Nikon D300 (Live View) DX 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera Review
Currently all DSLR cameras use a sensor that falls under three categories. These categories have relation to film formats we used in the past. From biggest to smallest is full frame, APS-C, and Four-Thirds.
The size of a full-frame sensor (this is the reference/benchmark) is the same size as a 35mm film frame that is 35mm wide. The size of an APS-C sensor (the most commonly used sensor format among consumer DSLR) is close to 25mm wide and lastly Four-Thirds is about 17mm wide, or about 30% less in size compared to the APS-C sensor. By knowing the size of the sensor, you have to understand a term called “crop factor”. Crop factor is the ratio between the imaging area offered compared to the imaging area offered on a 35mm full frame format.
Think of three rectangles representing full frame, APS-C and Four-Thirds sensors. Notice how APS-C and Four-Thirds does not fill the whole 35mm frame. This means if you compare cameras that utilize full-frame, APS-C and Four-Thirds, place each lens at the focal length of 15mm, you’ll notice among all three cameras that the distance of 15mm is actually different between each other even though they are at the same focal length according to the lens.
On full-frame, 15mm is really 15mm, while on APS-C, 15mm is actually about 22.5mm (if we use a crop factor of 1.5x), and on a Four-Thirds system, 15mm is actually 30mm (using a crop factor of 2x). Using this example, we can see one advantage is that crop factor can actually give your lens more reach (more bokeh too), however on the flipside; crop factor can actually work against using your lens at wide angles. And remember when I said the general rule of thumb is the larger the sensor, the better the image quality and better control of noise, well that still matters.
The Nikon D300 is a professional-grade DX (APS-C) format DSLR with 12.3-megapixel at hand and will be compared to the similar grade Olympus E-3 DSLR that I reviewed a while ago since they are targeted to the same demographic.
About Nikon (pulled from Wikipedia)
“Nikon Corporation (株式会社ニコン Kabushiki-gaisha Nikon), also known as Nikon or Nikon Corp., is a multinational corporation headquartered in Tokyo, Japan specializing in optics and imaging. Its products include cameras, binoculars, microscopes, measurement instruments, and the steppers used in the photolithography steps of semiconductor fabrication. It was founded in 1917 as Nippon Kōgaku Kōgyō Kabushikigaisha (日本光学工業株式会社 "Japan Optical Industries Corporation"); the company was renamed Nikon Corporation, after its cameras, in 1988. Nikon is one of the major companies of the Mitsubishi Group.”
I pulled this quote from Wikipedia because it reflects more of what I wanted to share about Nikon than what was on Nikon’s own website. Truth be told, Nikon has been in business for a long time in the business of optics and imaging. They have been churning out cameras for decades, have extensive experience and have one of the most abundant supply of lenses to choose from (from past to present). What is amazing is that those old lenses can work on today’s Nikon DSLRs provided that the DSLR has an internal motor to drive the lens.
Direct competition to the Nikon D300 is the Olympus E-3 (our review here), Canon 40D/50D, Sony DSLR-A700, Pentax K20D and the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro which is in a Nikon D200 body. The Nikon D300 was released alongside its bigger full-frame brother (Nikon D3) on August 23, 2007 which makes it close to two-years now since its release. Back in 2007 however, Popular Photography magazine named the Nikon D300 their choice for “Camera of the Year 2007”. It’s now 2009, so read on to see if the Nikon D300 still remains competitive in this full segment.
In terms of pricing, I found the list price of the Nikon D300 to be $1799 (USD and CAD) for the body only. This is exactly the same price as the Olympus E-3 I reviewed. However, the lowest Canadian price I found for the Nikon D300 was $1579.99CAD on sale. Factor in the possible need to add a good piece of lens and you’re looking at easily over $2000CAD.
Looking at the specifications, it looks real good on paper (it has HDMI) but there’s one thing I missed when reading. There is no built-in mechanical image stabilization in the body. Anyway you look at this, it’s a disadvantage compared to other cameras that have this attribute. Thankfully you can obtain image stabilization by purchasing a Nikon lens with the “VR” designation which stands for Vibration Reduction. Unfortunately if you have a non-VR lens, you’ll just have to live without image stabilization as you already have. As I mentioned before, there is in-body image stabilization and lens-based image stabilization and if you purchase a VR lens, you won’t be without this feature that works well in telephoto range.
