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 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! There are magnification markings on the lens so you know what magnification the lens is set to.
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 while the flash is firing 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.
Due to the way the lens is constructed expansion tubes have very little effect on the magnification of the lens (it's best to use a teleconverter).
The lens weighs about one kilo (over 2 pounds) so hand holding a heavy camera plus the lens can wear out your wrist.
Thanks for a great review of a very interesting lens!
Now I wish Nikon made something equal with the magnification….
I'm considering buying this lens for wildlife shoots... you said there's no real focus system, so, how does this shoot from a distance if you need to?
You do not shoot from distance. Forget distance with this lens. You have to approach to the subject at few centimetres distance. But results are extraordinary if you have patience.
I love this lens.
Thanks for posting. I have one that I've only used a few times. I'll get it out and start using it.
Great review. The magnification always seemed to me to be what was missing in other lenses. You have some stunning shots. I enjoyed your tutorial on Bees (I've suffered that frustration when Bees are too fast).
Wattle and Gardenia