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I currently do macro photography using a Canon EF-S 18-55 kit lens, setting it to f16, and unscrewing it while hitting depth of field preview to close the aperture and reversing it. (See for example here and here)

This can give nice pictures given I happen to align the incredibly shallow depth of field.

The type of macro photography i do doesn't allow for focus stacking as it's handheld in the open, preferably from perspectives where setting a tripod is infeasible or takes too long and scares away the insect.
I'm considering an MP-E 65 as pictures I've seen appear to have a wider depth of field for subjects at the same magnification.

Can the MP-E 65 achieve a greater depth of field at the same magnification than a stopped down reversed lens or are the examples I see focus stacked?

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Can the MP-E 65 achieve a greater depth of field at the same magnification than a stopped down reversed lens?

Probably not much in the center of the frame. Where the big advantage of the purpose built macro lens would be noticeable at the same magnification compared to some reversed lenses would be out near the edges and corners of the frame. Any minor improvement the MP-E 65mm would show over your reversed EF-S 18-55mm would be due to the better center sharpness of the macro lens.

Some reversed lenses tend to soften up and demonstrate really weird geometric distortion on the edges and in the corners. Macro lenses are generally designed to provide the flattest field of focus at macro distances. Most other lenses tend to be optimized for flattest field of focus at longer focus distances. Where you tend to see the most noticeable weird effects of reversing a lens are with prime lenses that aren't that well corrected for field curvature. Based on your two examples using the reversed EF-S 18-55mm the corners are so out of focus it probably wouldn't make much difference.

The other big advantage of the MP-E 65mm is the range of magnifications, all at 1:1 or larger, that are available and the ease of use at which magnifications and aperture settings can be changed. That comes at a price, though. For each magnification there is only one useable focus distance. What we would call the MFD (minimum focus distance) at each magnification on most lenses is the OFD (only focus distance) with the MP-E 65mm. As the magnification increases the DoF decreases, just as with any other conventional lens.

Are the examples I see focus stacked?

Since we can't see those examples it is impossible for us to say.

  • Thanks a lot for the detailed explanation, I had two examples but found out that they were in fact focus stacked. – Robin Gertenbach Apr 1 '17 at 12:12
  • Nice answer, but doesn't any prime lens only have one focus distance for a given magnification, strictly speaking? Such that another way of stating the case would be that the MP-E 65 adjusts its focus distance only in a few fixed increments correlating to specific magnifications? – junkyardsparkle Apr 1 '17 at 23:16
  • @junkyardsparkle There are lenses that do not breathe at all when focusing and do not change magnification with varying focus distances. – Michael C Apr 2 '17 at 1:45
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    The MP-E 65mm isn't even a prime lens by most definitions, since the FoV varies by 500% depending on minor changes in the focus distance. Some would argue that it is a zoom lens, albeit a very limited one in some ways. Please see this answer – Michael C Apr 2 '17 at 1:50
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    Interesting point - so at macro distances the concept of prime vs. zoom is just one more thing that goes out the window. – junkyardsparkle Apr 2 '17 at 19:55

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