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DCRP Review: Nikon D300  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 14, 2007
Last Updated: January 22, 2012

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The Nikon D300 is the LONG awaited successor to the D200, which was introduced way back in 2005. This upgrade isn't evolutionary by any stretch of the imagination -- it's a totally new camera. Here are the most significant new features:

  • New 12.3 effective Megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor
  • EXPEED image processing "concept"
  • Continuous shooting as fast as 8 frames/second (with the optional battery grip)
  • 51-point autofocus with 3D subject tracking
  • Huge 3-inch LCD display with 307,000 pixels (920,000 dots) with live view support
  • Dust reduction system
  • Picture Control settings let you have sets of color control settings (think Picture Styles on Canon SLRs)
  • Active D-Lighting lets you brighten shadows while taking photos (instead of after)
  • Rugged magnesium alloy body is sealed against dust and moisture
  • HDMI video output

And that's just the short list -- there will be a lot more new stuff mentioned in the review.

The D300 is probably the most-anticipated digital SLR of the year. How does it perform? Keep reading -- our review starts right now!

What's in the Box?

There are three official "kits" available for the D300. You can go body only ($1799), with an 18 - 135 mm lens ($2099), or with an 18 - 200 mm VR lens ($2539). Here's what you'll find in the box for all of those:

  • The 12.3 effective Megapixel Nikon D300 camera body
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 135 mm AF-S DX lens [cheap lens kit only]
  • F3.5-5.6, 18 - 200 mm AF-S DX VR II lens [expensive lens kit only]
  • EN-EL3e lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • LCD monitor cover
  • Body cap
  • Eyepiece cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • Software Suite CD-ROM
  • 421 page camera manual (printed)

The D300 doesn't come with a memory card, so you'll need to pick one up if you don't have one already. Like its predecessor, the D300 has a CompactFlash slot that supports both Type I and Type II cards. It also supports the super high-speed UDMA CF cards. I'd recommend buying a high speed 2GB card, at the very least.

If you buy either of the lens kits, then you're ready to go right away. If you didn't, then you should know that you can attach nearly any F-mount Nikkor lens in existence. There is a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio here, so a 50 mm lens will have a field-of-view of 75 mm. If you want a full-frame Nikon D-SLR then you'll have to step up to the D3.

The D300 uses the same EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery as the D200 (and several other Nikon D-SLRs). This battery packs a lot of juice -- 11.1 Wh to be exact. How does that translate into battery life? Have a look at this:

Camera Battery life, 50% flash use, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-40D 800 shots BP-511A
Fuji FinePix S5 Pro 400 shots NP-150
Nikon D80 * 600 shots EN-EL3e
Nikon D200 * 340 shots EN-EL3e
Nikon D300 1000 shots EN-EL3e
Olympus E-3 610 shots BLM-1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 450 shots DMW-BLA13
Pentax K10D ** 480 shots D-LI50
Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 650 shots NP-FM500H

* Not officially calculated using the CIPA standard, but same methodology used
** Same as the Samsung GX-10

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The D300 delivers best-in-class battery life, beating the second place EOS-40D by 20%. It's also way better than the D200, even though they use they use the same battery -- weird.

A few quick notes about the proprietary batteries used by the D300 and cameras like it. For one, they're pricey -- an extra one will set you back at least $36. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery if the proprietary one dies -- at least straight out of the box. However, if you buy the optional battery grip (see below), you can use eight AA batteries to power the camera.

MH-23 battery charger for Nikon D300

When it's time to charge the EN-EL3e battery, just snap it into the included charger. It takes around 135 minutes to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable. Oh well, can't have everything.

Nikon D300 with MB-D10 battery grip
D300 with optional battery grip; image courtesy of Nikon USA

Here's the optional battery grip that I just mentioned. The battery grip holds one EN-EL3e, EN-EL4, or EN-EL4a battery, or eight AA batteries (the camera's battery stays in its slot). The battery grip doesn't just allow for double the battery life of the D300 alone -- it also lets the camera shoot faster in continuous shooting mode (as fast as 8 frames/second when using the EN-EL4a or AA batteries). On top of all that, the grip gives you extra buttons and dials, allowing for comfortable shooting in the portrait orientation.

Being a digital SLR, the D300 has plenty of accessories available, and I've compiled some of them into this chart:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The D300 supports nearly all Nikkor F-mount lenses
External flash

SB-400
SB-600
SB-800

From $105
From $167
From $279
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye with these Speedlights
Wireless speedlight commander SU-800 From $240 Control groups of wireless flashes
Right-angle finder DR-6 From $185 Lets you look into the viewfinder from above
Remote shutter release MC-30
MC-36
From $55
From $118
Shutter release button on a cord, basically. The expensive one has a backlit control panel.
Wireless remote control ML-3 $155 Infrared remote control
GPS adapter cord MC-35 From $99 For connecting a GPS unit to the camera
Battery grip MB-D10 From $235 Doubles the battery life, improves continuous shooting performance, and gives you extra buttons for shooting portraits
Wireless transmitter WT-4a $730 Allows you to connect to a wired (Ethernet) or wireless network for photo transfer and camera control. This one isn't as slick as the Canon model (which is like a battery grip), looking more like a walkie-talkie.
AC adapter EH-5a $75 Power your camera without draining the battery
Semi-soft case CF-D200 From $55 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

Not a bad list, eh? There are plenty more accessories available too, most notably for the viewfinder. If you want it, odds are that Nikon sells it!


