The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar, which fills out the trio of Touit lenses for mirrorless cameras, has finally arrived. This line, for both Fuji X-mount and Sony E-mount, is separate from the lenses that Zeiss creates with Sony specifically for their E-Mount and A-mount cameras. The Touit 50mm is a true 1:1 macro lens and with a short telephoto focal length can potentially pull double duty as a portrait and general purpose lens. While the version reviewed here is for the Fuji X-Mount, the E-Mount version of the lens should be identical in every way, save for the absence of an aperture ring. This lens has been anticipated for quite some time, so let’s dive in.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting.
Build Quality and Handling
The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Macro is a solidly built lens with a sturdy metal barrel, a metal lens mount and grippy rubber aperture and focus rings. I am not really a fan of the rubber control rings, as I think it reduces the tactile feedback when using the lens, but it does provide for a nice grip. The lens is fairly dense, and significantly larger than the Fuji 60mm f/2.4, though still small enough to handle well on the Fuji X-T1. It would be a bit unwieldy on a smaller body such as the X-M1 or X-A1, but should handle well on all the other Fuji bodies. The weight and metal build lend the Touit a feeling of extremely solid construction. This feels like a premium lens.
The Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar with the included hood
The focus ring, as mentioned, has that thick rubber grip, which should provide good purchase in all weather. While I am not a big fan of the rubber feel, the focus ring is damped quite well, with nice resistance and smooth focusing action for manual focus. Given the less than stellar macro-range autofocus capabilities that I’ll talk about shortly, manual focus will get a fair bit of use with this lens when shooting near maximum magnification.
The lens also features an aperture ring for the Fuji X-mount, with 1/3 stop detents from f/2.8 to f/22 and the A setting for automatic aperture selection. The aperture ring is nice and firm with very solid selection points. It may even be slightly too firm, as there is some tendency to jump multiple steps when the ring gives, but overall, I would prefer it to be stiff like it is than loose.
Focus and Performance
The Touit 50mm has a split personality with regards to autofocus. The lens features a focus motor that is significantly quieter than the motors in the other two Touit lenses, and for typical subjects in good light, focus is quite quick. If there is adequate light and you’re using the phase-detect points on an X-E2 or X-T1, the focus will snap into place nearly instantly. If phase detection doesn’t lock on, it’s still reasonably quick in good light. In fact, the lens keeps up quite well in continuous autofocus on my X-T1. Be sure to check out the samples of my daughter on her bike, both of which were taken as she rode directly at me while the X-T1 and Touit 50mm tracked her. Overall focus accuracy in good light is excellent, as you’d expect from a hybrid AF system.
The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar
However, once the light gets dim or you begin to focus closer up, the Zeiss 50mm f/2.8 starts to falter a fair bit. When trying to get some candid shots of my son in my family room, the lens was very hit and miss. Sometimes it would lock on fine, other times it would fail completely. I would not recommend using AF in dimmer light for anything that requires quick response. The speed slows down considerably and there’s a good chance you’ll miss your target entirely.
The same can be said when using AF at high magnifications. Once you begin focusing in the macro range, the lens becomes extremely slow to focus. For some reason, even when the ‘macro’ mode is enabled, the Touit 50mm will very often have a preference for the background instead of your close-up subject. I missed a lot of shots when shooting butterflies at our local conservatory due to the lens suddenly switching from the butterfly in my view to the plants 20 feet behind it. It was very frustrating.
The point of both of these main problems is that the Touit 50mm desperately needs a focus limiter. Fuji cameras have a semi-limited ‘macro mode’ , but it doesn’t do much with this lens. There is still far too much of the range that is accessible when Macro Mode is off. As a result, if you’re in lower light and you do a full button press and the camera misses focus…the lens will go completely through the range and back before firing off a shot and allowing you to refocus. It does this slowly, and in some cases, if I missed focus, it was two to three seconds before I could attempt to refocus again.
Things are worse when Macro Mode is enabled. While this will allow the lens to focus right up to 1:1, there is nothing to keep the lens from focusing OUT of the macro range. The result is that tendency to focus on the background, which can make it very difficult to get the lens to focus back in the range of your subject. I can’t imagine why Zeiss would design a 1:1 macro lens and put no form of focus limiting switch on the lens. In any case, when shooting in the macro range, you’re almost certainly going to want to use manual focus with this lens. The good news is that it is very easy to see the focus point with a good EVF like the one on the X-T1, and manual focus is a breeze.
One other point about handling and focus. Because this is an internally focusing macro lens, the real focal length will get shorter as you focus closer. With the Touit 50mm, that results in an extremely short working distance at 1:2 and closer. When comparing to the Fuji 60mm, which is nominally only 20% longer, you need to be almost half the distance to your subject at 1:2 than you need to be with the 60mm. At 1:1, working distance is only about 2 inches (without the hood), making lighting difficult and potentially spooking insects. With the hood attached, the lens focuses essentially to the edge of the hood at 1:1.
While sharpness isn’t the end-all be-all of imaging parameters, it is of primary importance in a macro lens. Additionally, sharpness tends to go hand-in-hand with the Zeiss name, and the 50mm f/2.8 Macro is no different. The lens is exceptionally sharp in the center right from f/2.8, and the image borders don’t fall too far behind. There is some light softness at the edges at wider apertures that quickly clears up to yield excellent cross-frame sharpness stopped down.
