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Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 Distagon: Imperturbable Brilliance, 3D Feel, a Lens Justifying the Camera

Get Zeiss Batis at B&H Photo and see my Sony mirrorless wish list.

Yesterday I was out shooting the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM along with the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8. Viewing the images back on the computer as largish thumbnails, I was struck by how I could pick out at a glance the Batis 18/2.8 images as compared to the Sony 24-70/2.8 GM: the Batis delivers images with a 3D feel to them. Later, the Sony 24-70 images looked better than I had first though, the 24mm end in particular. Still, something about the Batis 18/2.8 seems unusually perky/

It is high overall contrast and brilliance (micro contrast) along with tightly controlled aberrations that makes an image feel alive or “3D”, the same reason Leica M lenses are widely respected. The Batis 18/2.8 has little to criticize in these regards. Still, I will get around to nit picking it soon.

Continues below.

The glow of cloudy sun through riparian green foliage changed second-by-second yesterday, with each image dappled differently; I prefer this f/6.3 result to the f/9 and f/13 images by sheer moment-to-moment lighting luck. Note that even an 18mm lens at f/6.3 has depth of field limitations!

Purissima Creek
f6.3 @ 1/4 sec, ISO 100; 2016-04-22 15:13:26
Sony A7R II + ZEISS Batis 2.8/18

[low-res image for bot]

I reiterate my view that the Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 has no ~18mm peers; it is the best 18mm available today (Leica’s 18/3.8 Super-Elmar-M offers competition, but that is for Leica M and it shows weaknesses even on 24MP). Last September in Oberkochen I was asked which lens I would most like to see, and I had answered “an ultra high performance 18mm”. It is of course absurd to think that my answer made a new lens appear in 6 months (the development cycle is years)—but readers can understand how thrilled I am to see the Batis 18/2.8. For places like this an 18mm is highly desirable. Now I of course want an 11-16mm f/4 zoom to complement it.

The Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 is one of those lenses that justify the camera, which at present means the Sony A7R II or Sony A7 II. And so I reiterate my view that Sony is the only financially sensible path forward for investing in a mirrorless camera system for use several years out, because a 24MP APS-C sensor and APS-C lenses (Fujifilm X) are a dead end (ditto for M4/3). Even when Fujifilm delivers a full-frame camera in a year or two, all the current lenses will have to be replaced to use the full frame sensor area—and thus used Fujifilm X lens prices will plummet from heavy selling as users trade up. With lenses like the Batis 18/2.8 and the likely appearance of 70+ megapixel Sony sensors perhaps as soon as this year (see oversampling for pixel skeptics), investing in APS-C makes sense only for specific shooting purposes, not as a general proposition for even two years out. Full-frame sensors are only going to get cheaper and better, and camera body size already trends too small. Note well that Fujifilm does not enjoy any new Zeiss lenses since the Touit line.

None of the foregoing diminishes the excellent qualities of existing systems like the Olympus OM-D system or the Fujifilm X system, but in terms of the investment in a range of lenses, settling on a camera system with a dead-end sensor size should give pause. See my Sony mirrorless wish list and Fujifilm X wish list to drive that point home: the investment in lenses is not small (I consider 3-4 lenses a core system, 5-8 lenses really needed to coverage everything). Cameras are accessories; the lens line should be something that carries forward and does not need to be replaced (supplemented perhaps), which for me rules out smaller formats.

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