After a two year wait, it's back to London to see the mouth watering upgrade to the ground breaking Nikon D300
Nikon D300s: Specification
Nikon D300s: Features
- Resolution: 12.3Mp
- Sensor size: 23.6x15.8mm
- Sensor type: CMOS
- Image size: 4288x2848
- Aspect ratio: 3:2
- Focus system: Multi CAM 3500 DX with TTL phase detection
- Focus points: 51 inc. 15 cross type
- Crop factor: 1.5x
- Lens mount: Nikon F (with AF coupling and AF contacts)
- File type: JPEG, RAW (NEF), TIFF,
- Sensitivity: ISO200-3200 (expandable to ISO100 & ISO6400 equivalent)
- Storage: SD, SDHC, CF (UDMA compliant)
- Focus types: Single, continuous, predictive, manual
- Metering system: TTL exposure metering using 1,005px RGB sensor
- Metering types: Matrix, centre-weighted, spot
- Exposure compensation: +/- 5EV in 1/3, ½, or 1EV step increments
- Shutter speed: 30sec-1/8000sec, bulb
- Frames per second: 7 (8 via grip)
- Flash: Built-in, hotshoe
- Flash metering: iTTL, auto aperture, non-TTL, range priority manual
- Flash sync speed: 1/250sec
- Integrated cleaning: Image sensor cleaning, Image dust off reference data (requires Capture NX2)
- Live view: Yes, tripod & handheld, contrast detect AF
- Viewfinder: Optical eye level pentaprism, approx. 100% coverage
- Monitor: 3in TFT LCD, 100% frame coverage, 920,000dot (307,000px)
- Video: Yes, HD 1280x720 at 24fps (max.)
- Video format: AVI, Motion-JPEG compression type
- Audio: Mono (stereo with optional external mic)
- Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
- Power: Lithium Ion
- Size: 147x114x74mm
- Weight: 840g (excl. battery and card)
The Nikon D300 launch was my first press trip and what a camera to go and see. Since then, the camera has set a benchmark for semi-pro DSLRs to work towards. We've seen more cameras use the expandable ISO feature, nearly every camera has live view (I was more surprised to see the Sony Alpha A230
NOT have it) and now there's the notorious introduction of HD video.
Anyone hoping that the D300s would keep away from these “gimmicks” will be disappointed as it features 1280x720 video running at 24fps. It's capped at five minutes as this will fill a 2Gb card and it begs the question of who would only need five minutes of video. But at the Nikon D90
launch we were told that Nikon had been asked for video to be added to DSLRs by consumers for over two years.
There are some notable areas that are lacking in this area and the main one is stereo sound. Panasonic have it on the DMC-GH1
so I don't understand why Nikon can't put it on one of the highest cameras in their range. A primitive mono audio system sounds like cost cutting regardless of how good or bad built-in stereo mics are, which is hard to believe as the camera is extremely well made. In fact it's the same chassis as the predecessor but with the addition of the extra features such as the dual memory card chamber, it makes the newer unit around 40g heavier.
The dual slot takes either SD or CF which is great if you're moving up from a smaller model such as the D90 as it means you don't necessarily have to buy new cards straight away. CF has a faster read/
write speed so it would be pointless not to eventually, but retailers will have a tougher job now. The D300s is also UDMA compliant and those cards have a higher transfer speed of up to 45Mb/s. You can also decide which slot to designate images and video to. They can be sent to one slot or a mixture of the two.
A dedicated live view button has been added to the back of the camera sitting near to the navigation pad and has the same tripod or handheld options with virtual horizon.
Live view can be seen on the 3in polysilicon TFT LCD screen which has 920,000dots or 307,000px for superior picture quality. In fact Nikon were one of the first to introduce the higher quality screen and others have always seemed more inferior. Even Canon have followed suit after saying that they considered the quality of the screen less important than the picture taking ability.
Dust has always plagued photographers so as well as a sensor shaking system to get rid of as much as possible, Nikon have also included dust reduction software on Capture NX2 although this is an optional software programme.
Playback has also been upgraded and the thumbnails can now be zoomed out to include up to 72 pictures on the screen. There's also in camera retouching available meaning you can make basic changes to the image such as adding active D-lighting and there's a face detection zoom feature which is great for portrait photographers as it means not having to scroll around the image trying to find the eyes.
Nikon D300s: Build and handling
Any semi-pro DSLR worth its salt has a good build quality and the Nikon D300s is no exception with its rugged magnesium alloy cover, chassis and mirror box. The shutter has also been tested to 150,000 cycles and the outside is moisture and dust resistant in all key areas.
It certainly feels as good as you'd expect from a camera company that seems to be bucking the trend in sales through the credit crisis as Jeremy Gilbert reported a 14% like for like growth and a 42% share of the market for DSLRs over £1000.
The grip is well defined and solid, the 40g extra weight is marginally noticeable and all the controls still fall within easy reach of probing fingers. The same rocking navigation pad is used as ever and it's soft and springy but responsive.
It goes without saying that heavy traffic areas such a the tripod bush and lens mount are metal and the card door is firm with no play in it.
Nikon D300s: Performance
Working with the EXPEED processor for faster, more direct processing of images and the D300s has a maximum continuous shooting rate of 7fps standard or can be boosted to 8fps with an optional grip.
