Digital cameras in dermatology

Author: Dr Anthony Yung, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand, January 2017.

This page describes the different types of products available for dermatological imaging. For a full review of the most popular dermatoscopes on the market, visit Dermatoscope overview.

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Digital cameras and technology have come a long way in the last 10 years. Nearly any camera, no matter the pixel and sensor size, will provide a sufficient image resolution for most applications in dermatology.

There is no one perfect device or camera for dermatological images. All have strengths and weaknesses, and different people have different priorities in terms of what they look for in their imaging devices. For example, many people tend to favour easily available and small-sized handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets with cameras.

In general, as size increases from smartphones and tablets through to cameras with interchangeable lenses, absolute image quality improves steadily with the increasing size of the camera sensor. If there is no need for reproduction or the viewing of images at very large sizes, then most readily-available consumer devices will suffice. With good lighting, good image quality is almost guaranteed if a good technique is used to compose and capture the image. The factor that probably most affects image quality is the ability of the person taking the images to use the available functions and features of their device and their ability to compose and choose the right parameters to use to capture the image optimally with the available light and conditions (or to compensate for these variables).

Every year to 18 months, new models of devices are released, with incremental improvements in functionality and image quality. Significant cost savings can also be made by choosing last year’s model or a ‘runout’ model, or buying during sales periods.

Smartphones or tablets have now been widely adopted as day-to-day cameras, with a resulting marked reduction in the sale and use of compact digital cameras (‘point and shoot’ cameras) and also a reduction in the sale and use of cameras with interchangeable lenses (both digital single-lens reflex [SLR or DSLR] and mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras).

There is a misconception that more pixels in an image equates to better image quality, but this is not always true. What adequate image quality (not the same as resolution) and image resolution and detail entail depends largely on what the images will be used for and what size they will be viewed at (eg, web-based viewing requires a much lower image resolution and quality in general compared to printing a fashion spread or billboard).

Important parameters affecting the quality of dermatological imaging:

The following parameters affect the quality of dermatological imaging and should be considered when you are looking to buy a new device:

Additional considerations when choosing a device

  • Device size/portability
    • Ergonomic layout of buttons
    • Dial placement
    • Menu control layout — which all affect usability
    • Device connectivity — USB, wireless connectivity, storage media type(s)
    • Video capability
    • Remote control functionality — camera and/or flash
    • Presence of manual controls — to affect parameters critical to taking images (eg, of film speed [ISO], aperture, exposure compensation, exposure bracketing, flash output modification)
    • Availability of accessories
    • Range of lenses available — interchangeable lens camera systems only
    • Cost
    • Battery charge duration in use
    • Durability
    • Warranty and service
    • Intended use outside of dermatology image capture
    • Always check compatibility with adaptors/step up rings to allow attachment to dermatoscopes if you are intending to attach a dermatoscope to a smartphone or tablet 

Smartphones or tablets for dermatological imaging

The advantages

There are advantages for using smartphones or tablets for dermatological imaging:

The disadvantages

There are disadvantages when using smartphones or tablets for dermatological imaging:

Point-and-shoot cameras for dermatological imaging 

The advantages

There are advantages of using point-and-shoot cameras for dermatological imaging:

The disadvantages

There are disadvantages of using point-and-shoot cameras for dermatological imaging:

Interchangeable lens cameras for dermatological imaging

(These include Nikon 1 series, micro 4/3, Advanced Photo System type-C [APS-C] mirrorless, full-frame mirrorless, APS-C DSLR and 35-mm full-frame SLR cameras)

The advantages

There are advantages of using interchangeable lens cameras for dermatological imaging:

The disadvantages

There are disadvantages of using interchangeable lens cameras for dermatological imaging:

Smartphones or tablets for dermatological imaging

The following devices connect with smartphones or tablets:

  • 3Gen DermLite DL1, DL2, DL3 and DL4 dermatoscopes
  • FotoFinder Handyscope
  • Canfield VEOS HD1 and HD2 dermatoscopes
  • Canfield VEOS DS3 dermatoscope
  • Heine iC1 model dermatoscope/dermoscopy imaging device
  • Opticlar VisionMed dermatoscope.

Point-and-shoot cameras for dermatological imaging

  • 3Gen DermLite Cam is a dedicated compact camera for lesion macro, clinical and dermoscopy imaging.
  • 3Gen DermLite has an adaptor kit with a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W800 camera for clinical and dermoscopy imaging with 3Gen DermLite DL2, DL3 and DL4 devices.
  • 3Gen DermLite also has a universal adaptor for compact cameras.
  • The Opticlar VisionMed dermatoscope has an optional adaptor for a Sony Cyber-shot compact camera for dermoscopy imaging.
  • Some good-to-excellent general use compact cameras are available (eg, Sony DSC-RX100 (series I–V); Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II and G5 X; Nikon Coolpix A900; Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100, DMC-LX10/LX15 and TZ100/ZS100 models). (Note: not all will interface with dermatoscopes, although some brands and third-party vendors offer adaptors.)

Interchangeable lens cameras for dermatological imaging

  • The Canfield VEOS HD1 and HD2 dermatoscopes have an optional kit to connect to Nikon 1 system cameras.
  • The Canfield VEOS SLR (single-lens reflex) provides dedicated contact or non-contact, polarised or non-polarised dermoscopy (image acquisition only).
  • The 3Gen DermLite DL2 or DL3 dermatoscopes have an optional MagnetiConnect adaptor to connect to the Nikon 1 AW1 camera (need to add a Nikon 1 system prime or zoom lens).
  • The 3Gen DermLite Foto II Pro attach to a Canon digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and the Foto II Pro Plus comes with a dedicated Canon DSLR camera embedded.
  • The Heine Delta 20T dermatoscope comes with dedicated attachments for Canon, Nikon and Olympus DSLR cameras (older micro 4/3 DSLR cameras, not newer micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras). An additional macro lens (50–100 mm depending on model) or a short zoom lens for clinical images is needed depending on the type of DSLR camera body used.
  • The Opticlar VisionMed dermatoscope has optional adaptors for Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras for dermoscopy images (need additional macro lens, 50–100 mm depending on model, or a short zoom lens for clinical images).

Other relatively small interchangeable lens cameras

Other smaller interchangeable lens cameras include:

  • 1-inch sensored (‘CX’) series cameras (eg, Nikon 1 series — although there is no dedicated macro lens in the system as yet)
  • Micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras (eg, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, OM-D E-M10, Pen-F and Pen E-PL7 models and Panasonic GX series — however, some G and GH series are almost as bulky as DSLR system cameras)
  • Advanced Photo System type-C (APS-C) mirrorless cameras (eg, Canon EOS M5, Fuji X series and Sony Alpha series [Sony α6500] cameras)
  • APS-C sensored DSLR cameras (eg, Canon EOS 100D/Rebel SL1 and EOS 1000D/Rebel XS models and Nikon D3000 and D5000 models).

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