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Nikon D300 Digital SLR Review

Nikon D300 Digital SLR Review - After a long gap between the D100 and the D200, Nikon surprised a few folk with the announcement in August �07 of the D300. Now, less than two years after Ian Andrews tested its predecessor, he brings us his verdict on the D300

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Nikon D300
Price : £1,099
Rating :
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Nikon D300 Digital SLR

If the D200 was revolutionary, the D300 is more of an evolution, but one that has a good number of evolutionary elements drawn from both ends of the spectrum.

 Nikon D300 Specification

  • Sensor: CMOS - 12.3Mp
  • Image Size: 4288 x 2848
  • Lens: Takes Nikkor AF and DX lenses
  • Focus: 51-point Advanced TTL Auto/Manual
  • Exposure: Auto/AP/SP/M
  • Metering: 3D Matrix II/CW/Spot
  • Monitor: 3in LCD
  • Other Features: 6 fps. Upto 8fps with optional Grip
  • Movie Mode: No
  • Storage: CompactFlash I/II
  • Batteries: EN-EL3e Li-Ion Pack
  • AC Adaptor: Optional
  • Video Output: Yes
  • Size/Weight: 147x114x74mm - 825g
  • Transfer: USB 2.0

Priced at £1199 body only, the D300 holds up well against the older Canon EOS 5D at £1449 body only. They share the same resolution, but the Nikon has a superior focus area. However, the Canon has a full frame sensor. Also, the new Olympus E3 at £1099 body only with 10Mp, 11 point focus area and uses the smaller Four thirds sensor.

Nikon D300 Modes and Features
Ergonomically the camera is very similar to the D200 with the button layout being almost identical. Where it does differ is as a result of accommodating the enormous 3in, 922,000 pixel LCD screen that now dominates the rear of the camera. This adopts the +/- button system first seen on the D80 for zooming in on review images and also for zooming in the all new live view mode that allows the user to compose scenes on the LCD screen instead of through the viewfinder, a neat and useful addition to the cameras capabilities. Generally though, users going from a D200 to the new D300 will feel instantly at home. Looking down from above, the same decent sized LCD screen occupies the right side with mode and bracket buttons between it and the shutter release, which is surrounded by the on/off switch. Modes are Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual. To the left of the prism are the WB, ISO and Quality selectors surrounded by the frame function dial and lock button. Front on, the only change is the repositioning of the PC socket while, on the right side, the 140° opening card door is just as accessible. The left side has one larger door, down from the two of the D200 and contains all of the input/output sockets including a new Nikon D300 Digital SLR HDMI output.

Where the camera differs greatly is in its capabilities and internal workings. A new AF system, a 51 point Cam3500, replaces the 11 point CAM 1000 and gives a respectable 15 cross point sensors. The system also gives a greater vertical coverage.

Within the AF system is better tracking, aided by colour recognition with the 1005 pixel AE sensor. Although the closest subject priority setting has gone walkabout, the choice of 9, 21 or 51 point dynamic and the 51 point 3-D tracking makes up for it.

There is also contrast focus detection in the Live-view mode. The cameras AF system also has the capability of fine-tuning the AF for to up to 20 individual lenses and remembering the settings. This should stop all of the ‘My lens is soft' problems as each one can be finely tuned whilst on the camera body.

There is a new scene recognition system utilising both the AE and AF sensors. Picture control image parameter presets replace the older colour modes 1 2 and 3. Custom image controls now support brightness as well as contrast.

The ‘Active D-lighting' system from the D80 has also made its way into the new camera.

An extra 2.1Mp have been crammed into the sensor, making the D300 a 12.3Mp camera with a new EXSPEED processor doing the work of sorting all the signals out. This has considerably improved the amount of noise visible in images and makes the camera usable at far higher ISO settings than its predecessors. Conversely, the camera has lost the ISO100 setting as standard although it can still be achieved as a ‘Low 1.0' setting. It is also faster at the job, giving the camera a frame rate of 6fps in its standard form. Battery continuity is another plus point from the design, with the same EN-EL3e batteries from the D200/D80 being the standard in the body.

