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The Low Light King - Aviation Photography With The ZEISS Batis f/2 25mm Lens

The Low Light King - Aviation Photography With The ZEISS Batis f/2 25mm Lens - ZEISS enthusiast Lloyd Horgan takes to the skies with the new ZEISS 25mm f/2 lens.

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ZEISS Batis Lens Family - 2.8/18, 2/25, 1.8/85 & 2.8/135

ZEISS enthusiast Lloyd Horgan, professional aviation and landscape photographer gets behind the driving seat of the ZEISS Batis 2/25 on board with the 56th Rescue Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

Lloyd HorganLloyd Horgan: Low Light with the 56th Rescue Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, shot with ZEISS Batis 2/25.

UK-based broadcast solution provider CVP very kindly offered a loan of a Sony A7sII and teamed it with a ZEISS Batis 2/25 lens. Aviation photography requires a lot of flexibility, presenting widely varying opportunities moment to moment, so I wondered if a full frame sensor with a prime lens (and a pretty wide one at that) would cut the mustard. Then there was the lighting situation. In the confined space of a helicopter at night, the only natural light is from the multifunction displays (MFDs) or the night vision goggles (NVG). This tends to be soft and green and for obvious reasons it’s not a good idea to start using a flash in such situations

Lloyd Horgan

Whilst night images aren’t completely lacking from my portfolio, articles or reports, the ‘tactical’ low light images definitely are – mostly down to my kit limitations. I was curious to see how the A7sII coped. I wanted to capture images of the pilots prepping their aircraft for a sortie in the cockpit at night with their NVGs fitted, and the ground crew prepping the aircraft. I would then fly at night with a helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS/Air Ambulance), having flown on a similar sortie a few months earlier it showed the massive limitations that my current kit has when working at night and at high ISO.

A forthcoming visit to the 56th Rescue Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath and a night currency sortie with the Wiltshire Air Ambulance gave me the perfect opportunity to put the A7sII and Batis glass to work in an aviation environment.

Whilst I missed being able to pixel peep like I can with files from my D7100 (24.1MP) I don’t think it’s a massive issue and the Sony absolutely makes up for the fewer megapixels with its incredibly impressive ISO performance. I’m still amazing at how good the files look straight out of camera at ISO 10,000, even 20,000 is usable after some noise reduction in post. Obviously the grain is visible but it’s very manageable and gives that tactical look to the images which really suites the night setting. I found the autofocus to be more or less faultless, there were a couple of times when I switched to manual to save a little bit of time rather than switching the focus point, but as long there was some form of light source such as an MFD then it locked straight on. Images straight out of camera, especially in the day, have an excellent dynamic range and look almost flat, which is great for post-production work later on, though that look could just be down to the awful weather and light that seems to follow me wherever I go at the moment!

Lloyd Horgan

Lloyd Horgan: Low Light with the Wiltshire Air Ambulance, shot with ZEISS Batis 2/25.

In flight the camera performed faultlessly, the light from the MFDs providing a great light source for the AF to lock on to – again at some points I did switch to MF instead of switching the focus point. I find it really hard to fault this little camera, but there are a few little niggles I have with it, all from a stills perspective. It would be great to have the redundancy of dual SD card slots; it’s very rare that you get an opportunity to re-shoot something in aviation, so having a card fail could be disastrous.

This is probably a good time to mention that I am now completely in love with the ZEISS Batis 2/25, it is such a beautiful lens. I’m really not used to shooting with a prime, being stuck to a focal length isn’t really beneficial when shooting aviation but I absolutely loved it. It certainly makes the mind work a little harder when thinking about composing images and it also means you can get right into the action though with the wide angle of view – which is absolutely perfect when working in the cramped confines of a helicopter. Also, the shallow depth of field when shooting at f/2 is just so pleasing to the eye, it suits the night images very well when using parts of the airframe to naturally frame either the pilot or special-mission aviators. I also love how ZEISS flashes up on the upper display of the lens when the camera is turned on; little things…

Whilst I do shoot video very occasionally, I don’t profess to know the complete ins and outs – my knowledge is very limited and whilst I’m working on increasing it, I thought it would be worth mentioning the 120fps option that the A7sII can shoot. Slow motion is perfect for helicopters; it shows perfectly how they beat the air into submission to stay airborne. This really is an incredible package in a tiny body. Sony have created something very special in the A7sII and if you need that low-light capability I highly recommend it.

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