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My thougths on MP-E 65mm (APS-C test) by John Hallmen

Imagen 01


I have conducted a comparison between the lenses shown above:

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x (I'm just calling this MPE65 from now on)

SumRay 50/1.9 (Summar 12cm and Raynox +12)

Leitz Focotar-2 50/4.5

EL-nikkor 50/2.8 (Old version)

EL-nikkor 50/2.8N

EL-nikkor 50/2.8N

Leitz Milar 40/4.5

Below you'll find full resolution samples from each lens at three different aperture settings.  

Initial notes:

Camera body used: Canon EOS 7D

Magnification: 4.8:1

All but the MPE65 were mounted on the Nikon PB-6 bellows.

Each test image is stacked from 9 exposures in Zerene Stacker. This is to get around the fact that aligning focus exactly the same between different lenses is practically impossible. Also: some lens flaws seem to be amplified by stacking and at this magnification stacking is often crucial to get the best results. Therefore even if it was possible to align focus identically – I find stacks are more telling than single exposures at high magnification.

I have included three EL-nikkors for two reasons:

1) I wanted to know if there is a difference between the old and the new "N" version

2) It's nice to know how much sample variations plays a part in this kind of test and as it turns out it is far from insignificant.

There are a lot of lenses I could have included in this test (such as the Zeiss Luminar 63/4.5 or Leitz Milar 65/4.5) but I wanted to use lenses with roughly the same focal length.

The MPE65 is called 65mm but I'm fairly certain it achieves its 5:1 magnification by means of focal length shortening (the relatively short maximum extension and working distance indicates this). My guess was that the MPE65 is between 40 and 50mm at 5:1 but it could be even shorter – I'll see if I can find this out.

This composite is showing all lenses at f5.6. If you click it you'll get a larger version where each is scaled down to 2000x1333px. At this size you can't make out any differences in terms of resolution but this gives you an idea of how they compare when it comes to white balance and contrast.

Imagen 02


  • MPE65                             f4 f5.6 f8
  • SumRay 50/1.9                 f4 f5.6 f8
  • Leitz Focotar-2 50/4.5       f4 f5.6 f8
  • EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 N(Sample 1)   f4 f5.6 f8
  • EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 N(Sample 2)   f4 f5.6 f8
  • EL-Nikkor 50/2.8 (Old version)    f4 f5.6 f8
  • Leitz Milar 40/4.5              f4 f5.6 f8

Lighting was provided by a single Nikon SB-24 flash unit (see below). It was set to 1/16th, 1/8th and 1/4th of full power respectively for each of the three aperture settings.

The Milar and the Focotar are both f4.5 at their widest so for these I've used this setting instead of f4. Lighting was the same though so theoretically their "widest" image should look half a step or so darker.

When conducting the test I made the mistake of thinking of the "SumRay" as a f2.0 lens while f1.9 is closer to the truth (see here for calculation). Consequently the SumRay yielded slightly overexposed results since the effective aperture was a little bit larger (also meaning a little less diffraction).

App for Comparisons

I've built a flash app that makes comparing test images easier by syncing the zooming and panning. It's original purpose is to view stereograms (which explains the anaglyph-button) but it works well for comparisons too.

Ejemplo 1: MPE-65 vs SumRay a f5.6

Ejemplo 2: MPE-65 vs El-Nikkor a f5.6 

Zoom in and out with the "+" and "-" buttons (keyboard or on-screen) and pan using the mouse or arrow keys.

Click "Change images" and copy and paste from the URL:s above to compare two images of your choice. 

(Flash can only juggle 3000x3000 pixels so if the files are larger than that (as in this case) only the top, left 3000x3000pixels of the images are visible)

This app is still to be considered a beta-version!



 One of my main tasks here was to find out how good the venerable Canon MPE-65 is performance-wise compared to other optics. 

Before we begin the pixel-peeping let me just say this: as someone most familiar with the Nikon system and not having used the Canon system for real since the analogue nineties I'm very pleasantly surprised. If Nikon keels over tomorrow I can now rest assured that there is at least one viable alternative out there. 

The MPE65 oozes quality and is a pleasure to use; it's perfectly solid even at maximum extension. The 7D + MPE65 is a kit that should satisfy most macro junkies out there, myself included.

MPE-65 image quality at 4.8X

For this comparison I didn't have time to thoroughly test the lens over its entire magnification range but of course this is what you need to do if you want the complete picture.

So, does the MPE65 sweep the floor with the competition?span>

No. Lets just say that If there is something magical about this lens from an image quality standpoint (as you sometimes are lead to believe) it eluded me in this comparison.

