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Nikon D300s Review
|Review Date: Jan
Category: Serious to Advanced Amateur
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:
|Nikon D3s (DSLR)
|Nikon D300s (DSLR)
|Canon 7D (DSLR)
|Olympus E-3 (DSLR)
|Pentax K7 (DSLR)
|Nikon D5000 (DSLR)
|Olympus E-620 (DSLR)
|Olympus E-450 (DSLR)
|Nikon P90 (Ultra Zoom, includes 24x optical zoom lens)
|Panasonic GH1 (DIL)
|Leica M9 (Rangefinder Interchangeable Lens)
|Samsung NX10 (DIL)
|Olympus E-P1 (DIL)
|Panasonic GF1 (DIL)
|Leica X1 (includes a fixed 24mm lens)
||Colours: black body with white letterings
||Looks: very professional
||Ergonomic but heavy
||Controls & menu are overwhelming
at first until you get used to them
||Controls feel soft, mushy
|| 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
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
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.