The Nikon D300 I have here today was bundled with two more items I will go into detail later on. First off are the Nikkor 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED lens and a Nikon SB-600 external flash. Why did I choose the 18-70mm lens to try out with the D300? Well for starters, the Nikon D300/18-70mm combo provides good speed and focal length at an affordable price ($399CAD). I’ve also had experiences with this lens and just feel it is an all-around good lens. As for the SB-600, I’m sure this accessory will be one of your first purchases that will give you great results. I’ll also be able to see if there’s a big difference between the SB-600 and the Nissin Di622 flash I just reviewed.
The Nikon D300 comes packaged in the usual elegantly styled Nikon corrugated boxes. These boxes always have style and are never boring to look at.
With your purchase of the D300 come these items…
I’d like to mention the use of non-proprietary standard for the USB cable. This is something I like as it’ll be easier to replace. A bonus is the composite video cable that was not supplied with the D60. It’s inexpensive so it’s a nice throw in. Unfortunately you can have your cake and eat it too; no HDMI cable is supplied. But since the composite video cable is given, it’ll be fine.
Purchasing a DSLR is never enough as you have to make room to purchase a memory card among other items and accessories if you choose to do so. When you purchase a professional-level camera like the D300 aims to be, memory choice is now more important than ever to take advantage of the D300’s power. Nikon says with the SanDisk Extreme IV Compact Flash card, you’ll be able to continuously shoot up to 100 consecutive images with its 6-8fps that is possible with the D300. That’s unbelievably fast and requires a big buffer. All professional cameras utilize Compact Flash over SD or XD Picture Cards because it’s the fastest out there. The SanDisk Extreme IV Compact Flash card is blazing fast that it can provide up to 40MB/sec sequential read and write speeds. I had the SanDisk Ultra II Compact Flash bundled with this review unit and that could only muster 15MB/sec but it was plenty enough to provide many consecutive shots (more than enough shots that I couldn’t keep count as the D300 was snapping away at 6-8fps). If you’re in sports photography, the Nikon D300 will meet your needs because it’s fast.
Let me talk about the Nikon EN-EL3e rechargeable Li-ion battery that is supplied with the D300. It’s basically the same battery I have with my D50 except it has three battery contacts instead of two on my D50 battery. The middle battery contact is for communication between camera and battery and it provides better battery management. Knowing anything from my D50, battery life should be amazing. Just how amazing? It’s even better than my D50. Now let me tell you a story.
I went to the 2009 Canadian International Autoshow with the D300 and one battery. It was an all-day outing and I was not sure if the battery would last the whole day. Boy was I dead wrong. I had taken 5GB worth of photos (JPEG fine) and by the end of the day the battery life was still only at 47% left. That is staggering that it could go on for more! Bar none this was the best battery life I ever experienced, it was much longer than my D50. I know my D50 can take over 1000 shots but the battery is almost empty by then. To think that the D300 took around 900 photos and had 47% of its battery life left while I used the LCD and some on-board flash in the process? That’s insane.
Here is the URL link to my 2009 Canadian International Autoshow pictures taken with the Nikon D300: http://michaelp.smugmug.com/gallery/7436658_jRYRb
Having held the Olympus E-3, the Nikon D300 feels no different. Both cameras are almost identical in terms of dimensions and weight; whereas the E-3 is (5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in), the Nikon D300 is (5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in) and both weigh in at 1.8lbs without the battery. The Nikon D300 is built incredibly strong as its entire shell is constructed out of magnesium-alloy. The camera never exhibited any hint of flex or non-confidence. The D300 in my hands felt very comfortable. I had taken the Nikon D300 to the 2009 Canadian International Autoshow and over the span of 900 photos, I never really felt tired holding the camera. I loved the fact that the camera body features really grippy rubber throughout. Even the bottom of the camera feels well protected with the amount of rubber given.
Opening compartments reveals rubber seals around edges to prevent moisture and dust from penetrating the camera so you can feel confident taking the D300 under just about any condition.
Let’s look at the front of the D300. You’re first drawn to the signature red triangle that differentiates a Nikon from the rest, and then you realize the amount of rubber that is applied. There is lots space available for your hands to grip and your fingers will fall into the ridge. Working from the top left we see the exposure compensation button, MODE (exposure) button, power on/off/LCD backlight switch, sub-command dial, AF Assist Lamp, Depth-of-Field preview button, Function button, Nikon body cap, Lens release button, focus-mode selector, flash sync terminal cover and the ten-pin remote terminal.
The left of the camera is where the rubber connector cover lays. This compartment houses the Video Out connector, HDMI connector, DC-IN connector and the USB connector. On the opposite side of the D300 is the memory card slot cover which houses the Compact Flash slot and eject button.
