Nikon D300 DSLR camera

The D300’s new higher resolution sensor means Nikon has had to develop a new processing engine called Expeed that chews through the camera’s 16-bit files that are downsampled to 12 or 14-bit NEF RAWs or 8-bit TIFF or JPEG files.

The boost in resolution of the new CMOS sensor and its extra 2-megaipxels of resolution might seem a risky strategy if it has adversely affected the image quality. So lets have a look over the new camera and those images.

Some of the new kit includes a faster frame capture rate in continuous shooting jumping rather modestly from five to six frames per second and 8fps but disappointingly only using the optional battery grip. The camera has a very nice 3-inch, 920k-pixel screen that is bright, sharp, and very easy to use and includes Live View technology that includes two modes with AF possible in both of them. Nikon’s D-Lighting system is also built-in as is Active D-Lighting (in three modes of low, normal and high) that helps sort differences between shadow and highlights without affecting other areas of the image and it can do it at the capture stage for the later Active mode.

Even better than that is the new 3D-tracking AF set up that uses Nikon’s Scene Recognition System that keeps the camera appraised of the subjects movements across the frame, at least that’s the theory. The system uses data gathered by the camera’s 1005-pixel RGB sensor to help the camera’s system recognise what it’s “seeing” to get more accurate focusing, exposure and white balance performance.

A new Multi-CAM 3500DX AF system employs 51 individually or automatically selectable AF zones and makes a noticeable difference from the 11-zones found in the old D200. The AF system is fast and very accurate too, includes a Dynamic Area set up (great for fast moving subjects as it can track moving subjects across the frame) and the central 15-zones are cross type sensors that can work with lens apertures down to F/5.6 and thus make focusing easier across all currently available Nikkor optics.

The D300 also sports a dust removal/reduction system that shakes the camera’s anti-alias filter over the sensor; this is a first for a Nikon DSLR. The anti-dust system can be activated automatically at start up and shut down or manually; you get four different frequencies to shake the filter with too in case one (or more) don’t do the job. Very clever.

Combine these new items with the camera’s lightweight magnesium alloy body befitting its professional tag (and similarly with the D200) makes it feel robust enough to crack walnuts. All the rubberised grips makes the camera feel very secure in use and importantly, comfortable to use, buttons and dials are placed with thought to use, frequency of use and ensuring they’re in easy reach of your fingers. The key controls (metering, focus, flash and white balance for example) all fall to hand easily.

Menus remain more or less the same as those found in the D200 while some ordering and sub menu orders have altered to refe3lct the additions and the fact the larger screen can accommodate more menus items in a list for example. Anew customisable menu option allows you to tailor the way menus are displayed as well and this replaces the D200’s Recent Settings menu option.

I had Nikon’s 12-24mm AF-S Nikkor Zoom lens to play with on the D300 (plus a couple of other standard Nikkor zooms of my own) and the camera is great to use. In fact, anyone familiar with or who might have used a Nikon DSLR in the past will be right at home here, despite the additional kit and technological trickery under its magnesium alloy skin.

One of the biggest improvements in terms of handling and use is the bright, clear viewfinder that provides a 100% frame coverage, has -2 to +1 dioptre adjustment and an excellent eye-point (the distance from which you can still see the entire viewfinder view) of 19.5mm making it usable with (or without) your specs.

The trend of camera makers removing top-plate data LCDs has been avoided here by Nikon, the D300 houses a large, easy to read (and backlit) LCD that hogs the entire right side of the camera’s top plate enhancing its ease of use when tripod mounted for example.

CompactFlash Type I/II is the storage medium of choice and these cards are held under a secure cover on the right side of the camera’s body. Optional extras include the aforementioned battery housing/vertical grip and a WT-4 wireless transmitter for beaming shots straight out of the camera to a networked system for example.

Other connections include HDMI (version 1a) with simultaneous playback on the camera’s screen and via the HDMI output. You also have USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed) connectivity and video out (both PAL and NTSC) and an optional GPS system is supported as well.

And so, onto those all-important pictures and the way the camera has handled the job of capturing them. Fist up the remarkable focusing system is excellent with a fast moving radio controlled helicopter captured well even when moving around very close to the camera.

Metering and exposure control is superb too with only some very gloomy conditions forcing me to play with exposure compensation to try and lift detail in shadows round a church I was shooting. Interestingly the white balance control works well in auto mode but the overcast setting left a slight blue cast to my images. Not sure exactly what was happening there but overall, white balance is very good.

Noise, even at higher ISO is pretty much non-existent up to ISO 2000, beyond here noise is in there but it’s very subtle and even at the boosted ISO 4000 and 6400 settings it’s very clean indeed, in fact the best noise (or lack of noise) performance I’ve seen in a DSLR. Quite simply it is superb. However, detail drops slightly as the ISO increases and noise reduction processing beefs up.

Colour control is very good if a little on the vivid side by default but image sharpness is excellent by default although I did notice the noise reduction settings did smooth some finer detail in its default mode.

Just like the D200 before it, which was akin to a D2x-lite, the D300 could be looked at as a D3-lite; it’s smaller and lighter than the D3 but with an (almost) equivalent level of specification. Its £1299.99 pricing means you could by two D300s for the price of one D3 and still have money over for a lens or two; in other words it’s very good value for money when looked at in this way and pretty have a must have upgrade for any D200 user that has the budget to play with.

Verdict

Quite simply a stunning new Nikon that has performance and handling panache as standard that should have you reaching for your wallet.