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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Nikon D300 DSLR

Nikon Digital Cameras

   

Nikon D300 DSLR Review

Review Date: May 5, 2008

Category: Advanced Amateur - Prosumer

Nikon D300

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2008 - Advanced DSLR
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2008 - Advanced DSLR 

HANDLING & FEEL

The Nikon D300 DSLR is the new standard in the advanced amateur photographer category. It is in all respect a pro digital camera not only in its exhaustive number of features, but also in its handling, operations and excellent image quality. It also features functionality heavily borrowed straight from the top-of-the-line Nikon D3.

As far as DSLRs go, the D300 has a rugged magnesium alloy chassis and is lightweight when compared to other pro level DSLRs; otherwise, if you are used to compact digicams or ultrazooms, the D300 will feel like it weighs a ton! At 825g (1.82 lbs) without the battery and memory card, the D300 feels heavy already, even without a lens on. I attach on the very versatile and absolutely wonderful AF-S DX VR Zoom-NIKKOR 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens, so add another 560g (19.8 oz) for a total of approx. 1385g (3.05 lbs).

Just as a body only comparison, I will mention that the Nikon D3 weighs in at 1,240g (43.7 oz), which is about 50% heavier than the D300. So the D300 is a lightweight for those who regularly lug a D3-sized DSLR around all day.

Again for body only comparison purposes, the Nikon D40x weighs in at 495g (17.5 oz), which is about 40% lighter than the D300. Or conversely, we can say that the D300 weighs about 60% heavier than the D40x.

This should give you a pretty good idea where the D300 fits as far as weight is concerned. I mention this only for those who are thinking of moving up to a DSLR (and the D300 has been the talk of the town lately as the DSLR of choice for the serious photographer). I agree that weight should not generally be a selection criteria, but for all those who have been using a bridge ultra zoom so far and thinking of moving up to a DSLR, my advice is to go to a store and handle a number of DSLRs firsthand to get a feel for the extra weight you will be carrying.

But you do not buy a D300 for general walk-around photography. If you are a serious amateur photographer, want uncompromising image quality and a professional feature set, then you cannot go wrong with the D300. It is simply the best of the lot and using it is pure pleasure. You simply have to try it to know what I mean: from the large and bright optical viewfinder, the AF that locks immediately and positively, the performance speed, and the excellent image quality -- all conspire to make you hand over your credit card to the salesperson. That's another thing you do have to keep in mind: at around US $1,800 (body only), the D300 is not cheap.

But you are getting a DSLR that is built tougher than many of its competitors with a body that is sealed against dust and moisture.

Here's how the top DSLRs measure up against one another, without lens attached and without battery and card. I've also included an ultra zoom, medium compact and ultra compact, all for comparison purposes for those thinking of upgrading to a DSLR:

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Nikon D300 DSLR 147 113 74 825
Canon 40D DSLR 145.5 107.8 73.5 740
Olympus E-3 DSLR 142.5 116.5 74.5 810
Pentax K20D DSLR 141.5 101 70 715
Nikon D60 DSLR 126 94 64 495
Nikon P80 Ultra Zoom 110 79 78 365
Nikon P5100 Medium Compact 98 64.5 41 200
Nikon S600 Ultra Compact 88.5 53 22.5 130

 

STYLE
- Colours: black body with white letterings
- Looks: very professional
   
FEEL
- Ergonomic but heavy
- Controls & menu are overwhelming at first until you get used to them
- Controls feel soft, mushy
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Hefty and feels heavy even carried with neck strap
- Dimensions: 147 x 113 x 74mm (5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in.)
- Weight: 825g (1.82 lbs) without battery, memory card, body cap, or monitor cover
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery EN-EL3e 7.4V 1500mAh
   

SPEED OF OPERATION

- Startup is quasi instant
- Shot to shot time as fast as you can press the shutter.
-

Buffer takes about 21 Large Fine images before it needs to write to disk.

In the Menu, you can specify the maximum number of shots that can be taken in a single continuous burst.

-

Burst: H - 6 fps

Burst: L - from 1fps to 7fps (6fps without the optional battery pack)

I used a SanDisk Ultra II SDCFH 256MB and the camera was set to Manual mode.

- No practical shutter lag when using viewfinder
- Overall, superb performance speed
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery EN-EL3e that can take about 1,000 shots (CIPA) on a fresh charge and a MH18a Quick Charger (with power cord) that will recharge a new battery in about 2 hrs.

