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Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar Caution: Sony SteadyShot Destroys Sharpness on a Tripod

Get Zeiss Batis at B&H Photo.

In my review coverage of Zeiss Batis in Guide to Mirrorless.

The Zeiss Batis lenses are fully electronic, like any Sony FE lens, so they support the usual Sony A7 series camera features.

Image quality of the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar is superlative, but there is a gotcha: Sony’s SteadyShot destroys sharpness on a tripod (erratically), just as happens with every other vendor’s image stabilization. Does every camera vendor really think that image stabilization will be useful on a tripod for 2/5/10/20/30 seconds? It never is unless the comparison is between badly blurred (e.g. a fierce wind rocking things), and somewhat blurred.

Well, I goofed last night—racing to use the failing light, I swapped to the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar from the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Distagon, I entirely forget about SteadyShot, buried as it is in the Sony kitchen-sink menu system. So some nice images ruined.

But my goof is to reader’s benefit as a reminder and didactic documentation, and so I show the series, which overall looks great, but with f/4 clearly damaged:

Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.4 Sonnar On a Tripod With SteadyShot = Damaged Sharpness (Sony A7R, Through the Boulders)

So what is terrific for portraits is a liability for field use on a tripod. I have the human fault of not always remembering everything, particularly if I’m swapping lenses and/or shooting handheld sometimes and on a tripod a moment later (which I sometimes do).

f2.8 @ 5.0 sec, ISO 100; 2015-05-23 20:26:41
Sony A7R + Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8

[low-res image for bot]

In general

I vastly prefer switches on the lens and for this I fault Zeiss Batis design: it ought to be there. The Batis LED depth of field scale is incredibly crisp and readable but such scales are 100% ignored and useless for me, and I’d much rather have a SteadyShot indicator!

In general, camera systems are tools and tools should work for their users, not set up risks to stumble over. A car won’t start without the foot on the brake, for good reason. Smart system design includes thought about all aspects of usage.

With auto ISO, one can set the range of ISO values, so with SteadyShot, why is there not an operational range so the user can say “use only from 1/8 second and faster?”

Sebastian B writes:

Absolutely true, but there is also another and even more fail-safe way of doing it: automatically disable IS with the 2-second timer. Then as long as you're tripod-shooting with the timer, you don't even have to care about IS.

(Bonus: as soon as you disable the timer, IS will return to its previous setting, usually meaning it's again enabled for handheld shooting without user intervention. I've been shooting Pentax DSLRs like this for years and basically never had to even touch any IS controls.)

DIGLLOYD: Since Sebastian wrote the above, he clarified his comments:

Nah, misunderstanding — I was proposing that Sony should implement it like that. The problem is that they haven't, thus making it necessary for users to always check the IS setting. I'm sure the blur is exactly what you think it is, it's happened to me too on the A6000.

I was using the 2 second self timer; I always do so on a tripod to avoid disturbing the camera.

Note that my initial day's shooting had the Sony 1.01 firmware, now I’ve used the Sony root kit to get to verion 1.2 for the 2nd day’s shooting. The camera I’m using arrived in April; Sony keeps shipping stale firmware cameras, suggesting a warehouse full of unsold goods somewhere.

Henning K writes:

Also if you wish for other options regarding stabilizing,maybe natural is like Pentax to disable stabilisation together with self timer. I wish though for an option to decide ourselves about that. As the Sony could probably make stabilizing and self timer work at the same time. That helps for handheld and currently I have to make complicated workarounds to get near to that with Pentax.

DIGLLOYD: See above by Sebastian B.

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