The first thing you look at with this lens is the size. It's quite big for a 40mm lens. Having said that it's also quite light at a smidge over 360g. I do feel that it sits in the hand very easily when clamped to my Sony a7r mk3. It has a smooth surface and that unusual modern design that is a signature of the Batis lineup.
The focus ring is also discrete and consists of a grippy but sleek rubber ring that sits flush with the lenses barrel. This makes it more difficult to locate at first and does take some getting used to. Most focus rings traditionally have a raised aspect to their design, making location by touch that much easier.
Focus by wire
When it comes to the manual focusing (by wire) I find this to be very well implemented on the Sony. The focus assist magnifier kicks in promptly on slightly moving the ring and the damping and smooth manual focusing is a delight. It's nearly as good as a true manual focus lens like the Loxia range.
There is one design aspect that might not be desirable for some (especially videographers), which is the non-linier manual focusing. The focusing speed is dependent on the speed you move the focus ring; move it fast and the focus changes rapidly, move it slowly and the focus reacts with more precision. I like this way of focusing. When I'm manually focusing on some detail I feel that the precision is greatly increased when I'm naturally moving the ring gradually. If I want to focus rapidly on a distant subject I don’t have to rack the focus ring multiple times to achieve that; I just move it quickly and I'm at infinity! (Kind of like a warp drive).
There's no AF / MF switch on the lens itself (as is with the rest of the Batis range), so you'll need to set the focus mode in camera or set up a button for this task. I do prefer buttons on lenses for such basic tasks but I can equally get used to setting up a button for this (my other Sony & Sigma lenses have proper switches so that's what I used to).
The auto focus works really well. It's rapid and accurate. I've tested the lens on a couple of commercial commissions so far and it's spot on with focusing on the selected focus point. I've yet to try the eye focus (which was addressed in the latest firmware update).
I installed the latest firmware straight (v0.2) away which addresses some issues with the eye focus and the way the lens automatically stops down when focusing close.
I can't comment on the eye focusing as I haven't used that yet but I did find the behaviour with the aperture closing down to be good. I have several macro lenses for the work I do and, apart from a couple of manual Zeiss macros, which are f2, they all have a maximum aperture of f2.8. So to automatically close down the Batis to f2.8 is perfectly normal.
The only thing that I wish Zeiss would do is relay the actual aperture to the camera & metadata. I often work in the range where the Batis will be stopping down to some extent from f2 and I'd like to see that reflected in camera so that I can make the appropriate adjustments to my flash output. I used to work with a Nikon d810 which, although didn't physically stop down, did relay the apparent aperture when close focusing (a normal physical loss of light due to lens extension).
When I see the metadata in Lightroom is set to f2 and the image is a close up I really don't know what the real aperture is (it starts to stop down from 0.65m in increments until the closest focus where it sets f2.8 - unless you've already set f2.8 or greater).
I had an email conversation with Zeiss about this and they have no desire to implement relaying the true aperture to the camera / metadata.
The dreaded blue dot!
Unfortunately, Zeiss use a tiny dark blue dot to indicate the lens alignment position for mounting onto the camera. I'm not sure where this rationale came from but it's not helpful when trying to visually locate it. I've stuck on a bright sticker to highlight the position instead (not as pretty, sorry Zeiss, but more practical).
Photography by Dayve Ward