Nikon Picture Transfer in Windows Vista

Nikon includes a number of software products with the D300. Before I describe them, a warning to Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) users: the installer on the CD-ROM does not work, so you can't actually install any of the software. Also, Nikon warns against using Capture NX 1.3, as there are data corruption issues related to Leopard.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about Nikon Transfer, which you can use to transfer images from the camera to your computer. Nikon Transfer gives you a thumbnail view of the photos on the camera, and there are various ways to sort through them. Once you've picked your photos, just hit "Start Transfer" and away it goes. The software not only copies the photos to the destination of your choice, but it also lets you select a second, backup location for them.


Nikon ViewNX for Mac OS X

Once that's done, you'll find yourself in Nikon ViewNX, which you can use for organizing and sharing photos. Here you can the usual thumbnail view, and you can assign photos to various categories, or give them "star" ratings. ViewNX lets you see the focus point used on a photo, listen to voice memos, and convert RAW images to JPEGs. You can also do some basic RAW editing here, with exposure compensation, white balance, and picture control being adjustable.


Nikon Capture NX for Mac OS X

For more serious RAW editing, you'll want to use Capture NX, which Nikon is giving away for free with the D3 and D300 (it normally costs $150). Capture NX is a powerful tool, though its unusual interface is often frustrating.

Capture NX can adjust all kinds of RAW parameters, including exposure compensation, white balance, Auto D-Lighting (if you took the shot with it), color moiré reduction, and more. You can also remove dust from any photos using a dust map that you've created. Other image properties that can be adjusted (regardless of the image type) include color balance, levels and curves, Picture Control, regular D-Lighting, redeye removal, and noise reduction.

All that's just half the story with Capture NX, though -- it has more tricks up its sleeve.


Control points in Capture NX


Before and after comparison in Capture NX

Probably the most intriguing feature in Capture NX is the ability to use "control points". In the photo above, you can see that I've put down three of them -- one on the surfer to make him stand out more, another on the surf to make the highlights a little darker, and a third one adjusting the contrast on the rock. Each control point has a radius, covering the area that's affected by the changes. These control points are all for brightness, contrast, and saturation, though an advanced mode lets you adjust color (HSB or RGB) as well. You can also set white, neutral, and black points, white is helpful for getting accurate color. If that's still not enough, Capture NX lets you "paint" things like unsharp mask, color boost, and even D-Lighting onto your photos, affecting only the areas you want.

There's a lot more to Capture NX that I won't go into here. It's not the easier program to use (in my opinion), but it's pretty powerful. I've used it a number of times in my own work, usually making product shots look a little nicer.


Picture Control Utility in Windows Vista

The D300 supports something called Picture Controls, which are similar to Picture Styles on Canon's D-SLRs. These are "sets" of image parameters that you can store on the camera. You can adjust contrast, brightness, saturation, hue, and the tone curve, and upload this data set to the camera. If you take a photo in RAW mode, you'll be able to switch the Picture Control in real-time using Capture NX.

I've done a lot of talking about RAW, but haven't really explained what it is, and why you'd want to use it. The RAW image format (Nikon calls it NEF) stores "raw", unprocessed data from the camera's sensor. Thanks to this, you can adjust all kinds of image properties without degrading the quality of the image. So, if you botched the white balance, you can change it in your RAW editing -- it's almost like getting a second chance to take a photo. Nikon offers six different RAW options: lossless compressed, lossy compressed, and uncompressed, each at 12 or 14-bit (more on this later).

The catch with RAW is that 1) the file sizes are significantly larger than JPEGs and 2) you must post-process each image on your computer in order to convert it to a standard image format. You can use the software I mentioned above or Adobe Photoshop CS3 (with the latest Camera Raw plug-in) to manipulate the camera's NEF files.


Camera Control Pro

An optional piece of software that some of you may find useful is Nikon Camera Control Pro ($70). As its name implies, this lets you control the camera from your Mac or PC. Naturally, you can use the included USB cable for this, and you ponied up for the wireless transmitter, that works just as well. The software lets you control quite a few of the D300's settings, as you can see above,


Live view in Camera Control Pro

And yes, the software supports the D300's live view feature. You can enlarge an area of the frame (the printer in this case), and manually focus until things look just right. Nice!

