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

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

The Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens is one of’s 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, such as Canon’s 100mm, 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 to Macro with the Canon MP-E 65mm

Macro Rails

This lens is manual-focus only and you will need to use a macro rail, such as our 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.

Macro Ring Lights

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:


A carnation – © Alex Huff


A cigar – © Alex Huff


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
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.

Penxtax 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro
Much like the others above only this lens has 6 weather seals–very helpful when photographing bugs and flowers outside in all conditions. This lens also has a quick shift feature that allows you to alternate between manual and auto focus very easily.

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.

See our entire macro lens selection here.


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Alexandria Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. She is a Marketing Coordinator for and also writes for SmugMug. She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.


  1. I like my Cannon 100mm F2.8 (non L)

  2. MPE 65mm lens very tricky to use at great than 1x, difficultly with dof, stability and light even with MT24 as the distance from lens to subject is very limited to get light in.

  3. Why do Nikon users love this lens? Are you saying I can adapt this canon lens to my nikon mount??

      • Since it’s manual-focus only, it should just be a matter of getting a mount adapter.

        • It’s the fact no there isn’t another lens like it- for any system. Nikon doesn’t have anything directly comparable. He’s just saying that it’s a lens that macro enthusiasts drool over.

  4. Me likey!!! Must rent one for a long weekend this spring.

  5. I shoot with the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S VR IF-ED Micro and it is great for portraits and close-ups (obviously not as extreme as the examples in this post). I like using prime lenses as opposed to zooms, but it all depends on what a person is shooting.

  6. A canon 100 macro with an old minolta 50mm 1.7 taped in reverse to the front will fill the 22.3 aps-c 7D image area with 7mm you can focus in and out with both lenses
    without a moving front lens. mirror lockup and rails…lot’s of fun.

  7. Can anyone recommend any sites, blogs or forums where one might pick up some valuable tips on using the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro lens? There’s a tough learning curve on this guy and any help is appreciated!

    • Robert. There are several posts from a gentleman named Brian Valentine (LordV is his account name on many sites). Google that along with the lens name, macro, and diffusers, and you should find some written information about the lens in great detail.

      Also, scan through and go to the macro section. There are many users there, including myself, who use this lens. The biggest challenges of this lens are diffraction softening and lighting. I use the MT-24ex for lighting and shoot at the smallest apertures as follows to get the sharpest images. 1x (f11-f16 sometimes), 2x (f9), 3x (f7.1), 4x (f6), 5x (f5.6). These are numbers that I’ve read from other sites that I’ve found to work best for me. I do vary somewhat depending on what I’m shooting, but not more than 1 stop in aperture or diffraction softening sets in big time in my opinion.

      Focus stacking is a big thing with this lens because of the depth of field. I, and many others, use zerene stacker.

      I hope this helps get you out of the dark.

  8. I have this lens, a Sigma 180mm macro and the Tamron 90mm macro. While I like all 3 lenses, the Tamron takes the prize for the sharpest and most useful lens of the bunch! Amazing sharpness.



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