Quick - need a good, simple DSLR for $1500!
March 19, 2010 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Your boss gives you 24 hours and $1500 to buy a simple DSLR camera for use in a clinic so the docs can take digital pictures of skin lesions and other pathologies, for future use in trainings (PowerPoints), websites, handouts etc. What do you do?

I have not much experience with cameras, and basically no time to research. I need a simple to use DSLR that will take quality close up and/or macro photos in normal office lighting.

These are not professional photogs, so the camera has to be relatively easy to use (as in, many many automatic functions).

I know there are a million places to research this stuff, but as I said, I'm on a very tight deadline to spend this money...so, if you had about $1500 bucks to throw at a camera for this kind of use, what would you pick?

(Supplemental - if you think a DSLR is not even a necessity, I'm all ears, a point and shoot that could handle this is fine, too, I guess. The main point is good photos of gross skin stuff, taken by non-professionals.)

Thanks, gang, as always.
posted by tristeza to Shopping (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Nikon D40, not sure which lense to use though.
posted by biochemist at 1:58 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Obviously, a camera with a well-known good performance on the macro setting would be important.

As to accessories, be sure to get a ring light for your ringworm!
posted by adipocere at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: You're in Seattle? Go hit this shop and tell them everything you've told us here.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:03 PM on March 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think a tripod would be very helpful. Whenever I use my macro I use a tripod.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:03 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nearly any point and shoot will do well in a well-lit interior, so while I normally lean towards a DSLR, I think the simplicity of a point and shoot would be a big bonus here.

But another question is, what's the workflow here. Once you have a pic on the camera, then what? Do you have a current workflow that everyone is used to? That might help you filter your choices quite a bit.
posted by zippy at 2:04 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't have much macro experience, but a quick google tells me that the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED IF AF-S VR has pretty solid reviews as a great macro lens for $820. Stick it on a D5000 for $600 and you're done, with $80 left over for a nice bag.

This may very well be overkill, but if your boss is serious about the budget, you'll get the performance you want in an easy package.
posted by Partial Law at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: Nikon D3000 with 18-55mm kit lens, AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Lens for close-up images, and a ringlight (I think this one would be sufficient, but B&H would be able to steer you right).
posted by The Michael The at 2:09 PM on March 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do you want to spend the whole $1500? If so, the Nikon D300s. If not, Canon Rebel T2i or Nikon D90. (Flip a coin.)
posted by Mwongozi at 2:11 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look, the truth is that many point-and-shoots take better macro shots than entry-level DSLR's with kit lenses. Not uncommon to find 0cm focusing distances on Panasonic and Canon consumer cameras at the $300 level. As in, it can get as close to an object as physically possible. Replicating this at the DSLR level may take you well beyond $1500. Consider a Canon S90 or Panasonic Lumix LX-3 for their RAW ability and fast lenses (~f/2.x).
posted by squid patrol at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: this camera goes into macro mode automatically. however, if Partial Law is correct about the budget, I'd go with his recommendation.

2nd'ing tripod
posted by maulik at 2:12 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: I say the Canon T2i and the 100mm 2.8 macro lens. Very good pieces of equipment.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:13 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: Seems like overkill to me. Unless you need to do "see all the facets of the fly's eye" level of macro, you could probably use a good point and shoot. If you do need that level of macro, keep in mind that the lens is going to be somewhere in the $500 range (and generally need LOTS of light). For sub $1K dslrs your looking at entry level for what ever brand. If you're familiar with any particular brand of camera, I'd go with that. Nikon users will tell you they are the best, and Canon users will swear the same thing. The reality is your not taking fine art photos and you need to be able to operate the camera quickly and competently, so find the one that's easiest to use for you.
posted by doctor_negative at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2010

I love the D40, but the Nikon D5000 is a better choice for a little more money (about $750 with the kit lens). The kit lens has Vibration Reduction, and focuses much closer than the kit lens in a D40. It also has exellent high ISO performance, which is important when shooting in available light with minimal noise. It also has a "live view" mode, allowing use of the video screen for composing and taking the photo, which may be preferable to non-photographers for the kind of images you are interested in.

