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Camera Reviews

Nikon D300 Review

Romulo Lubachesky (Romulo Lubachesky)


Keywords: nikon, d300, camera, bodies

Show pages (5 Pages)

NIKON D300 REVIEW

Nikon's camera releases have always been revolutionary. It was like this with the Nikon D70, my first SLR digital camera, and then with my Nikon D200. Both very complete and with a superior quality.

Now, one more release. The acclaimed Nikon D200 substitute. But what's new there to expect over a camera that was already incredible in so many aspects? Maybe an improvement in the high ISO -a worry for many DSLR photographers- or 14 bits RAW images?

The Nikon D300 exceeds all expectations.

Nikon D300 DSLR Camera

Nikon D300 DSLR and MB-D10 magnesium alloy chasis

 

 

Design

New cameras need to have a new body, but what is there to change on D200's body that was already so beautiful and functional? Well, a few things changed. The more notable ones are:

A small “V” detail on top of the built-in flash cover. It was a positive relief on the D200 and now it is changed to be negative.

D300 top detail

The removal of the gray detail under the power switch and a change of the nearby (MODE and +/-) buttons, now circular.

The elegant red line in front of the camera now extends itself till the main body frame of the camera.

More details

A discreet, but full of charm, silver ring was attached to the upper control disk.

New conjugated covers attached to the body for the flash sync terminal and the ten-pin remote terminal.

D300 terminals cover

A new design to the card slot cover latch and to the focus-mode selector


The “Enter” button now is called “OK” button.

The old Bracketing mode button (BKT) was replaced for the Playback button.

The BKT mode could be assigned to one of the customized function buttons.

New buttons have specific zoom functions for image visualization, this facilitates a lot the zoom use to check the image after done, mainly to check focus

zync and 10-pin terminals

And the big physical change, the huge and spectacular 3-inch back LCD monitor, with the incredible 921,600 resolution points, with all rows the same, arranged in a “stripes array”

D300 back LCD


Construction

The body construction continues being superb. The rubberized surface details make the grip perfect. It has a strong magnesium alloy body with an excellent external polycarbonate covering under its rubber skin.

Nikon D300 DSLR Camera chasis

Nikon D300 DSLR and MB-D10 magnesium alloy chasis

Nikon says that the D200 and D300 do not have moisture and dust protection as the D2x and D3 have, but in my own experience I can state that the D200 can handle torrential rain for a good period of time; therefore the D300 must tolerate even more extremes, because now the buttons are sealed against humidity.

The top LCD display panel is still very similar to that of the D200. The novelty here is the possibility of viewing it (the same information) on the back LCD monitor. The Nikon D40 and D60 do not have the top panel.

The viewfinder is slightly bigger and with a great new 100% image coverage.

Nikon D300 top view

A new HDMI video connector was added.

The LCD plastic screen protector is more discreet, but I painted the border of mine black with an permanent marker, like I did with my others DSLR.

 

 

The same EN-EL3 1500mAh battery is used, but the autonomy of the camera is considerable better, trebling the number of possible photos on one charge comparing it to the D200. I believe that a big part of this economy is due to the much smaller energy consumption of the CMOS sensor.

A new vertical grip was designed for the D300. The MB-D10 model can be connected to the camera with the internal battery still inside.

With this new grip you can use the Li-Ion EN-EL4a, EN-EL4 or EN-EL3e battery or 8 R6/AA-size alkaline (LR6) battery, Ni-MH (HR6), lithium (FR6), or nickel manganese ZR6 battery. It holds seamlessly together with the camera body.

MB-D10 grip

The sensor got an automatic cleaning system, by vibrating the filter in front of the sensor, eliminates the dust particles. I can report that in the first use of the cleaning system it was very efficient, removing dust in the first attempt. Have not needed it again so far.

A very important characteristic for me is the capacity to meter with non-CPU (no electronic contacts) lenses. This extraordinary capability was kept and improved as I report with more details on the performance section that follows.

Sample D300 12 bits RAW image; 300mm f/4 ED IF AF Nikkor @ f/4 aperture; 1/180 shutter speed; ISO 800; Adobe RGB color space; Direct sun light -1 white balance; zero contrast, saturation and hue. Converted to sRGB for better web viewing.

Click for enlargement


The first big novelty is the revolutionary Multi-CAM 3500DX auto focus module with an apparently absurd 51 focus points, 15 of them cross-type. So many focus points seemed like an exaggeration, however another notable innovation is their use in continuous focus with 3D-tracking. With this option, you can focus an object with a determinate color, like red, and if this object or camera moves, the focus points will track this movement. The speed of this tracking will depend on the lens that you are using, of course. however, I did some tests with one lens without internal motor (non-AF-S), an 85mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor, known as a slow lens, and it's tracking was most efficient.

