Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why the Nikkor 85mm lens is a great (lighter and way less expensive) substitute for the traditional 105mm

I originally wrote this post almost two years ago, but I get the question so often that it seems appropriate to repost it.

It kills me every time a dentist writes to me something like: "I've got this great camera and lens setup that I got handed down from my brother when he got a better camera, but I can't get good images. Can you help me use it better?"  More often than not, they have a zoom lens such as an 18-200mm or 55-300mm or something like that. NONE, I repeat NONE of those lenses are appropriate for dentistry. They are not macro lenses, which means that you can never use them up close to the subject. Almost all dental photography (with the exception of portraits) uses macro photography. If you don't use a macro lens, your images will be out of focus.
This Canon 17-85mm lens is amazing to use, but the "-" between the 17 and 85 signifies it's a zoom lens and NOT appropriate for dental use.

All lenses for dentistry are macro, except Nikkor lenses (Nikon's subsidiary that makes lenses for Nikon) which call them "Micro". 

The brand you choose is important for the camera you use. For instance, if you use a Canon body, use a Canon (or Tamron or Sigma) lens. If you use Nikon, you can use a Nikkor (or Tamron or Sigma) lens.  In this post, I'm not going to get into the idea of why I'm not a big fan of using "off brands" of lenses. Buy all from the same brand, so that when something goes wrong, there's no finger pointing by one company to another. Hand it in to the repair center and let them sort it out. It's worth the extra few dollars you'll pay on the equipment.  However, here I am going to briefly discuss the type of lens you should use.

Basically, with Nikkor and Canon, there are only a few choices. For Nikkor, you can go with the 85mm or the 105mm. For Canon, you can choose the 60mm or the 100mm (the less expensive of the two 100mm lenses Canon makes is fine). The 60 mm lens is simply too tough to use in dentistry. The lower the number the closer you need to be to the subject and with a 60mm lens, for a shot of just the front teeth, you'll literally be 3 inches from the patient. Not good. The flash will never be in a position to work well. So, for Canon, you've got only one choice, the 100mm lens.
This Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM is a great choice for Canon users. DON'T buy the more expense $1050.00 100mm Canon lens. You don't need it.
For Nikon, the 105 is an amazing lens, but at almost $1000 I simply cannot recommend it over the way smaller and way lighter  85mm lens , which costs half the price. In case you're wondering, photo quality doesn't suffer at all. I've shot both and can't tell the difference in ANY use of the image.

This AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR is an amazing lens at a great price for Nikon users.

Shot comparison of 85 vs 105mm Nikkor Macros. I can't see a difference and for an extra $500 I don't see the value.

One thing of note is that the lower the number (85mm vs 105mm) the closer to the subject you need to be to capture the same composition. So, you will need to be a little closer to the patient or, crop your images more when you're working through your digital process. 

Don't fall victim to buying the wrong equipment. As I said, I have DVDs to walk you through the entire process of buying, setting up and using your camera, flash and lens for maximum effectiveness, and minimal problems found HERE.

As always, I'm here for you should you have any questions or problems.

Best Wishes,


  1. Hi there,

    do you use a ringflash for your picture? I have a camera nikon with a 105mm lens and I would like to buy a second one. Since i have read your post, I am more incline to buy the 85mm lens. I presume you can take half body image more easily than the 105 one, right? with my 105mm now I can take just the face of the patient, not the body!

    many compliments for you website

    Thanks a mil

    Michele Recchia

  2. Hi there,

    I would like a lens either for intra-oral and for extra-oral photography. With our 105 we struggle a lot to get more than the patient face in the picture, does the 85mm solve our problem or it might make worse. Do you need a second lens just for half body/face pictures?
    Dr Michele Recchia

    1. Michele, thanks for the email. If you're getting much more than just a face, it's a simple solution. Don't change the lens, just get closer to the patient. The 85mm will actually make things worse. Don't spend more money, just take a step or two towards the patient.

      You may want to consider my DVD which covers composition, available at KriegerContinuum.com.

      I hope this helps.