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Review: Carl Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 (Sony)

by Jamiya Wilson on 05/31/2013


zeiss touit 32mm sony nex 6

As compact camera systems constantly improve, third-party lens manufacturers are finally taking the leap and expanding their lens offerings. After a “wait and see” approach, Zeiss has finally entered the fray with its unveiling of the Touit lens system. I was recently handed the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 and can say I thoroughtly enjoyed my time shooting with it. But with so many options available (and more on the horizon) for compact system cameras, is it worth it? And more importantly, does it live up to the Zeiss name?

zeiss touit 32mm 1.8Pros and Cons

Pros

– Excellent build quality
– Rubberized focusing ring
– Fast focusing
– Shallow depth of field

Cons

– Expensive
– Not weather sealed

Gear Used

For this review, I used the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 with the Sony Alpha NEX-6

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo Video listing

Performance
Focal Length 32 mm
Comparable 35mm Focal Length: 48 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/1.8
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Sony (E Mount for NEX)
Format Compatibility Sony NEX (APS-C)
Angle of View 48°
Minimum Focus Distance 1.21′ (37 cm)
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 1:9
Groups/Elements 5/8
Diaphragm Blades 9
Features
Image Stabilization No
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 52 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 2.56 x 2.83″ (65 x 72 mm)
Weight 7.05 oz (200 g)

Ergonomics

zeiss touit 32mm no hood

One thing that will be readily apparent is how light this lens is. I had a Sony 24-70 f/2.8 in my hand and it felt like a dumbbell compared to Zeiss’ tiny little powerhouse. It feels good in the hand and the rubberized focus ring gives it a more sure grip when doing lens changes. Wedding photographers and photojournalists will definitely appreciate this added touch.

zeiss touit for sony

Zeiss says that the rubberized focusing ring is useful for achieving focus in cold weather conditions. Trying to manual focus when your hand is freezing off can be challenging with an all-metal design, so kudos for Zeiss for implementing this feature.

touit 32mm 1.8

Unlike it’s Fuji counterpart, the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 for Sony doesn’t feature an aperture ring, so the look is sleek from front to back. A very minimalist design with no rough edges, everything is smooth. The lens hood that comes with it is standard fare. It’s a nice compact size, fits snug onto the lens with a nice click when engaged, and can be reversed mounted for storage. It’s a lens hood, hooray!

Build Quality

Keeping in line with the Zeiss lineage, the Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens is fantastic in the build quality department. I wouldn’t say you’d be as impressed with these as Zeiss’ DSLR lenses with their all metal construction, but for a compact sensor camera the build quality is excellent. The metal exterior coupled with the rubber focus ring give it a really sleek and sort of matte finish (which seems to be very scratch resistant). The minimalist look also helps keep the lens discreet and won’t attract much attention during, say, street photography.

The lens hood is plastic which is a bit disappointing, but for a compact sensor camera weight is somewhat of a concern so I can understand Zeiss opting for the lighter (yet cheaper) plastic option. There really isn’t much to see on this lens. No depth of field/focusing distance scale and no aperture ring if you’re using a Sony system. But the look of the lens doesn’t matter much, it’s all about the image quality right? More on that later.

Autofocus

zeiss 32mm 1.8

Coupled with the NEX-6, this lens was fast. Focus locked quickly and accurately. I’d wager about 8 out of 10 of my shots were in focus on a consistent basis. That’s a hit rate I can definitely live with. The lens did seem to have a little trouble focusing in backlit situations, where it would hunt for a few seconds before locking on. A minor gripe, but nothing that will make you pull your hair out.

I took a few shots of my friend Nikki on the beach and the Zeiss had no problem keeping up. I carried it with me to lunch and there was little issue of it being able to handle focus both indoors and outdoors. Even in a dimly lit restaurant, it locked focus quickly and smoothly. Another thing to add, this lens operated very quietly; important if you want a bit of stealth while you work.

