Dental Photography: A Weighty Problem

By Kevin Felts

Any dental professional that uses a digital camera for clinical photography will tell the same tale; the camera is great, we use it all the time…but why does it have to be so bulky? Is there anything lighter out there that produces high quality images and is reasonably affordable?

Up until recently, the solution required compromise; a small point and shoot camera with OK quality, or a DSLR fitted with a macro lens and flash that produces great quality, but are much larger, much bulkier, and more expensive. In our experience, most opt for higher quality, and learn to live with the bulk and weight.

A fully outfitted traditional DSLR dental kit can weigh well over 3lbs. While 3lbs may not seem like much, hand-holding these cameras can be taxing when leaning over the patient and shooting into mirrors placed in their mouth. Repeating the process can make a 3 pound camera feel more like 30 pounds by the end of a long day.

Olympus has found a way to lighten the load with a new twin-head macro flash that’s compatible with all of their lighter, smaller micro four-thirds cameras. Review after review of these diminutive DSLRs praise image quality, build quality, available lens options, and overall size. Holding true to the Olympus “smaller can be better” philosophy, the STF-8 flash packs a lot of lighting power for its compact size.

In full TTL auto-sync, the Olympus flash takes the guesswork out of obtaining the proper exposure. When manual control is called for, the STF-8, the power can be dialed from full down to 1/128th independently on each head.

Like its larger cousins such as Canon’s MR-14ll  and Nikon’s R1 two-head macro flash system, the heads can be rotated 360 degrees and angled to direct the light right where it’s needed. The controller which attaches to the camera hot shoe has individual controls for each head, with nine different settings to fully customize light output. It can also be detached from the camera, and optically triggered via Olympus camera’s built-in flash. Another nice touch is the individual swing-away diffuser attached to each head.

Since the STF-8 is dustproof and splash proof, it’s a great choice for macro shooting both indoors and outdoors.

The Olympus STF-8 flash mounted to a Zukio (Olympus) 60mm macro lens on an E-M10 Olympus camera weighs in at 2lbs 10 oz. Bulk is reduced by 1/3 when compared to a traditional dental DSLR set-up. The weight difference may seem small, but when combined with the reduction in size, the result is a lighter, smaller package that’s much easier to handle and use.

The only small (and it’s VERY small) issue experienced with the flash appeared during assembly of the unit. On the front of each head there is a knurled screw that clamps the head to the mounting ring. Although the screws have a bit of grip from the machining, they are thin, which makes grasping and tightening them fussy. Perhaps in a future iteration they’ll change to more of a wing-nut style that’s easier to grasp. Aside from that, there’s little not to like about this unit.

In the macro lens department, Olympus offers a 60mm f2.8 macro (equivalent to a 120mm lens on a full-frame DSLR) as well as a 30mm f3.5 macro (60mm equivalent) which reduces bulk and weight further. The 60mm lens focuses to a minimum distance of 19mm (3/4”) and the 30mm will get you even closer at less than a tenth of an inch. Unlike the 60mm, the 30mm is not dust or drip sealed. However, in a clinical setting, that’s seldom an issue. Both lenses have a minimum aperture of f22.

Quality is seldom cheap. The Olympus is no exception. The good news is, it is very competitively priced when compared with its bigger bulkier brethren. Full retail for an E-M10 camera body with the STF-8 flash unit and the Zukio 60mm lens has an MSRP price of $1,629.97 excluding any manufacturer or store specials available at the time of purchase.

That makes the Olympus a bargain when compared to its nearest competitor and our most popular dental kit combo, a Canon Rebel T6i with 100mm macro and a Metz MS-1 wireless flash would set you back $1869.97. Again that’s full MSRP, which can often be discounted with eligible rebates and specials.

The Olympus dental kit system is lighter, smaller, and will produce exceptional quality images for any dental or medical practice where macro photography is essential. The fact that it also costs less makes it a set up well worth considering.

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