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This is a very strange lens that will test your creativity as a photographer.
Most people find it challenging to identify an interesting scene when it is right
in front of them, at a familiar scale. Some people have developed the skill of
finding interesting forms that are getting close to the size of a 35mm negative
the photo.net macro photography primer). But very
few photographers have ever thought about hunting for interesting subjects that
are a fraction of the size of a 35mm negative.
This lens from Canon, released late in 1999, is a hunting license. The world
according to the MP-E 65 starts at 1X with a subject the same size as a 35mm
frame (24x36mm). Subjects get smaller from there until their linear dimension is
only one-fifth the size of a 35mm frame (at 5X, a 5x7mm subject will fill up the
There are a bunch of mechanical problems with using this lens:
the viewfinder gets dark as you rack it out to 5X; the nominal maximum
aperture is f/2.8 but that is a mythical aperture not even available at 1X. At
1X, the effective wide-open f-number is 5.6. As you rack the lens out to 5X, the
effective viewing aperture is f/16.
focusing becomes critically important when photographing at high
magnification and the viewfinder ground glass may not be precise enough; Canon
has had to introduce a right-angle magnifying viewfinder to assist photographers.
Note that the MP-E 65 is in an autofocus mount and only works with autofocus EOS
cameras but has no focusing motor and requires manual focusing. How sloppy can
you be? Depth of field at 5X is 0.05mm (one twentieth of a millimeter!) at an
effective aperture of f/16. Stopping down to an effective f/64 gives you about
0.1mm to work with.
illuminating the subject with an external light becomes difficult because the
lens is in the way (you're about one inch from your subject); Canon makes the
ML-3 Macrolite ring flash to help with this problem
calculating exposure with external lighting is made difficult by Canon's
failure, unlike the Nikon system, to show effective taking aperture in the
viewfinder. Furthermore, the lens is not calibrated with exposure compensation
for different settings. You'd think that you'd be able to succeed using TTL
ambient metering, but the manual that comes with the lens cautions against using
the in-camera meter with any body other than the
EOS-1N and EOS-1! You have to remember not to
use spot metering with those cameras, though, because it won't be accurate. The
manual also reminds you to make sure to use an eyepiece shutter or cover if you
are metering without having your eye over the eyepiece. According to the manual,
if you install a "Laser Matte" focusing screen in the
EOS-3, you can use the in-camera ambient meter. The
only recommend approach with the average EOS body is TTL flash metering.
standard tripods don't allow you to move the camera/lens straight back and
forth toward the subject; you'll probably need to buy a macro rail to make it
easy to achieve the desired camera/subject distance
You can solve the mechanical problems with extra thought or extra equipment.
But you'll be left with a deeper aesthetic problem: when was the last time you
saw something really really small whose form and color you wanted to record?
Anyway, I've had the lens for four months now and have only exposed
one test roll of Fuji Provia 100F. For
lighting I used my standard Canon 540EZ flash with a Stofen diffuser connected
via an off-camera cord. I kept the setup on my kitchen table and hunted for
household objects, then hollered for
Pi Goddess Eve Andersson to come and
hold the flash while I squinted and moved the camera back and forth. Here are a
few examples from that sample roll:
Update for 2001 (Digital): This lens makes an interesting companion for
the Canon D30 SLR. The four images below are
(1) low-voltage living room light (3 seconds at f/11), auto white balance, (2)
same light and exposure but tungsten white balance set explicitly, (3) 380EX
off-camera flash, (4) 380EX off-camera flash plus reflector.
Digital is definitely the way to go with extreme macro photography. You get
instant previews that tell you whether you have an exposure problem. If only 1 in
100 images turns out to be interesting, you've not wasted a fortune in film and