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You are hereHome > Best Digital Cameras > Nikon D300s

Nikon Digital Cameras

   

Nikon D300s Review

Review Date: Jan 6, 2010

Category: Serious to Advanced Amateur

Nikon D300s

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Advanced DSLR
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Advanced DSLR

HANDLING & FEEL

The Nikon D300s 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.

The D300s 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 D300s will feel like it weighs a ton! At 840g (1lb 14oz) without the battery and memory card, the D300s feels heavy already, even without a lens on. I attach on the AF-S DX VR Zoom-NIKKOR 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED lens, so add another 485g (1lb 1oz) for a total of approx. 1325g (2.9 lbs).

Just for comparison, the Nikon D3s body only weighs in at 1240g (2lb 12oz). So the D300s is a lightweight for those who regularly lug a D3s-sized DSLR around all day.

Again, for comparison purposes, the Nikon D5000 body only weighs in at 560g (1lb 4oz).

This should give you a pretty good idea where the D300s fits as far as weight is concerned. I mention this only for those who are thinking of moving up to a DSLR. 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.

You would not want to buy a D300s for your general walk-around and family photography. For that, get one of the Digital Interchangeable Lens (DIL) cameras. But if you are a serious amateur photographer, want uncompromising image quality and a professional feature set, then you should consider the D300s. Another thing you do have to keep in mind: at around US $1,800 (body only), the D300s is not cheap. 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, and the Digital Interchangeable Lens cameras ("mirrorless DSLRs", all for comparison purposes for those thinking of upgrading to a DSLR:

Camera W
(mm)
H
(mm)
D
(mm)
Weight
(g)
Nikon D3s (DSLR) 159.5 157 87.5 1240
Nikon D300s (DSLR) 147 114 74 840
Canon 7D (DSLR) 148.2 110.7 73.5 820
Olympus E-3 (DSLR) 142.5 116.5 74.5 810
Pentax K7 (DSLR) 130.5 96.5 72.5 670
Nikon D5000 (DSLR) 127 104 80 560
Olympus E-620 (DSLR) 130 94 60 475
Olympus E-450 (DSLR) 129.5 91 53 380
Nikon P90 (Ultra Zoom, includes 24x optical zoom lens) 114 83 99 460
Panasonic GH1 (DIL) 124 89.6 45.2 385
Leica M9 (Rangefinder Interchangeable Lens) 139 80 37 585
Samsung NX10 (DIL) 123 87 39.8 353
Olympus E-P1 (DIL) 120.5 70 35 335
Panasonic GF1 (DIL) 119 71 36.3 285
Leica X1 (includes a fixed 24mm lens) 124 59.5 32 286

 

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 114 x 74mm
- Weight: 840g 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 - 7 fps, 8fps with optional battery pack

Burst: L - from 1fps to 7fps

- 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 950 shots (CIPA) on a fresh charge and a MH18a Quick Charger (with power cord) that will recharge a new battery in about 2 1/4 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 D300s Top View

Nikon D300s Top View

The D300s 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 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 - d9 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), Quiet shutter-release, Self-timer, Mirror up.

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 D300s Back View

Nikon D300s Back View

The D300s 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 is improved from the D300 and is now readily accessible with a dedicated LV button on the back of the camera (previously, it was "hidden" on the Release Mode Dial). As for all cameras, Live View uses Contrast-Detect AF and the speed has been slightly improved and I found it to work acceptably well even in low light. The LCD in Live View mode does not gain up in low-light.

Hand-held Live View mode

  1. Press the LV button to raise the mirror, allow light to fall on the sensor and the LCD to display the scene. Live View is now active and you can zoom and frame your scene.
  2. Press and hold the shutter release button half-way (or press and hold 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, focused. 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.

Tripod Live View mode

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

  1. As in the Hand-held Live View mode, press the LV button to raise the mirror, allow light to fall on the sensor and the LCD to display 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.

You may want to block 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 D300s 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 - f8 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 Easy 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.

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 - f2 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.

The Nikon D300s 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 D300s 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 D300s. The D300s 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 D300s is undoubtedly one of the best DSLR for the advanced amateur photographer.

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