Silly – Fujifilm X-T1 with Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 @ f/5
What’s remarkable about the Touit 50mm is that it maintains this high image quality throughout the focus range. It is especially sharp in the macro range, and even seems to do pretty well in resisting the effects of diffraction at smaller apertures. The Fuji 60mm takes a big hit in resolution around f/11, while the Zeiss 50mm keeps its bite at f/11 and only softens slightly at f/16. In the mid range and infinity distances, the lens loses a small amount of resolution, but it’s still very good. Wide aperture use is a bit softer than close up on the edges, but the center remains extremely sharp. Stopped down at further focus distances still yields very good corner sharpness as well. It’s hard to ask much more from a lens. Click on the image above taken at f/5, and then click on the green arrow at the bottom of the screen to view a larger version of the image to see the kind of resolution I’m speaking of.
The Zeiss 50mm is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to bokeh. While the sharpness profile is fairly consistent throughout the focus range, the bokeh changes its nature as we start focusing out of the macro range. Zeiss has crafted the lens to provide absolutely gorgeous out of focus backgrounds in the macro range. Coupled with the contrast and color produced by the lens, it results in simply beautiful close-up shots. The bokeh is smooth and creamy at these close focusing distances.
However, once you move into the portrait range and further away, the bokeh becomes much busier. Specular highlights gain a bright ring and there’s a general nervousness to the backgrounds. While it isn’t necessarily bad bokeh, it’s also not going to be a selling point for most people in the portrait range. One positive is that the lens has nice curved aperture blades, which keeps specular highlights circular even when stopped down all the way to f/8. Nice job there.
However, take a look at the image below to see some of the beauty that the lens can produce up close.
Contrast, Color and Chromatic Aberration
Another reason I choose the image above to show the bokeh is that it also is a prime example for the exemplary color and contrast the Touit 50mm produces. Like many Zeiss lenses, there is strong image contrast at all apertures, though they seem to have backed off the micro-contrast just a touch, which really gives the images a unique look that is both smooth and punchy at the same time. There is outstanding color response as well, with rich saturated colors and a generally neutral color palette. When combined with the excellent bokeh in the macro range, the Touit 50mm produces one of the most beautiful renderings of any macro lens I’ve used. It’s actually quite reminiscent of the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Macro for SLRs, and that’s very high praise indeed.
In addition to the excellent color and contrast, the Zeiss 50mm controls chromatic aberration exceptionally well. In fact, it is essentially apochromatic to my eye. I did not see a single purple fringe (even on chrome), no field relevant lateral CA and no field relevant longitudinal CA. The lack of longitudinal CA is especially important given the macro capabilities, as having a green or magenta fringe on the out of focus areas can really ruin a good shot. Truly a great performance here.
Flare, Distortion and Vignetting
The Zeiss 50mm, like most macro lenses, has essentially zero distortion. Lines stay straight and things look very nice in this department. The lens also does a very nice job in the vignetting department. While there is some corner and edge darkening at f/2.8, it’s quite minor and is gone by f/4. The Touit 50mm also performs quite well against bright light, maintaining strong contrast and minimal ghosting even when the sun is in the frame. Given the relatively deep hood and the small front element, it’s rare that the lens will experience much in the way of veiling flare.
- Extremely well-built and solid lens made of solid metal and rubber
- Good manual focus feel and firm, clicky aperture ring
- Outstanding central sharpness at all apertures and focus distances, and very good edge and corner sharpness stopped down
- Truly exceptional color and contrast yield beautiful tonality in the images
- Very nice and smooth bokeh at close focusing distances
- Practically apochromatic – excellent control of chromatic aberrations
- Resists flare and controls vignetting well
- Focuses down to 1:1 magnification for true macro shooting
- Quick and quiet autofocus in good light with excellent accuracy, even when tracking moving subjects
- Desperately needs a focus limiter
- Focus is slow in the macro range and has difficulty locking on to subjects in dimmer light
- Working distance at 1:1 is extremely short
- Bokeh is somewhat busy at medium focus distances
The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Makro-Planar T* is the first true 1:1 macro available for the Fuji X-Mount and adds another high quality macro lens to the Sony E-mount as well. Optically, the lens is predominantly exceptional. It’s extremely sharp at all focus distances, provides some of the best contrast and color of any lens I’ve used, and produces gorgeous bokeh close up. Add to this the outstanding CA control and you’ve got a truly outstanding optic. The only real downside optically is the fact that the bokeh gets somewhat busy at further focus distances.
The major downsides to the lens are all in operation. While the lens is built extremely well, it could use some usability tweaks. The lack of a focus limiter causes some major problems with autofocus in the macro range, and can further slow the autofocus when shooting indoors at all focus distances. The fact that it’s only a 50mm lens that uses internal focus also means that the working distance at high magnifications is extremely short, making it a difficult lens to work with for extreme closeups of insects.
The usability concerns aside, the Zeiss 50mm macro is an excellent lens. While I would prefer a longer macro lens, it’s a great option for 1:1 shooting on the Fuji X cameras and a great addition to the Sony E-Mount as well. While the lens isn’t cheap at $999, given the optical quality, it’s not an unreasonable price. It’s the best of the Touit lenses in my opinion and a top-notch optic all around. Well done, Zeiss!