Auto Focus Zeiss Sonnar
Batis 135/2.8 Apo Sonnar T* 135mm f2.8 2.8/135
Finally, the first auto focus lens I buy and use in my life, and happens to be the hot from oven Zeiss Batis 135/2.8 Apo Sonnar T* for Sony FE mount. Full frame, Apo design, auto focus!
Below is a simple illustration of the evolution of Zeiss 135mm f2.8 over the years, less the very respectable Contarex 135/2.8 Sonnar.
From left to right:
Rolleiflex HFT 135/2.8 Sonnar, Contax 135/2.8 Sonnar T*, Zeiss Batis 135/2.8 Apo Sonnar T*.
Roughly to scale. Weight: Rollei-450g, Contax-585g, Batis-614g.
In old days Zeiss lens designs are always very elegant, making use of very few lens elements and groups. From an engineer point of view the simplest design is the best and most elegant design. But today with very high resolution digital sensors even Zeiss will need to make their design fairly complicated to cater for much stringent performance requirement and the do-not -quite-make-sense pixel peeping on the computer screen. For telephoto the unavoidable CA and colour fringing, and for Batis design for auto focus. Thus you can see the fairly complicated Apo Sonnar design for the Batis series, and knowing Zeiss has been very stingy on labelling their lens as Apo you would thus expecting very high standard of correction for the Batis 135/2.8 Apo Sonnar, and of course with the renown T* multi-coating. Based on the lens diagram I think the Batis Apo Sonnar is no longer a conventional Sonnar design, as the design now need to cater for very high correction of images and also internal focusing for auto focus. The lens design used floating elements, but Zeiss only uses special glasses for this lens and no aspherical elements to achieve the Apo quality.
The one of a kind O LED distance and depth of field indicator,
visible when attached to the camera with the camera power on,
selectable for visibility for manual, auto focus or both modes.
Competing head on of course is the very good ZF/ZE series 135/2 Apo Sonnar T*. The Batis is lighter, and being internal focus the length of the lens does not change over different focusing distance. Based on the MTFs both Apo Sonnar performance is very good. My only complaint on the Batis is the fine focusing. For that it could be the focus by wire manual focusing design of the Batis, or I have not get used to this method of manual focusing. Although the Batis Apo Sonnar is the heaviest 135/2.8 from Zeiss so far at 614g, when mounted on the A7R2 the package feels very comfortable and manageable, especially I have been using Otus lenses with the A7R2 hahaha!
It could sounds funny, that the very first thing I tried to do with the Batis 135/2.8 is to figure out how to best manual focus the lens : D !! Next is of course struggling very hard for the whole day in a school event of my daughter to figure out all the auto focus settings on a Sony A7R2!
A7R2, f4 1/500, ISO 320, auto focus, 27 May 2017.
And till the night I was trying the various auto focus settings for moving subjects on stage, and finally I think I have made the auto focus mode work for me and also being quite far from the stage I happened to be able to examine the high resolution and high correction for the Batis 135/2.8.
A7R2, f2.8 1/250, auto focus, ISO 1250, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg, 27 May 2017.
The photo was taken with the A7R2 mounted on a tripod with the Batis Apo Sonnar. Taken at f2.8 the widest aperture and at ISO 1250. The crops of the photo demonstrate very clearly the very high quality of the Apo Sonnar and also the A7R2.
No regret, and I will have more fun with the Batis Apo Sonnar in the future!
The All Round Wide Angle
This well designed and fast wide angle is my interim from the ZM to the Otus. The ZM 25/2.8 and ZM 28/2.8 are very good but unfortunately cannot be used on Alpha 7 for all shooting situations. The Rollei and Contax wide angles like HFT 25/2.8 Distagon, CY 28/2.8 Distagon T* and CY 28/2 Distagon T* all actually work very well on the Alpha 7 series of bodies, which shows that Zeiss makes lenses of very high quality. These old lenses can perform very well even in the digital age, only suffer slight drop in sharpness towards the edges of the photo as they are not design for digital sensors in the first place. In the good old film days, when you take group photos you only need to focus the people approximately and with aperture f5.6 or f8 you will get very sharp photos with all the faces in proper focus. However, in the digital age the sensors are so much more picky and for group photos you have to focus carefully even at aperture of f5.6 or f8. For me I will tend to focus the faces in the front row, and since the depth of field will expand to the back more than to the front, everybody will become sharp. If you focus on the back rows there are very high chances that the front row will not be sharp enough when you view the shots on computer.