Ease of Use

The Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 is really as simple as lenses gets. There aren’t any buttons or dials to fiddle with, just place the lens on your camera and off you go. If you wish to manually focus, place the camera on the proper setting and the autofocus will disengage. The manual focusing is smooth, but I did notice it required a few more turns than your average lens. Unfortunately  it is focus-by-wire, which means the lens is not mechanically coupled with the moveable lens groups inside. However, with the NEx-6’s focus peaking, achieving manual focus wasn’t troublesome at all. Additionally, the lens was sharp right out of the box and didn’t require any calibration whatsoever. Honestly, I’ve never really understood the fuss over lens calibration and there was nothing evident with this lens that made me want to use it.

Image Quality

Jamiya-Wilson-The_Phoblographer-Zeiss-Touit-32mm-18

Of course the image quality is the most important factor of any lens and the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 does not disappoint, it excels. Colors are vibrant, bokeh is smooth as butter (especially at 1.8) and skin tones were nice and accurate. When shot wide open, there’s subtle vignetting but once you stop down around f/3.2-3.5 vignetting virtually disappears. Although you can stop it down as far as you’d like the biggest benefit of using this lens is the ability to shoot at a bokeh-ly smooth f/1.8. Yeah, so what the edges may not be sharp and there’s some vignetting? The pictures look amazing wide open and anything below f/4 is bokeh heaven.

bokeh-ly!

Jamiya-Wilson-The_Phoblographer-Zeiss-Touit-32mm-21

Some may wonder how this lens stacks up in the image quality department next to, say, a Zeiss Planar and I would say pretty well. The colors are different than what most photographers call the “Zeiss look”, but very pleasing nonetheless. Anyone using the Sony NEX system won’t be disappointed at all with this lens and I can honestly say the color and bokeh quality trounces the Sony lineup. It’s just no comparison.

yummy!

Whether it be shooting portraits, landscapes, or still life the Zeiss delivers in almost all situations. I visited the Getty Center in Los Angeles and took a few shots of flowers (and my food!) and was thoroughly impressed with how rich the colors were. I shot on the beach in Malibu and loved the contrast and skin tones. Photographers who find themselves shooting in a variety of situations will definitely benefit from the versatility of this lens.

Sharpness

Wide open the lens is a tad bit soft, especially around the edges. Stopping down past f/3.2 this lens really starts to shine in the sharpness department. I mean it will cut you it’s so sharp. You won’t have to worry about sharpening much in post production.

Distortion

Honestly, I saw very little distortion in this lens. Since it’s a 50mm equivalent, I don’t think many photographers will be using this for architecture and landscape, but if you choose to do so, you can feel relaxed that this lens will deliver.

Color Fringing

Surprisingly, I noticed no color fringing whatsoever. Even when viewing images 100% in lightroom, I found it difficult to see any fringing or color I wasn’t pleased with. I shoot a lot of backlit portraits and purple fringing was nonexistent as well. Well done Zeiss!

Sample Images

model taken with zeiss 32mm f/1.8

building taken with zeiss 32mm f/1.8

Jamiya-Wilson-The_Phoblographer-Zeiss-Touit-32mm-20

lemonade taken with zeiss 32mm f/1.8

fruit taken with zeiss 32mm f/1.8

bikes galore

aw, you shouldn't have!

Conclusions

Overall, the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 was a great lens to work with. Since the selections of high quality autofocus lenses are a bit limited on the NEX line, I would highly suggest the Touit line to anyone looking to get incredible image quality out of their camera. The legendary Sony Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 finally has some stiff competition. In the $1,000 price range, I couldn’t see purchasing it over one of the new Zeiss lenses. Especially since they’ll actually be in stock! If I were shooting Fuji, the decision, I believe, would be a little more difficult as the Fuji lens lineup is already quite stellar. The build quality is excellent and is more than worthy of being considered pro. Image quality is exceptional and the price is just right for a lens of this quality. If you’re looking to up your game, then look no further.

Note: I would also like to add that during my time with the Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 it did lock up from time to time on the Sony NEX-6. After testing several other lenses including the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 (which worked perfectly), the issue was in fact the lens. After about a few shots or so, the focus would remain locked and the only solution was to turn the camera off and on or remove the lens then put it back on. We spoke to Zeiss regarding the issue and hopefully it was just a faulty copy. However, this doesn’t detract from the fact I thoroughly enjoyed using this lens. I’m sure any issues will be fixed in a future firmware update.

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