An optional MB-D10 Multi-Power Battery Pack (which can also function as a vertical grip) used with the EN-EL4a/EN-EL4 battery (requires BL-3 Battery Chamber Cover sold separately) and AA batteries support a higher frame advance rates of 8fps.

Nikon D300 Top View

Nikon D300 Top View

The D300 has a deep handgrip and is perfect for those with big hands. There is a slight outward projection at the back and an indentation at the front, both allowing for a surer grip. Handling is superb.

Your index finger falls naturally on the shutter-release button. The Power Switch is around the Shutter-release button with 3 settings: OFF, ON and backlighting for the information LCD. Behind it are the [Shooting] Mode and Exposure Compensation buttons.

The large rectangle is the LCD information panel that displays all your exposure settings. Backlighting for this info LCD can be set to be On at all times in the Menu (Custom Setting Menu - d Shooting/display - d8 LCD illumination - On) or set it Off and use the Power Switch to toggle it on whenever you need it.

On the left side of the viewfinder prism there are 3 push buttons for Image Quality, WB and ISO. Depress the lock release pin just to the left of Image Quality and you can also rotate the Release Mode Dial to set the Drive mode (S, CL, CH), Live View [yes, Live View is hidden in this obscure place], select self-timer, and lock the mirror in the up position.

Just in front of -- and a little under -- the shutter-release button is the Sub-command dial. This Sub-command dial is operated with your index finger. The Main command dial is on the back and operated with your thumb. Together, these two command dials allow you to quickly select a function in combination with another button press.

Nikon D300 Back View

Nikon D300 Back View

The D300 has an extra large 3.0-in. very high resolution LCD monitor with wide-angle viewing and the 920,000 dots are put to the best use with beautifully legible text and graphics. There is a bright and large viewfinder with approx. 100% coverage. I like the fact that the viewfinder, LCD and lens are all aligned in a straight line so that you don't get that disconcerting disconnect that your eye's aim and the lens' aim are slightly different.

AF is lighting fast: half-press the Shutter-release button and your subject snaps into focus.

LIVE VIEW

New is Live View which you access by turning the Release Mode Dial to LV. I guess this is a logical place for this function but it is nevertheless obscure and requires two-handed operation to turn on. Then you need to go into the Shooting Menu to select which Live View option you want: Hand-held or Tripod. The LCD in Live View mode does not gain up in low-light.

Hand-held Live View mode

  1. The first press of the shutter release button raises the mirror. This allows light to fall on the sensor and the LCD displays the scene. Live View is now active and you can zoom and frame your scene.
  2. Press the shutter release button half-way (or press the AF-ON button) to focus. At this time, the mirror will lower (remember the AF sensor is up there in the viewfinder housing), the image will disappear from the LCD, light will be redirected up to the AF sensor allowing the camera to focus using very fast Phase-Detection AF. The mirror will lift again to return to Live View when you let go of the shutter release button (or AF-ON button), and the image reappears on the LCD. This focus is simply for your benefit so you can see the picture clearly on the LCD. Or, if you hate the mirror slap, you can simply manually focus the lens for a clear view.
  3. Then depress the shutter release button fully (you've got to press all the way down and hold) to take the picture, at which time the mirror will again lower, the camera will again focus using very fast Phase-Detection AF, then lift again to allow the sensor to record the picture.

There is a trick you can use to have a picture that is already in focus when engaging Hand-held Live View. On the first press of the shutter release button to engage Live View, do a half-press instead, pause slightly to give the camera time to focus then continue to depress the shutter release button fully to engage Live View. This way the camera will already have focused on your subject and display a clear scene in Live View [remember, this focus is simply to allow you to view the scene clearly on the LCD]. Then compose and depress the shutter release button fully to take the picture (when the camera will refocus again).

Tripod Live View mode

The camera is expected to be on a tripod or stable level surface.

  1. As in the previous mode, the first press of the shutter release button raises the mirror and the LCD displays the scene. Live View is now active and you can zoom and frame your scene.
  2. The mirror is now locked in the UP position and you cannot half-press the shutter release button to focus as in Hand-held Live View mode. Instead, you press the AF-ON button [so get used to pressing the AF-ON button for both Live View modes] to activate Contrast-Detect AF, which works like on a compact digicam, i.e. much slower than Phase-Detection AF. You can also enlarge the scene and simply focus the lens manually.
  3. Then depress the shutter release button fully to take the picture.

