, as you cycle up/down through the focus distances, don’t get too stuck on them. By the way, you can select meters or feet for the OLED display; only one shows at a time.

Personally, I’d like a little texture on the focus ring, and I’d like the OLED to show that I’ve moved the ring even if the data being calculated isn’t changing. But these are mostly nitpicks.

And yes, I know this next one will be probably the nitpick to end all nitpicks, but Zeiss seems insistent on doing this on the E-mount lenses…

The lens mount alignment mark on the Sony cameras and lenses is an easy to see white. Even in low light. The lens alignment mark on the 25mm Batis is a darkish "Zeiss blue", and somewhat difficult to see in the dark. 

So yes, another nitpick, but please make the alignment markers match the camera, Zeiss. If Zeiss were to follow the marketing logic of making things blue, there would be other blue markings on this lens. Other than the blue field behind the Zeiss logo and the blue lens alignment marker, there isn’t any other blue, not even the blue ring on some of the Loxia lenses. So here’s a thought, Zeiss: put a white alignment marker with a blue box behind it ;~).

Lest you get the wrong opinion, I don’t really have any major objections to the way this lens handles. I just wish that the ring had a bit more texture to it so as to be easier to use in cold/wet climate, and that the lens alignment marker was more visible. Not flaws for which I’d lower my evaluation of the lens on, at all.

How’s it Perform?
I was a little surprised at the Batis’ performance. It’s very well behaved. I say this because I used to use the old 25mm Zeiss manual focus lens on my Nikon DSLRs, and it had some clear anomalies. So whatever Zeiss did in adjusting the Distagon design into the modern era, it works.

Wide open the Batis is sharp, but not obnoxiously so (some very sharp lenses can create knifelike edge acuity that doesn’t always look right, especially on wide angle views). Excellent in the center and also excellent on the edges, with only the extreme corners showing anything meaningful in loss of sharpness. Stop down a bit, and I’d say that corner-to-corner nearly to the exceptional realm, something I rarely ever write about a lens. And that’s assessing the lens on a 42mp A7rII, which is a very revealing camera of lens quality. On the crop-sensor A6300 edge to edge is impressively excellent wide open. I doubt anyone’s going to be complaining about how well this lens resolves detail.

Lateral chromatic aberration is clearly present, but mostly correctable. This is the issue I remember with the Nikon mount 25mm Zeiss: clear CA on high contrast edges. I also found clear longitudinal chromatic aberration, which is very difficult to remove from images. Moreover, that longitudinal chromatic aberration doesn’t go away quickly. It’s still very obvious at f/4, which is surprising.

Linearity is a slightly mixed bag. While there’s not a lot of linear distortion, it’s not perfectly regular. It’s difficult to call it mustache-type distortion, as the changes aren’t dramatic. But even Zeiss’s own published charts show that most of the distortion comes just outside the APS image circle. So, for A6xxx users, I’d say the linear distortion is ignorable. For A7 users, you’ve got some barrel to the edges that you’ll probably want to correct. The in-camera tables do a good job of correcting this for JPEGs, by the way. 

Vignetting on an A7 body is clearly visible and needs correcting (maybe 1.5 stops worth), but stop down even to f/5.6 and it becomes mostly ignorable. For such a wide angle lens, the vignetting performance is decent, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t vignette ;~). Wide open without correction in raw files, you’ll absolutely see the corner falloff. 

Flare is clearly evident on light sources in the frame, though extremely modest in nature. None of the complex, multi-color rainbow stuff I see with some other wide angle lenses, but more of a simple repeating flare bubble.

Bokeh isn’t something you usually write about with wide angle lenses. But if you get close enough to your subject wide open, it might start to come into play. I’d call the bokeh busy. There’s clear onioning going on, and the outer edge of unfocused specular highlights carries with it the longitudinal chromatic aberration issue, so you get a ring. The good news is that the out-of-focus areas are regular; there’s not a lot of aberration and coma towards the edges that distorts the bokeh shapes, moreover, the aperture diaphragm seems more regular than the Nikkor’s I’ve been testing lately.

Overall, this lens is a winner. The sharpness and contrast are about as good as you’ll find in a wide angle prime, and the other attributes don’t really detract from that, though some will need corrections (either in camera for JPEGs, or post for raw).

Final Words
In a word: lovely. Just like the Loxia I reviewed earlier. High quality build, really smooth focus ring (in both respects), highly visible and mostly useful DOF markings when in manual focus, good integration with the camera’s smarts (automatic magnification on focus), and some really great optical characteristics. All in a modest, easy to transport package. Why would I not like this lens?

Well, the kicker for many would be price. It’s not inexpensive for a ~24mm prime with a modest aperture. Indeed, it can be called slightly expensive. There, I said it (actually, I wrote it). So once again you really have to want a lens like this to opt for it. 

The good news is that if you want an autofocus 25mm lens that covers the full frame of the A7 cameras and delivers performance that looks good even at 42mp, then you’ve found a candidate lens in this Batis. This is a good companion to the Sony A7rII for when you want to go wide and tightly control focus yourself. I suspect that street and landscape photographers will be the ones that most respond to this lens.

I certainly can recommend it, though at the price I really want more texture on the focus ring than the Batis 25mm gives me and I’d really like to see less chromatic aberration. As usual with Zeiss, there’s a punch to the images produced with this lens that you often don’t see using zooms and lower-priced optics. And that punch is what a lot of you are looking for: better edge acuity coupled with a bit more overall scene contrast makes great images look greater.

Recommended (2016 to 2018)

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