M42 Enna Lithagon 28/3.5, Contax 28/2.8 Distagon, ZF.2 25/2 Distagon, Rolleiflex 25/2.8 Distagon with Hama hood.
Sembawang God of Wealth Temple, Singapore.
Alpha 7R, f5.6 1/8, ISO 100, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg, 16 April 2016.
The ZF 25/2 Distagon T* is very good, and very hard to fault, other than the CA in some situations where only Otus 28/2.8 Apo Distagon will managed well. But the Otus 28/2.8 is very huge, heavy and expensive. So the ZF 25/2 is a very good alternative and it is very fast at f2 also and can use for a lot of photography opportunities. I finally bought the Otus 28/1.4 and the ZF 25/2 will be for the occation where I am not able to bring the Otus due to its size and weight. But it is strange up to this point of time that there are no 25mm and 28mm in the Zeiss Loxia series and Milvus series but there is a 25/2 for the autofocus Batis series.
Alpha 7R, f8 1/125, ISO 100, 12 March 2016.
Alpha 7R, f4 1/250, ISO 400, 29 Nov 2015.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore.
Alpha 7R, f5.6 1/2-1/4, ISO 100, Manfrotto 190B/410Gear, 25 Oct 2015.
The Art of Zeiss Superwide
One of the biggest disappointment with the Zeiss is not able to use the ZM wide angle series on the full frame Sony Alpha series of bodies. Even the ZM 35mm f2 Biogon has some corner issues. Although the corner colour cast has disappeared on the Alpha 7R2, to me the images at the corners are still not usable. So it is sad that the made in Germany ZM 15/2.8 Distagon can only be used on A7 in the APS-C mode, and the ZF 15/2.8 Distagon will perform well as the rear element is far away enough from the A7 sensor.
ZM 15/2.8 Distagon T* and ZF.2 15/2.8 Distagon T*.
The focus throw of the ZM 15 is actually much more.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore.
Alpha 7R, f5.6 1/2-1 sec, ISO 100, Manfrotto 190B/410Gear, 25 Oct 2015.
15mm focal length is not easy to compose, and the size of the lens is also quite bulky, and if weight and camera bag space is a constraint then I would prefer the much more handy Loxia 21/2.8. But the ZF 15/2.8 being a Distagon design caters for camera body with reflex mirror, the light falls off at smaller aperture performance is very good.
Alpha 7R, f5.6 1/15, ISO 125, Manfrotto 190B/054Mg, 17 Dec 2015.
This lens has very good sharpness and very resistance to flare. For photographers who like to work with 15mm this is a good candidate to consider. A lens that can be used with confident at all shooting conditions.
Alpha 7R, f8 1/250, ISO 100, Manfrotto 190XPROB/410Gear, 29 Nov 2015.
Old Lens for the New Age
Rolleiflex SL66 HFT 500/5.6 Tele-Tessar 500mm f5.6
This lens I have owned for quite many years. It was not used much until now with Sony Alpha 7R it finally gets out of the dry cabinet : )
With high ISO quality of digital sensors I have worked more on the Contax 300/4 Tele-Tessar. Then I bought a fairly cheap very old Nikkor 600/5.6. With higher success rate on the 600/5.6 I start to use this 500/5.6 Tele-Tessar again, originally designed for SL66 medium format cameras. The main issue with the 500/5.6 Tele-Tessar is the lens itself does not come with focusing helicoil and thus need to get a lens adaptor with helicoil, which is normally very expensive. Througout the years I have worked with several adaptors. But not very sure the reasons the adaptors do not put the camera body in the same orientation. The one i use now as shown in the photo above is a SL66-Mamiya 645 adaptor followed by a Mamiya 645-Nikon adaptor. Of course finally I will need a Nikon to Sony E mount adaptor.