OK, so what is the difference between the two Live View modes? Hand-held Live View uses the very fast Phase-Detection AF in a DSLR to focus, but you have this unnatural mirror slap that will confuse the hell out of you as to whether you have taken a picture or not. Hint: if the picture does not display back right away on the LCD, then you have not taken it.

Because of this confusing mirror slap, some may therefore prefer to use Tripod Live View which uses the Contrast-Detect AF used in compact digicams, only here it is much slower.

Nikon recommends blocking the viewfinder when using the self-timer to avoid stray light from the viewfinder skewing the exposure metering. To do that, you need to remove the eyepiece cup and insert the eyepiece cap. It would have been nice to have a built-in eyepiece shutter.

There is an eyepiece diopter control button to the top right of the viewfinder. I find it extremely difficult to rotate and set while peering in the viewfinder. But once set, you just know it's not going to move out of position.

There are many control buttons on the D300 so there is not much need to resort to the Menu. Falling under your thumb is the Main Command Dial.

You use the Main command dial and Sub-command dial to quickly set your exposure values.

In Manual mode, the Main command dial and Sub-command dial allow you to control the shutter speed and aperture, respectively (you can switch this in Custom Setting Menu - f Controls - f7 Customize Command Dials - Change Main/Sub - ON).

In Shutter-Priority mode, use the Main command dial to change shutter speed.

In Aperture-priority mode, use the Sub-command dial to change aperture.

In Programmed Auto [P] mode, rotating the Main command dial switches you into Flexible Program [P*] mode (i.e. Program Shift) and allows you to select different combinations of shutter speed and aperture while keeping the same exposure.

To dial in an exposure compensation, you press the [+/-] button and rotate the Main command dial. If you prefer not to have to press the [+/-] button, then you can set Easy Exposure Compensation in Custom Setting Menu (Custom Setting Menu - b Metering Exposure - b4 Exposure Compensation - ON). Now, to dial in an Exposure Compensation, you do not need to press the [+/-] button down and rotate a command dial. In P and S modes, simply rotate the Sub-command dial; in A mode, rotate the Main Command dial. I don't particularly recommend using this feature because it is simply too easy to rotate the Main command dial or Sub-command dial (by just picking up the camera) and inadvertently dial in an exposure compensation.

When exposure compensation is set, the "0" mark blinks continuously to remind you that it is set. Neither the viewfinder nor the Control Panel displays the actual value dialed in but tiny bars display along a horizontal bar to give an indication of the value. In addition, the [+/-] graphic is also displayed to indicate an exposure compensation has been dialed in. You'll have to press the [+/-] button to see the actual value. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose of not having to press that button in the first place. Improvement suggestion is to display the actual exp. comp. value.

There are 3 AF-area Modes: Single-point AF focuses on the center AF point. Auto-area AF selects the AF point automatically from out of 51 available AF points. Dynamic-area AF allows you to select the AF point manually.

In Dynamic-area AF, you can specify the maximum number of points you want to use: 9, 21, 51 or 51 with 3D-tracking. 3D-tracking works only in Continuous-servo AF.

If you choose to use Dynamic-area AF, then it is also useful to set the Multi selector center button to RESET for Shooting mode (Custom Setting Menu - f Controls - f1 Multi selector center button - Shooting mode - RESET). This will allow you to quickly reset the AF point to the center.

Nikon D200 Left View (with 18-200mm lens)

Underneath the camera, as expected, the metal tripod mount is located in line with the center of the lens and the imaging focal plane. You should be able to change the battery with the camera mounted on a tripod.

As you would expect, there are tons of customizable settings to choose from, more than we can reproduce here (unless we reproduce the whole manual).

PLAYBACK MENU 1 of 2

- Delete
- Playback folder
- Hide image
- Display mode
- Image review
- After delete
- Rotate tall
- Slide show

PLAYBACK MENU 2 of 2

- Print set (DPOF)

PLAYBACK INFO 1 of 6

 

PLAYBACK INFO 2 of 6

 

PLAYBACK INFO 3 of 6

 

PLAYBACK INFO 4 of 6

 

PLAYBACK INFO 5 of 6

 

PLAYBACK INFO 6 of 6

 

PLAYBACK DELETE SELECTED

 

PLAYBACK DELETE SELECTED

 

PLAYBACK DELETE ONE

 

PLAYBACK DELETE ALL

 

PLAYBACK HISTOGRAM

- I set the Multi selector center button to View Histograms in Playback mode
- When the picture displays, either just after taking a shot or in Playback, press and hold the center of the Multi selector to display the Histogram

 

