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Over the Summer I had the opportunity to partner with ZEISS Camera Lenses Americas on a campaign, entitled “Picture Love”. A perk to this campaign was that I was given two ZEISS Batis lenses of my choice. At the time of the campaign I already owned three of the five available lenses (25mm, 40mm CF and 85mm). ZEISS gave me the two lenses I was missing, with one of them being this Batis 135mm lens.
Initially I never saw myself buying this lens at any point, as I’ve never been a big telephoto shooting photographer. The f/2.8 aperture of the lens made me hesitate as well. All my lenses were f/2 or f/1.8 and I simply didn’t want a prime with an aperture I could obtain in a zoom lens (70-200mm f/2.8). I did however say if I was ever given this lens then I would use it and I ended up doing just that!
I’ve been utilizing this lens with my Sony Alpha 9 (and a few times with the new Sony Alpha 7R IV) and I hate to say that I’ve become very attached to this lens! I know how I shoot, and I initially felt this lens wouldn’t really be one that I’d use that much but was willing to give a try. I’m a very open-minded photographer. Yes, I did say I wouldn’t purchase this lens, as I didn’t want to spend money on something I may not use often and would have invested a lot in to purchase it. This lens is $1,499, so it’s quite the investment, but in getting the opportunity to get my hands on it I’m in love with it and have photographed a lot with it!
A bit of history into the ZEISS Batis line of lenses; these are the first full frame lenses from ZEISS that are auto-focusing lenses and are designed especially for the Sony E-Mount (Mirrorless) cameras. What’s also unique about these lenses are the OLED displays in the lenses, for your focusing distance information. It’s such a clean design that’s sleek and lives up to everything that you’d expect out of a ZEISS lens.
ZEISS Batis 135mm Specs & Images
Sony E-Mount (FE - Full Frame lens)
APO SONNAR Optical Lens Design
Aperture Range: f/2.8-f/22
ZEISS T* Anti-Reflective Coating
67mm Diameter Filter Thread
OLED Display for Focus Distance/DoF
Metal Construction with Dust & Weather Seals
18 degrees - Angle of View
2.85′ inches (87cm) Minimum Focus Distance
1.4lb (614g) - Weight
Something to note is that this lens is a Full Frame (FE) lens for Sony’s Mirrorless E-Mount cameras, but it can be used on the cropped APS-C cameras, which will give you a 35mm equivalent focal range of 202.5mm.
What I think about the Batis 135mm
I thought, wow this lens is a lot lighter than I expected it to be! For a lens of this focal length it’s not a very hefty lens at all. At only a 67mm diameter thread it’s the same as the other Batis lenses (excluding the 18mm, which is 77mm).
My expectations for this lens were very high. I knew this was an exceptional lens and wanted to see for myself the kinds of images I could capture with it. Like any other Batis lens it has a great lens build and clean design.
This lens comprising a f/2.8 aperture wasn’t something I was very keen on, but to achieve the size and weight that this lens is I understand why that aperture was chosen. When you’re photographing with this lens it’s a bit hard to tell that it is an f/2.8, as the bokeh (background blur) from this lens is beautiful, appearing as a wider aperture lens. Of course, at such a focal length and the distance you are to your subject you’re going to obtain a strong bokeh automatically, but it simply seems stronger than I would have expected the results to be. It made me not care for a faster 135mm to be honest and find f/2.8 fitting. Does this mean I wouldn’t have preferred an f/2? Not necessarily, as basically all my other primes are that or f/1.8. =)
I utilized this lens for various applications, but found these to be where this lens shines the most and best suited for:
Weddings/Worship/Events - There’s no denying this lens as a great choice for photographing events. It gives you a well suited reach, amazing bokeh and a decent aperture for venues that may not have adequate lighting.
Wildlife/Nature - Utilizing this lens with the new Sony Alpha 7R IV was amazing. The lens with Sony’s new animal eye auto-focusing system makes capturing wildlife effortless. The focusing may not be as fast as the other Batis lenses, but for nature I didn’t have any instances where I felt it wasn’t performing better than I would hope in focusing.
Fashion/Lifestyle Portraits - 135mm lenses are a love for many portrait photographers and the ZEISS lens provides stunning results in it’s sharpness and colors, from it’s micro-contrast providing that signature 3D pop ZEISS-Look!
What stands out about the 135mm?
OLED Display - This is something brand new for any camera lens. It’s such a unique innovation and quite cool to see your focusing distance and depth of field displayed within the lens itself, which provides an accurate readout. Should you not want to use this you can disable the display for turning or you can have it only turn on for when you’re shooting in Manual Focus mode. This is something I’ve never used on this lens however and found it to be very useful on the Batis 40mm CF lens. It’s great on that lens for knowing exactly how much distance you can go in for focusing on a subject. I don’t find it to be something most would utilize on the non-close focusing lenses.
