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CAMERA

2014 Macro Lenses Group Test (Part 2) - Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro

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Macro lenses are often called ‘close-up’ lenses, as that’s what they do best. But there are still choices to be made

When you’re choosing a macro lens it’s important to consider the 1.6x crop factor of most Canon D-SLRs – a focal length of 100mm is a long-standing favourite for macro lenses, but one that stems from full-frame film cameras. Canon’s EF-S 60mm is designed specifically for cameras with smaller APS-C sensors – the effective focal length works out to 96mm, which is almost exactly the same as the classic 100mm length. The same goes for the Tamron 60mm Di-II macro lens that’s also incompatible with full-frame cameras, as is the Tokina 35mm DX macro.

At the other end of the scale, some macro lenses, such as the Canon and Tamron 180mm models, offer a long telephoto reach of 288mm on APS-C cameras, once you’ve taken the crop factor into account. So which focal length is best? A relatively short focal length of 35mm means a macro lens can potentially double up as a standard prime lens; slightly longer 50-60mm lenses, on the other hand, are best for portraiture.

A portrait shot with Canon 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

A portrait shot with Canon 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

Getting back to macro shooting, 50-60mm is ideal on an APS-C camera for small inanimate objects; longer lenses of 100-180mm are great for photographing moving subjects such as bugs, as there’s less chance of scaring them away – you can keep more distance between you and the insect, while still getting extreme close-up shots. It’s also tempting to consider using a long macro lens as a telephoto for sports and wildlife photography, but this is less than ideal, because the low gearing and long travel of the focus range often results in slow autofocus performance. Some lenses feature a focus limit switch but, even so, autofocus can still be sluggish.

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro

This high-cost option truly is a specialist close-up lens and, in fact, can’t be used for anything else. It takes up where most macro lenses finish off, with a magnification range starting at 1.0x and rising all the way to 5.0x. The good news is that this enables immense magnifying power; the downside being that you can’t focus on anything further away than 24cm. On this there’s no autofocus mechanism, and the manual focus ring works more like a magnifying ring. Magnification factors are marked on the inner lens barrel, which extends as the magnification increases. When focused, the front of the lens moves from 101mm to just 41mm away from the target, as you increase magnification through the available range.

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro

Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro

The easiest way to use the lens is to set the approximate magnification you require, then move the camera backwards and forwards until focus is achieved and finally adjust the focus/magnification ring for precise focusing. Lighting can be tricky at higher magnifications because the lens extends to 23cm long and, with its front edge only 41mm from the target, light from a regular flashgun is obscured. These difficulties aside, optical and build quality are both excellent.

Verdict

·         Price: $1,050

·         For: Reveals levels of detail that are invisible to the naked eye

·         Against: Only for extreme magnification,  requires specialist lighting

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Nearly twice the size and weight of the Canon EF-S 60mm Macro on test, this is the equivalent lens for full-frame cameras, although it’s equally suitable for use on APS-C bodies. Indeed, one advantage is that you don’t get as much vignetting on cameras with smaller sensors when shooting at the maximum aperture of f/2.8.

Like the EF-S 60mm, this has internal focusing with ring-type USM autofocus, with full-time manual override. Autofocus speed in the EF 100mm is a little slower (probably why Canon has fitted a focus limit switch). Frustratingly, the switch merely limits the focus range to between 48cm and infinity, rather than the full range of 31cm to infinity, so you can’t lock focusing to just the short end of the range for macro work.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Optically, the EF 100mm proved extremely sharp at its maximum aperture, and maintained excellent performance through to f/16. At f/22 there was an obvious fall-off in sharpness, but this only really set in at the smallest aperture of f/32. This is a common phenomenon, due to diffraction of light at very small apertures.

Overall, the EF 100mm is a great performing lens, even if it does lack the image stabilisation refinement of Canon’s 100mm L-series macro.

Verdict

·         Price: $600

·         For: Superb optical quality, internal focusing and USM autofocus

·         Against: Focus limit switch can’t lock focus range to the short end

 

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