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Another one of those frequently asked questions that I get is about Canon’s MPE-65mm macro lens. There doesn’t seem to be very much information on the web about it –even Canon’s own web site gives very little details. So if you’re curious about one of the best pieces of macro equipment on the planet then keep reading…

The MPE-65 doesn’t really have a focus ring -it is always focused at the maximum magnification that you have it set to and there is no infinity focus. No auto focus either –not that it would really do you any good anyway. The depth of field is so thin when shooting at life size and higher magnification that you wouldn’t want the camera to decide what’s in focus and what’s not.  One of the reasons why I tell people to stop centering their images, other than the obvious compositional mistake, is that the focus indicators in the view finder don't work when the MPE-65mm macro lens is attached to any Canon camera body. So you have to be good at focusing the scene with nothing to aid you other than the image you see in the view finder. I try to key off of textures like hair, scales, etc. If you are using a standard macro lens now then get use to focusing it without using the focus indicators in the view finder -it will make moving to the MPE-65 a lot easier.

There is a ring on the lens that controls a variable length extension tube, and as you turn it you can go from life size to five times life size and every magnification in between. So you will only be shooting macro with it -not possible to get a shot with a lower magnification than life size. If you look closely at the design of the MPE-65 it's really a reversed lens with a variable length extension tube built into it.

The advantages: No need to add or subtract anything from the lens to change the magnification –all you have to do is turn a ring. If you've ever juggled a lens and tubes out in the field you'll understand how easy it is for the MPE-65mm to spoil you!

Image quality is on par with "L" glass -I do very little editing, less than two minutes for any single image, and I can get the colors to "pop". The lens is also razor sharp –so sharp that a lot of people have wondered if the MPE-65 is better at controlling diffraction than other lenses. But as good as the lens is it can’t undo the laws of physics. What some people are calling diffraction in other macro lenses is really due to the lens not producing a sharp image circle or what I call “macro motion blur” –movement during the duration of the flash that is only the equivalent of one or two pixels in length on the sensor. Not enough to be easily detected as motion blur, but enough to cause the image to look a little soft.  The MPE-65 is so sharp that you can use it at F16 up to twice life size, and up to F11 all the way to five times life size and still get sharp images (depending on the size of the subject). I often shoot above 3x at F14 because opening up the lens 1/3 of a stop to F16 makes a noticeable difference in image quality. IMHO the MPE-65 has difficulty producing a sharp image circle at F16 above twice life size, but I don’t think the problem is related entirely to diffraction (opening up the lens 1/3 of a stop shouldn’t make a difference in diffraction softening).

You can attach the MPE-65mm directly to Canon's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters for a maximum magnification of 7x and 10x respectively. But the lens won't communicate accurate aperture information to the camera, so keep in mind that you're actually shooting one Fstop higher than what the camera is displaying with the 1.4xTC and two Fstops higher with the 2xTC.

The downside to every macro lens is the working distance. I wish the MPE had more, but I could say that about every macro lens. It's not about getting close to the critters -I can do that no matter what I'm shooting with. But it's nice to have a lot of room to maneuver when I'm trying to compose a shot –and bumping into the plant the critter is on is almost always a buzz kill…

On the plus side the short working distance allows me to grab onto the flower an insect is feeding from with my left hand and then rest the lens on that same hand to help keep everything steady. The image included with this deviation was made possible by the MPE-65mm's two inch (5cm) working distance at three times life size.
A guid to Canon's MPE-65mm macro lens.
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:iconbeautifulgav:
BeautifulGav Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2012
I LOVE my MPE65 now, has been sitting unused for a couple of years before I decided it cost too much to be left in the lens draw. You are so correct on the steep learning curve, thus its time in the dark place. Initially and still recently I only used it as an inside “kitchen table” studio one. This then necessitates a tripod, focus light, macro ring flash and a focus slider. Not to mention a kitchen full of escaped bugs to scare arachnophobic visitors. All too cumbersome for the outside I thought. Then saw your pics on Flickr and decided what the heck. Last couple of days I am amazed what can be done hand held in the garden with this lens. I discovered your “left hand brace” pretty quickly : ) as it is a big lens .. the pics are amazing! My 100mm 2.8L is now a thing of the past except for underwater. Cannot knock the inside setup for this lens either, it’s brilliant.

Thanks Mate!
Gav
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Nov 9, 2012  Hobbyist Photographer
Happy to help!

The EF-S 60mm is also an excellent lens, and works really well with the Left Hand Brace Technique because the working distance is really short (like the MPE-65mm it's about 4" at life size magnification).
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:iconjohnbreedyjr:
johnbreedyjr Featured By Owner Feb 14, 2010
Good look on the break down or the lense and comparisons
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:iconmutantarachnid:
mutantarachnid Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2008
Thank you for this review. I have a great interest in marco photography.
What DSLR would you reccommend for this? As I have yet to buy one. . . .
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Either the Xti or the 50D if you want to use a 1.6 crop factor sensor. But I'd recommend getting a standard macro lens + tubes and practice shooting above life size before getting the MPE-65mm. If you jump straight to the MPE the learning curve will be very steep...
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:iconmutantarachnid:
mutantarachnid Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2008
xti? is that the 450 yeah? lol
I won't get the MPE quite yet, I was just planning for the future! Thank you. :D
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:iconmutantarachnid:
mutantarachnid Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2008
p.s I was thinking about the 450D.
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:iconironmanbr:
ironmanbr Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2008
I have an Nikon D40 and a Sigma 70mm 2.8 1:1 macro! But one day I'll buy a canon and this lens!