There's one more piece of software I want to mention very briefly. For Windows users, Nikon includes a copy of Kodak's EasyShare software with the D300. Seems like a strange thing to find bundled with a $1700 D-SLR, but EasyShare is pretty good at organizing, editing, and sharing photos. There's no Mac version included, but it is available as a free download from Kodak's website. You can read more about this software and what it can do in my EasyShare M853 camera review.

The D300 comes with the largest, most comprehensive camera manual that I've ever seen. The manual has over 400 pages (!) of information, with large type, and easy to read diagrams. And that's good news, as the camera is one of the most complex on the market.

Look and Feel

The D300 is a fairly large digital SLR, and it's built like a tank. Made almost entirely of an magnesium alloy, the D300 doesn't let you forget that it's an $1800 camera. The only part of the camera that really screams "cheap" is the plastic door over the memory card slot. The camera is weather-sealed, so the D300's ports, buttons, and dials are shielded from dust and moisture (this doesn't mean that you should go shooting in the rain, though). Nikon says that the camera's shutter mechanism can last for over 150,000 cycles.

The camera has a good-sized right hand grip, and you'll definitely need to use your left hand to stabilize the camera, as its quite heavy. The most important camera controls are well-placed, and within easy reach of your fingers. The D300 is loaded with buttons and dials -- maybe a little too much so. I'm not a fan of Nikon's use of a mode button instead of a mode dial either, but that's just one man's opinion.

Okay, enough babbling, let's talk about how the D300 compares to other midrange D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-40D 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in. 69.4 cu in. 740 g
Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in. 74 cu in. 830 g
Nikon D200 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in. 74 cu in. 830 g
Nikon D300 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in. 75.7 cu in. 825 g
Nikon D80 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in. 64 cu in. 585 g
Olympus E-3 5.6 x 4.6 x 2.9 in. 74.7 cu in. 810 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 5.3 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 62.4 cu in. 480 g
Pentax K10D 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 62.7 cu in. 710 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 5.6 x 4.3 x 3.3 in. 79.5 cu in. 690 g

The D300 isn't the largest or heaviest camera in its class, but it's darn close. It's more-or-less the same size and weight of the D200 that came before it.

Alright, let's move on to the tour portion of the review now!

Front of the Nikon D300

Here's the front of the D300, with the mirror in the "down" position. The camera uses a standard Nikon F-mount, making it compatible with nearly all Nikkor lenses, new and old. As I said in the previous section, there is a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio to be aware of here. If you want a full-frame Nikon, you'll have to pay the big bucks for the D3. To release the attached lens, you simply press the button located to the right of the lens mount.

Behind the mirror is Nikon's new 12.3 effective Megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor. If you recall, the D100 and the D200 used traditional CCD sensors, so this is a pretty big change. The sensor has a built-in analog-to-digital converter that allows for both 12 and 14-bit RAW (NEF) images. The D300 is the first Nikon digital SLR to include a dust reduction system. The camera can activate an ultrasonic cleaning system which literally "shakes" dust off of the sensor. The low-pass filter (and other important parts) have anti-static properties to help repel dust, as well. If that's still not enough, you can remove dust from RAW images by using the Capture NX software I told you about earlier.

Above the lens mount is the D300's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The flash has a guide number (GN) of 17 meters at ISO 200, which translates to 12 meters at ISO 100. Checking the competition, the Canon EOS-40D and Olympus E-3 have guide numbers of 13, the Fuji FinePix S5 Pro gets a 12, and the Pentax K10D scores an 11. If you want more flash power, you can add an external flash via the hot shoe or flash sync port that you'll see in a second.

To the lower-left of the flash we find a dedicated AF-assist lamp. The camera will use this as a focusing aid in low light situations. The lamp is also used for redeye reduction, and as a visual countdown for the self-timer. Just to the left of that is the D300's front command dial.

Immediately to the left of the lens mount are two buttons. The one on the top is for depth-of-field preview, while the bottom one is the customizable Function button (which handles exposure bracketing by default). Jumping to the opposite side of the lens mount you can catch a glimpse of the focus mode switch, which I'll describe later.

At the top right of the photo are two ports hidden under protective rubber covers. Let's take a closer look:

The top port is for attaching an external flash (via a flash sync cable), while the bottom one is for the optional remote shutter release cables (among other things) that I mentioned earlier. If you're using a GPS, the remote shutter port is where you'll plug it in (via the optional MC-35 adapter, of course).

Back of the Nikon D300

There is plenty to see on the back of the Nikon D300 -- it's loaded with buttons, dials, and switches. I'll start with its stunning 3-inch LCD, though, which is one of the standout features on the camera. This LCD, which is shared with the D3 and probably the Sony DSLR-A700, has 921,000 dots (307,000 pixels), which is way better than the 230,000 dot (76,800 pixel) LCDs found on other cameras. The difference between "other" LCDs and the one on the D300 is as stark as standard versus high definition television. The screen is tack sharp, bright, and easy to see from wide angles.

