OBJECTIVES: To determine if slight variations in exposure will affect diagnostic image quality and absorbed radiation doses for digital and analogue panoramic radiography. METHODS: Thermoluminescent dosimeters were placed in the thyroid gland, eyes, submandibular glands, parotid glands and skin of two human cadaver heads. Three different exposure settings were used: 70 kV, 120 mAs; 77 kV, 75 mAs; and 81 kV, 60 mAs. Subjective image quality was assessed using a phantom head. Storage phosphor (SP) images were printed on film and both analogue and SP images were assessed for their subjective image quality on a five-point rating scale. The results were statistically analysed using logistic regression analysis and chi(2) tests. RESULTS: Highest organ doses were measured for the submandibular glands, followed by the parotid glands. Salivary gland doses tended to be higher at lower kV settings. Image quality was not statistically different for the different exposure settings. Imaging technique did not seem to influence diagnostic image quality, except for the periapical status of upper premolars where SP was better. The main reason for any differences appeared to be interobserver variation. CONCLUSIONS: Analogue and SP panoramic radiography performed equally well for subjective diagnostic image quality. No significant differences could be found at the exposure settings used in this study. Radiation doses were highest for the salivary glands, especially at lower kV settings.