Review: Zeiss Batis Distagon T* 25mm f2

Introduction

The Batis 25mm f2  was one of the original two Batis lenses Zeiss released; but it remains the only fixed 24mm class lens that is available in E mount. It’s not cheap, so how does it perform and is it worth the money? That’s what this review may help you decide.

Sample Images

Most of the images in this review can be seen in high resolution here

Haptics and Build Quality

The lens is remarkably light, though not exactly small. Like other Batis lenses it has an external metal shell of durably anodised aluminium. I have never seen the finish wear off of a Batis, which cannot be said for most of the Sony lenses with a metal shell. Presumably the internal components other than the glass are a mixture of metal and composite. This keeps the weight down, and for all we can tell, may be the most durable construction technique. Some folks, though, associate build quality with the heft of a heavier lens.

The focussing ring is rubber, which is nice on bare fingers but is a little difficult to locate if you are wearing gloves. There is no MF button, nor is there any other programmable button as we are seeing on the newer Sony lenses. Like other Batis lenses it has an OLED distance scale and depth of field scale. I find DOF scales pretty useless regardless of their accuracy, since it’s a matter of opinion whether the degree of sharpness at the ends of the zone is acceptable or not. The distance scale, while not perfectly accurate, is useful enough. It is possible to set infinity focus accurately  by focussing from a closer distance to infinity, and stopping as soon as the infinity sign appears (if you keep going it will still say infinity, but it will focus past infinity).

I’ll often call this lens a 24 mm class lens. With distortion correction turned off I’m guessing it’s a bit shorter than 24mm; with it turned on the angle of view is closer to a 24mm lens than 25. It’s probably called 25 just because Zeiss has a tradition of calling its lenses in this range 25mm.

Resolution

The lens is sharp in the centre and midfield, and indeed quite a way out towards the edges, from wide open. Wide open performance at infinity, though, is a bit marred by axial chromatic aberration. The extreme corners wide open are a little soft, but not useless. By f2.8 the extreme corners are quite good, and the centre and midfield almost as good as it gets! By f4 it’s pretty much sharp across the field, perhaps a touch better at f5.6 but you would never notice in a full image, and diffraction just starting to dull the image down by f8. I cannot detect any field curvature at infinity. It makes no difference where you focus. This is pretty remarkable performance for a 24mm class lens.

Here is the overall image from which the crops are drawn:

Bokeh

One of the principal reasons you might prefer a moderately fast prime over a zoom that covers this range, is the opportunity to take images with a thin depth of field. The bokeh is in fact very good on the lens. Here is an aperture series with a fairly close subject an a relatively distant background. The branches in the background form one of the most difficult patterns for nice bokeh – a classic torture test. Despite this, the lens performs well. Since it’s sharp in the focal plane even at f2 the subject is snappy, and this contrasts nicely with the quite decent bokeh (for such a demanding situation). The overall performance is actually much better than other 24mm lenses at this aperture.

Here is an aperture/bokeh series with a more ‘normal’ outdoor background, with elements at different distances. In this context the bokeh is wonderfully smooth.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration is the weakest point of this lens—largely axial CA and spherochromatism. Having said that, it is no weaker than any other fast 24mm class lens that I know of. Lateral CA is fixed largely losslessly, and I did not develop the files in a crude RAW converter that disables  that.

Here is a torture test: backlit water droplets. Only the finest APO lenses show little or no LoCA in such tests. Probably the only wideangle lens that would be in that class is the 1.4/28 Otus APO-Distagon (though neither I, nor  I think the rest of the team, have ever laid hands on one).

As you can see the CA is quite  strong at f2, a little less strong but not much at f2.8, but cleans up almost completely at f4. Smaller apertures show further improvements.

To get a sense of how the axial CA at infinity cleans up, here is a 100% crop from the resolution series, comparing f2 and f2.8 in terms of CA. In the backlit water torture, f2.8 was still showing axial CA and spherochromatism. Here though,the fairly strong CA at infinity cleans up one stop down. Before is f2, after is f2.8.

