Sunday, November 25, 2012

Which Dental Camera Should I Buy?

OK, so the title of this blog caught your attention and now you’re here to learn more about dental cameras. Well, I won’t let you down, but rather than simply give you the actual camera you should buy, I want to cover one of the most often overlooked aspects of dental camera purchases, flashes. They play a bigger role than you might think. I’ll cover camera updates another time.

One of the most common questions that I get is “Which flash should I use on my camera?” Well, the better question should be “Which camera should I use with my flash?” You see, the cameras are going to be pretty close in terms of what they can do for you, but the right flash can make all the difference.

First of all, you must have a macro flash. That means a flash specifically designed to work within a very close distance from the lens. Imagine using the “on board” flash for a close-up picture of a central incisor. You’ll be 6 inches from the tooth and the pop up flash will be about 6 inches from the patient’s eye. Not only will your patient be seeing red dots for days, but it will be impossible for you to light the mouth from that position. That’s a big part of why many point and shoot cameras are not appropriate for dental use. So, macro flashes are generally placed next to the lens so that they can light the oral cavity with ease.

Let’s start with flash brands. There are a lot of reasons to consider using a flash made by the same company as your camera, not the least of which is if anything goes wrong, you can take it to your Canon or Nikon repair center and they won’t blame the other company’s flash or camera. However, some flashes, like the Nikon R1, are specifically designed to work with special functions of their own camera system.

For instance, the R1 is a great flash. It’s a little wider than it’s predecessor, the SB-29S, but being farther to the side allows better shadows (think of shadows at 6 PM versus noon) which allows better surface texture and visualization of embrasure spaces. The R1, when used with the correct camera, is wireless, but only with Nikon Cameras that allow wireless function. So, if you bought a D3100 thinking you’d save some money, but never gave consideration as to whether you could ever use a wireless flash (which you can’t with the D3100), you’re out of luck. You could use the R1C1, which has a built-in commander unit, but you’ve just raised the cost of your flash by an additional $300 which incidentally is how much you saved by buying the D3100 rather than a better camera which is compatible with the R1.
The Nikon R1 Flash System for clinical photography is wireless and gives great adjustability.
There is a learning curve, but it’s well worth it.

The Nikon R1C1 can be used on all cameras that do not have wireless capability.
It’s expensive, so you may want to give thought to whether it’s worth it.
As far as macro flashes from Nikon go, the R1 is about all you get. You can add more speed light units to it, but it’s all the same.

If you like Canon, there are no wireless flash systems that compare to the R1. If you’re thinking of the Metz, don’t. Really...just don’t. I’ve used it extensively and for the price (or any other price) it’s not even close in quality or adjustability. Just don’t, OK?

However, the Canon MT24EX and MR14EX are great flashes, but very different. The 24 is amazingly strong. Like, REALLY strong. Which is great if you want to turn the f-stop way up, but having sat on the working end of it, I can tell you that it’s really hot too. For $750, I’d go with the Nikon R1 on my Canon and be wireless. The 14 is also a great flash and much easier (and more comfortable) to use, but the flashes are directly next to the lens and like I said earlier, you will see a bit more “washing out” of detail, plus, if you’re ever inclined to use a bounce flash like the ones made from Lumiquest (I’ll post on this another time) you’re out of luck. They can attach to the 24, though.
The Canon MT24EX is a GREAT flash but simply may be more than most dentists want or need.
The MR14EX is a great option for Canon users but it does have some limitations.

Like I said, if a great, easy to use wireless flash, which can take bouncers matters to you, then don’t buy a Canon camera, and make sure that the Nikon you buy has wireless commander capability. If, however, you’re happy with the idea of the MT24EX or the MR14EX, then go for a Canon.

Oh, if you want to bring the Sigma EM 140 flash into the discussion, it’s essentially the same thing as 14EX (just much bigger), and I see no good reason to go away from a Canon product for essentially the same product, though many will be lured there for a $150 savings. I’m not making light of the savings (no pun intended) but I have used both and think the Canon is a better product.

The Sigma is a cheaper and bigger alternative to the MR14EX.
I’ll tackle lenses next.

Best Wishes,