Carl Zeiss (Now just named Zeiss) has always been considered the premium brand for lenses in the photography industry. With their high ticket price and extreme build quality, Zeiss had always been reserved to the biggest (and richest) names in the industry. Well now they're trying to maintain that brand image, while moving into the mirrorless systems industry. But how does their latest 32mm f/1.8 lens hold up?
The Zeiss 32mm is built exactly like what you'd expect a Zeiss lens to be built like. The quality control from Zeiss is unmatched, and this lens is no exception. Its all metal design makes it feel as though it shouldn't be built for a mirrorless lens to begin with as those lenses often suffer in construction quality. While the lens itself does not have weather sealing, you can be confident in this lens taking a beating from heavy use. The aperture controls adjust from 1/3rd of a stop and have a solid feeling click with each shift and change. The focus ring is sturdy and has just the right amount of resistance to make focusing feel smooth without the worry of it shifting on its own. It also is a stylised rubber in design, making it easy to grip and allows for very precise adjustments. As for further breakdowns of the lens, I'll let the professionals at LensRentals decide, as I posted their tear down of the lens a couple weeks ago here on Fstoppers.
One thing brought into question with this lens was the autofocus. Zeiss has always been known for producing amazing optics with their lenses, and having among the highest built quality standard in today's lenses, but they are often left with the archaic feeling of manual focus. Much to my surprise, however, I found the autofocusing on this lens to be surprisingly fast and accurate. The focusing however, isn't perfect. It still loses the match up to the Canon 35mm f/1.4L in terms of speed, but it was far faster and more accurate than the FujiFilm X100S. In low light, it completely destroys the X100S. I found that at just dusk, the Zeiss 32mm would focus with twice the accuracy of the Fuji X100S. One thing I did notice about it was that its inability to focus seems to happen at random. At times, I'd get a red box on my X-Pro1, indicating a failed focus, and upon retrying, focusing without any issues. This could just as easily be a problem with FujiFilm's autofocus technology, so I can't even fault this lens for that. However, this would sometimes make for a pain, especially during those 'one chance' photo opportunities.
One little tip I did find while using it on a FujiFilm X-Pro1, is to put your camera body in Macro mode. By doing this, you do slow down the autofocusing on the lens a little bit, but it really helps with close range focusing. Not only that, but the Macro mode seems to have a higher standard of accuracy, allowing you to make sure that all your images are tact sharp, right out of the camera.
The f/1.8 aperture allows for the functionality and size advantages of mirrorless systems, while still getting that shallow depth of field from the high end lenses built for DSLR systems. With the FujiFilm system of the lens, you're also able to adjust the aperture on the lens itself, allowing for quick adjustments without the need to remove the camera from your eye.
The images produced from this lens has just reaffirmed my love for it. Not only are the images sharp, but the colors produced from the lens is absolutely beautiful. The bokeh is great, and provides very nice and soft transitions, despite being only a 32mm focal length. The images below show the transition through the bokeh of the lens Straight out of Camera, at different f/stops.
Exactly like what you'd expect from a Zeiss lens, the sharpness in this lens is absolutely great. I found its sweet spot to be around f/2.8 or so, but it has great sharpness throughout, even in the corners. When testing it against the X100S, it was pretty obvious that the Zeiss was the winner, especially wide open (And the X100S has a pretty sharp little lens attached to it). At times in fact, this lens was giving the Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens a run for its money. Below is some unedited 100% crops from the FujiFilm X100S, Canon 5d Mark II w/ Canon 35mm f/1.4L and FujiFilm X-Pro1 w/ Zeiss 32mm f/1.8 Touit.
Being that the lens is 32mm (which translates to ~50mm on a full frame), barrel distortion isn't too much of an issue. The little that you do get from the lens can easily be corrected in post production and wont show the noticeable distortion you'd find on lenses of a similar focal range on a full frame. In fact, this lens often left me questioning why many mirrorless systems are preferring the 23mm range over the 32mm. The 32mm makes more sense to me, and actually feel more versatile than something wider.
I really love this lens, and the biggest shortcomings is that it's only built for the mirrorless camera systems from FujiFilm and Sony. Don't get me wrong, I have used the FujiFilm X100S and X-Pro1 quite extensively, and love them both for their own reasons. With that being said, I'd love to see how this lens performs on a full frame sensor and adapted to a Canon or Nikon system. Perhaps an adapter ring, much like the one that Canon has for their mirrorless to EF system will someday be developed, but until then, I'm left wishing.
It is worth noting that the Sony and FujiFilm mount for this lens is very different in construction. The Fujifilm version, has the aperture built into the lens itself, while the Sony version of the lens does not. This should not affect the image quality from the lens, however, this review was made specifically for the FujiFilm mount.
What I Liked -
Great Build Quality
Excellent Bokeh and Image Quality
Focusing is incredibly sharp and accurate, 95% of the time
Quick Adjustments of Aperture on lens (FujiFilm Only)
What Could Use Improvement -
The 5% It Didn't Focus (Might be a FujiFilm issue more than Zeiss)
Mirrorless Camera Systems Only
Price Feels a bit High for the Mirrorless Market