As I've already explained in the previous post, I'm writing short 'reviews' of all the lenses I've used during this project (see them all here). The previous post was about Zeiss Loxia 2/50, 'the bread and butter lens' in my setup, and today I'm going to tell you about the Touit 2.8/12 which is quite different lens, but nevertheless equally enjoyable experience. Follow the post to hear more about 'the refrigerator lens'!
The Touit 2.8/12 is an ultra-wide lens with the field of view of 99 degrees which correlates approximately the equivalent of 18mm lens on a full frame camera. Although the typical applications for this type of lens are often listed, for example, as landscapes and architecture, in my setup this lens has amazing ability to trigger my creative spot. With such a ultra-wide lens one is able to get into very tight corners and during this year I've stuffed this lens into washing machines, baby carriages, tight corridors, elevators, closets, stairs, shop windows, toilets, car backseats, doll houses, etc. In these kind of scenarios it is often exactly the unusual placement of the camera and different angle of view which triggers my photographic imagination – and results images that deviate a lot from the beaten paths of my standard approaches. In short, in my setup this lens is kind of 'a refrigerator lens' which I find myself putting into unusual spaces in a creative state of mind.
The Touit lenses represents Zeiss's only lens family for the APS-C cameras. I personally like Touit lenses a lot and I feel a bit bad that this family is sometimes wrongly attributed to Zeiss's 'budget lenses'. This false understanding is based on couple of misinterpretations, first of them related to the 'Touit' name. When the Touit lens family was introduced for the first time, it was, aside from Otus family, the first one to carry a new naming scheme which Zeiss has just adapted. This resulted some misunderstandings as some photographers saw the new naming system of Zeiss lenses to be inferior compared to classic names which included the famous designations like Distagon, Planar, etc – so they thought that the Touit lenses were not 'real Zeiss' lenses but a budget version of 'the right stuff'. This interpretation was intensified even further by the new look of the lenses, the black matte finish and rubber used in focus rings. Again, the Otus line already represented this new Zeiss look, but this was largely unnoticed by many as they probably thought it was something special just for the Otus alone. And the last, the Touit lens family was created for the Sony and Fuji APS-C cameras, and while there were not full frame cameras, many photographers saw the new lens family not being targeted for serious photographers (oh those attitudes related to the physical size of the sensor...). When I spoke about this with the Michael Pollmann from Zeiss (Product Manager of the Touit and Batis families) he explained that Zeiss doesn't differentiate their different product lines by the quality like the big companies such as Canon or Nikon. Instead Zeiss tries to offer the highest quality with all their product lines, but they are – of course – designed with some constraints coming from the particular design concept. For example, the Touit line of lenses should fit the camera proportions they are intended to be used and so on. So in short, the Touit lenses are indeed real Zeiss lenses despite what some people might think.
So, how does the real Zeiss Touit 2.8/12 score optically? Very well, I have to say. The lens is definitely very sharp from wide open at f/2.8 and regarding the resolution the maximum performance is achieved somewhere between f/5.6 - f/8. The corners are generally good as well though they do not achieve the same level as the center sharpness – though never found reason to complain about them either. Distortion wise ultra-wide angles are often difficult to design and almost all of them have some distortion. This applies to Touit 2.8/12 as well, but in general the distortion is quite mild (a bit of barrel distortion) and is very well corrected via Lightroom lens profile. I haven't noticed much of, if any, chromatic aberrations with this lens which speaks of high quality optical design.
In technical terms the Touit 2.8/12 is a very capable lens. Being an ultra-wide glass it's rendering character is more difficult to describe than the usual standard focal length lenses, but I would say the lens definitely has a modern character in it. With this I mean that it is a computer designed lens with very high optical performance (which starts from wide open) and very low aberrations – a lens that would have been a miracle couple of decades ago. And like with most modern lenses with this on the user is left to admire its high performance as there are no aberrations nor odd artistic flavors or such. This lens gives you a very clean image. The Zeiss contrast and colors are all there and with the good light this lens definitely sings. The colors are actually very similar to the Batis lenses, pretty vibrant that is, but different from the Loxia line, which makes me wonder if this is a personal preference made by Michael Pollmann as he is the leading designer behind the Touit and Batis lens families. I personally like the colors of the Touit and Batis families a bit better than the Loxia family as I feel bright and vibrant colors often make the subject shine.
The Touit 2.8/12 isn't perfect a lens however. The lens autofocus system can only use contrast detection and to be honest it is pretty slow and annoying sometimes. When acquiring the focus the lens tends to pump a bit which can be a bit of distraction when working with live events and such - especially if it doesn't succeed acquiring the focus at the first time and you need to keep on trying. But this only happens when using the Touit 2.8/12 with the lens firmware version 01. The Touit 2.8/12 (as well the Touit 1.8/32) can be upgraded to lens firmware version 02 which does support phase detection autofocus and should therefore be freed from focusing hiccups – but you cannot do the upgrade yourself as the lens needs to be send to Zeiss for the upgrade. I'm only mentioning this if you are considering to get yourself a used Touit 2.8/12 (or the Touit 1.8/32) as it is worth to check to lens firmware version – with the new units it should be the latest one. All Touit 2.8/50M's are equipped with the lens firmware version 02 and therefore they support the phase detection autofocus.
I used to enjoy the Touit 2.8/12 on a Nex-5N but when it died I have had to use it with the Sony A7. Using an APS-C lens with the full frame Sony A7 is of course a compromise. First of all, with the Sony A7 the resulting file is only 10 mp and I have to say that I liked the 16mp file a lot better. Another compromise comes from the fact that using APS-C lens on a full frame camera doesn't add up with the full frame dynamic range as the image circle decreases and the sensor gathers less light. The solution would of course be the Batis 2.8/18 which is a full frame lens with same field of view, but I would definitely consider the Touit 2.8/12 with the high resolution camera body such as A7RII as this would result a 18mp file and the Touit 2.8/12 is size wise so fitting and cute with the A7 cameras: very small and convenient.
So would I recommend the Touit 2.8/12 to someone? Absolutely, as I've found it to be such a great creative tool in my setup, but I would consider it as a third lens as one should deal with the standard focal lengths first. For example, in full frame equivalence the 35mm, 85mm and 18mm (the Touit 2.8/12) would be a pretty ace setup.