Hands-On Review: the New Fast and Exacting Zeiss Touit Lenses

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Zeiss has just released the first two lenses of its newly announced Touit line, which are designed specifically for mirrorless digital cameras that feature APS-C-sized image sensors. The aim of these lenses is to carry on the optical prowess of Zeiss’s DSLR and Ikon-series lenses while maintaining the low weight and ease of use that is integral to the overall performance of a compact-system camera.

The first two lenses, a 32mm f/1.8 and a 12mm f/2.8, are prime lenses designed to provide the greatest clarity and image quality in everyday focal lengths. Both lenses are available for the Fujifilm X-mount or Sony E-mount for X-series or NEX-series cameras, respectively. For this hands-on review, I worked with the Sony E-mount versions of these lenses; however, aside from minor differences in the overall weight, dimensions, and inclusion of a manual aperture ring on the X-mount versions of these lenses, they are identical in optical design and performance.

Before delving into the lenses themselves, it should be noted that in addition to this new line of lenses being released, Zeiss also created a new naming convention for their forthcoming lenses. The Touit name is derived from the Latin word for a family of band-tailed parrots that are common to Latin America and the Caribbean. The birds are known for their small size and deft movements, as well as for their tremendous eyesight. With these traits in mind, the name of this line was coined after this family of birds, due to the ability of its members to perform quickly and intuitively while realizing a high level of image sharpness and distinct angles of view.

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Selective Focus. 32mm, f/4

The Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens is the narrower of the two lenses and represents a 35mm equivalent focal length of 48mm, making it a normal-perspective lens that is similar to the average human's field of view. It features a metal lens barrel that provides rigidity and a solid feel, as well as a rubber focus-control ring for enhanced tactility. Additionally, an all-metal bayonet mount ensures a sound connection between the camera and lens. The balance between the two materials is well poised between classic and modern styling. When working with manual focus, the rubberized ring allows precise control over critical focus, and a long focus throw enables easier acquisition of focus in difficult lighting conditions and with congested backgrounds.

Besides the afforded benefits of the manual focus-control ring, these lenses also fully support the cameras' autofocus systems and are able to quickly and easily focus using the respective camera’s AF settings. Even more interesting is utilizing autofocus to gain general focus and then fine-tuning the sharpness with manual focus to better support selective focus and shallow depth-of-field applications. The slow and consistent speed of the focus ring benefits working in this manner to reap both the fast focusing benefits as well as the control afforded by a responsive manual focusing system.

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Shallow Depth of Field. 32mm, f/1.8

The optical design of the 32mm f/1.8 revolves around the classic Planar lens, to produce overall high sharpness and clarity with inherent minimization of chromatic aberration and distortion. Additionally, a Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating has been applied to the lens elements to reduce surface reflections and promote color neutrality and consistency. During use, these benefits could be easily overlooked, since the resulting images are just as expected—clear and sharp with no extraneous colorations or detectable effects.

In my field tests, I found the image quality to be smooth overall, with balanced clarity in both shadow and highlight areas. The representation of specular highlights and other subjects of extreme contrast or brilliance were handled well, and when lens flare would occur, the fringing and glare remained neutral with no residual degradation across other areas of the image. When photographing indoor scenes, I could assume I'd enjoy the same performance and image quality as if I were photographing a bridge from a distance. High-contrast, outdoor settings were rendered as consistently as a dimly lit indoor setting, which in practice, lends itself to working with a more dynamic range of subject matter.

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Natural Perspective. 32mm, f/3.2

Finally, one of the most important characteristics I noticed when working with this lens was the large, bright f/1.8 maximum aperture and the control over selective focus it afforded me. Aside from the low-light shooting advantages it provides, it is equally adept at producing shallow depth of field or selective-focus images, for isolating subjects in front of a cluttered background. When coupled with the normal perspective the focal length produces, the ability to control focus depth by switching easily between wider f/stops was particularly helpful, especially when coupled with the long, tempered rotation of the focusing ring. A prime example of this is the photograph of the flowers beside the water. I was able to utilize manual focus to assure the central flowers remained sharp while the wide aperture softened and minimized any distractions in the background closer to the water.

