Recommended Setups for Dental Photography
Panasonic Lumix GX-85
The all-around team player camera.
Custom memory for easy presets
Resolution is very good, but there are better
Skin tones good, but not great
No external microphone jack for video
Micro-four thirds is an open platform headed by Olympus and Panasonic. All the camera bodies, flashes, and lenses work together. You could have an Olympus STF-8 twin flash sitting on a Panasonic GH4 body and an Olympus 60mm macro lens, and snap away. Because the sensor is one size smaller than the APS-C found in your typical Canon/Nikon setup, the lenses are MUCH smaller. Like other mirrorless cameras, the autofocus is built into the sensor itself, allowing for very fast focusing, even when using the rear screen. In my experience, holding the camera away from your eyes is friendlier for your team members and even more so for doctors wearing loupes.
I prefer the GX-85 because it is the least expensive interchangeable lens camera in North America to include a custom preset. This is a "must have" because it allows you to record all your dental settings into one spin of the mode dial. How many of you push the recline and lower buttons on your dental chair? Nope--most of us press the #1 button and it goes to the preset position. That's exactly what a dental camera should do. The Olympus cameras do recall the most recent manual exposure settings, but to me, that's not enough. All it takes is one errant finger swipe of a setting wheel, and your images are off. Then your team member has to troubleshoot why the camera isn't working right. And that's when they fall back to no photos at all. You can train your staff to know the shutter speed, f/stop, ISO, and color balance settings, but with the GX-85, all I have to tell my team is "turn it to C1" for dental and "Turn it to Auto" for head shots. That's all they have to know.
Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro - 1/4th the size of a standard SLR macro lens, and still just as sharp. 120mm equivalent view due to sensor crop. MAP is usually $399. It has been seen on sale for $349 and occasionally $299.
Recommended flash for diVUser
Panasonic FL-200L - a small, short flash with pivot for ceiling bounce and LED for video lighting. Recycling and battery life are middling, but it's the best option for this setup. MAP is $230. diVUser is $130
Recommended twin flash
Olympus STF-8 - this is a very compact, yet very capable twin flash. The included diffusers are pretty good. MAP is around $480
We do not recommend ring lights, but if you must, the Metz 15210 Macroslave 15ms-1 would work if you find a flash commander. Mine is out of production.
Buy a diVUser
Blue Sky Bio's Digital Camera Kit
Also check out Blue Sky Bio's Olympus Kit
For $900, you get a camera, lens, diffuser, and pistol grip. It uses the same basic layout as the diVuser setup above. The "diffuser + close up filter" scheme has been used successfully for years by Photomed to turn point and shoot cameras into mini dental powerhouses.
I've talked to the head of Blue Sky Bio and he's a great. The whole company is dedicated to bringing top technology to dentists at lower prices. They offer $99 implants and free implant planning software.
What's the difference?
What I like about Olympus cameras is that they include a VERY powerful pop up flash. It's certainly more powerful than my Panasonic GX-85 or even my mighty Canon 7D. That power is what enables them to sell you a camera without the traditional ring flash. The diffuser spreads out the light beautifully. With my setup, you have to buy an additional $230 flash. That flash enables video shooting and many cool flash bounce tricks, but most offices won't use them. The Olympus E-PL8 included in Blue Sky Bio's kit is very fast, very small and very light. It's a great little camera. I wouldn't hesitate to take it around the world with me.
To meet the lower price, they used a close up filter on the standard 14-42mm kit lens. The $50 close up filter is much less expensive than the $500 macro lens, and for full arch shots, it's still takes very good pictures. It's light, fast, and very team member friendly. For most general and ortho offices, this would be a fine addition. I like Olympus color tones better than Panasonic for the most part. Image sharpness will be comparable amongst most micro four thirds cameras.
You may not be able to get close enough to take single crown shots. That said, the system is modular, and you can buy the Olympus 60mm macro lens when you're ready. Upgrading to a true macro lens would correct the main shortcoming of their kit. The usual street price of that lens is $500, but it has dropped to as low as $299 on Black Friday 2017.
