Not Sure How to Choose a Digital Camera for Your Dental Office?

Not Sure How to Choose a Digital Camera for Your Dental Office?

Clinical digital dental photography

In today’s environment of patient’s high expectations and increased litigation, especially with regard to cosmetic dentistry, good record-keeping is essential. Clinical photography is a very important tool in general practice in documenting treatment, especially in aesthetic and cosmetic cases.[1]

Clinical photography and academic presentation have undergone a transformation over the past ten years.[2] In the past, clinical slide photography and carousel slide lecture presentations were the gold standard in both dentistry and the medical fields. Over the past decade, the availability of digital photography, digital imaging systems and digital presentation software programs has revolutionised teaching and lecturing.

Before the advent of digital photography, it was expensive to purchase dedicated 35 mm dental photographic equipment and accessories, and it was more likely to be dentists who were also amateur photographers who bought such equipment.[3] Since the development of digital cameras, the costs have been brought down quite considerably. This has made it more accessible for most dentists in their everyday practice. The main advantages of digital versus film photography are instant image acquisition, reduced costs of film processing and a relatively easy learning curve.

It is very difficult to outrace technology, as it is evolving daily at a rapid rate and one will always be behind. So don’t plan on using your current digital equipment for the rest of your life; it is always outdated within a couple of years. Over time as our own skills and knowledge improve with digital photography, we will want to improve on our old images; therefore, reinvesting in technology is part of the challenge in the pursuit of excellence.
One of the biggest advantages of digital photography is that the images can be viewed instantly and can be edited in many ways, such as improving brightness and contrast, cropping, changing hue and saturation, adding text and symbols, using software.

When it comes to selecting a digital camera these days, the range of choices can seem overwhelming.  What brand is “best,” what features are “necessary”, how many megapixels do you need, which lens(es) to choose, how much to spend….it used to be so much easier!  Back in the “old days” prior to 2003, there were only a few good SLR choices for dental photographers, and when Canon introduced the EOS Digital Rebel in late 2003, it was the ONLY affordable choice, although Fuji had their S1 and S2 Pro cameras.

In addition, for novice photographers, a DSLR and the recommended accessory lenses, flashes, etc. can seem much too complicated and intimidating.  And yes, even with the greatly reduced cost of DSLRs, the cost is not insignificant.  The good news, though, is that it’s all not nearly as complicated or even expensive as you are probably worried!

Camera Brands

The first question almost everyone asks is, “Which brand should I buy?  Nikon, Canon, Sony, Sigma, Olympus, Pentax?”  Here’s the REALLY simple answer: IT DOESN’T MATTER! 😀  Seriously………they are ALL good enough to give you excellent extraoral and intraoral photos.

That said, the 2 most popular brands are Canon and Nikon, and I typically recommend one or the other of these for 1 simple reason: there are a lot of other Canon and Nikon users in dentistry, so if you need assistance, it’s easy to get help.  There are also a lot more used camera bodies and lenses available if you’re on a tight budget.

So which camera bodies do I personally recommend?  Well, I’ve been shooting Canon for almost 20 years, so I’m admittedly biased towards them.  In my office, we use 2 Canon XTi’s, although we’ll be upgrading to the Canon T2i in 2011 to take advantage of the HD video capability.  At home, I use the Canon 7D, which is admittedly a little overkill for dentistry, but for camera geeks, it’s just plain sweet!

As much as I like Canon, though, Nikon has a some really great cameras, and even a couple flash options that Canon doesn’t (will touch on that in a future blog post), so if you want to go the Nikon route, you have some excellent choices.

DSLR or a P&S (Point & Shoot)

Another common question about camera choice is related to the whole question of, “Why can’t I just use a point-and-shoot camera like i do at home?” Well, you actually CAN use one of those, if you get the right kind and with the right accessories.  However, there aren’t many that I would recommend; the only ones that I know offhand that can be converted to nice dental setups are the Canon G-series, such as the G10, G11, etc.  They have the option for full-manual settings, and a flash-diffuser has been designed that makes the pop-up flash give smooth results.

Do I HAVE TO Buy a Macro Lens & Ring Flash?

Simple and easy answer:  YES. At least, if you want to get crisp, high-quality close-up pictures in the mouth with even lighting, color accuracy, and no shadows, you have to buy a macro lens and ring flash.

Basically, that little pop-up flash on most all DSLRs and P&S’s can’t be angled down sharply enough from close range to get the mouth evenly lighted.  In addition, let me tell you that virtually all serious professional cameras don’t even have the little pop-up flash, and there’s a good reason…..serious photographers know that the intensity and color of those flashes are TERRIBLE!  We hate using them even for regular photography.

Do I know of doctors who get acceptable images using non-macro lenses and the pop-up flash?  Sure.  Would I even remotely consider doing that unless there is no other option?  NOT A CHANCE! There compromise is too great, especially when the cost of getting the right gear is really not that difficult or expensive.

Where Should You Buy a Camera, Lens, & Flash?

While you can pick up the cameras and accessories you need at most chain photography stores, such as Ritz Camera, etc., that’s not where I recommend you go, because you will typically pay too much.  I make my recommendations on where to buy your gear based on how knowledgeable you are or not.  If you already feel pretty comfortable with the basics of photography and can set everything up, then go witheBay for getting used equipment or B&H Photo Video for new but less expensive gear, as they typically have some of the best prices available.  If you’re looking for more help, or perhaps you’d like the security of a loaner program (can be a lifesaver if you only have 1 camera!), then you’re better off with Norman Camera or Photomed, both of which have prepackaged dental kits that are basically ready to go the moment you open the case – just insert batteries and memory card.  They also have excellent support if you have questions.


DR. Charles Payet ,DDS

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