While I traditionally favor lenses of a normal to longer perspective, working with the Touit 12mm f/2.8 was truly enjoyable, simply due to the overall sharpness and the surprisingly minimal amount of distortion from such a wide lens. The 12mm focal length is equivalent to an 18mm lens in the 35mm format, which makes it an extremely valuable tool for photographing architecture, interiors, and broad scenes with ease. Like the 32mm f/1.8, the 12mm f/2.8 features an all-metal lens barrel with a rubber focusing ring; the X-mount version features an additional rubber aperture-control ring. Focusing was rarely an issue with such a wide lens, due to its widely encompassing depth of field: when photographing a subject farther than a few feet away, nearly everything in the image was in sharp focus.

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Exaggerated Perspective. 12mm, f/2.8

Photographing larger or further-away subjects meant I could concentrate simply on working with composition and the lens’s natural angle of view and realize close-to-infinite focus throughout the frame. Working with closer subject matter, the lens’s main attribute was its ability to exaggerate the scale and give a much grander appearance to simple scenes. While photographing subjects at a shorter distance, the manual focus ring offered enough control to place focus on the closer, more important elements of the scene and allow the background to fall out of focus. This, however, could be controlled more effectively than with the 32mm f/1.8 by stopping down when possible. When photographing the cupcakes I knew I could use the lens’s broad perspective to emphasize the scale of the scene, yet could employ the wide aperture and close focus distance to truly highlight the top shelf and give it more dimensionality when compared to working with a longer focal length lens.

The optical construction of this lens utilizes the Distagon concept with a floating-elements design, which incorporates two aspherical elements and three elements made from anomalous partial-dispersion materials. The combination of these elements helps to reduce the overall size and weight of the lens while it also  minimizes chromatic aberrations and color fringing. As with the 32mm f/1.8, a Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating has been applied to the lens elements to lessen lens flare and ghosting and promote greater light transmission, clarity, and contrast.

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Selective Focus. 32mm, f/2.8

One of the most prominent assets to working with both of the lenses was their overall usability and the ease of handling and operation. Just as with Zeiss’s other lens lines, the Touit lenses have an impressive physicality that lends itself to greater handling confidence and pleasure when photographing. While they are specifically designed as lightweight lenses, this does not detract from the fact that they are constructed from metal and have an assertively solid feel. Their incorporation and support of all of the camera’s inherent features means you are able to make use of all of the automatic and intelligent focus and exposure controls while gaining the image quality for which Zeiss is best known. Compared to many other mirrorless lenses, the simplicity and pared-down aesthetic of these lenses is a welcome change that allowed me to rely more on the lens’s dedicated strengths and focus more on simply shooting in a natural way.

Photo (left) by Thomas Simms

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For more information on these new Zeiss lenses, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.

  Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 Lens Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 Lens
Lens Mount Sony E-mount
Fujifilm X-mount
Sony E-mount
Fujifilm X-mount
Format Compatibility APS-C APS-C
Focal Length (35mm Equivalent) 12mm (18mm) 32mm (48mm)
Maximum Aperture f/2.8 f/1.8
Minimum Aperture f/22 f/22
Minimum Focusing Distance 7.1" / 18 cm 11.8" / 30 cm
Lens Construction 11 elements in 8 groups 8 elements in 5 groups
Number of Diaphragm Blades 9 9
Maximum Magnification Ratio 1:9 1:9
Angle of View 99° 48°
Diameter of Image Field 1.1" / 28.2mm 1.1" / 28.2mm
Coverage at Close Range 8.7 x 5.7" / 22 x 14.4cm 6.7 x 4.4" / 17 x 11cm
Flange Focal Distance Sony E-mount: 0.7" / 18mm
Fujifilm X-mount: 0.7" / 17.7mm
Sony E-mount: 0.7" / 18mm
Fujifilm X-mount: 0.7" / 17.7mm
Entrance Pupil Position 2.4" / 61.6mm 1.8" / 46.7mm
Rotation Angle of Focusing Ring 270° 270°
Filter Ring Diameter 67mm 52mm
Diameter at Focusing Ring 2.6" / 65mm 2.6" / 65mm
Length (with Caps) Sony E-mount: 3.2" / 81mm
Fujifilm X-mount: 3.4" / 86mm
Sony E-mount: 2.8" / 72mm
Fujifilm X-mount: 3" / 76mm
Weight Sony E-mount: 9.2 oz / 260 g
Fujifilm X-mount: 9.5 oz / 270 g
Sony E-mount: 7.1 oz / 200 g
Fujifilm X-mount: 7.4 oz / 210 g

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I pre-ordered both of these and received them on the very first day of availability. So far, both the 12 and 32mm Touits have lived up to the same image quality standard as the older Sony Zeiss 24E Sonnar, which is to say, outstanding.