The top part of the Nikon D300 from left to right features a dial which serves as mode dial with a lock release, QUAL (image quality/size button), WB (white balance) button, ISO (ISO sensitivity) button, the external flash hot-shoe, Control panel LCD display with green backlight function, MODE (exposure mode and FORMAT) button, exposure compensation and the shutter-release button with power on/off switch.
The bottom of the Nikon D300 is where the battery-chamber cover, contact cover for optional MB-D10 battery pack and a metal tripod mount which is located at the center of the lens.
Now coming to the rear of the camera where you’ll find many buttons that have different or multiple functions. From the left of the viewfinder we find the playback button, delete/format button, MENU button, protect/HELP button, thumbnail/playback button, playback zoom in button and OK button. To the right of the viewfinder we find the diopter adjustment control, metering selector (matrix, center-weighted and spot metering), AF-ON button, main command dial, 8-directional multi-area selector, focus selector lock below the 8-directional multi-area selector, memory card access LED, AF-Area mode selector (single-point AF, dynamic-area AF and auto-area AF) and the memory card slot cover latch.
Above the 3.0” high resolution LCD screen is the conventional optical viewfinder. This viewfinder is a joy to use and approximates 100% viewfinder frame covering meaning what you see is what you’ll get. Magnification is equally as good coming in at 0.94x but isn’t stronger than the Olympus E3’s which is a viewfinder magnification of 1.15x. The viewfinder is large, bright and during usage exhibits no problems. I can see all the controls located within the viewfinder screen and I have no bad things so about it.
General Impressions – The 3.0” Super Density LCD display
The LCD screen Nikon has chosen to place in the D300 is incredible because of its resolution but also because of its usefulness. 920,000-dot resolution places it among the best you’ll see in the industry in such a camera matching the Nikon D3’s LCD resolution and trailing the Sony DSLR-A700 and A900 which has 921,000-dot resolution. Having such a beautiful LCD which the D300 does have makes it much more useful when reviewing images than ever before. Pictures on the LCD looks crisp, detailed, fine and zooming in closer you’ll see intricate details such as checking for blur, colors, giving you the full picture of what you have taken. Never have I been so impressed at just roaming around the Nikon D300’s menu. The resolution is unbelievably better than anything I’ve seen thus far. The LCD maintains seven levels of brightness and a wide viewing angle of 170-degress. The LCD screen is almost perfect except for the ability to swivel and move around like the Olympus LCD’s can. If that is added, it’ll open up new possibilities to shoot from angles it was hard to in the past.
General Impressions – Nikkor AF-S DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G IF-ED Lens
This is an all-around good lens. It provides good value with good performance and at a maximum focal length of 70mm, making is an attractive walk-around lens. Plus it’s an ED lens which makes it always more expensive than others if you were interested in selling. ED stands for “Extra-low Dispersion” glass which is known to reduce chromatic aberration (purple/blue fringing) and distortion in photos. If we take the crop factor into account (1.5x) this lens becomes an equivalent of a 27-105mm lens.
The 18-70mm doesn’t feel like a budget lens but at the same time doesn’t feel like an expensive one either, construction feels in between budget and expensive. I like how this lens sits flush with the camera meaning it can be held easily. Weight is not an issue with the lens because it only weighs in at 390g making the D300 + 18-70mm combo weighing in at roughly 2.5lbs without battery.
An aperture of f/3.5-4.5 means the lens isn’t the fastest out there but definitely not the worse; again it’s realistically in the middle in terms of speed. Having a fast body such as the D300 will in some ways mask the speed of the lens as you can increase the ISO speed and the penalty won’t be too high.
The 18-70mm lens features Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) which allows for high-speed auto-focusing accuracy and quiet operation. I can tell you that while not the fastest auto-focusing lens, the 18-70mm is quiet and focusing is always spot on. It doesn’t get too flustered when focusing on subjects, even in poor lighting conditions.
This lens is not like the Nikkor 18-55mm lens where the barrel of the lens would move in-out-in while zooming. This one features Internal Focusing, so when zooming it moves in and out.
General Impressions – Nikon SB-600 External Flash
Having made a review on the Nissin Digital Di622 SpeedLite, I was curious to see if the SB-600 was any different. The SB-600 I received was a review unit which had seen lots of use so it was a good indicator of reliability and strength. The box was ripped but SB-600 still looked good minus the mess made in the battery compartment. The SB-600 comes in a much better carrying case than offered with the Di622. The pouch is padded and is much tougher being able to be buckled to your belt. The flash comes along with warranty card, plastic flash tripod, an instruction manual and a very informative booklet called “A collection of example photos” which provides examples of what the SB-600 can do and how you can achieve the same look. It tells you how to position your flash in different situations and much more.