That said, there are many point and shoot cameras that would do a fine job, but the big sensor in an SLR makes a big difference in low light.
posted by The Deej at 2:17 PM on March 19, 2010

Also, at the risk of being obvious: whoever is going to use the camera will need SOME amount of training to get the best results. No matter how easy a camera is to use, it still has to be set right to get the desired results. I can't tell you the number of times a friend has complained that their expensive camera "takes terrible photos," when they are trying to make it do something that's physically impossible with the settings they have chosen (or not chosen). There is a danger of the particular kinds of photos you are interested in being blurry and unusable without a little advance knowledge and training. Just about ANY decent camera you would buy, whether a point and shoot or an SLR, can take the photos you want, provided it's told what to do correctly.
posted by The Deej at 2:29 PM on March 19, 2010

Seems like an unnecessary expense to get a full DSLR for this.

I'd vote for a Lumix LX3. It does good macro shots, both in this example, and in my experience using it over the past few months.

You have to scroll down a bit on the second link to see the macro example shot.

It's possible an even cheaper point and shoot could work for this, too, but even this would only cost 1/3rd of your budget.
posted by CharlieSue at 2:30 PM on March 19, 2010

DSLR might be preferable to a point and shoot if the boss will have it home on weekends or on vacations; when a company I worked for years and years and years ago got a nifty Sony Camera you could put a Floppy Disk in to take pictures, people would take turns signing it out for the weekend.
posted by tilde at 2:33 PM on March 19, 2010

A ring light is the most important thing you should buy. Can't believe it's only been mentioned once! It will allow you to evenly light the close-up subjects you'll be photographing.


Nikon D90 (~$800)
Tokina 35mm macro ($320)
Ring light ($110)

That puts you at about $1200, with some money left over for taxes and overnight shipping.
posted by lalas at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

The thing with kit lenses is that, unless you're talking about the 24-105 zoom that comes with the higher end Canons (and whatever the equivalent is on Nikon), they're just junk. Low contrast, dull colors etc. Yes, I realize we're talking about a clinical setting here--but that budget is ample to get something that will do a great job.

Something else to consider is the minimum focus distance. A macro lens is made to get up close and personal--that's the whole point. The kit lenses tend to have large minimum focus distances--i.e., you simply cannot photograph something closer than, say, 2.5 feet. This may not give the results your boss is looking for.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:34 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: The Canon S90 is your best bet. This camera has a good lens with wide aperture, which is important for low-light areas like office lighting. $500. Also compact and way more portable.

A digital SLR with a macro lens as many have suggested in the thread will be impossible for amateurs to use effectively. The depth of field issues that come up in macro shooting with these (relatively) large sensors will cause tons of the shots to be blurry in the hands of someone who isn't experienced with photography.
posted by ajackson at 2:40 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Listen to the people telling you to get a ring light and a dedicated lens They are 100% correct.

I'd you Google "dentist / medical camera kits " or similar you will probably find exactly what you need in one place. Or call a camera stor3e like B&H.
posted by fshgrl at 2:46 PM on March 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've watched many docs take photos in the OR and unless they are also hobbyists, they don't really need anything more than a point and shoot. For example, they routinely swing away the big bright OR lights (that can be turned up and down and be positioned to light exactly what you want) in favor of the puny little built-in flash on their point-and-shoot or even iPhone camera. The concept of manual exposures would be utterly foreign to them; their cameras never leave the full auto setting.

If you need to buy a DSLR, then a macro lens, ring light and perhaps other accessories will be needed to get the best results. If you know anything about photography (or know someone who does), talk to the guys who will be using the camera and get a feeling for how they will use it and if they will take advantage of the features on a modern DSLR. Of course they may just feel that if they are taking pictures of their patients they need a big professional-looking rig even if they are just using it as a point-and-shoot. If that's the case, any DSLR will work; if one or more of the end users is already committed to a particular brand then that might be the way to go as they will already be familiar with the controls and may have accessories that could be useful.
posted by TedW at 2:53 PM on March 19, 2010

Response by poster: All of this is SO helpful, thank you so much.
posted by tristeza at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2010

Ok, did it for you! Go to Amazon and search for digital dental camera kits. That is exactly what you need and is going to work far, far better than a P&S.
posted by fshgrl at 2:54 PM on March 19, 2010