The MPE65 is great when it comes to producing clean, contrasty results with consistent edge to edge performance at wide apertures (f4). At f4 its blacks are blacker than all the other lenses in this test. The micro contrast is also very high and when you put these qualities together the results are very appealing – at least at first glance. You could say that the images appear to have an extra level of clarity, straight out of the camera. 

 So what's behind those caveats? Well, in terms of resolving power it's not better than the competition in this test. And while CA (chromatic aberrations) are generally under control the Leitz Milar and Leitz Focotar-2 and to some extent the "SumRay" are slightly better while the EL-nikkors are slightly worse. CA is only an issue at f4 – at smaller aperture it is insignificant even in the EL-nikkors.

The resolution champion in this test is the SumRay.

MPE-65 a f5.6 vs Sumray a f5.6 (Click for flash comparison)

At f5.6 the SumRay clearly outresolves the MPE-65 over the most part of the frame (see above). Granted, the SumRay is "cheating" a little since its effective aperture is slightly wider than f5.6 (perhaps f5.4?) and thereby it is slightly less affected by diffraction. The difference isn't big but not insignificant either since you can make out that the SumRay image is a little brighter. Remember that the flash output is exactly the same in both cases so any difference in effective aperture would correspond to an equivalent amount of brightness difference. Looking at these images it is clear that it is far from a full stop difference but lets compare the MPE65 @ f4 with the SumRay still at the "less than f5.6" setting anyway: 


Here, the MPE65 @f4 to the left gets half the amount of flash output (1/16th) compared to the SumRay (1/8th). So in this case the MPE65 certainly has the benefit of larger effective aperture. Still, resolution-wise the SumRay is on par with the MPE65 or even a little bit better.


In fact, at f8 the Canon has the lowest resolution of all the lenses in this test. Also, at this setting the contrast/clarity advantage this lens showed at the wider settings is completely gone.

The MPE65 is a good performer but at this magnification we seem to be pushing its upper limit. While it has the edge in contrast/clarity at the wider settings this is really only an issue if you want to do a minimum of adjustments in post – a simple levels adjustment would cancel most difference between the MPE65 image and the results produced by the other lenses in this test. Also, at f4 and 4.8X, stacking is almost a must and if you are the kind of photographer who accepts focus stacking as part of your workflow you are unlikely to shy away from a simple levels adjustment.

Subjective performance

Determining which lens performs better is quite often a matter of taste. Take this case for instance:

 EL-Nikkor a f4 contra el Focotar a f4.5

The EL-nikkor @f4 resolves finer detail than the Focotar-2 consistently throughout the frame. On the other hand, the Focotar-2 is almost completely free from CA whereas the EL-nikkor shows relatively much of it. In a case like this I would pick the Focotar-2 without hesitating, but I can see how others might be less sensitive to CA and always opt for maximum resolution!


Another thing that is often and easily overlooked is sample variation.


Two samples of EL-Nikkor 50mm a f4

This test confirms my suspicion that these two virtually identical lenses behave quite differently at f4; One is clearly better than the other. At this setting the difference between these two samples of six element design lenses is larger than the difference between the "good" sample and the three element Milar 40/4.5. Is one of the EL-nikkors to be regarded as a lemon? I'm not so sure! At f5.6 ( flash >>) and f8 they are indistinguishable – if anything the "bad" one shows a little less (!) CA.

Some additional thougths and rants

The MPE65 is good but at this magnification you can achieve equally good results with much cheaper alternatives, especially if you intend to stop down beyond f5.6 or can tolerate a small amount of post processing. The MPE65 is the only lens in this test that offers automatic aperture but this is only a real benefit if you're stopping down and then IQ might not be the best. 

 For handheld shooting at 1:1 – 3:1 the MPE65 seems really nice but frankly I would be surprised if the Micro-nikkor 105/f4 + Raynox diopter wouldn't prove to be as good in most relevant aspects.

 I really don't mean to bash the MPE65 but I'd like to point out some weaknesses just to counterbalance the praise this lens often receives (and for the most part deserves). The following crop (shot at 1:1 and f16) shows another less than perfect aspect of this lens:

The straight, six bladed iris of the MPE65 can render out of focus highlights in a rather unattractive way. More often than not this will not be a problem but there are occasions where this kind of OOF highlights can become obtrusive in my opinion. This is especially true if there is a lot of dew drops or very moist, textured substrate in the frame. Apart from being unattractive this sort of highlights can become a problem when stacking: the distinct shapes and patterns can be "perceived" by the stacking algorithms as in focus detail and thereby severely interfere with the actual detail rendition. 