On the D200, the LCD was used for reviewing photos and menu operation only. On the D3 and D300, Nikon joined the "live view club", offering two different modes for composing photos on the LCD. Those modes are simple enough to remember: handheld and tripod.

Handheld mode operates in the same way as live view mode on the EOS-40D and Olympus E-series cameras: the camera flips the mirror down, uses its phase detection AF sensor, and then flips the mirror back up when focus is locked. Tripod mode, on the other hand, is more like what the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 offers (with two lenses, at least), and that's contrast detect AF. That means that the camera can focus (albeit very slowly) without having to do any mirror flipping.

Live view, tripod mode; focus point highlighted in red Zooming in on the focus point, perfect for manual focusing

So how does it look? Quite good, in my opinion. The view is bright, and incredibly sharp on the 3-inch LCD. Low light visibility isn't great with the screen at its default brightness, but it gets better if you max it out (there's a shortcut in live view mode to do quickly adjust the brightness). In both of the live view modes, you can zoom in on an area of the frame to make sure that your subject is properly focused. While you can preview white balance in live view mode, exposure is not simulated (the image always looks the same, regardless of the shutter speed or aperture). On a related note, there's no live histogram available here, which some of the other live view D-SLRs offer.


Info screen on the main LCD

In regular shooting mode, you can also use the LCD as a second info display (in addition to the one on the top of the camera). As you can see from the screenshot above, the screen gives you more shooting details than you could possibly desire. You can't use this screen to change settings, as you can on Sony and Olympus cameras, though.

The next stop on our tour is the optical viewfinder, which is located directly above the LCD. The viewfinder has the same magnification as the one on the D200: 0.94X. The viewfinder does show more of the frame, though: all 100% of it (the D200 showed 95%). The viewfinder can superimpose all 51 focus points over the field-of-view, and below that you'll find a line of data that includes metering mode, shutter speed and aperture, ISO, shots remaining, and much more. A diopter correction knob (on the upper-right of the viewfinder) will focus what you're looking at.

To the left of the viewfinder we find the playback and delete photo buttons -- easy enough. Jumping to the other side, we find the AE/AF lock and AF-ON buttons. Around the AE/AF lock button is the metering mode dial, which lets you select between 3D color matrix II, center-weighted, and spot metering. To the right of those items is the D300's rear command dial.

Moving down from there, we find the camera's four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation and for manually selecting focus points (all 51 of them). A lock switch around the controller can prevent you from changing the focus point accidentally. Speaking of focus points, under the four-way controller is the AF-area mode selector dial. The choices here include single-point, dynamic-area (9 to 51 points), and 51-point auto-area AF. If you select one of the first two options, you can select the focus point manually. I'll have a bit more on this subject later, when I get to the custom setting discussion.

Below the AF-area lever is a switch for releasing the door over the CompactFlash slot. Jumping across the LCD now, we find these five buttons:

  • Menu
  • Image protect + Help + Info
  • Zoom out + thumbnail view
  • Zoom in
  • OK

Believe it or not, that's it for the back of the D300!

Top of the Nikon D300

Unfortunately for me, there's a lot more to talk about on the top of the camera. I'll start on the far left, where we find three buttons and the release mode (drive) dial. The buttons cover white balance, image quality, and ISO, and I'll discuss what those options are in the menu section of the review. The release mode dial (hard to see in this photo), has these options:

  • Single frame - one shot at a time
  • Continuous low speed - see below
  • Continuous high speed - see below
  • Live view - discussed earlier
  • Self-timer
  • Mirror up - prevents shake from mirror movement

It's time to talk about the D300's impressive continuous shooting modes. Unfortunately, I didn't have the battery grip to review, so I wasn't able to see the D300 reach its advertised top speed of 8 frames/second. There are two continuous speeds available: high speed, which tops out at either 6 or 8 fps (depending on if you have the battery grip and proper battery) and low speed, which is customizable (1 - 7 fps). In high speed mode, I was able to take 13 RAW+Fine JPEG, 15 RAW, and a little around 36 Large/Fine JPEGs at 5.9 frames/second, before the camera paused to catch its breath. If you're shooting 14-bit NEF images, the frame rate drops considerably, to just 2.5 fps. Second, in live view mode, the LCD goes dark once continuous shooting starts, so you can't use that feature to track a moving subject.

Another drive mode-related item I want to mention is that you cannot use the self-timer and live view at the same time. If you're using the tripod live view mode, you can turn on custom function d9, which provides a one second "exposure delay", which helps reduce the risk of blurry photos from pressing the shutter release button.

At the center of the photo is the D300's hot shoe, one of two ways in which you can attach an external flash. The hot shoe supports i-TTL flash metering with the SB-400, SB-600, and SB-800 Speedlights, meaning that they integrate with the camera's metering system. The Speedlight's AF-assist and zoom head are also controlled by the camera. The D300 can also control sets of wireless flashes using the Speedlights I just mentioned, or the SU-800 wireless flash controller. You can use third party flashes with the D300, but you'll probably have to set both the camera and flash's exposure settings manually. If you're using the SB-600 or SB-800 Speedlight, then you can use any shutter speed offered on the camera -- even 1/8000 sec. Otherwise, the max flash sync speed is officially 1/250 sec, though you can actually go up to 1/320 sec, with a corresponding drop in flash range.

