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Date: 13/07/2015 | By: Mathieu

Portraits with Sony E-mount primes: Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 vs. 90mm macro vs. 55mm f/1.8

AGING, 1/50, f/ 28/10, ISO 200

Portraits with Sony E-mount primes: Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 vs. 90mm macro vs. 55mm f/1.8

What happens when you have three interesting portrait lenses all at the same time? You do a comparison shootout of course!

At the end of last week, we received both the new Zeiss Batis 85mm and Sony 90mm macro lenses for testing. The Sony FE system is rapidly expanding, so much that we certainly can’t complain about the lack of lenses anymore. Among the focal lengths that many people were waiting for, there was a good portrait lens. Zeiss designed the 85mm (along with the 25mm f/2) to inaugurate its second family of lenses made specifically for the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras called Batis.

While I was concentrating on the 85mm f/1.8, Heather spent time with the new Sony G 90mm f/2.8 Macro. While the latter is designed primarily for small subjects and details, it proved a surprisingly good alternative for portraits as well. Then I decided to add the 55mm 1.8 to this shootout which I’ve used many times on the A7 for ambient portraits. Mounted on the a6000 and its APS-C sensor, it gives you an equivalent field of view of 82.5mm and therefore becomes an excellent choice for portraits as well.

Before proceeding further, I want to make clear that this comparison isn’t technical. In fact I can confirm the obvious to you: the best portrait lens for the Sony FE system is the new Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8. While I’ve only used it for the past few days and my review is still in the works, I can tell you right away that I like it a lot. It is sharp with a very nice bokeh and very natural rendering that not only Zeiss aficionados but also many portrait photographers will appreciate. That said, it is nice to see that more than one lens can serve a specific purpose in a growing system.

So enough with words: let’s compare some images!

Note: this first set of images has been post processed with Lightroom and the Rebecca Lily presets.

batis 85mm vs 90mm macro
A7R, 1/160, f/2.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
batis 85mm vs 90mm macro
A7R, 1/160, f/2.8, ISO 100 – FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G
batis 85mm vs 55mm
a6000, 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 100 – FE 55mm f1.8

You will notice that the Zeiss Batis has a smoother bokeh and produces less of a “swirl” effect than the 90mm. But the latter looks good in terms of bokeh rendering too. Both are really sharp. The 55mm on the a6000 does a good job as well. It is slightly less sharp but this is also due to the lower resolution of the a6000. The bokeh is less smooth than the other two lenses but I like its rendering and it remains a more than valid choice for portraits.

Of course the Batis gives you the advantage of the 1.8 aperture as you can see below. There is some vignetting that in this case adds extra character to the image but can also be easily removed in Lightroom. As for the 55mm/a6000 combo, at 2.8 the bokeh becomes less appealing so the combo really works best at 1.8.

zeiss batis 85mm vs sony 90mm
A7R, 1/400, f/1.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
zeiss batis 85mm vs sony 55mm
a6000, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100 – FE 55mm f1.8

Let’s see a second round with more interesting elements in the background. Here we have some plants and flowers…

There is also a more interesting light with the sun trying to peek through the clouds.

Note: this second set of images has been post processed with Lightroom, Sony’s Portrait profile and basic adjustments.

zeiss batis 85mm vs fe 90mm
A7R, 1/400, f/2.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
zeiss batis 85mm vs fe 90mm
A7R, 1/160, f/2.8, ISO 100 – FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G
zeiss batis 85mm vs fe 55mm
a6000, 1/1600, f/1.8, ISO 100 – FE 55mm f1.8

Here the difference between the three lenses is a little less pronounced than the first example. The Batis still has the smoother bokeh but I find that the 90mm and 55mm defend themselves quite well. Again, the Batis at 1.8 gives you a stunning look while the 55mm/a6000 combo at 2.8 loses its appeal.

sony fe 90mm vs zeiss batis 85mm
A7R, 1/1000, f/1.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
sony fe 55mm vs zeiss batis 85mm
a6000, 1/640, f/2.8, ISO 100 – FE 55mm f1.8

What happens if I mount the Batis and the FE 90mm macro lens on the a6000?

