We report on the synthesis, characterization and application of a novel nanocomposite made of a negative tone epoxy based photoresist modified with organic-capped Fe 2O 3 nanocrystals (NCs). The mechanical properties of the nanocomposite drastically improve upon incorporation of a suitable concentration of NCs in the polymer, without deteriorating its photolithography performance. High aspect ratio 3D microstructures made of the nanocomposite have been fabricated with a uniform surface morphology and with a resolution down to few micrometres. The embedded organic-capped Fe 2O 3 NCs drastically increase the stiffness and hardness of the epoxy based photoresist matrix, making the final material extremely interesting for manufacturing miniaturized polymer based mechanical devices and systems. In particular, the nanocomposite has been used as structural material for fabricating photoplastic Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) probes with integrated tips showing outstanding mechanical response and high resolution imaging performance. The fabricated probes consist of straight cantilevers with low stress-gradient and high quality factors, incorporating sharp polymeric tips. They present considerably improved performance compared to pure epoxy based photoresist AFM probes, and to commercial silicon AFM probes. © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry.