The camera and lens combination for this experiential review is my Sony A6500 mated to a Zeiss Touit 32mm f/1.8 lens with a native E-mount.
I am not a pixel-peeper; I choose to use a lens to achieve a look that may arise because of the quality of the optics, defects in the lens itself and its interaction with the camera and sensor. In other words, this is my qualitative perspective and a subjective review; your personal experience with the gear combination may vary.
When I lived in Chicago, I tended to favor primes for street photography. Why? Good zooms were huge and attracted too much attention. State-of-the-art in affordable sensor technology tended to be overly noisy in low light, so slower zooms were just not good for evening and night photography. Fast, compact and discrete was the recipe for me.
After I left Chicago, I started traveling more and favored zooms as the photographic conditions I encountered were more random. Toss in some “fan-grade” sports photography from the stands and a kit zoom became a necessity (a pro bazooka zoom just wouldn’t be acceptable in the seats). With the shift to zooms came a greater dependence on autofocus.
Since the 1980s, I’ve been a manual focus photographer. I did consider getting into the Minolta Maxxum system in the late 1980s and worked with some of the early generation autofocus point-and-shoot and enthusiast digital cameras, but when it came to interchangeable lens bodies, autofocus was an exception and not the rule. I tried a Nikon N90s, but found its autofocus frustrating (I should have purchased a used F4s or F100) and when I invested my own money into a D200 body (after using a D1), I did select an all-in-one autofocus superzoom for travel work. That fourth-ish generation of Nikon autofocus finally felt right and I welcomed autofocus as an option. Fast forward to today and my faith in autofocus “feeling” the way I shoot has risen. With that, I’ve finally opted to dive into compact autofocus primes with an investment in a 32mm Zeiss Touit.
The 32mm Touit is light, compact (without its hood) and mates perfectly with the A6500. The hood “finishes” the look of this lens but also draws attention to the camera. Its size makes the Touit look more like pro zoom than a compact prime., so I selectively use it depending on the shooting situation.
The rubber focus-by-wire ring tends to be a polarizing item with this and other Zeiss lenses (most photo reviewers and gear pundits dislike the rubber ring). For me I actually wish more lenses had the tactile feel of the Zeiss. If I need to manual focus, I immediately know where my hand should be. Nubbly focus rings and crinkled finishes of other lenses diminish tactile clarity. I didn’t think about it much before but after using the Touit I find the older lenses more difficult to handle — they just don’t transmit the same kind of touch feedback as the Zeiss.
Another gear pundit point is the lack of an aperture ring on the E-mount version of the lens. Do I miss it? Nope, not an issue as manual aperture control on a 21st century lens is like equipping a 2019 car with a choke lever; it isn’t needed. I’m happy Zeiss left it off as it is one less user interface item to clutter up my photographic experience.
Shifting to focus noise (another commonly criticism of this lens), yes, the lens is not silent. One does hear the focus motor, but it isn’t any worse than most lenses that are not pro-grade and it it certainly less noisy than a lot of semi-pro lenses out there. Both my 18-200 VR and 16-55 VR Nikon zooms are significantly noisier than the Touit. Compared to Sony-native lenses, the Touit exhibits noticeable noise but it is far more quiet than the slap of a DSLR mirror. If I were a vlogger, this would NOT be the lens for me and if I shot video using autofocus, I’d need use off-camera audio. Neither of these situations fit my use case, so the noise isn’t a problem at all. The rub of my backpack against my clothes when I shift my weight while standing is noisier than this lens.
The 32mm Zeiss Touit has delightful ergonomics and acceptable mechanics, so what about the optics? The Touit is a solid little lens that clearly a member of the Zeiss family. When I compare its output to my 45mm f/2 Contax G lens, it holds its own. Is it on par? No, but it does have the Zeiss look. Where it seems to slip is wide open — the bokeh is biased toward the busy side that settles down at about f/2 or f/2.8. Foreground and background are well separated, but the nervousness in the background wide open is a bit distracting.
I’ve read in a number of places that the 35mm Sony Carl Zeiss lens is the way to go over the Touit, but I have to disagree. After studying a number of different photos by others and playing with the lens in stores, I have to say that the Sony Zeiss feels like a cousin to the Touit rather than a sister. It is a good, quiet lens but it just doesn’t have that something that a Contax G or a Zeiss lens has. Again, I can’t put my finger on it, but the Sony Zeiss misses something in how it renders what it captures. It is more Sony than Zeiss.
Probably the most surprising thing for me in using this lens is that I no longer want to invest in Leica glass. I’ve come to realize that I prefer the Zeiss look over Leica. While I’ve got a wonderful vintage Leica 50mm collapsible lens in my collection, I’ve simply stopped using it. Its bokeh is great, the image quality is fine, but pictures don’t pop in the same way as they do on the Touit. Now you may say that’s a function of the older lens, which may be true, but when I look at shots by others with more current Leica glass I see the same thing. If I was shooting monochrome, I’d look more toward Leica — but I’m not and so to me the Zeiss and Touit wins my creative dollar.
So that’s about it. The Touit started as a step deeper into fast autofocus and ended changing my perception of modern, compact lenses. Zeiss hasn’t lost its way 20 years after the Contax G. While it isn’t the best, the little 32mm Touit does appropriately wear the Zeiss badge and I’m very happy to have it in my collection.
My perspective is based on my own personal experience with the lens + camera/gear combination, which has been influenced by my 30+ years as an amateur and creative photographer. At the time of writing, I personally owned the equipment described and did not receive any compensation for expressing my opinions.