One of the most striking experiences when I started using the Batis 2/40 CF was the lens rendition. When I mounted the lens to my Sony A7 body for the first time I didn't know what to expect. Of course the expectations were high but you also have to be open for differences to be able to see them and describe them with words later on. But very quickly the pictures at the back of my A7's LCD looked a somehow familiar to me. At first I didn't knew how to describe this sensation as I had been so prepared to 'be open' for something new. To be honest, I was wondering how come it doesn't look much different than what I was using already as I was so ready for something different. But then it struck me: it was the rendition of the Batis lens family. It's a thing that I'm very familiar with, but also something to which I have adjusted to a point where it just feels 'natural' and I don't contemplate too much about it in casual shooting. Recognizing it again in a totally new lens that I haven't never used before kind of lifted it up in a good way. Previously I had attributed this lens rendition to my Batis 2/25 and Batis 1.8/85 lenses, but they had always been a kind of individual lenses and far apart from each other in my setup, and I had used the Loxia 2/35 and Loxia 2/50 for covering those standard focal lengths (which meant that I had worked with a mixed setup). When I got the Batis 2/40 CF it completed my Batis lenses to a very capable 25-40-85 setup and emphasized the consistent Batis lens rendition between all the three lenses.
Photographers love to talk about the lens rendition, often meaning that they are searching for lenses that can add something beautiful for their pictures. I totally get this because I've been there myself too, but I wonder why concentrate on a single individual lenses if you can have a consistent lens rendition over the whole lens family? For me, the rendition of the Batis lens family primarily means great contrast and colors. This is something I constantly experience with these lenses and the Batis 2/40 CF is no exception – in fact, it was especially the contrast and colors that caught my attention when I was using the lens for the first time. And I'm not alone with this as there are many others who have had a same perception; the colors are often vibrant and 'more alive' if that makes any sense. Secondly the Batis rendition means, for me, a certain kind of smooth bokeh which fits very nicely to many all kinds shooting situations. Once you learn that transition zone, it's easy to recognize again. And finally, the Batis is also about excellent technical performance: great sharpness over the whole frame, no field curvature and next to none chromatic aberrations. I had the fore mentioned experience already at the very beginning when I started using the Batis 2/40 CF, but I intentionally wanted to left this story for the last few days because it was something I wanted to emphasize: the consistent rendition of the Batis lens family. In addition, I also wanted demonstrate this consistency somehow, so I needed a some sort of case for this. Luckily there was Bengtskär.
Bengtskär is a lighthouse at the most southern point of Finland which stands on a rocky skerry in the Archipelago Sea about 25 kilometers south west from the coast line (59.723498°N 22.499387°E). Made of granite and rising 52 meters (167 ft) above the sea level it is the highest lighthouse in the Nordic countries. The rocky skerry itself has a very small footprint and is totally surrounded by the sea, and on a stormy days the waves can hit over the whole skerry and wash everything that there is into to the sea. Being a bit adventurous type of person I arranged a surprise overnight trip to the Bengtskär for the whole family and I only told them at the preceding evening that we going to this trip. After then actually getting there was an adventure on itself (starting at 4 AM with the kids and all), but it was worth the hustle.
The Bengtskär itself is of course a very pictorial place with the lighthouse, huge rocks, sea and everything. On a daytime there are many visitors, but after 4 PM all the extra visitors leave and the lighthouse is left for handful of guests (we included) as there are only few rooms available. From there on the guests can explore the place freely and a small crew is there for service (our stay included meals and everything). In general everything has of course to be brought from the mainland to the skerry including food, fresh water and such, but one exotic detail is that the rain water is used for bathing. In fact, there is a over 100 year old granite sauna there which we could use. I have to say that it was perhaps the one the most interesting place to have a sauna and there was also a small swimming place at the sea. Sea water with the temperature of 5 degrees of Celsius (41 °F) wasn't the most warmest for swimming but how could I have reject such an unique experience.
When the night finally came we put the children to sleep and I went out with my camera – of course. I had a bit of luck because the sky was almost cloud free with the full moon shining some beautiful blue light over the whole scene. Still it was very dark and I had to be very careful climbing there at the darkness with camera attached to tripod and all. Counting seconds for the lighthouse to blink periodically I took some pictures from the lighthouse itself (it was way more darker than what it looks like in the picture). But then I had an idea to climb up there to the lighthouse itself at night. Taking once again those over 250 steps I finally reached the top and there I was next to lantern. Alone up there at night watching the moon and a few very distant lights from the bypassing ships I felt I was truly at the place I never expect to find myself. So I decided that this would be a good place to take a picture as well. As the space was pretty tight I used the wider Batis 2/25, but out of curiosity wanted to test the Batis 2/40 CF as well.
