Zeiss Touit lenses for Sony’s E-mount

It’s been years since I last did a product review, ever since my time as editor-in-chief of a consumer photo magazine. And I usually look at new equipment and machinery with a considerable amount of disinterest, to say the least. But alas, we do need our apparatuses, preferably adequate for our purposes and working properly although, in my view, as few and as little cumbersome as possible.

In that sense, last month I received from Sony the new Zeiss Touit lenses for E-mount (aps) to test for a while. These are a 12mm 2.8 and a 32mm 1.8, which offer an 18mm and 48mm equivalent focal length respectively. I currently use a nex-7 camera with a Sony Zeiss 24mm (36mm equivalent) lens for just about all of my work and so I was curious to try these options for a much wider and normal field of view.

I had a trip to London scheduled when I got them so I decided to take them with me and, whenever I had some free time, to do some photography around the city centre and try them out. Unbelievably, I caught a few days straight without any rain at all and so I managed to use them a few times while I was there. I have put together a small selection of images on my site: here (gallery “you are beautiful”).

Generally speaking, these are two really well built lenses, as one would expect from their make and price point. They both have a very good feel and handling and, visually speaking, an elegant and clean design.

I think I will start by saying upfront that I absolutely loved the 12mm but, on the other hand, I wasn’t too keen on the 32mm. This is not to say that other people won’t find it the exact opposite, as this is highly dependent on how you photograph and position yourself towards your subjects. The 12mm’s wide angle of view allows you to stand really close to people and things around you. You can make images ranging from reasonable close ups to environmental shots where you include several people and their interactions without having to distance yourself. This is rather lovely and, for me, perfectly suits my preference for a greater proximity to the people I’m photographing. Even when you are picturing them full-length and within their surroundings, you can be rather close. For example, in the image with the giant yellow blow-up duck, I was standing a couple of meters away at most, probably even less.

So, I have made my case for being partial to the 12mm as a focal length. But let’s turn our attention to the 32mm for a moment. In terms of its results, I found the 32mm to be an excellent lens. Unfortunately, its optics is marred by an exasperatingly slow auto-focus. This is probably one of the slowest lenses I have ever used in this regard. If you are doing any kind of photography where you need to continuously and somewhat rapidly shift and adjust your point of focus, and you work with auto-focus, then this lens’ focusing speed will be a serious problem. On the other hand, the manual focus is a strong point, with a nice smooth touch and solid response. The 12mm, despite its very wide angle, also offers great results, consistently from corner to corner especially when you stop it down to f/4 or f/5.6. This lens doesn’t suffer from the same auto-focus sluggishness as the 32mm, probably because it needs to operate smaller movements in its internal optic elements. Whatever the reason, I found no problems in using its auto-focus whereas with the 32mm I ended up only focusing it manually. This is not a problem for me personally, because my camera is always set to manual focus anyway, but it might be for some people.

In conclusion, I think these two lenses are welcome additions to the E-mount system, adding to Zeiss’ offering in short to normal focal lengths. The 32mm is a first-rate lens, well suited for portraiture for instance, and for any other general use such as street photography, with the above caveats regarding focusing. As long as you work with manual focus, it’s a good option. For me, though, it is the 12mm which really shines. I very much enjoyed its angle of view and overall quality. I would still find the 24mm to be the best of the three and, moreover, the 35mm equivalent is my usual focal length of choice. But I do think the 12mm is a lovely lens that can complement it on several occasions. Finally, taken together as a whole, these three lenses undoubtedly provide a complete set of choices for any aps sensor E-mount system.