ZEISS Batis: Final words
How should I start? Well, first of all: I have had some really great time. I have experienced many great moments. I have done something I have planned for a long time. I have encountered something special. I have felt myself more passionate than I have been for a long time. Just like you do in that certain moment.
Hmmm…what I am talking about? I should be writing some highly descriptive post about two optical devices which should be just pure perfection in quality wise. Yes, I know. I still decided to select another path. No, don’t worry. Just continue reading and you will find some evaluation of the technical side also.
Before that I would like to speculate a bit what the ZEISS statement “New Pro Era” actually means. You know, some thoughts about the “new”, “pro” and “era”.
Let’s first stick in to the meaning of “pro”. What you think the camera lens for professionals means to you? Quality? Yes, definitely! Extraordinary and super special bokeh? Well, maybe. Some special atmosphere? Hmmm…. In the last one we are getting close to the essentials. What a normal photographer typically does? Selects his/her gear based on the budget and shoots with what is in his/her bag. What is the result? Most often the project ends to the furious post-production work to cover the deficiencies of the lens, camera or photographer. It might be lot of noise reduction, distortion, vigneting, white balance, chromatic aberration etc… This all might ofourse lead to new and interesting hobby but it might end up to huge frustration. Hours and hours in the Photoshop and results are still not even close the the atmosphere the photographer saw in the moment of shot or was going to catch in to the photo.
How about a pro? Well. Typically in the cinematography the professional selects the best tools for certain project. There is a specific mood or look set as a goal. This all is done with the lens. (BTW: Most often they pick ARRI/ZEISS lenses…). This same applies to many photographers also, but typically the mood is done with other artifices. The RAW photo is nowadays only a starting point.
If you think about the traditional four corner stones of the photography, there are many other important elements too: The content, visuality, technique and the optics. Especially now when the world starts to be full of technically perfect photos there will soon be the time other parts are coming more important. We have started to ask for more special visual effect and I hope the crowd starts to demand more idea to the content also.
Anyway. Back to the topic. Typically the professional photographer has high technical skills. I mean that he/she has knowledge and experience about how to shoot a great photo. How to use depth of field, shutter speed etc. to get to the intended result. Sport photographer knows how to stop the movement, or how to make it look faster. A wedding photographer knows how to get perfect photos in the poor lightning conditions. There are needed lot of technical skills, absolutely.
A pro has also high sense of composition. What works, what looks good, how to break the boundaries of the Golden ratio. A photographer just typically see the world in a bit different way, pays attention to the details others do not even see.
The content is a bad one. It depends so much about the photographer. And the viewer of the photograph. Some great photojournalists definitely has a much higher sense for a good content, also many portrait photographers are able to catch the soul of the object. In many cases a photo is…just a beautiful picture. And that’s alright. Beauty is one core function of the art and design, and photography is part of these. But. The content is still sometimes challenging. That is something which comes directly from the heart and brains of a photographer.
How about the fourth one, the optics? Well, there can be (And has already been) many great photos with great content and atmosphere but technically they are garbage. Blurred, low resolution photo with not-so-perfect histogram might still be a piece of art. Nowadays we are still more and more requiring technically perfect photos. Sharp, high contrast and colorful photos just bounce out from the mass better. Here is where we get also back to ZEISS Batis lenses.
Here is my statement: A professional lens is an enabler for all visions the photographer has. It does not limit anything, it does not cause any constrains for an artist. Like they say in the usability science: The best tool is invisible. It is there but you don’t need to think about it all the time. Yes. It just performs. Day after day, photo after photo. When you have all the elements in place you should be able to do anything you want and just express yourself as you want. Technology should not limit you or change the result.
You know, this is actually also my experience about the Batis lenses. I have been seeking for a great enough photos to my gallery for some time. I have tested many lenses and found some good ones. Sort of almost-there-lenses. They have done almost all what I have asked for but not 100 %. It has ofcourse been also up to me that we have not been able to achieve the high-minded objectives I have had. Some of these lenses, like the Samyang 100 mm macro or ZEISS Loxia, have also raised my bar. They have taught me something. Still, the final chemistry have been missing. They have not whipped better performance out of me.
Batis did it. I had an remarkable experience when I decided to make a trip I had planned long time. It was only a short, one hour drive, but it was 9 o’clock PM and I was tired. Still I decided to go, just because of the weather was clearing out after long period of rain. So I drove to the coast. I knew a good place for some seascapes, just plain rocks and open sea. I took a punch of photos and although the clouds came back I was able to shoot what I had planned. Long exposure photos with high waves washing coastline. I took also some city landscapes because of the Asian colleagues from the Facebook asked me to show some examples of the Batis 1.8/85 bokeh. Well, that is a challening one in the Finnish summer night because A) Our cities are small B) Summer nights are bright. No long trails and colorful light spots with nice bokeh like in Singapore or Qatar.
I drove back and ofcourse I had to open the Mac in the middle of the night and check those photos. When I saw couple of first photos I was…touched. Yes, I got very emotional. Why? No, not because I had created something. It was not up to me. The reason why I got almost tears in my eyes was the feeling of easiness. Yes, I was amazed about how perfext photos were straight from the camera. The atmosphere and quality Batis/Sony combination did was something over expectations. Just a bit opening shadows, in some places a bit taking highlights down (Just because I didn’t use ND filter). Just some minutes and there it was.