Further improvements include a larger buffer, with the camera now able to shoot 100 large fine JPEGs at the continuous 6fps (Lexar 300x card used) without stopping compared to the 37 of the D200, and HDMI HD video output. There is also better sealing over the D200, with buttons now sealed against the ingress of moisture. Shooting parameters can be exchanged between the D2* series bodies and this camera, along with the new D3.

Add to that the ability to process 14-bit signals, an auto/manual dust removal system and the ability to shoot .Tiff images in the camera and you will find the jump from D200 to D300 is as big as it was from the D100 to the D200!

Nikon D300 Optional Battery Grip MB-D10
I have included a note about the optional battery grip as, unusually; the addition of it increases the Nikon D300 Digital SLR cameras performance to what could be described as a full professional specification. Despite the similarities to the D200, the battery life of EN-EL3e's in the D300 is considerably improved over its predecessor in spite of the larger screen. However, the 6fps of the standard body accelerates to a level of 8fps once the MB-D10 grip is fitted and the alternate EN-EL4a batteries or a bunch of 8 AA batteries are used.. The new MB-D10 battery grip is also better built than the MB-D200 and integrates better with the body, with the original battery staying in place. On top of the shutter release, command dials and AF-ON buttons, it carries a joystick type controller for the AF point selection system and mimics the nine way rocker in playback and menu modes. It is, however, around £100 more than its predecessor was at launch, and that is without the adaptor to take the EN-EL4 style batteries. For that, add another £35!

Nikon D300 Build and Handling
With a similar body to the D200, Nikon know that they have the ergonomics pretty well nailed and all of the controls fall easily to the touch. New are the covers for the 10 pin remote socket and the PC sync socket, now adjacent to each other on the front of the camera with pop-out rubber covers rather than the easily lost screw-in plastic ones of the older model.

With so many of the regularly used function changeable with controls on the camera, rather than having to delve into the menus of lesser models, the camera soon becomes as natural to use as a teenager on a text trip! Some function buttons are also configurable through the menu system, which again is logically laid out and easy to come to terms with, even if you haven't used a Nikon DSLR previously. The buttons have also got improved weather sealing.

The single button zooming on review images and live view is a great improvement on the older press and turn the command wheel system and the navigation of the highlight area is more rapid too.

I look forward to still having the cover to the remote/PC sync sockets in the future, having lost those from my D200 within weeks of purchase. They just disappeared in long grass!

Nikon D300 Flash Options
Nikon's CLS flash system is fully supported by the camera and the pop-up flash can be used as a master for the system. On its own it is a capable unit with a guide number of 12 (ISO100, m) that has a manual button release to bring it into operation. The camera also sports a standard hot-shoe and an ISO519 flash sync socket. Flash compensation can be set between -3 to +1 EV in 1/3, ½ or full stops and support for FP flash (High speed sync) with dedicated guns is possible. It also supports Flash colour information communication, modelling flash and FV lock.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR Nikon D300 Live View
Relatively new to the DSLR scene, Live View is the ability to see what the lens is seeing on the rear LCD screen prior to taking the shot. With the D300's huge 922,000 pixel LCD, it is a useful tool in some circumstances where it is either not easy or impossible to put the eye to the viewfinder. It is operated by selection of LV on the release mode dial and selecting the hand held or tripod modes through the menu. Once selected, a full press of the shutter button moves the mirror out of the way and the rear screen becomes live. A half press enables focussing, during which time the screen goes black in hand held mode, and then a full press takes the image. Releasing the shutter button between the two operations brings the screen live again, for example to check composition. In tripod mode, the screen stays live and contrast detection is used for focussing. It all takes a little getting used to, as the ‘feel' of the shutter button is slightly different to normal use, but it does have advantages in some situations. Where I found the facility most useful was while setting the camera up in pre-determined positions before returning to normal modes for the actual shoot.