Click for enlargement

Nikon D300 12 bits RAW image; 50mm f/1.8D AF NIKKOR @ f/5.6 aperture; 1/250 shutter speed; ISO 200; Adobe RGB color space; Direct sunlight -1 white balance

 

I felt a slight improvement in the focusing speed, but a huge difference in the accuracy and lock of the focus whichever the focus point was used. I focused on an irregular texture, with several focal planes that would prove difficult under normal focusing conditions.

The result was surprising; the D300 did a perfect focus in all my attempts and in all focus points, while the D200 did it in only 80% of the attempts with the central focus point and in none of the attempts with peripheral points of focus.

 

 

In other adverse conditions, like direct back light or dim light, the D300 execution is also higher, with much better precision in focus acquisition and locking.

 

Another remarkable innovation, that I consider to be one of the main features of the new Nikon, is the capabilty of focal adjustment with several lenses. The front- and back-focusing has been reported as a serious problem that could happen even with brand new lenses.

The Nikon D300 has a new system that just does that, it compensates and saves the information of 12 different lenses in a fine adjustment. This fine tunning goes from +20 till -20, loading this information every time the specific lens is attached to the camera.

Clicxk for enlargement

300mm f/4 ED IF AF NIKKOR @ f/4 aperture; 1/4000 sec. shutter speed; ISO 800
.


My 300mm f/4D ED AF-S Nikkor had a slight back-focusing problem on the D300 and it didn't exist, or it wasn't visible on my D200. I solved this problem in just 3 minutes, compensating the focus to +15. Until now this flaw has needed no further correction by any authorized technical service.

To meter with precision when using non-CPU lenses (that don't have any electronic contacts with the body) it is necessary, via the menu, to chose the focal length and the maximum lens aperture.

I have 4 manual focus lenses and had to go through the menu every time I changed lenses; a significant delay in most situations.

But now the D300 has the ability to store up to nine non-CPU lenses' information, allowing to switch from one to another by using the customized button and the back command disc. A genius solution.

My D200 has a tendency to underexpose, the D300 doesn't have this characteristic. This could change the way to meter and may need some time to get used to it if you have previously been using a D200 with the same meter bias as mine.
I always use the Center-Weighted Metering mode with an 8mm diameter circle.

Clixck fort enlarged view

55mm f/1.2 AI NIKKOR @ f/2.8 aperture;
1/180 sec. shutter speed; ISO 1600

The frame rate was already quick on the D200 (at 5 frames per second), but it is even faster now on the D300, with 6 frames per second or 8 fps if you are using the MB-D10 vertical grip or the AC adapter.

I noticed a smoother movement coming from the mirror; this reduces the camera vibration during continuous drive shooting. The result is a very minor chance to vibrate at low speeds from mirror slap.

Click for enlargement

55mm f/2 AI NIKKOR @ f/2.8 aperture;
1/180 sec shutter speed; ISO 1600

.
I am a big suporter of the SLR system; therefore the D300's Live View option isn't a great advantage for me. However is interesting and, in a certain way, attractive the fact that you could see live the digital image on the LCD monitor. I believe this capability could be helpful in low light situations or in a landscape with lot of details; it would be easy to see all the composition elements on the LCD.

With this D300 new system you can even use contrast-detected auto focus, driven from the imaging sensor. The Nikon D300 simply reads data off the CMOS image sensor and evaluates how abruptly light to dark (or dark to light) transitions happen on the image plane. AF operation in this mode is unfortunately quite slow, so they really mean it when they call it Tripod Mode.


Menu options are excellent. To have several possible selections to control the most specific functions is a Nikon characteristic. I would emphasize the new retouch section and the “my menu” function, where you can set up commonly used functions so you won't lose your time going through the menus and submenus tabs.

Now the two front buttons can be set up to special functions. In the lower button, like in my D200, I programmed it to spot meter; in the upper one -where in my D200 was the DOF preview- now I set it up to the function of changing the information of non-CPU lenses. On the back of the camera the AE-L/ AF-L button can also have extra functions, but I like to leave it just to lock the exposure (AE-L) because I normally use the Aperture Priority Mode.

Click for enlargement

 

It is possible to program a shot and a sequence of shots, with regular timing; an interesting option for monitoring a scene. The auto gain multiple exposure tool is still wonderful. Used when the light conditions are too variable and dificult to meter correctly, it practically becomes a High Dynamic Range (HDR) right from the camera.

These and others improvements, make the camera performance magnificent and the act of photographing especially joyful.


Image Quality at High ISO

A common complaint from Nikon D200 users was the image quality and noise using ISOs higher than 800. That created big expectations at high ISO in the new camera release. I've never had many image problems with my D200. It wasn't perfect, of course, but it wasn't as bad as some people say.

 

 

The D300 has a new sensor, a 12.3 megapixel CMOS and a new EXPEED processor capable of generating files at 14 bits in both RAW and TIFF file formats. This new sensor works from 200 to 3200 ISOs, 100 and 6400 ISOs made possible through camera processing.

