Since 2005 I have used a Canon EF 16-35 2.8L USM as my only wide angle lens. I have been very happy with this lens, using it on a 20D, 5D, 5D Mark II and now on the 5D Mark III. The 16-35 is a good performer and very versatile. So why even consider other options. Well first of all; Who wouldn't want a new lens if it performs better and fits into a kit and budget. The lens makers have released plenty of options since 2005 with a list too long to mention here. I have rented the EF 35 1.4L and EF 24 1.4L II a few times and have been happy with these as well but not found enough reason to permanently add them to my kit.
Adding to the mix I started shooting the APS-C format Fujifilm X-Pro1 about 18 months ago and have been very pleased having the option to travel lighter and still maintain great image quality. The question now, as I am sure many other photographers are asking them selves, do I build on the Fuji system or should I mainly stick with my full frame SLR option when it comes to wide angle lenses?
The Fuji XF 14mm 2.8 R came out in the beginning of the year and many positive reviews have rolled in since. About a week ago I had a chance to try it out and I also took the Zeiss Distagon 12mm 2.8 T* out for a quick spin. Please note this is not a pixel peeping analyses but just a quick take.
Zeiss Touit Distagon 12mm 2.8 T*
First up was the Zeiss 12mm 2.8 which gives you an 18 mm full frame equivalent. The lens feels very light and not at all what you would expect from a Zeiss. I had a number of Zeiss lenses back in my Contax film shooting days. I have also rented a ZE 21mm 2.8 for a trip to Mexico this past spring. More about this below. Why Zeiss has gone this route goes beyond me but perhaps it is just something you have to get used. We all appreciate lighter weight but this just doesn't feel solid and I immediately noted how easy it is to bump the aperture dial. Once on the camera it was not as bad and makes for a very light setup on my X-Pro1 and the lens was actually a joy to use. Focusing felt fast and accurate. The huge lens hood gets in the way using the OVF so I flipped to EVF and it was not a problem really, although I do prefer OVF. I have noticed the Zeiss Tout 12 is on special until December 31st for $999 USD, which makes it much closer to the Fuji 14 at $899.
Fujifilm XF 14mm R
Next up is the Fuji XF 14 2.8R which gives you a 21 mm full frame equivalent. This lens instantly felt at home in my hands on the X-Pro1. It has a solid feel to it and a better aperture dial and focusing ring. This of course is a matter of taste but I feel the Fuji 14mm is a better option for the X series. The Touit really is a design clash with the X series with a modern slick feel versus the retro design X cameras. Whether this is important to you or not I cannot say but I see the combo as a whole and the Fuji 14 would fit the bill for me. I do prefer this focal length slightly over the 12mm and the images seems well corrected. As for image quality I found it a very close call and would no doubt fail a blind test. Both lenses perform well and a tad better than I had expected. You could however easily pick the Zeiss if super wide is what you are after and I think the Touit would take some abuse as well. It really comes down to aesthetics of your gear and a preferred focal length. Now that the price is so comparable it is an even closer call.
Zeiss Distagon ZE 21mm 2.8 T*
I am going to add to the confusion and bring the Zeiss Distagon ZE 21mm 2.8 T* into the equation. This may not be a fair comparison as the ZE 21 is for a full frame sensor and list price is not quite but almost double that of the Touit 12 and Fuji 14. The ZE 21 is a well renowned manual focus lens especially recommended for landscape photography. Google it and be prepared to see great photos and read lots of praise. I tried it for a week in Mexico this past spring and didn't want to send it back at the end of the week. It was a pleasure to use and I loved the images I came home with. I prefer the image quality of the ZE. Remember I tried this lens for much longer and in different shooting situations. However the choices are not so simple. The ZE is expensive, heavier and manual focus where as the Touit 12 and Fuji 14 are great for travel, hiking or everyday use.