There are a few issues using the 500/5.6 on SLR/DSLR. The lens does not use internal focusing technology so the length of the lens changes when focus at different subject distance. Also the lens does not come with a rotation collar as SL66 is a square format camera so there is no different in landscape or portrait composition. When I did lens comparison by using static objects I found the resolution of the Nikkor 600/5.6 is slightly better than the 500/5.6. Colour fringing at f5.6 for both lenses are comparable. However in actual photo taking the Rollei 500/5.6 performs quite well and I prefer the colour rendering of the 500/5.6 more, probably i am used to Zeiss lenses. Surprisingly the 500/5.6 Tele-Tessar works well with the Nikon TC14B and TC301 tele-convertors, and seems better than the Contax Mutar II and III.
A Grey Heron patiently posed for me in Singapore Japanese Garden.
Alpha 7R2, f8 1/500, ISO 160, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
Two Juvenile Grey Heron with their nests.
Alpha 7R2, f8 1/500 with Mutar III, ISO 640, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
Having some fun at the Singapore Zoo.
Alpha 7R2, f5.6 1/500, ISO 2000, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
The same patient Grey Heron with its reflection.
Alpha 7R2, f8 1/500, ISO 500, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
It's a bit awkward using this lens in portrait mode.
Another view of the same Grey Heron.
Alpha 7R2, f8 1/500, ISO 160, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
The Long Range Shooter
Nikkor 600/5.6 ED-IF AIS 600mm f5.6
With the help of digital technology with very good image quality at high ISO allows me now to get back into shooting wild life again. I chanced upon this Nikkor 600mm f5.6 ED-IF AIS used with a good price and decided to give it a try. Anyway, this is the first lens that I use with no German origin. I bought the lens with an original Nikon 122mm filter and the lens looks very impressive with a very big front element group.
This is a very old lens, the very early design of the 600mm series from Nikon. At f5.6 the weight at less than 3kg is more manageable by me. There is already the used of special lens elements to reduce chromatic aberation. With internal focusing the length of the lens remains unchange thus very good for practical use, especially if both the lens and the camera body are mounted on tripods. This early design is quite strange with all the len elements in the front of the lens with a integrated filter right at the back, and that makes the lens very front heavy.
After bought the lens of course I went to try some easy subjects. Below is a black swan in Singapore Botanical Garden.
Alpha 7R2, f5.6 1/500, ISO 800, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
Actually come to bird photography, other than the skill of the photographer, the knowledge on the birds is also very important. For me I am not so deep into bird photography. But I am lucky enough to bump into bird experts when I bring my 600/5.6 around. Below is a shot of the Brown Hawk Owl at the Singapore Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I happened to see two groups of photographers all shooting this pair of Brown Hawk Owls. I had to wait for the moment both of their eyes were facing the camera.
Brown Hawk Owls, Alpha 7R2, f5.6 1/250, ISO 5000, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
I used the lens with the Nikon TC14B 1.4x tele-convertor. The results are quite good like the shot below. Fringing is unavoidable for lens of this focal length and technology at that point of time. Stop down from maximum aperture of f5.6 to f8 will improve the fringing effect.
Curlew Sandpiper, Sungei Buloh Nature Reserve Singapore, Alpha 7R2
f5.6/8, 1/1000, with TC14B, ISO 800, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
I am also lucky to photographed a rare Straw-Headed Bulbul in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I did not know it was a rare species until later.
Straw-Headed Bulbul, Alpha 7R2, f5.6 1/500-1/1000 with TC14B,
ISO 5000, Manfrotto 190XPROB/054Mg.
This lens is also quite fun to photograph flower.
Alpha 7R2, f8 1/125, ISO 640, Berlebach Mulde/Konica erde-3065.
Below is a shot of Grey Heron in Japanese Garden Singapore. For this I tried to use a shutter speed of 1/125 to bring down the ISO.
Grey Heron, f8 1/125, ISO 3200, Berlebach Mulde/Konica erde-3065 ball head.
The two compatible tele-convertors for the 600/5.6:
TC-14B (1.4x) and the strange looking TC-301 (2x).