Nikon D300 Performance
The camera is capable of recording in 12 or 14bit mode, the 14 bit slowing the camera considerably. However, in 12 bit mode shooting JPEG large fine it is capable of 100 frames before slowing, an impressive count. Shooting my normal maximum size RAW files, 18 frames can be shot at 6fps before the camera even bats an eyelid on Lexar's Pro 133x cards. (22 frames with a Lexar 300x UDMA enabled card). Nikon's claimed speeds are only attainable with cards rated at 266x or better. For most of us mortals though, you can rest assured that the camera is blazingly fast at recording and will only be limited by the quality of the card.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR Focusing, from the pretty near foolproof CAM3500 module with its 51 focus points, 15 of which are cross point sensors, is an absolute joy to use. Tracking is assisted by the 1005 pixel metering system using colour recognition technology to help the camera lock on to the colour as well as the contrast of the subject being tracked. In the single point mode, points are selectable with the nine-way rocker utilising horizontal, vertical and diagonal presses. Pressing the centre returns the system to the centre point.

Eight forms of recording are available from RAW only, TIFF, 3 qualities of JPEG and 3 RAW & JPEG. This is multiplied through the menu where three different sizes of JPEG can be selected. The TIFF option is new compared to the D200 although a re-introduction if you go back to the D100 specification. This is an interesting move and one that must be down to feedback from D200 users.

Response times are excellent and, despite being adjacent, you cannot get your finger from the on switch to the shutter release before the camera is ready to shoot. Autofocus is very much lens dependent but, with modern AF-S lenses, is very rapid and quicker than the D200 especially in low light situations. It also outperforms the older D2Xs.

Colour rendition is surprisingly accurate from in-camera JPEGs at the default settings whilst RAW files converted in Capture NX, which is supplied free with the camera as an introductory offer, come out a little brighter using the NX defaults. Imatest's Colourchecker software indicates a slight coolness in the blues and very slight warmth in the reds with the rest being virtually spot on.

It takes some close study to realise the differences between the two landscape shots, but the 14 bit images has slightly brighter colours and smoother graduations with a higher dynamic range. Using 14bit does slow the camera down, though.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR

The pinks, oranges and yellows are spot on while the blues are a little cool. Primary red is slightly saturated.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR

The Imatest chart shows good colour accuracy with the blues a little cool and the reds slightly saturated.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR
Landscape scene shot at f/11 in 14bit RAW and converted in Capture NX at default settings.
Nikon D300 Digital SLR
Landscape scene shot at f/22 in 12bit RAW and converted in Capture NX at default settings.
Nikon D300 Digital SLR

One of a number of shots following this young Herring gull around a busy and untidy harbour between masts, posts etc. The 3D tracking system, with its four settings, was never confused by the distractions and kept the target bird in focus the whole time. f/5, ISO400, 400mm.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR

Shot at ISO 800 and 14bit this image, taken in mixed lighting at a fashion show, shows no sign of colour noise and still retains good detail. Shooting in 14bit mode has retained both highlights and shadow detail.

Nikon D300 Noise Test
One of the biggest improvements in the Nikon D300 is the handling of noise. Although they have gained ground recently, Nikon have traditionally lagged behind in handling of the phenomenon. The D300 has changed that dramatically with images, depending on their use, being usable almost all the way through the range. Definition and sharpness do start to fall off at the higher ISOs but colour noise is much more controlled. Restrictions in the ISO method of measurement preclude Nikon from calling the Low and High settings anything other than that, but they are effective nonetheless. At 1/3 EV steps there are a total of 19 settings.

Nikon D300 Digital SLR
The ISO200 test.
Nikon D300 Digital SLRThe ISO400 test.
Nikon D300 Digital SLR
The ISO800 test.
Nikon D300 Digital SLR
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon D300 Digital SLR
The ISO2500 test.
Nikon D300 Digital SLR
The ISO3200 test.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Nikon D300.

Nikon D300 Verdict
Despite the D300 being a replacement for the semi-pro D200, Nikon's professional users can rest assured that the camera is also a worthy replacement for the D2 range of DX format professional models and will carry the format well into the future. Build and handling are impressive and that includes the battery/vertical grip which adds good extra capabilities but leaves the choice of its use to the individual. High ISO performance is excellent and extends the capabilities over its predecessors considerably. Considering the capabilities, the price point is commendable despite the extra cash required to add the grip.

Not only is the D300 a worthy successor to the D200 but it also improves on the old flagship model, the D2Xs and it carries Nikon's DX format (1.5x crop factor) into the future. It is being marketed as a full Pro spec camera and, given a couple of extras, it is hard to argue with the claim. There is certainly not a lot it cannot do.