As a point of reference, the (excellent) 85mm lens that Michael recommended, above, won't focus closer than 11", whereas a cheaper point-and-shoot would get right up to the skin surface. With RAW support and fast lens apertures, a good point-and-shoot will hold its own against a DSLR in this case, despite the much smaller sensor size. And it will be a heck of a lot less awkward to hold above a patient's skin, versus a heaver camera body with a bulky lens and ring flash.
posted by squid patrol at 3:13 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: D40 with a ring flash and the 18-55 VR kit lens. Super easy to use.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2010

The reason I suggest the D40 is because it is simple to use, makes 'good' pictures, and you're not buying unnecessary features. Ring flash because that's good for when you're getting up in people's bidness. Kit lens, because, well, it's good enough. Anything else is overkill.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 3:18 PM on March 19, 2010

Nthing tripod. If you don't then make sure you have a neck strap with a label that says "Use Me!" Otherwise you are going to have to have the camera fixed in the next year.
posted by nestor_makhno at 4:23 PM on March 19, 2010

It is also worth adding that although tripods are the answer for a lot of photography questions, a tripod is not likely to be helpful here. If it were, then you might as well add a focusing rail to the mix. Between patients who won't be still and a flash that will freeze motion pretty well, a tripod will just add complexity for people who are not knowledgeable photographers.
posted by TedW at 5:48 PM on March 19, 2010

Best answer: Hey, here's what I'd recommend as a working photographer.

I priced these out on B&H. I don't know how relevant these are for regular retail prices in the US, but it's a great kit for the price. For what it's worth, I'm sure the Nikon equivalent is good, but I know this is good stuff.

Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro lens. This will let you hold the camera much, much closer than if you had the (superb) 100mm lens, it's more useable as a general lens, it's much lighter, and it's less bulky. It's also very sharp.

Canon MR-14EX Ringlite Flash. This will give soft, even illumination, and freeze the subject so that you don't have to worry about them blurring and reducing the amount of usable information in your photo. It's a little bit bulky, but essentially fire and forget. The camera will work out all the relevant exposure information. You just stick it on top, turn it on, and it does all the hard work. Lovely.

I'd recommend then buying the most expensive DSLR within your budget. According to B&H, it's the Canon Rebel T1i, which I have used, and which seemed rather excellent as a functional camera to me.

Those are the three most important things. A tripod is unnecessary, as the flash will freeze the motion of the subject. Just make sure the aperture is set to around f/5.6-f/8 and the exposure is set to 1/100, and let the flash work everything else out. It probably won't be aesthetically beautiful, but it will capture the required information correctly and clearly.
posted by Magnakai at 6:41 PM on March 19, 2010

As a point of reference, the (excellent) 85mm lens that Michael recommended, above, won't focus closer than 11",

Very good point, scratch that lens for this application.
posted by The Michael The at 6:54 PM on March 19, 2010

The body really won't matter so much. Any nikon/canon body currently on the market will do fine. Just get a good macro lens (yeah, and ring flash) -- I don't shoot macro photography, so I can't comment in more detail. Honestly, I'd also grab a tripod (and a remote, to REALLY minimize vibrations) because of the depth of field issues someone mentioned. To be more specific, I'd grab a tripod and then use very slow shutter speeds to get the f-stop up as high as possible with difficult indoor light... then depth of field issues are minimized at least...
posted by paultopia at 12:39 AM on March 20, 2010

Best answer: OK, I know the OP has probably already made their decision but I have to say this:

This is not macro photography!

You are not trying to focus in on the stamen of a flower here and blur the background. You WANT as much of the picture in focus as possible and there is no need to shoot at life size. You're shooting using a camera-attached flash as well so there is no point in being 2" inches away from the subject since you're going to wash it out. Shooting using ambient light is just perverse when ring lights exist, I have no idea why anyone would suggest you do that.

Shooting from 1" away at f2.8 is pretty much worthless in this case. You will get one hair on the person's arm in focus and show only a tiny bit of the lesion. Why base your decision on the ability to do that? You want to show the entire lesion and probably something for scale and you want to take several shots, closeups and longer shots. Shooting from 8-24" with a zoom and nice ring flash at f5.6-f9 is going to give MUCH better results for documenting this kind of thing.
posted by fshgrl at 12:27 AM on March 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

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