To the right of the shoe is the D300's large LCD info display. I'm not going to the items that are displayed on it, but let's just say that "almost everything" is an accurate descriptor. You can use the light item on the power dial to activate a backlight for the screen.

Above the LCD info display are the Mode and Exposure Compensation buttons, the power switch, and the shutter release. The exposure compensation range is a wide -5EV to +5EV, and you can move through it in 1/3EV increments (by default). The mode button serves as the D300's mode dial, offering these options:

  • Program mode - camera sets aperture and shutter speed automatically; a Flexible Program feature lets you use the rear command dial to move through various aperture/shutter speed combinations
  • Shutter priority mode - you choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the appropriate aperture; shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec
  • Aperture priority mode - you choose the aperture, and the camera uses the proper shutter speed; aperture range depends on what lens you're using; for the lens pictured here, it's F2.8 - F22
  • Manual mode - you choose both the aperture and the shutter speed; same ranges as above; a bulb mode is also available, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you have the shutter release button held down (remote shutter release and AC adapter recommended)

The D300 sticks to the basics -- no scene modes here!

Side of the Nikon D300

There's plenty more to see on the side of the D300, as well. Right in the middle of the photo are the flash release and flash mode/compensation buttons, plus the focus mode switch. The available flash modes include front curtain sync, redeye reduction, redeye reduction with slow sync, slow sync, and rear-curtain sync. The flash exposure compensation range is -3EV to +1EV, adjustable in 1/3EV increments.

The focus mode switch offers three options: continuous AF (the camera keeps focusing while the shutter release is halfway pressed), single AF (focus is locked when shutter release is halfway pressed) and manual.

At the far right, under a rubber cover, you'll find the rest of the camera's I/O ports. Let's open things up and take a closer look:

I/O ports of the Nikon D300

The ports, from top to bottom include:

  • Video out
  • HDMI out
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)
  • USB

The D300's HDMI port (a feature also found on the Sony A700) lets you view your photos at super high quality on your HDTV. The required HDMI cable isn't included, but you can buy one for fairly cheap online.

As you'd expect, the D300 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.

Side of the Nikon D300

On the other side of the camera you'll find its memory card slot. The D300 can use Type I or Type II CompactFlash cards, include the ultra-fast UDMA-enabled cards. As I mentioned, the plastic door over this slot feels incredibly cheap, so be careful.

Bottom of the Nikon D300

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the D300. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount, the battery compartment, and the contacts for the optional battery grip (hidden under a rubber cover here).

The included EN-EL3e battery can be seen at right.

Using the Nikon D300

Record Mode

The Nikon D300 is ready to start taking pictures as soon as you hit the power switch. If you have the camera set to clean the sensor at startup, you'll wait for around half a second for that process to be completed.

While autofocus speeds will vary depending on your choice of lens, overall I found them to be rocket-fast. With the F2.8, 17 - 55 mm lens I spent most of my time with, the camera was able to lock focus in 0.1 to 0.3 seconds in the best case scenarios. At the telephoto end of the lens, delays weren't much worse. Same goes with low light focusing -- the camera kept focus times under one second, and it never had any problems locking. The only slow focusing is if you're using tripod mode live view, where the D300 uses contract detect AF. There you'll usually wait for over a second for the camera to lock focus.

Shutter lag wasn't a problem when shooting with the viewfinder. If you're using live view, there's enough of a lag to notice it, but it's not as bad as on some other live view SLRs that I've tested.

Shot-to-shot delays are minimal -- you can shoot as fast as you can compose the next shot, regardless of the image quality setting or whether you're using the flash.

After you take a shot, you can hit the delete button to get rid of the previous photo.

Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality options on the D300:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
Large
4288 x 2848
NEF/lossless compressed (12-bit) 13.6 MB 98
NEF/lossless compressed (14-bit) 16.7 MB 75
NEF/compressed
(12-bit)
11.3 MB 135
NEF/compressed
(14-bit)
14.2 MB 112
NEF/uncompressed
(12-bit)
19.4 MB 98
NEF/uncompressed
(14-bit)
25.3 MB 75
TIFF 36.5 MB 52
Fine 5.8 MB 276
Normal 2.9 MB 548
Basic 1.5 MB 1000
Medium
3216 x 2136
TIFF 21.2 MB 93
Fine 3.3 MB 488
Normal 1.6 MB 946
Basic 800 KB 1800
Small
2144 x 1424
TIFF 10.2 MB 208
Fine 1.5 MB 1000
Normal 700 KB 2000
Basic 400 KB 3900

As you can see, the D300 has six different NEF (RAW) options. You can select the compression level, selecting from uncompressed, lossless compressed, and lossy compressed (Nikon says the drop in quality is minimal). The bit depth is also adjustable, with 12-bit and 14-bit options available (the latter records more color data, but lowers the continuous shooting frame rate considerably).