Nikon D300 Plus points:
Excellent advanced Autofocus system
Live view in two modes
Optional battery grip increases performance and enables multiple battery use
Great rear screen
Rugged build quality
High ISO noise control
One touch zooming on screen
Lens presets
Ergonomic continuity

Nikon D300 Minus points:
Loss of ISO100
Needs high-speed cards to get the best from it
Battery grip needs extras to allow full range of batteries

FEATURES

HANDLING

PERFORMANCE

OVERALL

The Nikon D300 starts at £1099 body only or £1274 with the Nikon 18-70 AF-S DX lens. Get yours from the ePHOTOzine shop here.

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D300

Scots Pines in MistCan we fix it ...Black and White StreetBondesque (XV)sunrise on the EstuarySweet Dreams.Morning MistOctober MistThe Lonliness of the Small White Mushroomon the beach at sunriseyoung deer at westleton...Man & MachineMaddieColumbineRED BELLOWS
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Comments


MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
6 Dec 2007 9:41AM
***REVIEW UPDATE***

The thread regarding this review has had a discussion about the screen resolution and how it has been described as 900k pixels. Nikon responded:


Quote: the screen specification is measured in dots - as we have done with previous cameras

This reinforces the fact that the 900k dots are equivalent to approx 300k pixels.

I hope that alleviates some peoples concerns.

You can join in the debate here .

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StrayCat e2
10 14.9k 2 Canada
29 Dec 2007 10:59PM
Tells me just about everything I wanted to know Ian. I hope to get one in the late spring.
shoestring 10 6 United Kingdom
17 Jan 2008 6:45PM
I am still looking at upgrading to a decent slr from my sony f828 which I hasten to add I still love and will always keep it. I have no lenses left from film days so make does not matter with the old lenses debate. I mainly do portraits, weddings and events, (proms, ladies nights etc)
I am looking at 3 cameras the fuji S5 pro, nikon d300 or sony A700, which do you think best choice, the prices dont really matter its the quality im more concerned with
MattGrayson 7 622 3 England
22 Jan 2008 2:13PM
Hi, I think if it's quality, you need to look at the lenses the companies release as well as the camera. For events, look at the ISO as I guess in case the events you do are in the dark. Nikon do nice lenses and the Fuji uses Nikon lenses too. Minolta did some nice lenses in the past, whether the modern ones are up to scratch or not, I can't say. However, Sony work in conjunction with Carl Zeiss, so they may have some lenses available through them. It's worth taking a look. I simply don't have the time, hence my speculation. Smile
xray 6 Germany
30 Jan 2008 2:05PM
Hi!
I think the two landscape scene pictures are no good example for image quality provided by nikon`s D 300.
Actually both are shot with f/22(which is far too much) and postprocessed in Adobe PS 7.0. The exif`s say nothing about Capture NX.
You should also mention the lens that was used for this review.
Anyway thank you very much for this review.Nice work!
I hope you don`t get me wrong with my critic.
IanA 11 3.0k 12 England
31 Jan 2008 3:19PM
I know that they are not good examples shot at f/22, but that is what Duncan wanted. I argued against it, but in his time he always knew best.
The lens used was the Nikon DX 12-24mm f/4 supplied by Nikon with the camera.

The NEF files were converted in Capture NX. In fact, at the time, that was the only RAW converter that would read D300 .nef files! They were then put through PS to save at a size suitable for the web.

Ian
Hedgey 8 4
11 Mar 2008 9:03PM
Great review, it would seem the D300 is the natural progression from my D70s. I have handled it and love how it feels and responds.
lens wise i'll opt for the 18-200 VR lens
would a 4gb card 100x be enough ?
11 May 2008 9:40AM

Quote: would a 4gb card 100x be enough ?

My 8gb card gives 394 in raw format or 1,100 in fine jpeg. Presumably 4gb would halve that.

Jonathan
IanA 11 3.0k 12 England
23 May 2008 9:26AM
To get the ultimate performance from the D300 you will need HDMI cards, for example the Lexar 300x that was used in this review.
However, slower cards are quite usable, they just reduce the buffer capacity to more normal levels than the 100 frames the camera is capable of using 266x cards or faster.

Ian

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