Anybrand MP-E 65 mm

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017


The anybrand MP-E 65mm is an ongoing project that I started in 2012, and was originally named mp-e 64 on Flickr. The aim is to make a Nikon, Pentax, Sony or anybrand compatible mp-e 65 equivalent macro lens, which, being a Canon lens, unsurprisingly only works on Canon.

The aim is to make a Nikon, Pentax, Sony or anybrand compatible mp-e 65 equivalent macro lens

And the problem is, the Canon MP-E 65 will only ever work on Canon DSLR mounts. That's because the mount registration distance means that for some brands, a Canon lens would have to sit inside the body, which is never going to happen (As of 2012 though, there is at least an adapter available from metabones for Sony.)

anybrand MP-E 65mm extreme macro lens for Pentax

Anybrand MP-E 65mm extreme macro lens for Pentax. An old deglassed SMC-A 50mm f/1.7 empty lens with a reversed SMC Pentax FA 35-80 f4-5.6 coupled onto it with coupling adapter.

On top of that, the Canon MP-E 65 also uses a motor inside the lens to drive the aperture mechanism (based on electronic information transmitted through from the body).

A motor driven aperture isn't something that all brands can cope with, for example Pentax, which drives its aperture mechanically using a big old clunky mechanical lever coming out from the body.

For motor driven brands, there is an alternative approach that maybe worth looking at.

About The MP-E 65

The Canon MP-E 65 is in a class of its own, and the optic most extreme macro photographers aspire to

The Canon MP-E 65 is in a class of its own, and the optic most extreme macro photographers aspire to. This is an extreme macro lens costing about $1500 that has a fantastic macro range, from 1:1 to 5:1. It is without peer in the insect macro world and almost unique although there was once a cool Minolta 1:1 to 3:1 -- but this is very rare to find. MPE65 alone is why extreme macro photographers will switch to Canon, which is the best brand for extreme macro. The absolute buggeration is that it's only available in Canon mount, no lens manufacturer of camera marque has had the nouse to make something similar. That's annoying, and just won't do...

Anybrand MP-E 65 Specifications

The Canon Mpe-65 is good, but could even be improved!

Any mount Obviously mp-e 65 is Canon only. A mp-e 65 equivalent in any mount would drive extreme macro forward considerably, and would eliminate brand as the barrier to extreme macro
1:2 to 4:1 1:1 to 5:1 is good, but actually there are a lot of larger insects that just don't fit onto 1:1. For example, moths, which I love to photograph. So I really want something that spans between both non-macro (1:2) and extreme macro (3:1), and in one lens.
Easy to make We don't want something that requires obscure widget from 1973 that's only sold in Outer Mongolia when the apricots bloom. We want it to be easy, and doable by anyone.
Aperture control This is the kicker. Anyone can reverse a decent prime on a focusing helicoid, and by increasing or decreasing the helicoid length, change the magnification. But we're still left with the aperture issue. So we want aperture control in-camera. To some extent this can be faked with an empty lens.
Versatile flash Must permit fast flash recharge times (ie 1/16 or so) in conjunction with a low ISO setting using a nice diffused light diffuser, not bare flash.
Bright viewfinder I don't want to have to deal with a dark viewfinder view, this is a common complaint with MP-E 65 but especially with reversed lenses on which you're trying to peer through a lens set at f/8 through an extension tube. We don't like this at all. We like nice and bright, making it easy to compose and focus. We don't like guesswork.
Decent IQ The images that come out with this thing must be presentable, and of a sufficient quality to be able to go into magazines.
Constant flash We want speed of operation. We don't want to have to change a squillion settings on the flash and camera when zooming between 1:2 and 3:1 and heck, we don't even want to have to change the angle that the flash points down at.
Permit *TTL The setup must allow such things as TTL flash exposure, rear sync (also called rear curtain) because we don't like flash ghosting. This means pc-sync is not good enough.
Affordable MP-E 65 costs US$1,500. I don't mind having to spend up to US$250 for something better.
Working distance We want a decent working distance on this thing, as the main use of it will be outside doing insect photography.


it just consists of a reversed zoom on an empty lens on an extension tube

An anybrand MP-E 65mm is quite easy to construct as it just consists of a reversed zoom on an empty lens on an extension tube. Working in reverse, ie from the outermost lens back towards the camera:

Short Zoom I bought and tested several zoom lenses to use for this purpose and the one that I have now settled on is a SMC Pentax FA 35-80 f4-5.6. The advantages it has over other zooms in this range is that it is cheap, light, and its focusing ring can be taped over to sit permanently at infinity without affecting the movement on its zoom ring. This is the lens furthest from the camera, used in reverse. You shouldn't be paying more than £50 for this.

Reverse Ring Between this and the next element is a reversing ring.

Empty Lens In front of that sits an old SMC-A 50mm f/1.7 which I removed all the glass elements out of and use as an empty lens. This was the kit 50 back in the day and you shouldn't be paying more than £20 for this.

the range is 1:2 when the zoom is at 80mm, and 3:1 when the zoom is at 35mm

Tube In front of that, and connecting it to the camera body, is an extension tube, in my case the largest of the 3 sections (31mm) of my Panagor PK/A set.

That's all there is to it. With this mounted, the range is 1:2 when the zoom is at 80mm, and 3:1 when the zoom is at 35mm.