These are both very demanding tests. Here’s a sample image taken at f2 featuring one branch of sharp blossom, and most of the rest of the image is largely bokeh. No defringing has been used, and yet the image is not spoiled by the CA. So F2 is a genuinely viable aperture for images where you want thin DOF.

Vignetting

The lens has a profile that can be enabled in camera or in your favourite. However I’ve turned all correction off to produce this matrix of images to give you an idea of what uncorrected vignetting looks like at f2 – 5.6 (left to right, up and down). The worst case wide open is about 2.7 stops.

 

Alternatives

There are no direct alternatives: i.e. native 24mm-class fast primes. But there are three classes of alternatives I’ll discuss briefly: classic 24mm lenses, native zooms, and native lenses in a similar focal length.

In this section and the conclusion, there are some affiliate links to a few select products most central to the review. We have not turned every mention of a lens into a link to try to make you buy something, and there are no affiliate links except where we explicitly say. If we have helped you make up your mind, and you buy via our links, it costs you no more and gives us a small contribution to running the site.

In this alternatives section I will sometimes make comparisons with lenses I have not tested personally. Feel free to ignore such comments. However in every case they are based either on tests by others in the team, or by testers I have come to trust, rather than random internet reviews.

Classic 24mm lenses

The Canon 24mm FD f2.8 is inexpensive, and pretty sharp stopped down. It is not comparable at wider apertures, and does not have the contrast or flare resistance. But for someone looking for a cheap way into the focal length it’s not a bad buy. Philip reviewed it at https://phillipreeve.net/blog/review-canon-new-fd-24mm-12-8/. You can buy it via our affiliate link on eBay here

The OM Zuiko 24mm f2.8 is quite good too, especially later multicoated copies. This is the only classic 24 I have experience with, and barring the extreme corners, it performs well. Like the FD though it’s in every respect worse than the Batis, but also a tenth of the price. It can be had via our affiliate link on  eBay here

The ultimate classic lens is the Zeiss Distagon T* 25mm f2 ZF2/ZE. This for a long time was the king of the 24mm class lenses. I have used it, and it performs very well indeed, and I could not say without a direct comparison if it is better or worse than the Batis. Published tests and most users I respect say the Batis is a little better, though. The classic Distagon may not, however,  be a good choice on other grounds. It’s not cheap by any means, it doesn’t have AF if that matters to you, and even before you add an adapter it is large and heavy with no compensating performance gain. Also, as a lens with floating elements, adapter precision is important.

There are many other classic 24s from Nikon, Canon, Minolta and so on, and if any can be got cheaply and you enjoy using these lenses the are worth investigating. Remember, though, that this is a focal length where modern designs do perform very much better.

Zooms

All of the Sony zooms that include 24mm perform well at 24-25mm with the exception of the 24-70 f4 ZA zoom, which never gets sharp in the outer field at 24mm. All three ultra wide zooms – the 12-24, 16-35 f4 and GM 16-35 f2.8 have good performance at 24mm in every case, I suspect, exceeding classic primes. Of these the weakest at 24 is probably the 12-24 which is at its weakest point at this focal length, though even there is fine with a bit of stopping down. The GM 24-70 f2.8 (review by Jannik here) performs as well as the best of them at 24mm.

I have not performed close comparisons with any of these except for the 16-35 f4. The Batis is both notably contrastier, handles flare better, and is a little sharper especially in the outer field. I am guessing that there is a small performance premium against any of these. This is not a *mere* guess, but represents the opinion of trusted correspondents who have done such tests.

However as I said the zooms perform well at 24mm, and your decision is really likely to be about what you need. Do you want f2 for bokeh work? You have no choice in a native lens (and classic f2 24s are really not great at f2). Do you prefer a light prime lens, at the expense of the convenience of not having to change lenses, or being confined to one focal length. If you like zooms you are well served at 24mm. If you don’t, the Batis does add some special sauce.

Native Primes at Nearby Focal Lengths

There are two of these: the Zeiss Loxia Distagon 21mm f2.8, and the Sony FE 28mm f2.