Well, here you get two additional portrait combinations that are worth your while. The Batis lens gives you a 127.5mm field of view while the 90mm gives you a 135mm equivalent focal length. 85mm is often referred to as the optimal focal length for portrait photography but the truth is that 135mm or something similar is also a great choice.

zeiss batis a6000
a6000, 1/2000, f/1.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
zeiss batis 85 on a6000
a6000, 1/800, f/2.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
sony 90mm macro on a6000
a6000, 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 100 – FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G

Of course with the A7 series you have the possibility to adapt many third party or Sony A-mount lenses so the options become almost limitless. But when reviewing cameras, I always like to analyse how the system works with its native lenses first. One year ago, I used the 55mm 1.8 and a Leica 90mm Summicron for a portrait session. Today the Batis 1.8/85 would probably be my favourite lens but I’m glad Sony users now have more choice. And if we forget side-by-side comparisons for a moment, each of these lenses when used individually can give you excellent results.

ILCE-7, 1/1000, f/ 1.8, ISO 100
ILCE-7, 1/1000, f/ 1.8, ISO 100 – FE 55mm
zeiss batis 85mm
A7R, 1/800, f/1.8, ISO 100 – Batis 1.8/85
sony fe 90mm portrait
A7s, 1/400, f/2.8, ISO 200 – FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G

Probably one of the great and less highlighted benefits of this new full frame system is that some of these lenses can perform well on APS-C cameras too. The 55mm is a very useful focal length and a must-have if you own both Sony full frame and APS-C cameras. Sony FE is rapidly becoming the most versatile system among mirrorless cameras. The lens line-up for the APS-C cameras has always been weaker when it comes to high quality and fast prime lenses, so all these new FE lenses make the APS-C system worth the investment.

The only two limits I can think of are the size and price. Many of these new lenses aren’t very different from their DSLR equivalents in terms of size and weight which defeats the purpose of a compact system. What’s more, all these lenses are expensive. On a DSLR system, 1.8 lenses tend to be the more affordable option. In Sony’s case, the FE 55mm or the Batis 85mm 1.8 cost twice as much, if not more, than their DSLR equivalents. While we can argue about the difference in optical quality, the FE lenses in general tend to be very expensive (think about the 35mm f/2.8). I hope that in the future Sony will also release a set of fast and more affordable primes. But once again, the system is not even two years old. Let’s give it some time.

Our full review of the Zeiss Batis and 90mm macro lens will be online soon, so be sure to come back and visit us! In the meantime, here are some other image samples taken with the Batis lenses here (25mm) and here (85mm).

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About the author: Mathieu Gasquet

Mathieu Gasquet is a professional photographer with French and Italian origins. Besides running his own video and photography studio 3Dit Lab, he is also the official photographer for the National Cinema Museum in Turin. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Hernández Packo

    you find your solution to you issue? i have te same thought

  • Mathieu

    On APS-C they give you a similar field of view of a 135mm lens.

  • Claude B.

    I didn’t know that with A6000? But whats about in manual focus in low light?

  • Claude B.

    Very good idea to ad the equivalent lens wit APS-C (I own the A6000)
    But what it gave to APS-C the 85mm or 90mm? A very good telephoto?

  • Adrian

    I recently bought the 85mm batis for my A6000 and im thinking of getting the 55mm ziess aswell but would I get much sharper images if I was to invest and upgrade the body from A6000 to A7ii, as i have noticed that the A6000 isn’t always that sharp even with eye focus on my portraits, would the A7ii be worth the costly upgrade in terms of IQ/sharpness

  • Mahesh

    Hi Mathieu, thanks for replying. I love the photos you have taken with the Cron. I will try that Batis somewhere (if I manage to find it!) and then decide. When I tried cron with an adapter, I was fine with focussing etc, and liked the images too. I will let you know how I get on :-)

  • Mathieu

    Ouh, that’s a tough one! 😀
    I digged into my hard drive to have a look again at the pictures I took with the Cron and the A7. It appears to me that the cron has better separation and a slightly more uniformed bokeh but without comparing the same shot it is actually difficult to guess. My advice is that if you have the chance to try one in a camera store, it could help you decide. The cron is quite heavy and perhaps slightly more uncomfortable to use than the Batis but I do love the shots I took with it.