Work In Process

This is a work in process, although I'm already satisfied with the current results. There are various things I'd like to improve:

Lighting The working distance changes as you zoom from 1:2 to 3:1 and a flash & diffuser construct needs to be able to cope with that without having to change the power on the flash (I use manual, not PTTL). I'm almost there with this.

Zooms I've bought and tested 4 different zooms. This one is pretty good but I bet there's something better out there.


With the Pentax zoom wide open at f/4 I use the empty lens up to f/16 without vignetting at 1:2. At 3:1 I use the empty lens up to f/2.8 without vignetting. This is a matter for individual experimentation. I find that I do get a nicer picture with the zoom 1 stop down though, ie at f/5.6, and using that I restrict myself to f/12 at 1:2.

The distance between reversed zoom and camera is important. If your reversed zoom is too close to your camera you'll always have vignetting

You can increase the magnification by having both lenses focused at their closest points rather than infinity. So for example my setup is perfectly capable of doing 1:1-5:1 if I do that, but I choose not to. 1:2 to 3:1 just happens to be more useful to me personally.

The distance between reversed zoom and camera is important. If your reversed zoom is too close to your camera you'll always have vignetting. You need to move it away from the camera using extension tubes and/or an empty lens to eliminate this.

Using a hood on the reversed lens made a considerable difference. Thankfully, all you need to do is hack apart a soft plastic lenscap to make one. Works great!

The great big bling homemade flash diffuser that gives you gorgeous and just enough light at 1:2 rather gets in the way at 3:1

The great big bling homemade flash diffuser that gives you gorgeous and just enough light at 1:2 rather gets in the way at 3:1, because the working distance goes from 30cm to 10cm. In a sense this is part of the mp-e's beauty because they complement that lens with twin flashes that can be set at a position that a) don't get in the way and b) gives you nice light whatever magnification you choose to use. This is a challenge.

The possibility of making an empty lens out of the rubbishest of zooms and putting a reversed prime on the end is also open for consideration next year. Because the diaphragm moves, it'll always be close to the reversed prime, so should minimise aberration at whatever magnification I use it at.


Overall this isn't a bad construct and will do extreme macro zooming. But, don't expect miracles, this isn't the same as a £1000 lens and whilst the Pentax zoom I use reversed works well, there are other avenues for exploration that will inevitably yield greater optical quality. For example, instead of reversing the zoom, maybe try making the empty lens out of a zoom lens with an el-nikkor 50 in front. My recommendation would be to come at this project with a low expectation so that you are pleasantly surprised if you're happy with the result, and to see it as an experiment rather than expecting to achieve the ultimate lens for no cost. It is meant to be a fun way into cheap extreme macro if you don't have an MPE - not a miracle lens but for me, it was just fine for some casual shooting!!

Comments (43)

Article: Anybrand MP-E 65
Chris says...
Pretty much any lens is OK at 1000 pixels wide. I don't think I have one which isn't. Reversing any modest kit lens I've tried, works OK. Some might even be comparable with expensive lenses. ("Morfa" found an old 120mm plus a Raynox was comparable with an MP-E65). So the point was, that one can't say very much at all from a few shots shown 1000 wide, certainly not enough to particularly recommend one over another. EG for web use, at 2:1 I wouldn't bother other using an MP-E65, I'd just use some ordinary macro lens at 1:1 and blow the middle up. It would still be 2600 or so wide, making it pixel sharp once reduced to 1000.
2nd December 2013 6:34am
Harold Gough says...
I can tell the difference between my lenses at 1000 pixels wide. That is why I have invested in first Leitz Elmarit and then Kiron, abandoning my Tamron SP 90mm macro. By coincidence, I have recently obtained the 12cm Summar used by 'Morfa'and, using it as a prime macro on extension, I am very encouraged by its performance, running out of season and insects before I shot many images with it.
2nd December 2013 7:38am
Johan says...
No, sorry, not all zooms work. I've recommended this one because it's a proven buyable specific zoom for people who want to give it a try, cheap to buy, easy to source, and scored best on the criteria I chose. With this config, there isn't an issue traversing the full zoom range when reverse mounted, nor does it vignette, it gives a reasonable magnification variation etc.

I have absolutely no doubt that other zoom lenses reverse mounted would work too but I'm afraid you do have to watch out for other factors ie zoom 'traversability' (ie push pull just doesn't work at all reversed), vignetting on different focal lengths and empty lens length variants, and optical quality.

The latter is something to do with difference in entrance and exit pupil I _think_, it seems to work better reversed where they're a similar size. But of course it could be something else, so if people want report failures and successes that'd be very helpful.
2nd December 2013 9:36am
Chris says...
Johan what lenses did you try that didn't work too well? I have a coupleof kit standard zooms. It's slightly tempting to find a cheapy P35-80 and pitch it against an MPE65 :)
23rd November 2013 10:44pm
Johan says...
I had 4 that gave me a bit of a problem... Old Cosina 28-80 difficult to use because of the zoom mechanism, Tamron Adaptall 2 I couldn't make work because you can't zoom 50 to 28 with it reversed (great shame, good lens), similar sad problem with Vivitar 28-70, Pentax-A 28-80 does work but you have to tape the focus ring fixed to the barrel and I had to disassemble it partially (to give better working distance). Latter works almost as well as the one I finally settled on but that had the better zoom aspect reversed.
23rd November 2013 11:27pm
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