Point & Shoot vs. SLR Cameras: The Digital Decision is Yours

It’s been a long-time belief the best way to get a quick image of a patient’s mouth is only by using an intraoral or digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. With the constant advances being made in technology, it’s The Bridge Network’s belief this needs to be re-evaluated. One reason is that most of today’s point-and-shoot cameras have come along way since their predecessors. Things like a repositioned flash, a larger, easier to view LCD monitor along with multiple shooting modes and high megapixel counts all make these lower priced (about 15% of the price for a digital SLR) cameras more than a suitable addition to any operatory. And while a digital SLR camera may have better photo quality and more available add-ons, is it really good for productivity? A point-and-shoot camera offers the ease of just that: point-and-shoot. So, for the price of one bulky digital SLR, multiple point-and-shoot digital cameras can be purchased for more than one operatory.

Want Proof? Still skeptical?

Take a look at the four images below.

The two images on the right were taken by a dentist using a high-end digital SLR dental camera with a ring flash (Fuji s2 with a Nikon 105 macro f/2.8 lensand sb-21 flash). The images on the left were taken by The Bridge Network using a simple, easily available $200 Pentax Optio M30 Point-and-Shoot Camera. While some trained eyes may be able to tell the difference between a photo taken using the high-end digital SLR or the lesser, more-affordable Pentax, most cannot.


Here is another impressive quality image taken with a Optio M20 and cropped using CSI:

Another noteworthy mention here is the images taken with the Optio M30 (and Optio M20) were taken without any modifications being done to the camera or within ChairSide Imaging (CSI). The camera was simply removed from its box and set to Super Macro using a low flash. And conveniently, this setting, like others, can easily be stored in the camera for future use. By playing around with the settings in your office, it will be easy for anyone to produce quality images. However, fast “tweaking” of any image can be done using CSI. For example, to make the intensity of the two images consistent, the Adjust Levels enhancement tool in CSI was used. And, as a reminder, it’s quicker, easier and more accurate to make adjustments to any image using CSI rather than always having to change the camera’s setting and risk having to retake photos. As well, any image enhancements made can easily be undone in the new version of CSI!

Occlusal Mirrors

As you may have noticed, three of the arch shots above were taken using retractors as well as a highly recommended, standard Occlusal Mirror. If, however, you do not have an Occlusal mirror that still shouldn’t stop you from taking upper and lower arch photos. (If you do take images without mirrors, it can be easier to take the upper arch with the patient standing up and the lower arch with the patient sitting down). Looking closely, you may notice we did not use a mirror for the upper arch image taken with a point-and-shoot camera. And while it may not be as good as the images taken with a mirror, it is still suitable for ‘Visual Charting’ purposes. There are lots of publications available instructing how to take better dental photos using mirrors. In fact, lots of information can be found in a book titled: “Photography in Dentistry: Equipment and Technique” by Clifford L. Freehe. Although this book was published more than 30 years ago, much of its information, with the exception of the now out-dated technology, is still valid today. And with that changing technology, The Bridge Network thinks certain industry standards need to change along with it.

Don’t get caught up in the Megapixels Craze

One of the most popular features in today’s digital cameras is the number of megapixels (MP) available since it’s the megapixels that decide the maximum-sized picture that can be taken. But what is frequently overlooked is exactly how many megapixels are needed. If the main reason for having a digital camera is for conventional use it is important to note that for printing a standard 4x6 picture, a 1MP camera will produce photo quality results. We suggest a 3MP picture in its normal setting is what will produce a great picture with limitless potential while still keeping the file size down to a workable low of less than 1 MB. With this picture major amounts of editing and magnifying in CSI can be done with very little to no distortion to the actual picture. The sample images taken with the Optio cameras were 3MP files. For more detailed information on Megapixels. Please go to our article titled: “Image Size and your camera: What are the best settings for me”.

Delegating and Working Smart

Not only do the advances in digital point-and-shoot cameras make them affordable, it makes them more practical since they can be used BY ALL STAFF! In our very unscientific poll, every office The Bridge Network spoke to had at least one staff member that was intimidated by the size, complexity and cost of a digital SLR camera. As a result, the dentist or denturist (the purchaser of this high-priced item) is usually the one who ends up taking the patient’s photo. Is this the best use of their time? With lower-priced, easier to use point-and-shoot cameras, there is no reason why a patient’s photo can’t and shouldn’t be taken by a staff member. Going along with the concept of ‘Visual Charting’, we strongly believe that all new patient exams should include at least four photos: upper and lower arches, a smile and a facial photo as well as all patient’s digital images should be taken by the office staff and be presented in an appropriate Mount in CSI before the dentist/denturist sits down to see the patient. This way, the dentist/denturist can effectively communicate with the patient without wasting time taking photos – especially when using the inefficient and poor quality intraoral camera (see next article titled “Possibly the most inefficient tool in an operatory: the Intraoral camera”).

If you do purchase a point-and-shoot camera other than the Optio M20 or M30 (the M30 has since replaced the M20), make sure it has:

  • a large easy to view LCD monitor,
  • multiple shooting modes that includes a ‘Super Macro’ mode (not just Macro)
  • a flash that is positioned close to the lens
  • is at least 3MPs

If you have purchased a digital SLR there is still a need to use it, for example, those extra special case presentation photos. But, if you invest a few hundred dollars in an appropriate point-and-shoot, you will be amazed with not only the results you get, but also how much it will be used by the entire office. In the end the decision is yours.

Want to know how to make taking digital pictures even easier? Watch this video on how to upload photos automatically from your digital camera to your computer over a wireless network.


By: Dr Phillip Hewson
On: 11/07/2007 10:51:47
the link to Pentax (between pictures above) results in 'page not available'. Is this just me or is the link not current?

The new site looks good. I plan to check out more of it. Congrats
By: Ronaldo
On: 11/07/2007 12:04:27
The link to the Pentax website has been fixed.

By: occhialicpi
On: 04/10/2014 12:39:52

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