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 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.
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.