You can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG at the size and quality of your choosing. The D300 also supports the TIFF image format, something that you don't see very much anymore.

Images are named using the following convention: DSC_XXXX.YYY for sRGB images and _DSCXXXX.YYY for Adobe RGB images, where X is 0001 - 9999 and Y is the file extension (JPG, NEF, TIF). File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.

Now let's talk about the D300's elaborate menu system -- it has more options than possibly any camera I've ever tested. Thankfully, there are help options for each menu option available (by pressing the Image Protect button), not to mention the detailed manual. The menus look amazing on the ultra-sharp LCD, too. The menus are divided into six sections: Playback, Shooting, Custom, Setup, Retouch, and My Menu. Here's the full list:

Playback menu
  • Delete (Selected, all)
  • Playback folder (Default, all, current)
  • Hide image (Select/set, deselect all)
  • Display mode
    • Basic photo info
      • Highlights (on/off)
      • Focus point (on/off)
    • Detailed photo info
      • RGB histogram (on/off)
      • Data (on/off)
  • Image review (on/off) - post-shot review
  • After delete (Show next, show previous, continue as before) - what the camera does after you delete a photo
  • Rotate tall (on/off) - automatically rotate images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Slideshow (Start, frame interval) - more on this later
  • Print set (Select/deselect, deselect all) - for DPOF print marking
Shooting menu
  • Shooting menu bank (A, B, C, D, rename) - store up to four sets of shooting menu settings
  • Reset shooting menu
  • Active folder (New folder number, select folder)
  • File naming - set the first three characters of the file name
  • Image quality (NEF+JPEG, NEF, TIFF, JPEG) - see above chart for more
  • Image size (Large, medium, small) - see above chart
  • JPEG compression (Size priority, optimal quality) - the first keeps file sizes consistent, at the expense of photo quality; the second doesn't care about file size, it goes for best quality
  • NEF (RAW) recording
    • Type (Lossless compressed, lossy compressed, uncompressed)
    • Bit depth (12-bit, 14-bit)
  • White balance (Auto, incandescent, fluorescent [multiple options], direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, color temperature, preset manual) - see below for a lot more
  • Set Picture Control (Standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome) - see below
  • Manage Picture Control (Save/edit, rename, delete, load/save) - manage your Picture Controls
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Active D-Lighting (Off, low, normal, high) - see below
  • Long exposure NR (on/off)
  • High ISO NR (Off, low, normal, high)
  • ISO sensitivity settings
    • ISO sensitivity (Lo 1 [ISO 100] - Hi 1 [ISO 6400] in 1/3EV increments) - the increment setting is adjustable, see below for that
    • ISO sensitivity auto control (on/off) - auto ISO
      • Maximum sensitivity (400, 800, 1600, 3200, Hi 1)
      • Minimum shutter speed (1/250 - 1 sec)
  • Live view - I discussed these earlier
    • Live view mode (Tripod, handheld)
    • Release mode (Single, continuous low, continuous high)
  • Multiple exposure - combine several exposures into one
    • Number of shots (2 - 10)
    • Auto gain (on/off)
  • Interval timer shooting - elaborate time-lapse function; AC adapter highly recommended
    • Start time (Now, start time) - when to start shooting
    • Interval (1 sec - 24 hours)
    • Number of intervals (999)
    • Number of shots per interval (1 - 9)