We need to remember that we all see things compared to our own context. We have our own experiences and everything we do we compared to that database. I just discussed with another photographer how it is difficult to see what the other see in some photo. We just look thinks from own our perceptive.
Still, I would say that this is what an professional photographer would expect. Photos which are high quality straight from the camera. No need for too much postproduction, no need to worry before hands. Just shoot and use. We need to remember also where professionals use their pictures. Some might shoot advertisement pictures which are also used in large scale prints. 3 m x 1,5 m canvas makes totally own challenge for the sharpness.
Optical quality. I would say there are no worries with Batis lenses. As I have already stated in previous posts, the micro contrast is high level. Photos with 2/25 are exceptionally sharp from corner to corner, thanks to some aspherical lens surfaces inside the lens. Also that one lens with “aspherical surface and special glass” must have something to do with this. You know, in the wide angle lens the light rays in the corners of photo are typically bended more, typically resulting some dispersion. Aspherical lens keeps this in control so not much chromatic aberration there. The optical resolution of both Batis lenses is high thanks to low diffraction also. Images are very very sharp and that makes it easy for a pro to print out also larger prints.
The Feel. I have also written about the feel/atmosphere side of these lenses. It is always a benefit if the lens has some own characteristics. In most cases it should be in control, so that it is possible to make out different kind of final results during the post production. Batis lenses has very nice 3D POP and colors, and I was also amazed how well they render the wet surface of rocks, or the softness of mist. Photos looks very realistic, not flat at all. Ofcourse the resolution helps also, every single detail makes the photo more and more realistic. I would still say that Batis lenses are sophisticted and subtle. They are not pushing too much their own special look (Which typically highlights some characteristics to hide deficiencies elsewhere). They just perform and that is what the pro really expects.
Autofocus. One big question mark in the beginning. I know that Sony a7 is not the best camera with autofocus. Still Batis lenses covered the camera well. There were asked from me whether the Batis 1.8/85 would be good for sport photography. I tested it with a7, with continuous AF and continuous shooting on and I succeeded with marathon runners. So I would say “partial yes”. That “partial” comes from the camera. If you want to shoot sports, pick some more advanced version of Sony Alphas, like A7S or A7II. They have the Lock On AF which will make sport shooting easy. Anyway, Batis AF is silent and precise, it is just up to the camera settings how well it works. More about configuring Sony focus system here.
Points of development? So, what I would then develop in Batis lenses? Hmmm…Typically I should complain about many things but I won’t. It is not constructive in my opinion. Instead I would give some proposals. First of all, we all know that the Batis design is something new. The OLED display, new construction etc.
First usability improvement I recommend for ZEISS is the OLED display depth-of-field indication. The challenge in there is that the place of information changes depending on the focus distance. In short distances the DOF numbers are in the right side of the focusing distance. They also display the deviation to the focal plane in meters (For example -o.03/+0.03 m). When you move the focus distance further, over 5 meters, the method of showing the DOF changes. Now it shows where the DOF starts in left, (For example 4,8 m) and where it ends in right (5,1 meters). In the middle there is the distance to the actual focal plane (5 meters in this example). Based on the good rules of usability the method of showing the same information should not vary too much. So, this is not the most perfect way and it requires a bit learning.
Other point in the DOF display is that actually the Batis optical design makes the effective DOF longer than the display shows. It is not a error, I think it is measured exactly in the display, but as I wrote already earlier the distance where the effective focus range slides to the unsharpess (Over the actual depth of field) is so long that the DOF feels much longer. In other words the acceptably sharp part of the focus range is longer than the 100% sharp part. Well, it just makes the photography easier. It gives a bit more confidence on shooting.
I think the most important reason why the display is there is that it replaces the challenging-to-manufacture mechanical parts of aperture ring. You see, there are no other mechanical parts than the focus ring in the lens. That is also electronical so the movement of the focus ring is transformed to the electronical pulses. That means that it is cheaper to make a quality lens. (This is probably the most important ZEISS innovation in Batis series). This is also the “new era” part in ZEISS statement.
I understand the logic really well because this is the point which makes the professional level lens reachable for most of us. Still, sometimes I would like to have the stabilizer control in the side of lens in the 1.8/85. Ofcourse you can configure SteadyShot to the function menu but anyway. When you shoot using the tripod switching the stabilizer off secures the sharpness of photos. YEs, I did some blurred photos with 1.8/85 and tripod…
Conclusions. As I said, the biggest innovation in Batis series might be the mechanical design. Or the lack of it. I don’t know for sure but I assume removing mechanical parts and going with fly-by-wire system makes it cheaper to make optically high quality lenses. Therefore also the prize tag of Batis lenses distorts the comparison. Batis is not a “mini-Otus” and it should not be compared to lower prize level (500-900 €) lenses either. It just does not do justice to anyone. This has happened a lot in the internet. Optically Batis IS closer to Otus and far beyond many other lenses in same prize group.
Most important is that it is optimised for the Sony A7 series sensors. You know, for example Touit does not work as well in A7 than it does in a6000 just because it is optimised for different sensor. Same atleast partially applies to other manufacturer lenses in Sony cameras.
Batis is a perfect match with Sony A7. It is currently the best option for anyone shooting still photographs with Sony and seeking pro level image quality. Batis made me a better pers….I mean photographer so there is a danger it happens also to you.
If you want to learn even more, go to ZEISS blog and read for example this article.