Next day the kids played there all morning at the benches. We explored the rockies and found many engravings, some of them dating back to early 1900s. There's a sort of a calming solitude to be there in the middle of the sea with the wind and waves as your only friends. Finally at afternoon our stay was coming to an end and we had to leave the place a bit earlier as the wind was rising up. Taking a boat back offered a bit of extra excitement as the waves were getting pretty high. Many of the passengers were squeezing tight of their armrests, but finally after one hour boat trip we made it back to mainland again.
The Batis 25-40-85 setup proofed to be a very versatile setup for this kind of trip. I had the wide angle for tight places, 40 for many general overviews and the 85 for extra reach and some perspective compression. So the practical side of things was covered, but like I have already stated earlier, I was more impressed about the consistent rendering of this setup. With ease I could achieve very similar contrast and colors between different focal lengths, and the fact that the transition zone from sharp to out-of-focus-areas are similar between lenses also adds up with the consistent look. In the end I found myself thinking that 'what else would I need for great pictures? With the Batis 2/40 CF I have my lenses sorted out and instead of dwelling on details I should concentrate on big picture and my vision.' Needless to say, I felt content.
They say the lens design is, in its essence, art of compromises. Your goals might be (1) small size, (2) reasonable price and (3) the best possible optical quality – but you can only choose two of these! Where I think ZEISS has particularly succeeded with Batis lens family is that they have very carefully chosen wise compromises that supports the original A7-concept but also offer superb image quality. In fact, I would say that the Batis lens family, now with the new Batis 2/40 CF, represents as a whole the best lens setup for Sony A7 cameras. For the most used focal lengths you have three high quality prime lenses 25-40-85 that offer consistent and beautiful rendering with a very good technical performance and nice focal length gapping. The lenses take three slots in your camera bag and weight only 1148 g (2.53 lbs) in total. This setup will cover everything from wide angle to mid-tele and with the Close Focus ability of the Batis 2/40 CF you even have a bit specialized lens for those close-up shots near the macro range. Add in the good AF-functionality, weatherproof metal construction and consistent haptics/aesthetics, and the Batis lens family suddenly looks like the most matured lens line up for the Sony A7 cameras. And if you want additional lenses for wider field of view or extra reach you have the Batis 2.8/18 and the Batis 2.8/135.
Well, of course there many other good lenses on the market too, for example some of them faster than the Batis lenses, but none of them are as carefully thought out as a whole system as the Batis lens family. Let's take for example the Sony GM lenses which are great on all accounts (I've shot with almost all of them), but the weak compromise here is that the Sony is competing with Canon & Nikon DSLR-cameras and therefore many of the GM lenses have to be as big as the old DSLR-lenses (the great Sony GM 24/1.4 being a perhaps the only exception). This means that you will have to carry this competition as an extra weight in your camera bag. On top of that Sony hasn't really created a consistent lens line-up, so many will have to mix and match lenses from different line-ups with different rendering and technical performance. Fortunately with the GM-lenses Sony will finally get there at some day and the GM lens line up will be very good if you can take extra weight and give up the original A7-concept. And I have to give it to Sony that they also have some specialized lenses like macro lenses and STFs.
Another great lens manufacturer is Sigma, but their weak compromise is that they refuse to make practical compromises. Instead they seem be copying the product concept of the ZEISS Otus lens family and concentrate on the best possible image quality, which inevitably leads to large size and heavy weight (the integrated adapter doesn't sound a wise compromise either). For these reasons alone I haven't followed them so closely, but I have an impression that while the image quality is definitely superb it is not quite there yet when it comes to optical corrections (ZEISS's interest in Otus lens family lies more in defining 'the uncompromised image quality' to the physical limits than making a competitive product family; read more about it here).
With these comparisons I really don't want to knock down other manufacturers (as there really are some gems there like the Sony GM 85/1.4). I only want to point out that intellectually ZEISS has probably made the best compromises when it comes to choosing only two points of the three ('small size', 'reasonable price' and 'the best possible image quality'). With the Batis lens family you get moderately fast lightweight lenses with the unrivalled image quality – and I guess the price is reasonable as well considering the premium alternatives. All this with the consistent aesthetics/haptics and weatherproof construction, and it is clear to me that ZEISS have had a perhaps the best vision for the Sony A7 lens line up – and if you are a friend of manual focusing then the same can be said about the Loxia lens family as well.