Thank you for the tutorial!
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!
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:iconironmanbr:
ironmanbr Featured By Owner Nov 30, 2008
my pleasure!
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:iconcristian-m:
Cristian-M Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2008
Excellent article and this is one lens I'd like to have. Right now I'm using a Sigma 105 mm Macro on a Canon 40D.

Do you normally use a flash? I'm asking because I know from personal experience how quickly the available light decreases when you shoot at higher magnifications.

I constantly have to juggle the ISO speed, shutter time and F-stop, just to make sure that I get a shot that's decently exposed, not blurry and which has more than a paper thin DOF! :D
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
The only time I do not use a flash is when I'm shooting at life size and I'm using the depth, or lack of it, as a compositional tool. Nearly all of my macro is with a flash, the MT-24EX with a custom diffuser that I made for it.
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:iconcristian-m:
Cristian-M Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2008
Thanks!
I almost never use a flash - just a personal preference... :)
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Most of my shooting is with the flash as well :)
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:iconmarble911:
marble911 Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2008   Photographer
Great reading.

And like *mack1time I'm wondering if I should get extension tubes first or start saving up for the MPE. I've tried a standard macro lens with additional close-up filters as well as a reversed 18-55 mm lens. The first technique doesn't give me the quality I want (at least with the Hama close-up filters I use, maybe the Canon 500D would give better results) and the reversed lens is a pain to use, so I'm not sure if I'd be much happier with tubes ...
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
No harm in getting the tubes -I always seem to find a use for them :)
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:iconmarble911:
marble911 Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2008   Photographer
The harm is 140 € less to put down for the MP-E. But I might do it anyway. Can't wait that long. :)
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
If you really want to shoot above life size the MPE-65mm is the easiest, and IMHO the best, way to do it...
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:iconmarble911:
marble911 Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2008   Photographer
:nod: I will get it one day, as soon as my budget allows. Which might be a while as I've just finished uni and need to get a job first ;). Meanwhile I'm trying out all the "poor man's macro" options. Right now, it's lens stacking. :giggle:
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Nothing wrong with lens stacking! I know a shooter who uses a standard macro lens + reversed 50mm + tubes and he takes some amazing focus stacks. Check this shot out: [link]
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:iconmarble911:
marble911 Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2008   Photographer
Wow...great results! Thanks a lot for the link.
I've only stacked my standard macro lens with a reversed 50mm, 17-70mm and now a 24mm. The last one (Canon FD lens) has an aperture ring but it doesn't seem to work when the lens is not on the camera. It's somewhat stopped down and I can't get it to open up completely so I get some heavy vignetting.
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 17, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
I asked Jody if he has a gallery with his macro work, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet. I'll post a link in my journal when he does.
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(1 Reply)
:iconmack1time:
mack1time Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2008
What a review!
You are making me question putting money down on my kenko extension set to go with the 100mm.

Should I drop it all and get the mpe-65???

Whats the price range?
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
It's a good idea to get some practice with a standard macro lens + tubes before you get the MPE-65mm. The lens costs around $800 USD.
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:iconalsebka:
alsebka Featured By Owner May 20, 2008  Student
Thanks for sharing.
Someone told me that the MPE got more deph of field than a reversed lens.. is it true ? i cant believe it, caus the mpe is build the same technique.
so im quiet happy with 18mm reversed + extension tubes ^^.

do extension tubes worl with the mpe ?
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 20, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
I'm pretty sure that depth is just a function of magnification and aperture, so at the same Fstop and mag two lenses will give you the same depth of field. I think the MPE-65 is better at producing a sharp image circle at 1x to 5x and people often confuse it with an increase in depth.

Extension tubes are almost useless on the MPE-65 -not much gain. If I want to go above 5x I add a teleconverter.
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:iconalsebka:
alsebka Featured By Owner May 20, 2008  Student
hm, why does extension tubes work great on a reversed lens but not on the mpe ?
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 20, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Because the MPE-65 has a built in extension tube and it's not built like a true lens...
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:iconskywalkerpl:
skywalkerpl Featured By Owner May 19, 2008
Thanks for the guide :) I wish I could make such fotos some day...
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 19, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for the feedback!

Just takes practice... ;)
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:iconskywalkerpl:
skywalkerpl Featured By Owner May 20, 2008
Hehe, and good equipment ;)
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 20, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
I use to shoot with a standard macro lens + tubes -you don't have to spend a lot of money on gear. The MPE-65 is just easier to use...
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:iconjaharrell:
JAHarrell Featured By Owner May 16, 2008
Great review, Thank you!! Here's more information on that lens > [link]
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 19, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks 8-)
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:iconmethatron-stock:
Methatron-Stock Featured By Owner May 16, 2008
phenomenal.....:clap:
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:icondalantech:
dalantech Featured By Owner May 16, 2008  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks 8-)
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