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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

USER'S EXPERIENCE

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • Nikon D300 DSLR
  • Body Cap
  • No memory card [though I received a 256MB San Disk Ultra II CF Card]
  • BM-8 LCD Monitor Cover
  • Eyepiece Cup DK-21
  • Eyepiece Cap DK-5
  • AN-D300 Shoulder Strap
  • Li-Ion Battery EN-EL3e 7.4V 1500 mAh with terminal cover
  • MH-18a Quick Charger & power cord
  • Interface Cables: EG-D100 A/V; UC-E4 USB
  • Instruction Manuals (English and French): Quick Guide, User's Manual
  • Software CDs: Picture Project 1.7, 1-2-3 of Digital Imaging 4.0
  • AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR Lens w/lens hood, lens cap, rear cap, and travelling bag
  • SB-800 flash

The Nikon D300 DSLR is a beautifully designed camera. The magnesium alloy-based body feels solid and tough -- and heavy the first time you pick the camera up, especially if all you've been totting all year are the lightweight consumer pocket cameras. From the feel of the texture to the tactile feel of the control buttons, everything is professional grade and inspires confidence. The Nikon D300 earns our Photoxels Editor's Choice 2008 - Advanced DSLR award.

The first thing you do with a DSLR is, of course, peer through the viewfinder. And here is where the disappointment often quickly sets in when you see a small, not too bright viewfinder on most of the DSLRs that use an APS-sized image sensor. But not on the D300. The optical viewfinder here is large and bright, as we have come to expect on 35mm SLR cameras.

Half-press the shutter release button and the Phase-Detection AF immediately snaps the image into focus. Just like that. No hunting to and fro that is so characteristic of the Contrast-Detect AF used on the point-and-shoot digital cameras.

Performance is fast and response is instant. Focusing in low-light is very fast and precise. I use the versatile AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 G ED VR lens and am surprised at how relatively compact the lens is. For those who prefer to manual focus, the smooth manual zoom ring on the Nikon lens makes for fast focusing.

The extra large 3.0-in. LCD screen has a high 920,000 dots resolution and it shows in the legibility of the text and image playback. You may not want -- be able -- to return to a screen with less resolution after spending a few hours with the D300.

You can pretty much customize the D300 to work the way you like it, and it is overwhelming at first. There is no AUTO mode like some Family DSLRs are now offering, only the standard PASM (Program AE, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and full Manual) modes. I mention this because I know many of you are thinking of upgrading from a consumer non-DSLR to a DSLR and the D300 is on your candidates short list. If you are looking for an AUTO mode, the D300 is more camera than you want to handle.

Consider that the D300 User's Manual is 421 pages thick and that should give you an idea at the complexity of the camera you are dealing with. But, if you are an enthusiast and prepared to put in the time and effort to learn about photography and how to use the D300, these are 421 pages of sheer discovery and delight.

Live View is new on the D300. It is not unlike what other DSLRs offer. There are two modes. Hand-held Live View uses the very fast Phase-Detection AF to focus but, to be able to do that, there is this mirror slap (and accompanying LCD screen that goes blank) as the mirror goes down to direct the light to the AF sensor up in the viewfinder housing and up again to re-activate Live View. Tripod Live View is what most consumer digicams offer: an always available image on the LCD screen and Contrast-Detect AF to focus. The problem is that the Contrast-Detect AF used here is very slow.

I don't like the mirror slap in Hand-held Live View (used to get an image clear enough to compose) and I don't like the slow Contrast-Detect AF in Tripod Live View, so this is what I do:

  • Set Live View to Hand-held, whether I use a tripod or not. This will ensure that the camera will focus using very fast and very precise Phase-Detection AF.
  • For a clear image on my LCD, I focus the lens manually. Since I am using a focus ring on the lens, manual focus is quite fast and precise (granted it's focus by wire, but still not bad). Of course, the lens should be set to M/A to allow both Manual and Auto focus. If necessary, I enlarge the image for a more precise focus. But understand this focusing is just so I can get an image clear enough to compose and so does not need to be precise. The camera will autofocus again when I take the actual picture.
  • Depress the shutter release button fully to take the picture. The camera will focus fast and precisely using Phase-Detection AF and take the picture.

The Nikon D300 is one of the few DSLRs that actually has a MUP (Mirror UP) function. The mirror can be raised to minimize blurring caused by camera shake. Set the Release Mode Dial to MUP, frame and compose your picture, half-press the shutter release button to lock focus, then depress the shutter release button a bit more to lock the mirror up. Wait a few seconds for everything to settle down, then fully depress the shutter release button to take the picture. Of course, your camera is on a sturdy tripod, and you are using an optional remote cord to release the shutter, right, otherwise it kinds of defeat the whole purpose.

The self-timer can be set to release after 2, 5, 10 or 20 sec. and you choose the delay via a Custom Setting in the Menu (Custom Setting Menu - c Timers/AE lock - c3 Self-timer delay). Unfortunately only the one selected setting is then available when you switch to self-timer mode. It would have been nice to be able to use the Main command or Sub-command dial to simply dial in a desired delay time.

Nikon ViewNX
Nikon ViewNX with focus point shown

Use TransferNX to transfer your pictures from the D300 to your PC. Use ViewNX to view your pictures. You can rotate, tag, add info and show the focus point(s). To edit your picture, you need to purchase Capture NX.

The Nikon D300 is a professional-grade DSLR with lots of exposure flexibility and excellent image quality up to ISO 800. The 421 pages of the User's Manual give you an indication as to the complexity and versatility you can look forward to with the D300. Anyone thinking to "move up" to a DSLR from the world of compact non-DSLR digital cameras may want to consider carefully if they are willing to invest the time and effort required to learn and thoroughly master this camera. If they are, the Nikon D300 promises to reward them with excellent images and a world of digital photography to enjoy for years to come. It is as close as they will ever come to affordably enjoy a slice of pure DSLR heaven.

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