Written by 4:48 pm Gear Reviews, Macro Photography, Photography • 20 Comments

The Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Puts the Microscopic Within Reach

The MP-E is more than a macro lens – it is a portable microscope with the ability to fill an entire 35mm frame with the texture of something as small as a grain of rice. Explore this unique lens from Canon for your next macro project.

closeup of barrel of Canon MP-E 65mm

The Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens is one of BorrowLenses’ most unique lenses. The MP-E is more than a macro lens – it is a portable microscope with the ability to fill an entire 35mm frame with the texture of something as small as a grain of rice. Floating internal lens elements keep the resolution sharp throughout the range of focus at 1x, life-size, to 5x magnification, or 5 times life-size.

The Canon MP-E 65mm’s magnification essentially begins where other macro lenses end. The focus distance range is very small – only 41mm at 5x – but this allows for tremendous detail of very small objects, including the tips of pens or the eyes of a butterfly. Since this is a dedicated macro lens, it cannot focus more than a few centimeters away from the front element. This is not your ordinary 65mm lens and to properly shoot with it you will need a couple of tools.

This lens is manual-focus only and you will need to use a macro rail or similar form of support.

Jim Goldstein’s star trail photos on an iPad, left at 1x (life size) and right at 5x.

What You Need to Shoot Macro

This lens is manual-focus only and you will need to use a macro rail, such as a StackShot Extended Macro Rail or our Mini Novoflex Focusing Rack. These provide essential support to prevent blur from lens shake (which is very noticeable at higher magnifications) and allows for micro adjustments in distance to and from your diminutive subject.

This lens is manual-focus only and you will need to use a macro rail or similar form of support.

This lens is manual-focus only and you will need to use a macro rail or similar form of support.

Lighting for Macro

The effective aperture is going to be much smaller than what is displayed on your camera due to the extreme magnification of the lens. Keep this in mind when calculating your exposure – your aperture needs to be multiplied by the magnification, plus 1, that you are using. For example, if you are shooting a penny at 5x magnification at f/13, you are effectively shooting at f/78 (f stop x (magnification + 1).

As you can see in this picture of the penny, even with a 1 second exposure and an LED lamp, there is not a lot of light on the subject. Also, when hovering over a very small subject, you tend to cast a shadow on an already dark scene. A macro ring light is essential for combating these very small apertures. This lens is compatible with our Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Ringlite Flash.

With a 1 second exposure and an LED lamp, there is still not enough light on the subject--you need a Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Ringlite Flash or similar.

With a 1 second exposure and an LED lamp, there is still not enough light on the subject–you need a Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Ringlite Flash or similar.

Patience for the Little Things

This is not a lens for the impatient! It may take several micro adjustments and a steady gaze to get your subject sharp but the rewards are as great as the details the Canon MP-E  provides. Check out a few of our images taken with this lens below, shot between 2x and 4x magnification:

65MPE1AlexHuff

A carnation – © Alex Huff

65MPE2AlexHuff

A cigar – © Alex Huff

65MPE3AlexHuff

Butterfly wings – © Alex Huff

Other Macro Options

Canon’s 65mm MP-E is in a class of its own but there are other fantastic macro lenses to try out, especially if you are looking to just play around and don’t really want to commit to rails and macro lights yet. Here are some of our recommended lenses:

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro USM
This is a 1:1 macro lens so you can still reproduce small items at life-size magnification. The Hybrid IS makes this lens a little easier to hand-hold than the MP-E and also doubles as a fantastic portrait lens.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S VR IF-ED Micro
Another 1:1 magnification lens and also very sharp. The Vibration Reduction is helpful when hand-holding and it is also a great portrait lens. It is the favorite go-to lens for The Furrtographer for capturing both animal portraits and extreme close ups of their interesting features.

Sony 100mm f/2.8 Macro (for A Mount)
Comparable to the Canon EF 100mm for its 1:1 magnification and portraiture use but also employs a double-floating element design similar to the MP-E.

Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro ASPH/MEGA O.I.S.
This lens is for the micro four thirds fans out there. It is the 35mm-equivalent of a 90mm lens on a full frame camera but still shoots at 1:1 and allows you to focus as close at 6″ from your subject. The Optical Image Stabilization helps with hand-holding and still doubles as a fine portrait lens.

There are many more great macro lenses to try out on our site!

Tags: , , Last modified: July 7, 2021
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