Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2 CF - Lens Review
Zeiss’ Batis range has proved a popular line for Sony E-Mount users. The prime lenses complement the E-Mount mirrorless cameras well. Prioritising weight saving over fast apertures to keep the body and lens light and nicely balanced. Many of the fast Sony primes suffer from being too front heavy. Each Batis lens has also been the first native E-Mount option for it’s focal length on release.
After the 85mm f/1.8 & 25mm f/2 lenses introduced the new line in April 2015, the 18mm f/2.8 came along a year later with the 135mm f/2.8 following a year after that. Although the range spread from 18mm to 135mm there was a glaring gap between the 25mm and 85mm options that remained for some time. There was a bit of speculation as to what lens would come along to fill that gap or weather or not the Batis line would be added to at all.
Zeiss finally announced the 5th member of the Batis family in the summer of 2018. Many had expected a 50mm and some of us hoped the E-Mount system would finally get it’s first 35mm f/1.8 lens. So it was a bit of a surprise to everyone to find they’d opted for a 40mm focal length.
40mm is not a commonly used prime focal length and with it’s close focusing ability with only a 1:3.3 magnification (so not a true macro lens) it was difficult to see who this lens was being aimed at.
I was disappointed it wasn’t a 35mm as I have wanted a lightweight f/1.8 or f/2 35mm and was skeptical about its usefulness. However, since I own both the 25mm and 18mm Batis lenses and I love using them I was definitely curious about any addition to the Batis range. The 25mm has become my main lens to use at weddings. I paired it with the Sony 85mm f/1.8 throughout 2018 and while I enjoyed using that combo it was clear I needed an option in between the two. The obvious answer is 50mm, but I’ve always hated 50mm primes. I know many photographers enjoy using them as a good all-rounder, but for me it’s always been a bit of a disappointing focal length. They don’t have the characteristics of wide angle lenses or the compression of a short telephoto lens like an 85mm. Images from it always gave me a ‘meh’ feeling. I also struggle to compose with 50mm, 90% of the time when using one I wanted it to be either wider or longer.
This led me to the idea of pairing the 40mm with the 25mm. I hoped the extra width from 50mm would make it a better fit for me, while being different enough from the 25mm (always felt 35mm was too close to 25mm for them to work as a combo). I purchased the lens on week of release in October of last year and it quickly became a key part of my wedding day kit and it has relegated the 85mm to only occasional use. The two focal lengths work well together. Images are much more complementary to each other than they are from 25mm and 85mm where the extreme looks can be a bit jarring.
I’m not a technically-minded photographer, and I have done no lab style testing, but below are a few thoughts on the specifications of the Zeiss Batis 40mm CF after 19 weddings and 8 months of real-world use.
Design & Build quality
The Batis lenses are all solidly built and the 40mm is no exception. The mount has a blue silicone rubber seal to keep the connection to the camera body weather sealed, something not all native E-Mount lenses have. The Batis look is quite minimalist which is something I really like. Just a rubber focus ring, OLED display and blue Zeiss badge breaking up the matt black finish. These are smart looking lenses. The 40mm does break from this tradition a liittle with it’s side switch for changing between focus distances. This is not something I’ve really used and first time I took it out I knocked the switch it a few times and wondered why I was not able to focus, but since then I’ve not really noticed it’s there. It would be easy to block off with Sugru if needed.
The 40mm is bulky lens for it’s focal length and aperture, but this is because Zeiss want to keep the line looking consistent in look and size. All the lenses bar the 18mm taking a 67mm filter thread. There’s also room needed for the in-built image stabilisation. While I do like the matching look of the series I have had to put a label on top of each of my camera bodies for either 40 or 25 so I know at glance which lens is which.
The size isn’t an issue however as this lens is so light. At just 361g it’s around half the weight of the Sony 35mm f/1.4 which weighs 630g. Carrying this around all day at a wedding is a breeze. The lens hood is a bit of a beast, but I never use the lens hood unless it’s pouring with rain.
Turns on when the camera is in Manual Focus mode
The OLED is a lens feature unique to the Batis range. A digital display on the top of the lens showing both the focal distance and depth of field. On when the lens is used in manual mode it’s not something I’ve used on the 40mm, but on the 18mm it’s great for zone focusing on the dance floor.
On purchase this was the one big let down of the lens. AF was sluggish and the lens could hunt a bit in low light and back-lit situations. It was bad enough that I would miss shots and that’s not something I am used to using Sony a9 camera bodies. However, Zeiss were onto this and in March of this year released a firmware update to fix the issue. Even after the update it can still be slow in bad light, but it’s improved from what it was out of the box and is by no means unusable. In good to middling light the AF is perfect for all practical uses and blows away my sluggish Samyang 50mm 1.4 (which is still poor even after a firmware update). It’s maybe not quite up to sport or wildlife, but no one buys a 40mm lens for those uses anyway. The lens is also fully compatible with Sony’s wonderful Eye-AF feature. If you buy this lens make sure the firmware is up to date.
In short: excellent. The 40mm is sharp and continues with the strong contrast and saturation look of the other Zeiss lenses. Contrast does seems even stronger on the Batis range which I love and suits my editing style.
DISTORTION, Flare & VIGNETTING
The Batis range has very little distortion and the 40mm is no different. Any correction needed in lightroom is minimal. Vignetting is also minimal. So much so in fact I like to add more in. The Zeiss’ T* coating does a good job of reducing flare and ghosting.
Three way switch to choose focus distance range
The 40mm differs from the rest of the Batis range with the ability to focus very close, hence the CF in the lens name. The shortest focus distance is 24cm from the sensor. The maximum magnification factor is 1:3.3. Not a true macro lens, but useful if you only need to occasionally focus close up. This isn’t a feature I’ve used much as i’m not one to take staged detail shots of rings, etc on a wedding day but it’s useful to know it’s there.
At around £1000 the 40mm is an expensive option. There are cheaper lenses in the E-Mount system like the 55mm f/1.8 which comes in a relatively cheap £700 considering it’s rated one of the sharpest lenses ever made. The Sony 35mm f/2.8 retails around £650 which also boasts a Zeiss badge and is an excellent lens. For me it’s worth the cost, but it does seem the Batis range comes at a premium.
Below are some images I’ve taken with the Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2 CF since October 2018 at 19 weddings. At the end there are a couple of images to show bokeh and the close focus feature.