Choosing the right digital camera

March 1, 2005
I want to start my first column by thanking Dr. Joe Blaes for giving me this opportunity.

I want to start my first column by thanking Dr. Joe Blaes for giving me this opportunity. When I was invited to dinner with Dr. Blaes at the Greater New York meeting in November, I had no idea why. During dinner, Dr. Blaes asked me to write a column based on my experiences with digital photography and marketing. So, thanks again, Dr. Blaes for this opportunity.

I was asked to write this column because of my teaching experience with digital photography as well as my marketing of photography with companies, both inside and outside dentistry. I have taught digital photography for both clinical and marketing at PAC~Live, IOAD, genR8TNext, AACD, and most major dental meetings. If you have any questions or topics you would like for me to discuss in this column - or in private - please email me at [email protected], or call my office at (337) 234-3551.

The topics I will discuss will be based on my own experiences with products I use every day in my practice. While I will share techniques, I will base the column on the economics of the products, and how they affect the bottom line of my practice. What will work best for an individual practice needs to be determined by the dentist based on the practice’s needs and budget.

Let’s begin with the two styles of digital cameras, Point and Shoot and the Single Lens Reflex (35mm style). Each of these cameras has advantages and disadvantages that can affect their efficiency in your office.

Point and Shoot style digital cameras are usually less expensive than the SLR digital cameras. A good Point and Shoot dental setup, like the Canon G6 which is my favorite, will cost $1,200 to $1,800. The quality of the image, depending on the model, is often equal to the more expensive SLR cameras. They are smaller in size and can be held with one hand. The image can be seen on a monitor located on the back of the camera instead of looking “through” the camera. The small size and viewing monitor are often preferred by team members. The lower cost is often the deciding factor for most dentists. But the lower cost does come with compromises. The lower cost means fewer features. At almost every one of my lectures, there is a dentist present who is frustrated because he or she believes all digital cameras are equal since they are all “digital.” The bells and whistles found on more expensive cameras often equate to faster and more efficient performance. Among the disadvantages of Point and Shoot cameras is their inability to focus in low-light areas like those found inside the mouth. Most digital cameras on the market can take a great smile shot. But intraoral photos are where many fall short. Another disadvantage is the lack of depth of field. This means that you will not be able to have both the centrals and the molars in focus.

A digital SLR camera, while giving the best performance, is usually more expensive than Point and Shoot digital cameras. My favorite SLR is the Canon 20D. A dental setup for this camera will cost, on average, $2,800. An SLR will have more functions that allow for easier and faster capturing of images. Because the camera can be further automated, fewer settings will have to be used than the Point and Shoot style. This means SLR cameras are easier to use, even though they have more buttons and features. Digital SLR cameras have no problem with low-light conditions. They can focus and take images as fast as you can push the button. The quality of digital SLR cameras is superb. Most have a resolution that surpasses slide film. They do have disadvantages, however. First is the higher cost of digital SLR cameras as compared to the Point and Shoot style. Digital SLR cameras are also heavy due to the Macro lens. The weight and the fact that you have to look “through the camera” to take the photo are not favored by most team members.

So, these are your two choices. The Point and Shoot style is less expensive and lighter but struggles to take photos inside the mouth and, for certain shots, does not keep everything in focus. The SLR costs and weighs more, but is far easier to use and takes photos perfectly and quickly. In my practice, we snap photos on every patient. My team and I prefer to use the Canon 20D. We use our G6 as a backup camera. But if an SLR is out of your price range, I would suggest starting with a Point and Shoot style, and then later purchasing an SLR with its increased production.

Next month, I will cover in more detail how we use the different cameras in our practice. For more information, you can 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. He lectures on the use of digital photography, digital radiography and computerized case presentations, and high tech marketing. He can be reached at (337) 234-3551 or by email at [email protected].

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