The D300 shows significant improvement in the general image quality, especially in the high ISOs, showing much less noise and more sharpness. Comparing the noise reduction options at high ISOs, 800 or higher, you will notice that the noise reduction system has improved a lot. Little sharpness is lost, even using the maximum noise reduction setting; however, I prefer to just leave it off on the camera and use the noise reduction tool on the Nikon NX 1.3 software that comes with the camera.

At right you can see the complete photo from the noise and sharpness test I did at different ISOs and 1 EV variation. Below you will find 100% crops of this image. All images from the ISO test were taken in RAW right from the camera and converted to JPG using the Nikon View NX 1.3 program.

Because of the necessary changing of dimensions of the crops (to fit the format of the article), I kept the quality and increased the dpi proportionally. You may click on any of the images below for a bigger enlarged view.

Clikc for enlargement

NIKON D300; 50mm f/1.8D AF NIKKOR
@ f/2.8 aperture; 1/45 sec. shutter speed

     
Noise reduction off
Noise reduction low
Noise reduction high

Noise test

Noise test

Noise test

Noise reduction off
Noise reduction low
Noise reduction high

The D300 contrast and colors are very smooth, more pleasant and natural. I like to use image options at zero, except saturation, that I use at its maximum, and Adobe RGB.

Using 14bits RAW the colors are even smoother and the color gradation very pleasant; however, the image size is considerably bigger and the shutter speed decreases from 6 to 2.5 photos per second. I also noticed that the mirror makes a different sound when using the 14 bits mode. On 14 bits configuration, the feeling is that the camera is using a slower exposure time.


There are three options for RAW compression: no compression, compressed lossless and compressed. I will use the lossless compression option most of the time and without compression when there's the need of a large dynamic range, this must increase my possibilities of post processing.

There is also the option of saving the image in TIFF, but the file is huge, practically 3 times bigger than the 12bits RAW with lossless compression. This is impracticable, not only thinking about the memory card, but the computer storage too. I believe I would only use TIFF in very specific situations.

Click for enlargement

 

D-Lighting

A new tool is the Active D-Lighting, destined to situations where the dynamic range exceeds the normal sensor capacity, scenes with harsh sun and strong shadows, for example.

It looks very interesting, mainly using 14bits mode; however, it must be used carefully because it could increase the noise at high ISOs, mostly in the brightened-by-the-tool area.

The advanced white balance system was further improved for fine tuning. The displays can now show independent channel RGB histograms. This improves precise adustment of exposure and white balance fine performance.

I only photograph using RAW, that's why options like white balance, image parameters, and noise reduction don't need to be changed in the camera. I prefer to adjust these and others options on the Nikon software, the Nikon Capture NX, which is a magnificent image editing tool.

Click for enlargement

Click for enlargement


Conclusion

The Nikon D300 is more than I expected from a camera, a highly respectable D200 update with an accessible and fair price.

The main changes which I consider highly relevant are:
• Sharpness and Noise performance at high ISOs
• 12 and 14 bits RAW files
• 12.3 mega pixel CMOS sensor
• Natural colors and smoother color graduation
• Excellent performance of the 51 focus points newAF module
• The capability to individually adjust AF for 9 different lenses
• More customize-able buttons
• Storage of information of non-CPU lenses and switch from one to another by a function button
• New My menu
• Professional 100% image viewfinder coverage
• Bigger LCD monitor with superb definition

 

 

Other functions that I would probably not use much myself, although I do consider them significant improvements are:

• Live View function
• New vertical grip MB-D10
• Continuous 6fps shutter speed
• TIFF files
• Retouch menu right on-camera
• High resolution videos capability
• Active D-Lighting
• 3D-tracking on Continuous focus
• Control panel on the LCD monitor

You may download here the complete specifications.

 

Certainly the best camera in this market segment, considering all models released up to the end of 2007.

An excellent updated camera choice for someone who either has previously used another Nikon DSLR -who will find its handling very intuitive- or advanced DSLR users from other brands.

Not necessarily recommended to beginners, because of the complex controls. It requires plenty of study and practice to master it and make good use of what this incredible camera has to offer.

Of course, if you live in North America, you have the Nikonians Academy workshops to train you well and in no time.

Click for enlargement

Click for enlargement

Click for enlargement

Click for enlargement

 

(6 Votes )
Show pages (5 Pages)

Originally written on July 11, 2008

Last updated on October 28, 2016

5 comments

Dennis Page (DenyP) on August 14, 2018

I enjoyed the D300 review.

Antonio Marreiros (miranikon) on November 5, 2016

This articles they are very important for me. Thank you. Antonio Marreiros

Henry M. Ford (Team) on January 25, 2016

Love my d300s. Both for pictures and video.

Ludvik Gomulski (CrustyCrab) on May 2, 2013

A succint and valuable review of the cameras main features

Jose Santos (espeto68) on February 9, 2013

Excellent preview!!!

G