Physically, the Nikon SB-600 looks better than the Di622 because of the darker colored body, a larger AF Assist Indicator (red part) and just the overall build quality is a step above the Di622. The SB-600 also features an LCD that is backlit green which gives it an upscale look and more functionality and customization. The SB-600 has a metal hot-shoe connector which fits in the camera like a glove compared to the Di622 having a plastic hot-shoe connector and having a tight fit.
Both SpeedLites function the same having ability to move the flash head up and down 90 degrees to use as a bounce flash and to swivel and turn 270 degrees. This SB-600 was rather easy to turn its flash head but I’m assuming this is because it’s seen much more usage.
Both have flash diffusers but the SB-600 does not have a white bounce card like the SB-600 has.
The only physical difference between the two is that the SB-600 has a flash head tilting/rotating PUSH lock-release button. The Nissin Di622 does not have this lock. I personally didn’t feel the need for a PUSH lock so I prefer the Nissin decision better. Having to turn the flash head, I like to make that decision myself and I don’t think the flash head will suddenly move on its own. It’s unnecessary and if anything the lock should have been on the opposite side.
Aside from the physical difference, there are indeed real world differences between the SB-600 and Nissin Digital Di622. To make things short, the SB-600 is more consistent over the long run. One of the issues I had with the Di622 was some sort of misfire but with the SB-600 that was never the case. The SB-600 also outputs brighter photos and the color cast is warmer than the Di622.
How it performs
The Nikon D300 is ready right when you are. The super fast startup time of just 0.13 seconds says everything that needs to be said about this pro-level digital SLR. It’s not hindered by the dust reduction system as it will be enabled once you shut off the camera. Once the power is turned off, you can hear a cleaning sound which sounds like sweeping across a screen.
Once powered on, the Nikon D300 is zippy, focusing on subjects quickly even when paired with the DX 18-70mm lens. The lens internal focusing motor is never noisy and works great with the Nikon D300. Auto-focusing speed is swift and won’t pose a problem for almost any situation and this is because of the precise metering system on the D300. Even under poor lighting conditions, I really enjoy how fast I can focus on subjects and the AF Assist Lamp makes all this possible. Objects in poor lighting still come out sharp.
As I indicated, I brought this Nikon D300 bundle to the 2009 Canadian International Autoshow and I enjoyed my time reviewing the camera. To put things into perspective, the Nikon D300 is a pro-level camera. It has no such thing as scene program modes you would find on entry-level cameras. The level of options in this camera is staggering and will definitely take you a while to master. It has so much flexibility that it enables you to do things you’ve never done before.
A couple of things during my time with the Nikon D300 that were really eye opening and that you’ll see later on, is that the Nikon D300 has amazingly low noise in its photos, is fast under just about any lighting conditions, and has a superbly wide scale of saturation/color available. You’ll be shocked once you see color saturation at -2 and at +2, it’s insane.
The Nikon D300 has a built-in flash that has a guide number of 12 meters or 39 feet @ 100ISO. It’s sufficient for simple photos but I would recommend purchasing any external flash for this level of camera. But if you’re forced using the on-board flash, the exposure is correct almost always and the photo is not dark or where you need to brighten it.
The Nikon D300 menu setup is very similar to the D60 we reviewed previously. In fact amongst Nikon DSLR’s, the menu is practically the same. The Nikon D300 is no different meaning the menu system is very easy to navigate and very easy to use utilizing a dedicated HELP button that can be used under any option in the menu that you’re not too sure about, providing detailed information that will inform you what the specific option is for. The Nikon D300 has only one menu system with a couple of sub-menus that include the ‘shooting menu’, ‘custom setting menu’, ‘setup menu’, ‘retouch menu’ and ‘my menu’. Once you’re inside the menu, you will find that it goes very deep with lots of flexibility and choices.
A great thing about the Nikon D300 is the addition of a control panel LCD display. This display is especially important because it provides a level of efficiency. Just about all the important settings you will change inside the main menu can be changed with a button on the rear that is dedicated to changing something + rear dial and the change is displayed on the control panel LCD display. It speeds up the process and makes life easier. Under real world usage such a thing helps a lot.
The Nikon D300 is filled with lots of in-camera features and in-camera processing. As I said it can get complex at times and there is lots to learn but for the most part Nikon makes it easy. For a full look at everything the Nikon D300 can do, I suggest downloading the D300 product manual off the Nikon website for free.
