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

A Little Different Macro – Canon MP-E 65mm

I went out to The Celery Farm Natural Area to photograph very small dried wildflowers. I took along my Canon MP-E 65 mm 1-5X Macro. This is a very specialized macro lens that starts at 1X and goes to 5X magnification. It is more like a lens with a variable extension tube zooming out for the increased magnification. I decided to add a 1.4X teleconverter to add a little more working distance. This adds just a little bit more working distance, in some cases the front element is less than an inch away from your subject, but every bit helps. With the 1.4X Teleconverter it makes this a 91mm f/4. I was using a Canon Macro Ring Flash MR-14 EX to light these subjects as I was shooting handheld. My camera body was a Canon 1D MkIV camera body, so with the 1.3 crop of the sensor, this also adds to the lens, making it 1.3X to about 6X. For the wildflowers I left it at 1.3X for most, then later I shot some areas of the wooden lookout tower at various magnifications to show the different magnifications. I used aperture priority for some where I wanted to get some background detail, while the ones I have with dark backgrounds I used Manual exposure to darken the background and let the flash light the subject.

Full image for an idea of scale and subject


One of the smaller dried wildflowers @ 1.3X, lit with ring lash, no ambient light, for darker background

Larger Dried Wildflower @ 1.3X, handheld, lit with ring flash for main exposure, ambient light for background 1/10 of a second


Dried Wildflower @ ~3X, handheld, lit with ring flash for main exposure, 1/80 sec ,positioned for dark background_43G4625

Dried Wildflower Bud @ ~2X, handheld, lit with ring flash for main exposureambient light for background 1/60 of a second_43G4521

Reference shot for examples of scale
_43G4646 scale

~ 2X  Magnification, Carriage bolt magnification detail_43G4545 1x

~ 4X  Magnification,, Carriage bolt magnification detail_43G4556 5x+

~ 6X  Magnification, Wood grain and with slight crack in wood grain around Carriage bolt_43G4579 6x v2

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