You will also not be able to record 4k video. That's simply not a need for most dental offices, though if you wanted to 'weekend' the camera for family outings, that may be a consideration. On the plus side, the E-PL8 is a fantastic selfie camera :)
But the most significant feature missing from all affordable Olympus cameras is a custom preset mode. I picked the GX-85 because it is the least expensive interchangeable lens camera in North America to include a custom preset. This is a "must have" because it allows you to record all your dental settings into one spin of the mode dial. How many of you push the recline and lower buttons on your dental chair? Nope--most of us press the #1 button and it goes to the preset position. That's exactly what a dental camera should do. The Olympus cameras do recall the most recent manual exposure settings, but to me, that's not enough. All it takes is one errant finger swipe of a setting wheel, and your images are off. Then your team member has to troubleshoot why the camera isn't working right. And that's when they fall back to no photos at all. You can train your staff to know the shutter speed, f/stop, ISO, and color balance settings, but with the GX-85, all I have to tell my team is "turn it to C1" for dental and "Turn it to Auto" for head shots. That's all they have to know.
I still recommend the Olympus E-PL series (I owned one version or another for 5+ years), just not as fully as other cameras because of the lack of a custom preset.
The sweet spot of Nikon's lineup is the D7500. It's considered a "prosumer" camera because it straddles the line between the consumer D3000 and D3500 series below it and the pro level D500 above it. The body sells for $1250. If that is above your budget, the basic image quality of the D3000 and D5000 cameras are more than sufficient for dentistry.
The D7500 has a custom preset mode, which allows you to record all your dental settings. You'll then have them available at the touch of the mode dial. The autofocus is fast, and the build quality is solid.
The recommended lens for this setup is the Nikkor 85mm f/3.5. It retails around $525.
Also consider the Tokina 100mm f/2.8, which is a great value at $300. Unfortunately, the autofocus won't work with D3000 and D5000 series cameras. Check the compatibility with your specific camera body before purchasing.
Crop frame bodies and 100mm lenses give a nice long working distance for dental photography. That makes them less intrusive to the patient, and makes the lighting more even, as well. However, that same crop sensor makes the lens have the field of view of 150-160mm. That's a long, long lens. So you end up having to be at 12 feet or more away from the patient to get a head and shoulders portrait. Find a long hallway :)
But the best reason to go Nikon isn't the body or the lens. It's the R1 flash. This is a wireless twin flash system. Because it's wireless, there are no dangling coiled cords, and no head unit on the camera's hot shoe. It's the cleanest looking flash system of the major brands. It also comes with two fantastic slanted diffusers. They make taking great anterior shots easy. Olympus has an STF-8 twin flash which is very good, but quite honestly, it can't compare to Nikon's R1. Neither can Canon's MT-24EX twin flashes, for that matter. Canon may be better in skin tones (matter of taste), but Nikon has everyone beaten for flash performance.
The main problem with a Nikon setup is mainly in the ergonomics of an SLR. I love shooting with SLR's for big assignments, weddings, evening events, and especially astrophotography. Large, beefy SLR's feel much more natural and balanced with big huge pro lenses. But in dentistry, having to shoot through an eye piece is tough when you wear loupes. The large size and weight make one hand operation difficult for many. (though they do have a more generous hand grip than the mirrorless cameras do) To me, one hand shooting is crucial for dental photography. You almost always need one hand steering a mirror or retractor. So while I love the shots I see out of Nikon's system, I just see no reason to buy an SLR for dental photography in 2018. Maybe there will be some earth shattering innovation, but we really haven't see anything in years from Nikon or Canon. All the growth and innovation are happening in mirrorless cameras. They have their disadvantages, too, but none of them are insurmountable.
If you want to be a master photographer, especially if you do sports or weddings, then an SLR is still king. If you want to enlarge your veneer shots to a full wall mural, a larger sensor SLR will give you a cleaner shot. SLR's are still very capable, but I think mirrorless is mature enough to take them on in the dental space. Particularly as a staff friendly way to take SLR-quality photos.