A dynamic duo of Zeiss lenses have been launched for flagship Fujifilm and Sony MILCs. Optical overkill, or worth it?
Carl Zeiss recently relaunched itself as just plain Zeiss, and, has taken its first foray into the Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera market, launching two lenses: the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 and the Zeis Touit 12mm f/2.5, for the Fujifilm X-mount and Sony E Mount MILC models. Being Zeiss, one should reasonably expect these two prime lenses to offer outstanding build and uncompromising image quality—and relatively high pricetags.
Why would Zeiss produce lenses for mirrorless compacts? Some online critics have turned up their noses at the concept and indeed, users of the lower and mid-range models likely will not appreciate the quality and benefits, and these lenses aren't for them. However, owners of top-line models such as the Sony NEX-7 and Sony NEX-6 as well as the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and Fujifilm X-E1 have taken notice, and for good reason. These cameras are outstanding tools that have been embraced by a growing part of the professional photographic community and serious photo enthusiasts. The sensors used by these four cameras are among the top APS sensors I've ever used, and image quality that good, in my opinion, is worthy of Zeiss's traditionally excellent optical quality.
Another reason for the existence of these lenses? The Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Compact camera category is the fastest growing category of cameras that aren't integrated into smart phones. Zeiss is fishing where the fish are biting—with gourmet-quality bait!
I had a chance to use the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 and Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.5 lenses on my Fujifilm X-Pro 1 with the latest firmware version (v 3.00) loaded. Let's take a look at these intriguing lenses. (Note that our lab test partner, DxOMark, does not yet have the ability to test the lens on the Fujifilm sensor cameras, so all test results are based on the Sony system. That said, since both sensors are outstanding, results should not vary much.)
Zeiss Planar Touit 32mm f/1.8
Adorama Price $900
Build: Solid, all-metal body and glass. The solid rubberized focus ring is very graspable and focuses smoothly in manual mode. The aperture ring (Fujifilm version only) click-stops with authority, but is easily adjusted and clearly marked. I do wish the lens had a depth-of-field scale but this is a feature that seems to have been taken away from most prime lenses these days.
Optics: 8 elements in 5 groups. Aspherical lens design with floating elements with minimal optical aberration. All surfaces have Zeiss's proprietary anti-reflective coating, and the resulting images are sharp and contrasty. Flare is very well controlled at all apertures, even when shooting into direct sunlight. Takes 52mm filters.
Focus: 1.2 feet-infinity. Auto and manual focus. AF acquisition times varied greatly. I did notice a significant improvement in AF once I updated the firmware to the most recent version, but there were a few times when the AF was a bit searchy, especially in low light, and when photographing close subjects. I recommend using this lens primarily as a manual focus lens; Fujifilm's latest firmware update has focus peaking, which should help.
Sharpness: Extremely sharp from f/1.8 through f/8, and then very sharp through f/11. This is what a prime lens is all about!
Bokeh: Gorgeous, thanks to the 9 rounded aperture blades, which produce a very pleasing focus fall-off. You're going to want to play with this lens at f/1.8 and discover the joys of selective narrow focus.
With my Fujifilm X-Pro 1 set on "Velvia" mode, I captured these leaves, drenched in the light of the setting sun, at an aperture of f/1.8. Nice Bokeh, and the in-focus areas were tack-sharp.
At f/8, images were tack-sharp edge to edge. Sharp, contrasty images and outstanding build quality are this lens's strongest points.
Slice of street life: Focus acquisition is the weakest aspect of this lens. Using Version 2.01 of the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 software it was bit searchy, so grabbing candid moments was a bit of a challenge. Hopefully version 3, which was announced but had a few issues as of this writing, will help improve AF speed.
Summary: The Zeiss 32mm f/1.8 is an impressive piece of glass. If your goal is coaxing the best image quality you can out of your superior-sensor MILC, and you are looking for a lens with a near-normal angle of view (the 32mm lens translates to about 48mm on a 35mm camera, factoring in the size of the APS sensor), then this is a sharp prime lens that excels when using shallow depth of field, and is definitely worthy your consideration.
Zeiss Distagon Touit 12mm f/2.8
Adorama price $1,250
Build: Solid, all-metal body. The solid rubberized focus ring is very graspable and focuses smoothly in manual mode. The aperture ring (only on the Fujifilm mount version) click-stops with authority, but is easily adjusted and clearly marked. I do wish the lens had a depth-of-field scale but this is a feature that seems to have been taken away from most prime lenses these days.
Optics: 11 elements in 8 groups. Aspherical lens design with floating elements with minimal optical aberration. All surfaces have Zeiss's proprietary anti-reflective coating, and the resulting images are sharp and contrasty. Flare is very well controlled. Takes 67mm filters.
Focus: 0.6 feet-infinity. Auto and manual focus. Autofocus speed on Fujifilm X-Pro 1 with Version 3 software is very fast but honestly, I at this focal length your depth of field is so great, it makes more sense to switch to manual focus and go.
Sharpness: Slightly soft at the widest aperture but impressively tack-sharp by f/3.2 and beyond.
Distortion: This was a big surprise: There is very minor pillow distortion—in fact, I was hard-pressed to find any. That's great news for architectural photographers and unusual for an ultrawide lens.
Bokeh: When buying a superwide lens, where most of the image will be in focus, Bokeh may not be a key factor. The only time it comes into play is when shooting at minimum distance wide open, and when using this setting, bokeh is creamy and pleasing.
Wide and deep: Shot at the minimum focusing distance at f/2.8, you can see the focus fall-off and pleasing Bokeh exhibited by the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8.
In-depth: At f/8, everything from the foreground flower, which is less than a foot away, to the Empire State Building 12 blocks away, is in focus.
Keystoning street grab: That's the Flatiron building in the background, and you can see the keystoning effect that is accentuated by this lens when shooting at more extreme angles.
Summary: I handed this lens to several pro shooters who use Fujfilm X-Pro 1's and had them try the lens on assignment, and almost didn't get it back. All were very impressed with its performance and wanted to keep it! The Fujifilm 14mm f/2.8 lens will cost less, and is also an outstanding option, but at this focal length those extra 2mm can make a huge difference in the look and feel of your photos. If you have invested in the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 or X-E1, or the Sony NEX-7 or NEX-6, or are planning to, this lens is an outstanding pro-level tool that will widen your optical range.