The Nikon D300 features a dedicated Retouch Menu where you can do some in-camera processing which include D-Lighting, Red-eye correction, Trim, Monochrome (black & white, sepia, cyanotype, blue and white monochrome), Filter effects (skylight, warm filter), Color balance and Image overlay.
There are three forms of bracketing modes in the Nikon D300. There is exposure bracketing, flash bracketing and white balance bracketing making it really flexible. You’ll learn to love what bracketing can do for you. This is where the camera will alternate settings for a set desired number of shots (up to 9 different shots with different values for each photo) all with different levels of exposure/flash. Bracketing is a very convenient feature that allows you to have a variety of the same photo to pick from.
An example of flexibility is the amount of white balance options on the D300 such as Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent (sodium-vapor lamps, warm-white fluorescent, white fluorescent, cool-white fluorescent, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent), high temp. Mercury-vapor, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual and choose your own color temperature.
The Nikon Picture Controls (Image presets) include Standard, Neutral, Vivid and Monochrome. With all of the existing picture controls you have the ability of modifying them to your liking. You can adjust such things as sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, hue, filter effects and toning.
One of the great things about the Nikon D300 is that it’s a camera that is catered to what you want. There are no dummy preset modes like landscape, portrait, etc and that’s because the Nikon D300 is so customizable that you get what you put in. The Nikon D300 is a complex tool that needs time to be explored and unleashed.
Nikon has a feature on the D300 that I found quite useful on the D60. And the one on the Nikon D300 offers a little more choice in the form on low, medium and high modes. It’s a post-processing feature called Active D-Lighting and can make quite a difference under different circumstances. Basically as you’ll see in the shots down below, Active D-Lighting plays with exposure to recover parts of the image where the highs are blown out and lightens up the lows (shadows) producing an image that is optimized in-camera. I have to say Active D-Lighting does make images look better and the processing looks natural. The more you use Active D-Lighting the more you’ll understand the circumstances where it can work for your benefit. This is a great feature.
Investing in the Nikon system of DSLR’s, you have ability of utilizing older manual Nikon lenses on their digital counterparts. A feature that the Nikon D300 includes is called ‘Non-CPU Lens data’. By inputting your lens data (focal length and maximum aperture) into the nine different banks available, the lens can be metered automatically and not be done manually done by you. Also the lens can communicate and be used with Nikon i-TTL flash system.
An optional accessory that you can buy and is very useful is the Nikon GP-1 GPS unit for use with Nikon digital cameras. This little device is a gem because it will tag each of your photos with the exact location (longitude and latitude) where that photo was taken so you don’t forget.
The Nikon D300 has a Live View system that will be enabled once you change the dial to “LV” mode. This Live View implementation from Nikon for the most part is fast because the Live View mode is just a framing mode. Once you have framed your picture, you proceed to press the shutter the same way you would take any other photo. During the shutter button being pressed down, the Live View monitor shuts off. Everything is painless and quick. The only downfall I would say the Nikon D300 has is no swiveling LCD monitor to make Live View more usable.
There are no words to give justice to the Nikon D300 because it’s just spectacular in every way. I’m amazed at the whole package and I’m not only talking about photo quality. Characteristics of what you can expect when using the D300 is that it produces clean photos at almost ISO range, great low-lighting performance, unbelievable eye-popping colors, and an amazingly accurate autofocus system.
Noise is handled very well across the whole ISO ranges. I would say between 100-3200 is very usable and 6400 is still usable under certain conditions. You’ll be very impressed. But definitely a great job by Nikon. The only downfall is that I know noise is still even better on the full-frame Nikon D3 but the D300 is probably the best non-full frame out there.
The wide ISO selections available are: 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400, 500, 640, 800, 1000, 1250, 1600, 2000, 2500, 3200, 4000, 5000 and 6000.
I will let the photos speak for themselves. Please click on the underlined text to see the photo.
Third we can look at the insane color saturation available below...
And we roll out this review with full-size JPEGS taken with the Nikon D300 all at full resolution (4288x2848, 3-10MB each)
The Nikon D300 is one of the best DSLRs in the business and will produce photos the way you want them to turn out. I cannot help it feel when using the Nikon D300 that I can do anything I want to and that is indeed possible because the Nikon D300 is a camera of customizability. It requires your time to know the camera and unleash its huge potential.
I love the fact that I can leave the camera on automatic ISO adjustment and not worry about anything. I just let the camera adjust the ISO speed and worry about the composition. Having low noise on the Nikon D300 helps because at the end of the day the photos you take will come out usable.
Pros and Cons