I'm looking to buy my first macro lens to use with a full frame body. I started with Canon 100mm f/2.8L, over Zeis 100mm f/2 into Canon MP-E 65mm, which at this moment I like the best of the lot (I read that it's a pain in the ass to use though).

Is there a better macro lens available? Canon MP-E 65mm is not a L lens, so, theoretically there could be a step up from this. Is there?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you be more specific about what makes a macro lens better in your eyes? E.g. price / image quality / ease of use / versatility? \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Aug 9, 2012 at 9:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ To me, image quality is everything \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2012 at 10:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually I'm looking for a combination between image quality and magnification; the ease of use I'm going to get used to \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2012 at 11:02
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Food for thought: The "L" on a Canon lens tells you ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about its image quality! It simply indicates that one or more lenses of special glass (normally fluorite) was used in it. Normally this makes it a superior lens, optically, but this is not a given. For example, the 24mm TS-E mark I is an L lens, the 45 and 90mm TS-E lenses are not. The 24mm is the worst of the three, optically. Build quality is identical. I can only theorize that putting exotic glass inside it was the only way to make the 24 decent, and hence it automatically got the L. The 45/90 did not need it; no L. \$\endgroup\$
    – Staale S
    Aug 9, 2012 at 15:39

3 Answers 3


The MP-E 65mm is not a normal macro lens, it's a special lens for extreme macro only.

If you need 5x magnification the MP-E 65mm is the only option on the market - so it's obviously better than the other options (well, you can potentially get 5x with extension rings or reversed lenses but the MP-E is the only lens that is designed to work at those extreme circumstances).

However, if you want a lens that can also be used as a general purpose lens the MP-E is useless - it only does macro.

The MP-E 65mm is designed for one specific task only (macro at extreme magnification), if that's what you want to do than it's absolutely the best option, but it's completely useless for everything else.

By the way, if you want to shoot handheld macro than the Canon 100mm f/2.8L has a new image stabilization system that works for macro, and I believe that right now this is the only lens in existence that has that system, it's also the only lens out of the 3 you mentioned that has auto-focus (and the 100mm, unlike the MP-E, can also double as a great portrait or general purpose lens).

The Zeis is probably great optically but it doesn't have auto-focus or IS like the Canon 100mm (that's not a big deal for macro but does limit it's usability for other situations) and it doesn't have the extreme magnification of the MP-E.

So, there isn't really such a thing as "better", each of the lenses you mentioned is significantly better than the others at some aspects and worse at others.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I borrowed the 100mm f/2.8 L from a friend, and took a bunch of handheld macro shots. It was incredibly fun. :-) They use it primarily for portraits and pictures of their kids playing sports. So, I'd say it lives up to everything Nir says. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael H.
    Aug 17, 2012 at 17:07

This lens is the only lens that can magnify subjects so much, so close. It has the unique ability to magnify subjects to 5times their actual size.

The definition of better would vary from person to person. This lens probably doesn't have the build quality of an L lens but it has a much higher magnification than any L lens and so the definition of better is in two different aspects.


I can only speak from personal experience and I have not owned the alternatives, but for me the Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/100 ZE is a winner...

Click here for some of my own shots taken with it on Flickr.


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