Custom Setting Menu

  • Custom setting bank (A, B, C, D, rename)
  • Reset custom settings
  • Autofocus
    • a1 - AF-C priority selection (Release, release + focus, focus) - what is required for a photo to be taken
    • a2 - AF-S priority selection (Release, focus) - same as above, but for single AF mode
    • a3 - Dynamic AF area (9, 21, 51 points, 51-point w/3D tracking) - what area the AF system will "search" if your subject leaves the designated focus point
    • a4 - Focus tracking with lock-on (Off, short, normal, long) - how long the camera waits to adjust AF when the subject moves
    • a5 - AF activation (Shutter/AF-ON, AF-ON only)
    • a6 - AF point illumination (Auto, on, off)
    • a7 - Focus point wrap-around (Wrap, no-wrap)
    • a8 - AF point selection (11, 51 points)
    • a9 - Built-in AF-assist illuminator (on/off)
    • a10 - AF-ON for MB-D10 (AF-ON, AE/AF lock, AE lock, AE lock [reset on release], AE lock [hold], AF lock, same as Func button) - what this button on the optional battery grip does
  • Metering/exposure
    • b1 - ISO sensitivity step value (1/3, 1/2, 1 step)
    • b2 - EV steps for exposure control (1/3, 1/2, 1 step)
    • b3 - Exposure comp/fine tune (1/3, 1/2, 1 step)
    • b4 - Easy exposure compensation (On [auto reset], on, off) - whether the exposure compensation button is needed in order to adjust this function
    • b5 - Center-weighted area (6, 8, 10, 13 mm, average)
    • b6 - Fine tune optimal exposure (-1EV to +1EV in 1/6EV increments) - fine-tune each of the metering options
  • Timers/AE lock
    • c1 - Shutter release button AE-L (on/off) - whether the shutter release button locks exposure
    • c2 - Auto meter-off delay (4,6, 8, 16, 30 secs, 1, 5, 10, 30 mins, no limit)
    • c3 - Self-timer delay (2, 5, 10, 20 secs)
    • c4 - Monitor off delay (10, 20, secs, 1, 5, 10 mins)
  • Shooting/display
    • d1 - Beep (Off, low, high)
    • d2 - Viewfinder grid display (on/off) - these can also be shown in live view mode
    • d3 - Viewfinder warning display (on/off) - whether low battery warning is shown in the viewfinder
    • d4 - CL mode shooting speed (1 - 7 fps) - set the low speed continuous burst rate; note that the 7 fps option only does any good when you're using the battery grip
    • d5 - Max continuous release (1 - 100) - don't know why you'd want to limit this, but there you go
    • d6 - File number sequence (On, off, reset)
    • d7 - Shooting info display (Auto, black lettering, white lettering) - for the info display on the main LCD
    • d8 - LCD illumination (on/off) - whether the LCD info display lights up when the meter is active
    • d9 - Exposure delay mode (on/off) - adds a one second delay in live view mode to reduce risk of camera shake
    • d10 - MB-D10 battery type (LR6, HR6, FR6, ZR6) - for using AA batteries with the optional battery grip
    • d11 - Battery order (MB-D10, camera) - which battery is used first when using the grip
  • Bracketing/flash
    • e1 - Flash sync speed (1/320 sec Auto FP, 1/250 sec Auto FP, 1/250, 1/200, 1/160, 1/125, 1/100, 1/80, 1/60 sec) - Auto FP high speed flash sync mode is only for the SB-800, SB-600, and SB-R200 flash units
    • e2 - Flash shutter speed (1/60 - 30 sec) - the slowest shutter speed available when using certain flash modes in P and A shooting modes
    • e3 - Flash control for built-in flash (TTL, manual, repeating flash, commander mode) - see below
    • e4 - Modeling flash (on/off) - whether flash is fired when depth-of-field preview is activated
    • e5 - Auto bracketing set (AE & flash, AE only, flash only, white balance)- see below
    • e6 - Auto bracketing (Mode M) (Flash/speed, flash/speed/aperture, flash/aperture, flash only) - what is adjusted when using AE bracketing in full manual mode
    • e7 - Bracketing order (MTR > under > over, under > MTR > over)
  • Controls
    • f1 - Multi selector center button
      • Shooting mode (Reset, highlight active focus point, not used)
      • Playback mode (Thumbnail on/off, view histograms, zoom on/off)
    • f2 - Multi selector (Reset meter-off delay, do nothing)
    • f3 - Photo info/playback (Info L/R + Playback U/D, Info U/D + Playback L/R) - what the multi selector does in playback mode
    • f4 - Assign Func button - what this custom button does
      • Func button press (DOF preview, FV lock, AE/AF lock, AE lock, AE lock [reset], AE lock [hold], AF lock, flash off, bracketing burst, matrix metering, center-weighted metering, spot metering, none)
      • Func button + dials (1-step shutter speed/aperture, choose non-CPU lens number, auto bracketing, dynamic area AF)
    • f5 - Assign preview button - define this button; same options as above
    • f6 - Assign AE-L/AF-L button - define this button; same options as above
    • f7 - Customize command dials
      • Reverse rotation (on/off)
      • Change main/sub (on/off)
      • Aperture setting (Sub-command dial, aperture ring)
      • Menus and playback (on/off)
    • f8 -Release button to use dial (on/off) - whether you need to hold down the button while turning a command dial to adjust settings
    • f9 - No memory card (Enable release, release locked) - whether you can take a photo without a memory card inserted
    • f10 - Reverse indicators - defines the look of the exposure meter on the info display