The Loxia is, overall, a slightly better lens. It has nicer sunstars, it’s a little sharper, it has better control of CA. On the other hand it doesn’t have AF and it’s only f2.8.  If I had to choose between these lenses I’d choose the Loxia, especially if landscape was my thing. But for environmental portraiture and similar work, the Batis might be a better bet with a friendlier focal length, f2 for separation, and AF (especially eye AF). Both are good enough that one should choose based on needs and preferences, rather than on bragging rights for absolute optical quality. If you are tempted by the Loxia you can buy it via our affiliate link at B&H Photo Video here

The Sony 28mm is a good budget choice. It sharpens up nicely on stopping down to f8 (with a bit of astigmatism still visible in the corners on my copy at least). It has a small but not useless area of sharpness wide open for environmental portraits. On the other hand it is overall a little less contrasty – especially at wide apertures. The area of sharpness is much smaller at wide apertures too, which can place restrictions on subject placement. Neither lens has great sunstars, but the Batis definitely has better ones. However the FE is a lot cheaper, and is a great value. The Sony 28mm can be purchased via our affiliate link at B&H Photo Video here

Conclusion

I recommend this lens. If you want a fast 24mm class lens, there is no alternative in native mount, and this is better than any I know of in any mount. I own the lens, have had it since fairly soon after it was released, and find it a very useful optic. If you like zooms, though, as I discussed above, you will get good performance from most of the Sony zooms at 25 mm. So you need to know that you need the bokeh possibilities, slight resolution and contrast advantages,  handling advantages or perhaps flare advantages of the Batis prime.

Is there room for improvement? Well there always is with wideangle lenses. We have just reached the point where some longer lenses are essentially optically perfect for practical purposes. The Batis 2.8/135 and CV Macro APO-Lanthar 65 spring to mind as examples for the E mount. But we aren’t there with wideangles yet, so we still have some excitement to look forward to. Probably the best wide-angle lens at the moment other than the Otus 28 is the Loxia 21. But this lens is close, and if you want AF or a slightly narrower field of of view, you won’t do better than the Batis 2/25. You can buy it though our affiliate link at eBay here or B&H Photo Video here

Some More Samples

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David Braddon-Mitchell

David Braddon-Mitchell is a keen landscape and environmental portrait photographer. In the last decade of film he was a darkroom practitioner and worked with Olympus OM SLRs and various medium format cameras. He switched to Canon DSLRs when digital imaging improved, and made a move to Sony bodies as soon as the A7 series was born. He enjoys using a mixture of legacy manual lenses, modern manual lenses, and E mount AF lenses.

17 thoughts on “Review: Zeiss Batis Distagon T* 25mm f2”

      1. I’d like to see crops. When you say none, is it better than the Batis, more like the sony 28 FE, or Nikon 20 1.8? In my experience, people have pretty different ideas about acceptable levels of performance.

    1. It’s a good lens, but I didn’t include any f1.4 glass in the comparisons. That’s a different order of specialisation, and we would need to consider the Canon Mk II and the latest Nikon at least. Of course the Samyang does come in E mount, but that’s basically just a permanently attached adapter.

  1. Hi,
    Could you please review the old Nikkor 20mmf4 on Sony E mount system too?
    I think it will be a beautiful “sunstar” and cheap lens. Maybe this is a cheaper option of Loxia 21mm for anyone want a wide angle lens with nice sunstar.
    Thank you.

  2. Hey David, thx for your review. I apreciate every single test on this site. May it be, that you exchanged the pictures in the second Bokeh Test at aperture 4 and 5,6? Because the pic at 4 is less blurred as 5,6.
    Many greetings from Berlin

    1. Hi Karsten

      Perhaps you saw a cached version?
      You are absolutely right: that did happen, but I fixed it after someone pointed it out a bit before you. So it should be OK now.
      thanks

  3. Great review. One of the things you haven’t mentioned is the close focussing distance of this lens. At 0.2 meters with a magnification of 0.19x (and particularily with it’s pleasant bokeh) this lens is very useful for photographing objects at close distance e.g. flowers

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