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Close up macro – the Canon MP-E65 lens

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Looking at the Canon MP-E65 lens

Specialist macro lens for x1 to x5 magnification

Canon’s specialist macro lens explored. See also the ‘Macro’ category in the drop down list at the right for many related articles.

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A quick look at the Canon MP-E65 lens

The Canon MP-E65 macro lens

The Canon MP-E65 macro lens

First up, this is no ordinary macro lens.

By that, I mean a lens that offers close up focusing for small objects.

Most macro lenses are normal lenses that have been designed to allow you to get fairly close up to an object – they can usually be used as perfectly normal lenses too.

Where most macros are pushed to reach 1 to 1 magnification, where the image size on your sensor is the same as the real object, the MP-E65 starts at ‘1 to 1’ or x1 magnification and goes all the way up to  x5.

A magnification of x5 means that an object 7.2mm x 4.8mm would fill the frame of my Canon EOS 1Ds mk3 (4.5mm x 3mm on a 60D)

I’ve written up some previous macro experiments, involving extension tubes and assorted lenses showing some much cheaper approaches that you can explore.

Update: I now own the lens and its a vital part of our Macrophotography business.

Buying the MP-E65 from

The lens with no focus adjustment

The lens is nominally f/2.8 at 65mm, although both of these figures are essentially meaningless in terms of normal use for the lens.  There is no focus adjustment – the plane of focus is at a certain distance in front of the lens, going from 101mm at x1 to 41mm at x5

The lens extends by far more than any other I’ve ever used

mpe65 on 1Ds3 at x1

lens at x1 magnification

whilst for close-up…

mpe65 on 1Ds3 at x5

At x5 magnification

You might notice that I’ve got the camera attached to a micro adjuster rail. This allows me to move the camera back and forth very precisely for focusing.

The effective maximum aperture also varies with magnification, and is always smaller than what your camera indicates.

With all this, exposure and depth of field become quite tricky to work out – it can be done, but I’m glad of histograms and tethered shooting to explore different setup options (using this lens with film took real dedication ;-)

I attached a Canon MT-24EX flash to the front of the lens

MT-24EX flash mounted on MP-E65 lens

MT-24EX flash mounted on MP-E65 lens

The object in front of the lens is a small EU flag pin I was given when I was at the EU Commission in Brussels on business a few years ago (long before I became a photographer)

At x1, this is the view

Small EU flag badge at x1

Flag pin at x1

At x4, a whole different world comes into view

flag pin at x4 magnification

Flag pin at x4 magnification

Here’s a 100% crop of the image above.

100% crop of pin

100% crop from x4 image of flag pin

Why x4 and not x5?

At x5 the flash (using ETTL here) is so close that stray light reflected into the front of the lens noticeably lowers contrast – there is a specialist lens hood available to counter just this – this is a loan lens from Canon UK and didn’t come with one.

I’ll come back to more details of using the lens after I’ve had it a while, but I’ll finish with this picture of a Spider in my garden – taken at x1, hand held, but with the flash set to 1/16 power manual mode.

Garden spider, on web

A spider in my garden, at the centre of its web

Update note: The lens hood

mpe65 lens hoodAfter getting an MP-E65 I noticed problems with flare, if lights were too close.

There is a lens hood available (mine was via E-bay) which I’d say is an essential accessory.

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  • Keith | Oct 14, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Superb quality – I was comparing some images with my ‘home made’ macro solutions and the MP-E65 is more flexible, but x5 is never going to be just snapshots.

    Now, if only they could produce a version with movements…

  • Robert | Oct 14, 2011 at 12:06 am

    I’ve worked with one of these on a few occasions. (Also loaner from canon USA). There is really nothing that compares although they are tricky to use.

    I managed to do some hand held shots by a couple of methods. One is to bring your tripod head to the desired height, then cradling the lens and camera in your hands, rest your wrist on the tripod head, moving the camera back and forth with my fingers to focus.

    Ground level subjects I would just rest my arms on the ground.

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