Miniature photography is a hobby of mine. I love taking the camera out whenever I get the chance. Everyone sees the world differently. The camera is my tool for capturing what my mind locks onto when I’m out and about.
It was about 5:30pm when I decided to take my daughter to the nearby beach. The weather was sunny with a breeze. With an air temperature of 75F, it was a perfect day to hang out.
This article is a personal account of my real world experience with the Zeiss Batis 40mm CF lens. No lab testing or specs here. Just close up photos and my personal thoughts. Skip ahead to the end of the article for a full summary of my key thoughts about the Zeiss Batis 40mm CF lens.
Subject: Axis & Allies Tabletop Miniatures
I brought the only two miniatures I own from the game with me to the beach. They were free minis that I got from a new player demo a few years ago. The game was released sometime in 2009, and there was hype surrounding it.
When it comes to historical miniature games, I’m a tad ambivalent. Odd, given that I love history. But, engaging in ‘games’ based on history is different. It lacks immersion for me, I guess. Sure, you can discover and engage in the game mechanics itself. The tactical dimension is always something I’m drawn to when it comes to mini games. However, in the case of historic-based games, as it is, the story is already written and I don’t need to re-write it on a tabletop.
Suffice it to say, the miniature tanks are not exactly scale models. But, they are cool and have pretty good detail.
What Camera Equipment Did I Use?
If you’re a photographer enthusiast or professional, you may be wondering what equipment I shoot with. It’s the same kind of question you might get from an observer who asks you what brand paint you use; or, maybe what your preferred paint brush might be. For a miniature painter/artist, all of these questions imply that the process and technique is just as important as the final result.
For photography, people in the hobby enjoy the process as much as the final image.
I currently use a Sony A7R3 mirrorless system. For the photos, I brought my Batis 40mm lens. I picked this lens because it was particularly suited for close focusing. While it’s not a macro lens (image reproduction ratio of 1:1), the Batis 40mm CF is incredibly versatile as a macro-lite optical tool (image reproduction ratio 1:3.3). Without getting into the nitty gritty, this means that I was able to get close to my miniatures to full resolve details and fill my frame with the subject.
The 40mm focal length on a full-frame camera is my absolute favorite perspective. The photographs have a cinematic look. As a normal-wide lens on a camera with a full frame sensor (35mm film equivalent) I can capture 90% of whatever my eyes see normally. That is, it’s a natural fit for someone like me who is a visual spatial thinker/learner. 40mm also happens to be the generally favored focal length for film makers and visual story tellers.
And, isn’t a major attraction of photography the urge to tell a story—to evoke an emotion or communicate an idea? For me, photography is a way to tell stories without words. The snapshot images of my daughter playing in the sand is a story I’d like to tell her when she is older.
Why Photograph Miniatures?
“What are you doing, Daddy?”
I’m lying prone on the sand. ““I’m playing with Daddy’s toys.”
“Oh…” My daughter goes back to digging with her plastic blue shovel. She’s two (almost three).
I taste sand. I’m trying to get an eye-level perspective of the models. They are tiny! The lens hood of my Batis is touching the sand, and I’m a tad nervous. But, the sand is dry and I know that the sealing around the lens mount with my camera body will keep the debris out. I should be okay, right? Sure. I keep composing and shooting.
And, it seems that even my daughter thinks what I’m doing is weird. We’re in public after all. The weather is great and a lot of people are strolling about.
That, of course, begs the question again of ‘why am I taking these photos?’.
On Instagram, there is a huge following for photographers who create images of miniatures and toys. Toy photography is very popular!
Toy photography spans a very large genre of things. Photographs of dolls, pop art vinyl figurines, and close-up photos of legos — some of which you might find through this site — are certainly interesting subjects with the right composition, light, and juxtaposition within a frame. But, truly, I think my budding interest has been focused on photography involving highly-detailed scale models and replicas.
Here’s the reason I enjoy photographing miniatures: Reality is big. There’s just too much of it, and life moves really fast. It is chaotic. Photography slows everything down. Moments, just moments. Photographing miniatures allows me to take big ideas, and feelings, and put them all into a box—into a literal frame.
What Inspires Me?
I’m an impulsive creator. There’s a spark—a moment of reflection. Then, I’m doing it—whatever that thing is. Sometimes I don’t know the reason behind my action, but if I have the time and resources I’m plowing ahead. Of course, this gets me in trouble! Like that time I pulled a fire alarm in a crowded restaurant because I had the inkling that it would get me out of a eating my veggies (okay, not really relevant, but I was a kid and I remember the sprinklers spraying water on everyone like it was yesterday).
The spark lit up the moment I walked out the door. Let’s photograph some miniatures! I’ve got a new lens and the natural sunlight is great.
No plan. Just muscle memory and a bit of crystallized knowledge of how to use my camera equipment.
While my daughter was digging in the sand, I snapped a few shots of the miniature tanks. One of them was a German panzer, I think (let me know if I’m wrong). The other was an American Sherman tank. The latter is a favorite of mine from playing the World of Tanks video game.
Really, I’m not 100% sure what made me grab these particular miniatures. As I mentioned, I’m impulsive. I have tons and tons of miniatures in my collection. See my gallery, for example. I had many to choose from. In this case, I think I picked the most expendable models I owned. In fact, these were free miniatures that I got from a giveaway some years ago. The tanks were even pre-painted, so I hadn’t even put effort into getting them ready for their big photo shoot.
