Review: Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis (Sony E Mount, Full Frame)

One of the lenses that the Sony FE system has been lacking for a while is a proper 135mm lens offering; but today Zeiss is solving that with the Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis offering. Like many of the other Batis lenses out there, it’s a lens that is characterized with an almost clinically smooth body, weather sealing and the company’s very unconventional LCD info screen on top of the lens. It’s truly designed from the ground up for digital. Being a 135mm focal length, it’s going to surely find itself in the hands of portrait and headshot photographers who shoot with Sony cameras. In fact, along with the Sony 85mm f1.8 and G Master lens offerings, I consider the 135mm f2.8 to be a nearly perfect portrait lens offering.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Very sharp
  • Nice colors for those of you who love the more saturated look
  • Good feel to the lens overall
  • Weather sealing
  • Fast focusing on all Sony a7 camera bodies no matter the generation

Cons

  • I would’ve like something faster than f2.8.

Gear Used

For this review, we tested the Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis on the Sony a7, Sony a7r II, and used the Impact Venture TLL monolight along with the Adorama Flashpoint Zoom Lion Flash.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Zeiss technical data sheet.

Ergonomics

When you look at the Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis lens, you surely can tell that it’s something from the company. Ever since they brought out the Touit series, all of their external lens designs with the exception of the Loxia linup have been defined by a few characteristics.

I mean, look at it! There’s metal for the body that’s nice, smooth and brushed. Then in the middle of it all is this giant rubber ring designed to control the manual focus operation. For years, I’ve wished that Zeiss would make this more textured and this time around it still isn’t. Turning the lens ring in the rain wouldn’t be as tough then. That’s not to say that it’s particularly difficult, but it’s not as simple as the Loxia offerings.

Like all other Zeiss Batis lens offerings, the Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis has an LCD screen on top of it that displays information to the user who is working in the dark with something like a tripod. Though for a telephoto option like this, I’d argue that it isn’t really needed.

Build Quality

The Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis lens has weather sealing built into it. In fact, I’m pretty positive that the sealing is probably better than the Sony cameras that it’s designed to be on.

Ease of Use

Zone focusing with this lens is pretty useless considering that it’s such a long telephoto focal length. Instead, it’s designed to really utilize the autofocus system in the camera or the focus peaking that can be used. With that also said, I’m still not quite sure why this option has an LCD screen on top of it. Maybe for video use? Either way, the Sony system has a lot of control and information that it can display with ease.

Autofocus

Now here’s one of the most wonderful things about this 135mm lens offering. Of any 135mm lens offering that I’ve used, the Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis lens is perhaps the fastest to autofocus and nail its subject with total accuracy. It’s outstanding and this lens’s autofocus even finds a way to breathe new life into the older Sony a7–a camera which is pretty darned old at this point.

In lower lit situations, both the Sony a7 and Sony a7r II started to suffer a bit; but less so with the newer camera. In a studio setting, believe me: you’re going to want to have the modelling lamp on from your strobe.

However, my concern is accuracy. Hear me out: this is a long telephoto lens with a shallow aperture. By the time the lens focuses on your subject, camera shake will probably throw off the focusing just a bit. Sometimes you’re best off using it with a tripod, monopod or some other stabilization solution. For the best results I recommend using Sony’s eye focus option. Granted this lens has a bit of it, but it can still be tough.

Image Quality

Lots of the images in this review were shot using my newer methods of exposing and shooting: they all involve locking the camera to either daylight (5500k) or tungsten (3200k) white balance. Sometimes I shoot with a flash, and sometimes I opt for natural light. My overall feeling about the image quality though is really high. Zeiss lenses are some of the few that have a very nice character to them–with the other brands who do this being Meyer-Optik, Lomography and Lensbaby. The image quality doesn’t really feel sterile or very clinical. Instead, it feels organic. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve always liked Zeiss’s lens offerings.

As I’ve also stated many times before, I’m working in Capture One these days vs Lightroom. And I get better colors for what it’s worth.

Bokeh

Considering that this is an f2.8 lens and a long telephoto lens, it’s going to have beautiful bokeh. Plus it can focus very closely so no need to worry about that. Still though, I have to consider that maybe if this lens were f1.8 or f2, it would have had better bokeh overall. At f2.8, I would’ve liked at least image stabilization built in to work with Sony’s cameras, but you’ve got a fair amount of stabilization coming from the sensor. Correction, this lens has stabilization.

So basically, as long as you’re not injecting caffeine directly into your veins, you’re going to be okay.

Chromatic Aberration

For years now, Zeiss has been able to keep chromatic aberration a major minimum. And in my review test period, I didn’t find anything that would make me complain non-stop.

Color Rendition

Here’s one of my favorite characteristics of the Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis: the colors. I’m more of a guy to opt for Kodak Portra or CineStill when it comes to my colors; but this looks a bit like Kodak Ektar. It’s nice and saturated but it doesn’t make skin tones look awful. I thoroughly enjoy the colors from this lens and that helps to add to its character.

Sharpness

As with all lenses, you’re going to get the absolute best sharpness from it when you use it with a flash. This is no exception. As you can tell in many of these studio photos, the sharpness is surely there. Even in natural light the sharpness is impressive. But considering lots of headshot and portrait photographers are going to use this lens on a location or in a studio while making this own lighting scenarios, there’s a lot to love here.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Image quality
  • Weather sealing

Dislikes

  • Needed image stabilization or to have a faster aperture Correction, it has it.

I’m going to start off by inputting absolute facts before opinions here. The Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis is a fantastic lens with great image quality, superb autofocus abilities, weather sealing and manages to somehow or another stay pretty compact overall. It absolutely deserves the Editor’s Choice award on this site. It’s fantastic in so many ways and in the hands of the professional headshot or portrait photographer, it will absolutely rock. In the studio is where its image quality will shine the most. Then when you want to take it out onto a location, you can rely on its great weather sealing. Zeiss should consider adding more texture to their lens bodies and the focusing ring to give it better gripping abilities in otherwise sweaty palms. I never dropped the lens when using it, but I can see how an assistant might.

For what this lens is, it’s’ absolutely incredible.

In my very personal opinion, I genuinely love the fact that Zeiss is delivering a lens to us that still has character to it. That’s one of the biggest things that sets them apart from Sigma–the other big player here. Even with Sony’s lenses, I feel a lot of them are very clinical and there isn’t a whole lot of character here. Though I’d honestly like even more character. This lens doesn’t flare as well as the Milvus options and that’s really what I want and love. I’d also love different bokeh–it doesn’t need to be so incredibly smooth when the sharpness and micro contrast is this high, especially for a telephoto lens option.

Still though, I have to hand Zeiss my respect on this lens; it’s simply perfection in many ways.

The Zeiss 135mm f2.8 Batis lens receives five out of five stars and our Editor’s Choice award.