Image Quality/Color - ZEISS is known for their unique 3D pop, from the micro-contrast of their lenses which gives you stunning results in contrast and color reproduction. The images from this lens are absolutely stunning! It’s a ZEISS lens and that’s expected and it doesn’t disappoint.
Build - You're getting an all metal design lens that’s weather sealed from the ending gasket to it’s all metal build, making this a great lens to have out in the roughest elements possible. It has a great fluid body design that pairs well with the included plastic lens hood. Even though the lens hood is plastic it doesn’t feel cheaply made and is actually very durable.
T Coating* - ZEISS lenses are popular for this coating, which reduces lens flare drastically and enhances overall performance of the lens. Whether it’s a filter or lens with this coating you’ll notice the difference from having it vs a lens or filter that doesn’t. It’s always very effective and really brings more contrast to your images. There are times when I do want to have a little bit of lens flare, but the coating of these lenses is so good that it’s sometimes hard to do. The irony!
Optical Steady Shot - On the newer Sony cameras this may not be a big deal, as all the bodies have IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization). Even on the newer cameras having the lens with OSS can improve your low light shooting conditions further. This is one of only two of the Batis lenses with OSS (the other being the Batis 85mm).
What isn’t so great about the 135mm?
Focusing - I’m not placing this here to say it’s out right terrible at focusing! I’m only mentioning this here as it can be a bit slow under certain shooting conditions. Example: I used this lens for photographing some street images and it was slow to focus on some of the frames (but it does lock on quite precisely). Many will say well this isn’t a street lens and is a portrait lens, which I can’t agree with. When you purchase a lens, it doesn’t say if it’s a wedding, portrait or landscape lens. It’s just a lens! I use all my lenses equally among one another, to really see how they each perform for the same exact tasks. This lens just happened to come up at the bottom in terms of it focusing. This lens has no trouble when I’m photographing worship services with this, to where this has sometimes replaced my 85mm lens for worship and I use the 135mm lens for an entire service. It was also exceptional in my usage with the Sony Alpha 7R IV photographing animals.
Whatever you may be photographing you’ll figure out if this lens is the best suited for what you may be accomplishing. Even though it was slow in street photography use I still continued to use it and mastered my shooting around that and made sure how I captured my photos were more thought out ahead of time. I know I couldn’t be a sharp shooter like I am with my 85mm lens with this 135mm lens, but it’s still a lens worth using for street.
Aperture - For some this can go either way. The aperture isn’t as great as the Batis 25mm (f/2), 40mm CF (f/2) and 85mm (f/1.8) lenses, but it’s still a good quality fast prime. I mentioned earlier this isn’t really a negative of this lens, but for some I do know it will be. It’s not the fastest 135mm lens on the market, but it makes up for that in its image quality and beautiful color reproduction. The other note to this for me is that being an f/2.8 lens this lens has the same aperture you can find on the fastest zoom lenses. If you have a 70-200mm lens you might not find this being something additional to what you may photograph, other than better image quality with a prime lens as opposed to a zoom lens. That’s why an f/2 is my sweet spot for primes, giving me more overall in a prime than a zoom lens. Again, nothing to say is terrible with this lens but only my opinion of thoughts of the aperture.
If you’re photographing in good light then having an f/2.8 aperture isn’t going to be a concern of yours at all.
Exposure - Something I’ve noticed when photographing with this lens is with the same exact settings this lens tends to have a brighter exposure than my other Batis lenses, however the Batis 40mm seems to have this same thing happen (although it’s mostly when the sun is directly hitting the lens). I haven’t been able to do a side by side of this lens with my Batis 85mm of the same setting. The times when I notice I’m photographing street and the scenes are changing so quickly. I typically stop down by 2/3rd’s of a stop, which gives me the exposure I normally have from the Batis 25, 40mm (when the sun isn’t in the background) and 85mm lenses.
ZEISS Batis 2.8/135mm vs Sony 1.8/135mm G Master?
I know this question would probably be the first one anyone would ask me, just as people did with my Batis 25mm vs Sony 24mm GM lens review.
Earlier I mentioned that this lens was obtained over the Summer from ZEISS, for working with them on a campaign. I didn’t buy this lens and chose this lens to try it out, but I simply never wanted to spend the money to buy one.