If I lost them in the sand, or they got damaged shuffling about in the surf, I would be okay.
What Story Am I Trying to Tell?
I didn’t want to spend all my time posing and planning everything. All I knew is that I needed to fill the frame. I had to get close. Here, we have a German tank and an American tank. Perhaps, they are enemies as history would support. Or, they were friendly tanks…. like Thomas the Train.
“Hello, Mr. German tank.”
“—‘ello, there,” replied the American armor.
Okay, this is ridiculous. There’s no story… just me having fun creating images. I’m experimenting and discovering what looks good. This article showcases some of my favorite photographs I took. All of them are close-ups where I was less than a meter from the miniature. I tried to use the structure I saw in the sand and the shadows to help add some tension to the image.
What are the Challenges of Miniature Photography?
Tiny subjects, needing to get close, all adds up to a very shallow depth-of-field (DoF). Stopping down to increase my depth of field would have been useful, but light was uncertain given that I was casting a huge shadow with my body.
I did try and stay away from the fully open aperture (the lens maxes out at f2), because of the loss of depth of field. But, with a wide aperture I was able to blur out a lot of the distracting elements in the background (e.g., sea shells, rocks, people, my daughter’s toys). You see I didn’t have a lot of freedom or time to mess around and control my environment.
In hindsight, I should have brought a tripod and focus-stacked a series of these images. My impulsiveness is a double-edged sword, and here, it bit me.
Focus-stacking would have given me a lot more control over my depth of field and provided some nice separation between the tanks and the busy background (people were walking about). Ultimately, I did the best I could and the series came out fine.
In short, my initial impressions emerged quickly: the Batis 40mm is a great lens for the impulsive photographer. Although the 40mm focal length perspective has always been my perspective, the Batis 40mm CF for my Sony camera has become my everyday carry, do-it-all lens.
I had considered converting these images to black and white, but I would have lost the warmth the natural sunlight provided. There’s a little post-processing on these images to add a slight vignette (darkening the edges of the frame). The Batis 40mm shot wide open with an f2 aperture provided very little loss of exposure value. So, I added some vignette effects back into the image to give my subject a bit more “pop” and focus.
There are some people who have expressed their displeasure with the Batis 40mm bokeh effect. Bokeh is the aesthetic look of the blurred out parts of an image. It is a very subjective aspect of judging a photograph, and it is different for every lens.
The Batis 40mm in my opinion produces a lovely bokeh that is smooth (post firmware update v3.0). Although I didn’t have a lot of small busy elements in my background, I could tell right away that it wouldn’t have the nervous rendering of my Voigtlander 40mm f1.2 lens.
A Familiar Trait
“I want to go in the water….” she says. Her voice is matter-of-fact.
No! Images of her being swept away by a riptide flash before my eyes. Plus, she’s not wearing her swim trunks and I’m carrying camera equipment! I can’t run into the water after her.
“Wait, for Daddy!” I say as I see her get up. She’s left her toys strewn on the sand.
I pick up her toys, the miniature Axis & Allies tanks, and throw them all into the bucket we had with us. As I wipe off the sand from my jeans and my camera bag, I spy a white seashell. That’s my chance….
“Look—“ I say her name. “A pretty seashell!”
She stops in her tracks—looks around—then, sees where I’m pointing. She shuffles closer.
Ah, my job is done. Daddy has successfully re-directed the impulsive attention of a toddler away from disaster.
30 minutes later, she’s asleep in her car seat on the way home. I’m already thinking about what’s on my SD card.
Final Thoughts: Real World Use with the Batis 40mm Lens
Overall, I love this lens. The Batis 40mm has become my favorite everyday walk about lens. I have it in my camera bag all the time. The A7R3 body is the perfect combo with the Batis 40mm. I will be taking a lot more photographs with this lens and will be posting more about my experience with this kit. I think a lot of reviewers out there like talking about specs and tech, but I prefer to know how equipment works in a real world environment. Doing life with your camera!
Key Observations with the Batis 40mm f2 lens for Sony Cameras
- Sharp across the frame f2 – f16 (max is f22)
- Slight vignette (corrected in camera or easily with RAW files)
- Very low chromatic aberration in high contrast environment (look at the sand particles in my images)
- Beautiful color and contrast straight from the lens (doesn’t require a lot of correction)
- Fast and quiet autofocus
- Weather, dust, and sand resistant (was really helpful when the wind picked up at the beach—all that sand)
- Bokeh is very smooth and buttery looking – I love it (firmware update post v3.0)
- Close-focusing is really cool to have when you want it!
- Closest competitor in my opinion is the Voigtlander 40mm f1.2, but this lens is manual focus only. Other lenses (e.g., Sigma 40mm) are too heavy or lack the versatility of the close-focusing feature
This site is dedicated to miniature hobbies, games, and photography. It is a personal take on the experience of engaging with these past times while having a busy family life. Some links are to affiliates, where I make a small percentage if you decide to buy a product. I hope you enjoy my photos as much as I did my outing at the beach!
Thank you for stopping by! Do you like photographing miniatures? Do you have any specific questions about my photography?