The Summar 12cm has no less than 15 rounded diaphragm blades and even when stopped down all the way its opening forms a perfect circle:

This wouldn't be possible with an auto-aperture lens though since the friction between the blades would prevent it from stopping down fast enough. In fact, in cold

If I was a Canon user I would most likely buy the MPE65. It's a unique, flexible and well built lens and it offers a lot of convenience especially if you don't want to lug around a bulky and sensitive bellows unit.

If you are a Nikon macro shooter I don't think the MPE65 should be reason enough for you to change systems. The old Micro-nikkor 105/f4 combined with Raynox diopters offer a great alternative. However, there are other things that Canon does better than Nikon in my opinion: Canon's Live view and Mirror lock up is superior to Nikon's. And I much prefer to be able to set the nominal aperture rather than the effective aperture that Nikon forces you to use (with modern optics).

 If I was to pick a winner in this test it would have to be the SumRay. It outresolves the rest and shows very little CA. Not only is it a stellar performer but it is also very flexible: Changing the Raynox +12 diopter for a Raynox +6 diopter gives you an excellent 70/f2.6 (very useful for bugs). With a Raynox +25 diopter you get a high magnification 30/f1.2 (that becomes excellent, stopped down a bit). On its own the Summar 12cm is wonderful for lower magnification macros (below and around 1:1) and portraits. If you can tolerate a fair bit of edge softness you can even use it for landscape work. I have a feeling my beloved Sigma 150/2.8 will have to work to defend its place in my bag the upcoming season ;-) 

The Raynox lenses continue to amaze me with their optical brilliance. I rate them as among the finest pieces of glass I've ever used. Quite astonishing considering their price tags! They perform a little bit differently depending on which lens you put them on though so you can't smack them onto anything and expect wonders. For instance I tried the +12 diopter on the Canon 100/2.8 USM macro lens: The results were not bad but nowhere near as good as from the MPE65

These are my opinions and conclusions. Go ahead and pixel peep the samples and please feel free to disagree with me! And if you do, please tell me – I'd like to hear your opinion!

Test set up

Basically I used the same setup as described in my last lens test (more info here)

However, one very significant difference was the lighting setup. This time I've taken measures in order to shade the front elements of the lenses and hereby flare was drastically reduced!

 The shading was done by adding a small "snout" around the flash head and (more importantly) a "mask" around the diffuser-cup. Simple but extremely effective! Just compare the contrast from EL-nikkor between this test and the last one I did


I mounted the MPE65 on the same micrometer controlled linear stage as I used with the bellows:

Here you see MPE65 compared to Zeiss Luminar 63/4.5 (not included in this test) at the same magnification and plane of focus. As you can see there is a significant difference in extension. This also illustrates another point: a small lens leaves much more room for lighting the subject. Another good thing with small lenses is that they are less likely to scare skittish subjects away. With a small lens and a set of narrow extension tubes you can take this to the extreme.


Imagen 10

Considering how small the front element of the MPE65 is, I don't see why Canon couldn't have made the barrel a little slimmer. It doesn't have to look like an endoscope (or a sniper rifle) but shaving off a little bit of girth at the front end of the lens would have many benefits:

1- easier to light the subject

2- easier to align the lens correctly without looking through the viewfinder (crucial when you need to work with fast moving subjects)

3- easier to monitor the subject from behind the camera (fat lenses with short WD obstructs the view)

4- easier to get better (=lower) angles with subjects on flat surfaces

5- easier to construct a highly effective lens hood: if the MPE65 had a filter thread the same size as the front element (≈25mm) a 1 cm long cylindrical lens hood would be enough to make a huge difference.

Why Summar 12cm f4.5 + Raynox 12diopter becomes SumRay 50mm f1.9

imagen 11

Well the "SumRay" part is obviously just made up but the thinking behind the numbers is as follows:

120mm f4.5 means an entrance pupil of 120/4.5= 26.7mm. The Raynox is +11.8 diopter which means a focal length of 1000mm/11.8=85mm. The combined focal length is calculated as 1/F=1/f1 + 1/f2 => 1/F= 1/120 + 1/85 => F= 50mm. Meanwhile the entrance pupil is unaffected so the f-number of the lens is 50/26.7≈1.9

This might not be 100% accurate but I've been assured it should work perfectly well as an approximation!

This test was originaly published in John hallmen's flickr on the 29th of January of 2010; click  here too Read the original article with aditional info and comments