If that wasn’t a factor would I still buy the ZEISS lens or go for the Sony lens? I’m presently a ZEISS Ambassador and I’ve always photographed with ZEISS lenses and my choice would be the ZEISS. I mentioned in my Batis 25mm review that I prefer the ZEISS because of their reliability and consistency across their lenses. ZEISS is an optics company and Sony is an electronics company and ZEISS knows how to make solid quality lenses. Sony doesn’t have the years of experience that ZEISS does for their lenses, and it will be many years before we really see how well Sony’s lenses age.
In my entire career I’ve had Sony lenses fail and their lenses aren’t matched like those of ZEISS lenses. Regardless of any of the Batis lenses (or any of the current ZEISS lenses for that matter) I’m going to obtain the same quality between them, which is important for anyone doing postproduction work. The Sony’s aren’t consistent in that, but they do make very incredible lenses.
Strangely Sony is the producer of the Sony/ZEISS branded lenses, but those are the only lenses I’ve never had issues from, unlike the Sony only branded lenses. It seems ZEISS holds Sony to a higher standard for their co-branded lenses than Sony has for their own production line. Reliability is very important and just that basis alone is why I’ve always chosen the ZEISS lenses, but the overall look of their lenses is why I choose them as well. Ultimately, it’s the reason I’m no longer at Sony and decided to go over to ZEISS when they invited me. I have many in my community that have bought ZEISS lenses and I’ve never heard any complaints from them, but I’ve had some from those with the Sony GM lenses.
My unbiased choice however wouldn’t be so straight forward. The Sony lens is a much bigger and heavier lens than what I’d prefer for my mirrorless camera usage, but the f/1.8 of that lens would simply stand out more to me and be something that I couldn’t obtain in a standard 70-200mm zoom lens. I was a big fan of the Sony A-Mount version, the Sony/ZEISS Sonnar 1.8/135mm ZA lens. It was one of the most beautiful lenses you could utilize on the A-Mount and I always wanted that lens to come in an E-Mount version. ZEISS finally developed one, but with a f/2.8 aperture and a year or so later Sony releases a f/1.8 version, like the A-Mount. The E-Mount GM lens is larger in filter thread, but slightly lighter (not by much) than the A-Mount Sony/ZEISS (Sony/ZEISS 1kg vs the GM at 950g and Batis at 614g).
Understand my continued reference of aperture is not on background blur (bokeh). The ZEISS Batis 135mm has beautiful bokeh at f/2.8. My mention is on light only. For a lot of what I photograph the f/1.8 and f/2 lenses that I have in the other ZEISS lenses allow for photographing at lower ISO’s and still maintaining adequate shutter speeds for what I may be photographing (increasing the ISO isn’t a bad thing, but if you don’t have to do so it’s always best). The f/2.8 limits that. For instance, photographing in the New York City Subway with this lens requires me increasing my ISO significantly to obtain a fast-enough shutter speed at this focal length. The OSS (Optical Steady Shot) paired with the in-body image stabilization does gives some assistance, but at 135mm you’d want a shutter speed equal to that or faster. Wider lenses are more forgiving, allowing for slower shutter speeds because the focal length is wider. The camera shake you may have from hand holding won’t affect you as much, with many times allowing me to photograph under the focal lengths number in my shutter speed.
Conclusion: Who is/isn’t this for?
It may come across that I was critical of this lens, but I’m not. I share my full experience with any product in various situations to allow my readers to make their own decisions.
I made a very detailed point to this lens being an f/2.8 aperture but know that for most people this is not a terrible thing! I see it as a con for its length and the various low light situations I happen to photograph in. I find this lens to be a great lens for portrait/fashion and events/worship photography. It may not be as versatile in its uses as the other lenses I own, such as the Batis 1.8/85mm lens but I don’t think this lens was intended to be that go to lens for a wide variety of applications either. I simply do that to see how much you can really push each individual lens.
If you’re in the market for an exceptional 135mm lens and you’re not wanting to spend a lot of money, then this is a great choice. Grant it it’s not the most affordable of the 135mm (Batis $1,495, regular $1,699) lenses, as the Sigma is a few hundred dollars less ($1,399). The flip-side is that it’s even heavier and larger than the Sony GM lens ($2,098), which might be a major negative for that lens, even if it is a slightly more affordable option.
I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the lenses, but the Batis is certainly a lens worth trying to see if it’s a fit for you. I’ll be honest that it took ZEISS sending me this lens for me to try this lens and I’ve fallen in love with it. It’s become my new primary lens choice for the church I photograph at in Atlanta and a lens I’ve now used for several of my street images.
It comes down to what you’re looking to photograph, how much you’re willing to spend and you preference as to which lens has the reproduction that suits you best. For me it’s the ZEISS look, but for you it may not be.
All images featured in this review were photographed with the Sony Alpha 9 and Sony Alpha 7R IV.