The promise of mirror-less cameras is lightweight and compact size compared to their bulkier heavier DSLR brethren. For much the same reason Leica rangefinders were favored over SLRs by many photojournalists, mirror-less cameras are the perfect choice when you want a smaller and more discrete camera without the noisy mirror-slap.
Until now, the optical performance of most compact lenses has not been on par with larger DSLR lenses.
That’s no longer the case thanks to two exceptional lenses from Zeiss – designed and constructed specifically for use on Sony NEX and Fuji X Series cameras with APS-C sensors. The lenses support all camera functions including auto-focus.
Thanks to my friends at Sony, I had a chance to put the new Zeiss Touit lenses through their paces on my Sony NEX-7. The first thing you notice about these lenses is their premium packaging. When you open the box it feels like you’re unpacking a Mercedes.
As soon as you touch these lenses you’ll notice their great “feel” that can best be described as a “silky.” While the lens body and bayonet are made of a rigid metal, Zeiss has used a combination of materials inside the lenses including high-tech durable plastics to lighten their weight.
The Zeiss Touit 12mm/2.8 wide angle lens (18mm full-frame equivalent) has a U.S. street price $1,250 and 99 degree angle of view. The lens is constructed of 11 elements in 8 group using Distagon retrofocus design.
The Zeiss Touit 32mm/1.8 normal lens (48mm full-frame equivalent) has a U.S. street price $900 and a 48 degree angle of view has 8 elements in 5 groups. It’s a modification of the time-honored six-lens, Planar lens design – the most successful – and the most frequently copied – lens design of all time. This modification allows it to achieve significantly improved performance for use with today’s image sensors.
The gap between the Zeiss Touit’s 12mm/2.8 lens and 32mm/1.8 lens is already nicely filled by Sony’s 24mm/1.8 E-Mount Carl Zeiss Sonnar Lens and a Zeiss Touit 50mm/2.8 Macro Lens is slated to nicely round out the Zeiss E-mount line-up.
Unless you get paid to shoot copy work, I’ve never really found lens test chart results to be the best indicator of how a lens performs in real situations. “Lens Mojo” refers to the “look” of a lens that has more depth, which is sometimes called the 3-D effect. This is where Zeiss glass excels. To my taste, it’s a much more important factor to me than resolution. But for those of you who can live without pixel peeping to the corner of the frame, here’s the New York City version of a test chart.
The best way for me to test any gear is to take the gear out, bang it around a bit and see how it handles under fire. I headed out to the streets of New York with my NEX-7 and these two Zeiss Touit lenses tucked into my new favorite new compact camera bag Sony’s Sling Bag LCS-SB1/B. When shooting with a small lightweight camera, you don’t want to be weighed down by the bag. Not only does this bag weigh virtually nothing, but it also hangs snug to the body making it the perfect bag for this kit. I picked this bag up in March and it’s become a favorite because of it’s messenger bag shape it’s equally comfortable fully loaded with a Sony a99 with 24-70 and 70-400 lenses plus a tablet as it is lightly loaded with a Sony NEX and a pair of lenses.
Zeiss lenses are my favorite lenses both for Sony Alpha and medium format. They’re sharp, smooth and very well made. If you haven’t shot with a Zeiss glass you have no idea what you are missing. The optical quality of Zeiss Touit lenses is exceptional. If you want the best optical quality these lenses are on par with Leica lenses at a fraction of the price.
The newly released Lightroom 5 and Abobe Camera RAW for Photoshop CC include lens profile for both Zeiss Touit lenses. Enabling these corrections will straighten the lines at the edge of the frame slightly and remove lens vignetting from the 12mm. (I actually like the slight darkening in the corners of a frame that comes from slight lens vignetting.) There’s also a check box to “Remove Chromatic Aberration”. Checking this does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! These lenses have no chromatic aberrations. That’s the sign of a great lens.
Unlike Sony’s Carl Zeiss auto-focus lenses, which are manufactured by Sony based upon Zeiss optical design and specs – these are the first AF lenses that Zeiss has ever produced. It’s merely speculation, but that may explain the name: “Zeiss will make auto-focus lenses when they get around Touit…”
In bright light, both lenses do pretty well, but in low light the 32mm can struggle to hunt for focus. The 12mm focuses more quickly possibly because you don’t need much throw to focus an extreme wide angle. That’s the tradeoff with these lenses. Great image quality / Lousy focus speed. Bear in mind, Leica M glass doesn’t auto-focus at all…
Sony latest NEX mirror-less NEX-6 and NEX-5R cameras add a hybrid dual-AF system combining Phase-detect and Contrast AF in their cameras. Because of this, Sony’s E-mount lenses like their 24mm/1.8 E-Mount will focus more quickly on the NEX-6 and NEX-5R than previous models like Sony NEX-7. Unfortunately Zeiss Touit lenses don’t seem to take advantage of Dual AF and focus equally slow on all cameras.
There is a trick to get the most out of these in low light. Rather than using the AF or MF focus settings, select the DMF focus setting for AF-S mode. Depress the shutter lightly and the camera auto-focuses on a focus point you select. Once AF locks in, turn the focus ring slightly and the LCD or EVF will zoom in on that focus spot so that you can fine tune focus if you need to.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Would I buy it? HELL YES!
You quickly get used to how to get around the focus issues because the image quality is incredible. The next reviewer wondered why the lens boxes were scratched up when he received them. Sorry about that, but FedEx had to pry them out of my fingers…