A “Q” icon on the wheel on the top left shoulder signifies the quiet mode. This was first seen on the D5000 and smooths the whole operation out to a quieter mechanism. Nikon say this is the reasoning behind the sliding door of the memory card bay instead of a switch and spring loaded door concept. The latter are always louder as they spring open and wildlife photographers could scare away potential subjects.
There are a number of colours settings available on the Nikon D300s and they can be changed in the menu system. Monochrome, vivid, neutral and standard are the options open to you and I quite like the reproduction of all four. The colours are punchy in the vivid mode and nicely desaturated in neutral. Monochrome looks more contrasty than I've seen on other monochrome conversions in camera.
Active D-Lighting is a dynamic range feature that was the first commercially available, paving the way for other manufacturers to introduce a similar mode. It adds detail to the darker areas of the image while not allowing the highlights to get blown out. It works well on these images taken in London where strong sunlight was causing high contrast.
A spontaneous shot hasn't come out too badly. 1/800sec at f/9.
On a lovely day, the landscape image could do with a spot of Active D-Lighting but that's not allowed in our landscape test so we can see what the camera does on its own. The camera has been blinded by the sunny spot in the distance and closed down the aperture thereby under exposing the shaded area in the foreground. Still, there's detail in the water and white balance coped without me having to override it.
In the portrait test, it was another lovely day although at the time we took the shots, the side of the building we use was shaded. I used the white balance in the shade setting and also added flash to one of the shots.
The image is lovely and sharp and I like the level of detail in the skin and hair. Adding flash and switching the white balance over to flash has kept the whites balanced but it's over exposed slightly. Thankfully there's a flash compensation to drop it down as much as three stops. However, you can only gain by one stop. It's not an unappealling over exposure but I think it could've been managed better.
The portrait shot is balanced enough with a warm tone to it.
Adding flash evens out the shadows and adds catchlights but it's a bit strong for me.
Colours are nice and punchy although pink is a bit too much.
It's a good result gleaned from the colour test chart with primary blue bursting out of the tile. Reds are warm, earth colours such as brown and forest green are rich and the mono tones are balanced.
I'm unsure of the skin tone tile, I think it's a bit too pink but the portrait images weren't too bad so it doesn't reflect on real situations. There's colour in the pastel tiles which run down the left side of brown, orange and blue which is good as they can sometimes be washed out.
Nikon D300s: Focus and metering
I swear I saw someone faint at the Nikon D300 launch when we were told that the new camera had 51 AF points. The D300s offers the same system with the same 15 cross sensor for higher precision focusing.
You can choose from single point AF and dynamic area AF (9, 11 or 51 points with 3D tracking are selectable in this mode). A small switch on the front of the camera allows you to choose between single, continuous and manual focusing while the custom menu offers a wider variety of options for the focusing system.
Focus is available in live-view, albeit slow and because video runs through live-view, focusing is available in that too. Again it's a bit slow and to get a professional feel, it may be better to do it manually anyway due to the hunting.
3D Matrix multi metering.
Spot metering on the shaded clock face.
There are three metering modes available on the Nikon D300s which are 3D colour Matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering. There's also a new Scene Recognition System which works by using the 1005 pixel RGB sensor ato make flash, focusing, white balance and colour more accurate.
Nikon D300s: Noise test
With no true ISO100 setting, the Nikon starts at ISO200 but does have the option of using ISO lo mode which gives an equivalent to the true ISO setting. There's plenty of detail in the petals and despite a fraction of noise showing through, it's not enough to pick the camera up on. After all, it can only be seen at 100% magnification.
This trend continues throughout the stages with only a mild increase at ISO800 which then starts the process of adding more noise with each stage of ISO. There's quite a nasty leap at ISO3200 where detail starts to leave the image in the petals and the grey card starts to get invaded with colour.
While there's spots of bright colour dotted around the ISO hi (ISO6400 equivalent) image, there's still a massive improvement on the ISO6400 image presented to us by the Nikon D300. I can still see detail in the petals and from a distance the image isn't unpleasant to look at.
I've also uploaded RAW files of the ISO100 and ISO6400 equivalent setting into the Download section of ePHOTOzine. Follow the links to download them and compare with the JPEGs.
Nikon D300s: Verdict
The ISO100 equivalent test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
The ISO6400 equivalent test.
Nikon D300 ISO6400 equivalent test.
Now I've had the camera in for a full test, I'm amazed by the improvement in noise reduction. The images I produced are clean and pleasing to look at.
Having a play around with the colours gave some interesting results that I think will be useful to a lot of photographers and some professionals will be able to implement the use of the video functions into their work.
Their was a lot of scoffing at the release of this camera simply due to its only visible upgrade which is the inclusion of video. But it doesn't look like Nikon have been sitting back on their laurels at all and I think this is a worthy camera to add to the stable until the D400 (?) is released. Of course the price is a tricky one to get around so if you're thinking of using this as a stop gap, then I wouldn't bother. Only really get this camera if it's something you'll keep for a number of years and judging by the picture quality, there's no reason why you shouldn't.
Nikon D300s: Plus points
Higher drive mode
Nikon D300s: Minus points
Secondary dust reduction is only optional
The Nikon D300s has an RRP of £1249.99 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Click the link below to read the press release of the Nikon D300s:
Nikon D300s press release