Getting Close To Your Macro Subjects With Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens

MPE-65_v1_76A1536Over my Commercial career, I often had to get very close to some of my photo subjects. Some of the smallest were photographing a machined part on the head of a pin or extremely small products for nerve and other surgeries. So I had a wide assortment of macro lenses to use depending on the subjects, client’s needs, camera formats and magnification I needed to fulfill my client’s needs. Now that I am semi-retired I have more opportunities for my personal photography to use them for fun and to experiment. One of the most interesting is the Canon MP-E 65mm 1X – 5X macro zoom. It is an interesting lens for extreme closeup photography. Somewhat difficult to get used to but once you use it a while it is an extremely useful piece of equipment. You can also get even closer if you use extension tubes, cropped sensor camera or a teleconverter. It is a very manual lens, you focus by moving the camera & lens back & forth so a focusing rail on a tripod also comes in handy. I usually just use a tripod and get close then fine tune focus by loosening the camera and sliding it somewhat on the rail on the tripod. Minimum f/stop is f/16. But when the lens is fully racked out at 5X you use a lot of light on the sensor, I usually check the exposure on the preview after a shot.


Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens – 1X – 5X   f:2.8 to f/16 manual focus lens. (@ 1X setting, zoom)

MPE-65 -5X_76A1520

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8  1-5X macro lens @ 5X setting

The featured image and the two below are closeups of a butterfly wing.

It is definitely a lens you have to get used to. Manual focus  by moving the camera, usually using a focusing rail on a tripod or moving the camera & tripod. “Zooming” the lens changes the magnification from 1 to 5X.

But the more you zoom, the darker your image is in the viewfinder because of the loss of light racking the lens out. So when using studio strobes you have to adjust your f/ stop or increase power on the strobes. Also checking your preview helps when getting used to using this lens.

Macro test leaf_v1_76A1506

Studio Test Subject for image series – the leaf from top tip to bottom before stem is 2 inches. Image shot with 100mm macro. Could not get the whole leaf in with the MP-E 65mm. Images below are shot in the reddish- yellow section of leaf.

Images below are from 1X to 5X. Some are multi-image stacked images because of the very limited depth of field with this lens. Even when you think you are shooting straight in, parallel to your subject, it does not take much for an out of focus or soft area. So with this lens I always focus stack images for a series to combine in Photoshop.

Focusing with this lens can be a challenge. Even with stopping down to the minimum f/16 you usually tend to get a soft area. Using a ring light or macro flash setups also adds to the awkwardness of lighting your subjects. I usually use studio strobes instead of ring lights or other macro flash on the front of the lens which tend to get in the way. You definitely have to get used to using this lens and when you get comfortable with it you can get some amazing images and details. Once you are getting results you like, then try the challenge of using it out in the field, that is another learning experience! But once you get used to it, it is a fun piece of equipment to use and gives nice results. The only other lens sort of like this is Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5 to 5x Ultra Macro Lens at about 1/3rd the price and is available for quite a few camera brands.MP-E 65_f11_76A1461MP_65_2img_f16_76A14715x_MPE_f11_65mm_MP-E_76A1455MP-E 65_f11_leaf_4X_76A1448MP-65_1img_5X_f1676A1470MP-E 1X_MP-E65_f11_76A1446MP-E 3img stk f11_76A1451 5xMP_E_65 v1 1491.MP_E65_leafV1f 16_76A1481

6 Comments on “Getting Close To Your Macro Subjects With Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens

  1. As someone who loves macro photography and shoots Canon, I have always been intrigued by this lens and it’s wonderful to see the amazing results you get with it, Reed. There is a photographer I know who takes it out to the field and shoots it handheld with the attachable twin flash and sometimes gets amazing results. Your setup using studio flashes in a more controlled environment almost certainly yields more predictable and consistent results.

  2. Thanks Mike! It is a Love/Hate relationship with this lens. I have used it for probably 15 years or more. It takes some practice to get more predictable results with this lens. At 5x you are right on top of your subject. Even stopped down there is not a lot of depth of field so image stacking comes into play. I have used it a lot in the field with a Canon Ringlight, but usually you are photographing items you can bring back to the studio and have more control. And if you are image stacking any breeze can mess up the series. My go to macro in the field is a Sigma 150mm macro with a 1.4, 1.7 or 2X teleconverter on my Canon cameras. Or if I want to travel light with a m43 camera I use a manual focus 200mm Canon FD macro so with the m43 cropped sensor size the field of view is sort of like using a 400mm that goes to 2X and have a lot more working distance. The Venus Optics 2.5x – 5x is a much more economical choice and seems to have good reviews.

  3. Like Mike, I have considered this lens for a while. I made a choice in a slightly different direction a couple of years ago and purchased the Venus Optics Laowa 15mm macro learns which I have enjoyed using. The one problem I have with it is getting close to objects that are close to the ground. I generally have to take it off the tripod and find something, a rock or piece of a branch, to prop it on. Go to watch out for where my feet are when standing or they’ll be part of the image. The detail you show in the leaf images appears to rival a scanner. Similar to you, my main macro lens is the Canon 180 with either converters or extenders depending on the subject and a rail although I don’t use that very often.

    • Yes, with either one of these lenses they are harder to use easily and takes practice to get the results you want. Even fully stopped down you do not have much depth of field unless you are shooting parallel to the subject. So focus stacking usually comes in to play and even then you can have problems. But once you get used to it, it does come in handy! Most times I normally use my other macros, depending on subjects. For tabletop product shots I use macro lenses – 50mm, 100mm, 150mm & 200mm, depending on type of subjects – food or subject. Then the size of subject, small parts to big items. Also sharp detail shots in specific areas with softer diffuse areas drawing your eye to the area the client wants dominant. They are all just tools for the photographer to use to get the results they need. That is what makes photography fun, the challenge to get the image you see in in your mind to share with others or clients! Thanks again!

    • Thanks Donna! With that lens it is easier to use in a studio setting than out in the field. It is definitely a funky lens to use and takes some getting use to. And gives you images that are pretty interesting. In these images the leaves almost look like aerial views of roadways and the surrounding areas. But it is still fun to see what you can capture!

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