  • Mahesh

    A very good review indeed. I have a question. What do you think of batis against the 90 cron you used sometime back? Which has better separation, bokeh, colours etc? I am deciding between the two, scratching my head! Don’t care much about the price as though cron second hand is double in price, you can get a good resell value.

  • vett93

    You are right. Thanks!

  • Mathieu

    You can find those images among the first three pictures included in the article 😉 (Batis at 2.8 and 90mm at 2.8)

  • vett93

    Thanks for the review. Can you compare Sony 90mm F2.8 and Zeiss Batis 85mm F1.8 at F2.8 aperture? This would give a bokeh comparison of these two lenses at the same aperture.

  • David B

    Well the pixel pitch of 24mp a6000 is equal to what, about 52mp full frame sensor pitch? I guess even that great 55Fe lens has its limits. I curious to see how it does on 42mp sensor of a7r2 on pixel level (not normalized to 8mp like dxo tests) 42mp sensor full frame has same pixel pitch as 16mp crop I think

  • Mathieu

    Thanks David but you might confuse me with someone else. In my A7RII video I show the AF with E and A mount lenses but not with Canon lenses :)

  • Mathieu

    Hi David, I did noticed a decrease of AF performance in low light with the a6000 as well but I must admit that I have more experience with the 55mm and the A7 series when it comes to low light. Actually the best experience I had with that lens in low light is with the A7s. I used it at events as well and weddings and while not being perfect, proved to be useful many times.
    As for the AF of the three lenses, the 90mm and the Batis 85mm are quite good. We even used them for some sports photography and their response was fine. In low light it has more to do with the cameras than the lens in this case. Keep in mind that low light + backlight (like specular highlights in the background) is often a challenge for many AF system, not just the one on Sony cameras.

  • Mathieu

    Thanks for your comment, glad you appreciated it 😉

  • Art M.

    David thanks for pointing out the problem with low light autofocus with a6000. I got burned badly by this when I first purchased the camera.

    Funny how hard it is to get Sony to admit this, or the people on Sony forums. SO, alas, I use it mainly for casual and travel even that the image quality alone (absent the AF problem) should make it more useful. Still need to test v2.0 firmware though.

  • Art M.

    This is an exceptionally useful comparison! Thank you for taking the time to do it and presenting it so carefully.

  • David B

    One thing I wanted to point out is while A6000 and 55FE is a good combo, I’ve used that combo at events and/or backlit situations and low light restaurants, and the AF is hit and miss and it significantly slowed down. I used all the techniques per Gary Fong’s teachings, including continuous AF etc etc… to get them PDAF points to work as much as they can in that situation. I’ve used some 55FE on A7II in low light situation and results were better, even though in decent light A6000 will run circles around A7II in AF region. Don’t know and this review does not address how 85/1.8 and/or 90/2.8 AF behaves in low light situation on any of the camera tested

  • Scott Edwards

    Each surprisingly good. The glass of the Batis is what mattahs… (read it with a New York accent; it will perhaps then make sense).

  • Sean T

    Now that the pricey versions exist, the next goal is the less expensive versions. We know Sony can do good and less expensive, that 28 mm f2 is proof! Come on Sony, when are the cheaper lenses coming? Probably after they milk the Zony’s and Zeiss for all they’re worth.
    I dream about the a7RII with a competent adapter and whole bunch of Canon glass. It wouldn’t take too many lenses to pay for the adapter!

  • G Solid

    Before I can commit to the 85 1.8 I really need to see a direct comparison between it and the existing Sony Zeiss 85mm f1.4 In A mount. I purchased the 1.4 just as the 1.8 was announced. So far I’m very unimpressed by that lens expect for in the colour which is very rich. From what I’ve seen the 1.8 has much more muted colour than I would prefer.

  • G Solid

    That what I wanted until I shot the combo. The 55 is way less sharp than on the a7/ii which I can live with. The CA is also more visible but easily corrected. The big problem is the lumanice noise of the a6000. Very visible in RAW in shadows at ISO400. I was stunned how bad it was or how good the a7, take your pick.

  • Soup

    Thanks for the very interesting comparison with the A6000 and FE55. For me, this is definitely an alternative, because it’s smaller, lighter and cheaper.

  • Mathieu

    Sorry :)

  • Lyn Rees

    You’re giving me GAS!

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