Using single lens reflex digital cameras

I finished last month talking briefly about the differences between Point and Shoot and Single Lens Reflex digital cameras.

I finished last month talking briefly about the differences between Point and Shoot and Single Lens Reflex digital cameras. This month, I want to focus on digital SLR cameras, their advantages and disadvantages, and how we incorporate them into our practice. Norman Camera sends me the latest versions of digital SLR cameras as they reach the market. During the past five years, I have evaluated most of the current digital SLR cameras. They are sent to me to use in clinical situations to see how well they perform. My three favorite brands of digital SLRs are Canon, Fuji, and Nikon. Canon is my favorite. But let me say from the beginning that they all work very well for dentistry. Thus, saying that I like Canon the best is purely subjective.

Canon and Fuji have the same custom functions and settings. They are set a little differently, but do the same thing. Nikon also has similar settings on certain models. The settings I will talk about are for the Canon 20D. We take digital photos of all our patients, including those for emergency, consults, hygiene, and restorative work. Because we take so many images to show our patients, we have to take our photos very quickly and very efficiently. So, I do not refer to these custom functions as “bells and whistles.” The ability to automate the camera to dental photography is what enables us to use our cameras even with a very busy schedule. My camera is set so I only have two settings for all my photos. My camera is set to Av mode with custom function 3 set to shutter speed “fixed” at 1/250. My twin and ring flash (I will discuss the difference in a future column) are set to +1.5 and are ETTL metered. My Canon Macro 100mm ultrasonic speed lens is set to auto focus. With this setup, all I or any member of my team has to do is pick up the camera and rotate the top dial to set the f-stop at 6.7 if the patient’s eyes are in the photo and to 22 if they are not. The lens will focus in less than a second. That is all we do. With these two settings, 6.7 and 22, every photo is perfect whether it is intraoral or extraoral. Once these settings are entered into the camera, you do not have to worry about them again. In less than three minutes, we can take all of our clinical photos and display them on a computer monitor. If your main concern about purchasing a digital camera is ease of use so that it can be used with all your patients, then investing a little more money in an SLR camera would be the way to go.

The main disadvantage of SLR cameras is their weight. Most of this extra weight comes from the lens and flash. At my hands-on courses, we have found that once a dentist and team members can get their posture and hands in the correct position, the weight is no longer an issue.

Where to buy your camera is just as important as how you use it. A dental practice is also a small business. Overhead matters. The less you spend on equipment, the better - as long as the equipment works the way you expect it will. I have heard about dentists getting their camera equipment via eBay. Be careful about doing this unless you are OK with not being able to use your camera for a while if it breaks. There are some awesome deals on eBay. I like shopping there. But I cannot go a day without my camera if it breaks. Some other good deals can be found at nondental companies like B&H and Adorama. These are good camera companies that feature a wide variety of products. A problem with these companies is that their salespeople are not very knowledgeable about dental photography. How could they be? Dental photography is a very specialized area. The best place I have found to purchase cameras is from dental camera stores like Norman Camera or Photomed. I get all of my cameras at Norman Camera. Both of these companies, and there are others, specialize in dental photography and know the needs of dentists. They have loaner programs and understand the specific problems that dentists encounter.

For more information on my photography techniques and courses on digital photography, please visit my Web site at

Dr. Tony Soileau is a general dentist from Lafayette, La. He has taught digital photography at the Pacific Aesthetic Continuum in San Francisco, the Institute of Oral Art & Design in Tampa, Fla., and the Esthetic Epitome in Charlotte, N.C. He is currently a co-director for the genR8TNext digital photography program. Dr. Soileau lectures on the use of digital photography, digital radiography and computerized case presentations, and high-tech marketing. Dr. Soileau can be reached at (337) 234-3551 or by e-mail at

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