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,


  1. I am an orthodontist who is looking at significantly upping his game in the photography department. I just found your blog. Thanks!

    I have started my research and I am thinking that the the Nikon D7000 with the Nikor Micro 85 mm lens and the R1 flash is the way to go.

    In my research - 2 questions.

    How is the auto-focus with that lens in the macro mode - there seems to be some people who find that it is not very fast or hunts. I want my new system to be easy and fast for my staff - I don't want to have to drop to manual focus except occasionally.

    Second question - on the photomed site they say that the R1 flash width makes intra-oral shots tougher as the line doesn't get back there I guess so they talk about a bracket to alter the position - looks and sounds ungainly.

    I really hope that with the D7000, that lens and the R1 I will have a great camera to get great intra-oral, smile, and portrait shots.

    What say you oh wise dentist photography expert?

    1. John, thanks for the nice comments and sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

      Here are my thoughts:

      The 3200 may be a better camera for less money. Plus, at least for now, it is the only Nikon camera that allows a wireless upload to the iPad or Android devices and that allows a lot more patient interaction options.

      As far as the comments regarding the R1, all I have to say is HOGWASH!!! LOL

      The R1 is an amazing flash setup and every picture of teeth that you've seen on this site are with the R1. You just need to know how to use it properly.

      I'm an ortho resident now, and after 20 years as a restorative dentist, I'm getting to see the other side of the way to use a camera for a different specialty. Ortho requires way more concentration and thought than most give credit and it's my feeling that if we can straighten teeth, there's simply no reason why we can't get amazing images too.

      OK...Shameless plug....Consider my DVD "Exceptional Clinical Photography Made Easy" and you'll learn how to use the R1 for amazing shots. You can find it at my website at

      Best Wishes,

  2. I'm assuming that if you're not setting the Commander Mode in your Nikon D90 to TTL, that you are setting it to fire in manual. Did I read you right that you use full flash for portraits and 1/4 power for intraorals in the manual setting?

    1. Bluegdog, you are correct. I am turning off the on board flash and using 1/1 for the full face shots and 1/4 for the intraoral, all set on different "Groups". That way, for full face I set it to "A" and for intraoral I set it to "B". Takes 2 seconds and is REALLY easy.

      Good Luck!!!


  3. D90 or D3200 which one is better for dental photography? and why? thx

    1. I prefer the D90 simply because it has a commander mode and the D3200 does not. Commander mode means that I can control my wireless SB600 units in any way I wish. Without it, one needs to buy an R1C1 which is about $250 more than the R1 available on the D90, negating the cost savings of the D3200 body.

  4. coming 2014 and camera such as d5300, d5200 and d7100 , which would u prefer and which is a better lens to in sharpness Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR or Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM thx