SHOOTING MENU 1 of 3

- Shooting Menu Bank (A-D)
- Reset shooting menu
- Active folder
- File naming
- Image quality
- Image size
- JPEG Compression
- NEF (RAW) recording

SHOOTING MENU 2 of 3

- White Balance
- Set Picture Control
- Color space
- Active D-Lighting
- Long Exp. NR
- High ISO NR
- ISO Sensitivity settings

SHOOTING MENU 3 of 3

- Live view
- Multiple exposure
- Interval timer shooting

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 1 of 7

- Custom setting bank
- Reset custom settings
- a Autofocus
- b Metering/exposure
- c Timers/AE lock
- d Shooting/display
- e Bracketing/flash
- f Controls

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 2 of 7

- a1 AF-C priority selection
- a2 AF-S priority selection
- a3 Dynamic AF area
- a4 Focus tracking with lock-on
- a5 AF activation
- a6 AF point illumination
- a7 Focus point wrap-around
- a8 AF point selection

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 3 of 7

- a9 BUilt-in AF-assist illuminator
- a10 AF-ON for MB-D10
- b1 ISO sensitivity step value
- b2 EV steps for exposure cntrl.
- b3 Exp comp/fine tune
- b4 Easy exposure compensation
- b5 Center-weighted area
- b6 Fine tune optimal exposure

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 4 of 7

- c1 Shutter-release button AE-L
- c2 Auto meter-off delay
- c3 Self-timer delay (2s, 5s, 10s, 20s)
- c4 Monitor off delay
- d1 Beep
- d2 Viewfinder grid display
- d3 Viewfinder warning display
- d4 CL mode shooting speed

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 5 of 7

- d5 Max. continuous release
- d6 File number sequence
- d7 Shooting info display
- d8 LCD illumination
- d9 Exposure delay mode
- d10 MB-D10 battery type
- d11 Battery order
- e1 Flash sync speed

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 6 of 7

- e2 Flash shutter speed
- e3 Flash cntrl for built-in flash
- e4 Modeling flash
- e5 Auto bracketing set
- e6 Auto bracketing (Mode M)
- e7 Bracketing order
- f1 Multi selector center button
- f2 Multi selector

CUSTOM SETTING MENU 7 of 7

- f3 Photo info/playback
- f4 Assign FUNC. button
- f5 Assign preview button
- f6 Assign AE-L/AF-L button
- f7 Customize command dials
- f8 Release button to use dial
- f9 No memory card?
- f10 Reverse indicators

SETUP MENU 1 of 3

- Format memory card
- LCD brightness
- Clean image sensor
- Lock mirror up for cleaning
- Video mode
- HDMI
- World time
- Language

SETUP MENU 2 of 3

- Image comment
- Auto Image rotation
- USB
- Dust off ref photo
- Battery info
- Wireless transmitter
- Image authentication
- Save/load settings

SETUP MENU 3 of 3

- GPS
- Non-CPU lens data
- AF fine tune
- Firmware version

LANGUAGE 1 of 2

 

LANGUAGE 2 of 2

 

BATTERY INFO

- Battery meter: 63% available
- Picture meter: # times shutter has been released with current battery
- Charging life: 5 levels (0-4), 0 being a new battery, 4 being it's time to replace the battery

GPS

- Auto meter off [no idea why this option is here under GPS; should be in c settings]
- Position

- Requires a Garmin eTrex or geko series equipped with a PC interface cable connector, an MC-35 GPS adapter cord and a D-sub 9-pin connector

- Records current latitude, longitude, altitude, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), and heading.

RETOUCH MENU

- D-Lighting
- Red-eye correction
- Trim
- Monochrome
- FIlter effects
- Color balance
- Image overlay

D-Lighting

- Low, Normal, High
- A new copy is saved, leaving original image intact

MONOCHROME

- Black-and-white
- Sepia
- Cyanotype

SEPIA

FILTER EFFECTS

- Skylight
- Warm filter

COLOR BALANCE

 

MY MENU

 

The Nikon D300 has exceptional ergonomics and I like how you can customize the camera to almost any way you like. It makes a perfect second backup (and affordable) digital SLR for a pro. The Nikon D300 is probably not suited for someone new to DSLR unless they are willing to put in lots of time and effort to master both photography and the camera. The beginner amateur photographer will probably not need all the functionality and customizations available on the D300. The D300 is the type of camera that, the more time you spend learning and using it, the better you understand and can take advantage of the underlying power to take better pictures. The Nikon D300 is undoubtedly the best DSLR for the advanced amateur photographer.

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