Setup menu
  • Format memory card
  • LCD brightness (-3 to +3, 1-step increments)
  • Clean image sensor - this is for the ultrasonic dust removal system
    • Clean now
    • Clean at startup/shutdown (Off, startup & shutdown, shutdown, startup)
  • Lock mirror up for cleaning - and this is for cleaning the sensor the old fashioned way, with a blower
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • HDMI (Auto, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i) - output resolution
  • World time
    • Time zone
    • Date and time
    • Date format
    • Daylight savings time (on/off)
  • Language
  • Image comment (Input, attach) - add comments up to 36 characters long to images
  • Auto image rotation (on/off)
  • USB (MTP/PTP, Mass Storage)
  • Dust off reference photo - acquire reference data for the dust off function in Capture NX
  • Battery info - shows battery status and picture count; see below
  • Wireless transmitter - for use with the optional WT-4 transmitter
  • Image authentication (on/off) - whether image authentication data is inserted into a photo; you'll need optional software to do anything with this info
  • Save/load settings - you can save or load settings to/from a memory card
  • GPS - for use with an optional GPS and MC-35 cable
    • Auto meter off (Enable, disable)
    • Position - shows current location
  • Non-CPU lens data - for old Nikkor lenses
    • Lens number (1 - 9) - you can store up to nine lenses in memory
    • Focal length
    • Maximum aperture
  • AF fine tune - presumably for lenses with a front or back focusing problem
    • AF fine tune (on/off)
    • Stored value (-20 to +20)
    • Default
    • List saved values
  • Firmware version
Retouch menu - I will discuss these in the playback section
  • D-Lighting (Low, normal, high)
  • Redeye correction
  • Trim
  • Monochrome (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype) - you can adjust the saturation for those last two
  • Filter effects (Skylight, warm) - digital filters
  • Color balance - adjust the color of a photo you've taken
  • Image overlay - combine two photos into one
  • Side-by-side comparison - for comparing an original and a retouched image side-by-side

My Menu - a custom menu

  • Your menu items go here
  • Add items
  • Remove items
  • Rank (reorder) items

There's a lot to talk about before I move on to the photo tests. I'm not going to go into detail on all of those custom functions -- that's what the manual is for. Also, I'll be saving the Retouch items for the playback mode discussion later in the review.

Look at all those fluorescent options! Fine-tuning white balance

I'll start with the D300's white balance options, which are pretty elaborate. Let's start with the basics: you can select white balance automatically, choose from numerous presets, set the color temperature (2500K - 10000K), or use a white or gray card as a "model". If, for some reason, none of those are accurate, you can fine-tune the WB using the tool pictured above. Another option is to use white balance bracketing, which I'll mention momentarily.

Picture Control menu and grid
D2X modes are an optional download
Adjusting a Picture Control

I discussed Picture Control way back in the software section of the review, but here's a little more. The Set Picture Control item in the Shooting Menu lets you select one of the Controls that's on the camera. You can display a "grid view" by pressing the zoom out/thumbnail button, which shows how the various Controls compare in terms of brightness and saturation. You can edit any of the Controls, with the options shown in the right screenshot available. You can also do this on your computer, using the Manage Picture Control tool to import and export your Controls.

D-Lighting off D-Lighting low D-Lighting normal D-Lighting high

D-Lighting has been available on Nikon cameras for quite some time, but it's always been something you did after a photo is taken. On the D300, you can now activate this feature before a photo is taken (don't worry, it's still a playback mode option). What is D-Lighting, you ask? SImply put, it brightens the shadow areas of your photos. On Nikon's Coolpix cameras it also makes photos noisier, but this is a D-SLR, so that'll be less of a problem. If you look at the example above, you can see that D-Lighting brightened up the tree and ground, without affecting the highlights (very much). If you shoot in RAW mode, you can go into Capture NX and change the setting, in case you over (or under) did it.


ISO settings

The D300 lets you set the ISO manually, ranging from 200 to 3200, with low (ISO 100) and high (ISO 6400) options available. It also has an auto ISO mode available. You set the slowest shutter speed and the highest sensitivity that you want the camera to use, and it does the rest.

As you'd expect, the camera has several types of bracketing available. For exposure, the camera can take 3, 5, 7, or 9 photos in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between shots can be ±0.3, ±0.7, or ±1.0EV. You can also bracket for white balance, taking 2, 3, 5, 7, or 9 shots, each having slightly different white balance. The interval between shots is equivalent to 5, 10, or 15 mired. Do note that WB bracketing is unavailable when shoot RAW images.


Battery info

In the setup menu you'll find the battery info screen you see above. Not only does it show the current health of the battery, but it also gives you an accurate count of shutter cycles, which may come in handy one day when you're selling the D300 on eBay to pay for that new D3 you just bought.

Woohoo, I'm done with menus! Now it's time for our photo tests. I used a variety of lenses for these, and I'll tell you which ones as I go on. Since I didn't have one of the kit lenses, there is no distortion test in this section. Here we go!

I took the macro test shot with the F1.8, 50 mm Nikkor lens, and it turned out quite well. The thing that stands out the most to me here is the color: it's really punchy. The subject is nice and sharp, with plenty of detail captured. There's no sign of any noise here -- the figurine is nice and smooth.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. If you'll be doing a lot of close-up shooting, then you may want to consider picking up a dedicated macro lens. Nikon just happens to have four of them available, with focal lengths ranging from 60 to 200 mm.

The night shot looks great. I took the shot with the Nikon F4.0-5.6, 70 - 300 mm VR lens at ISO 100 (L1.0). Taking in plenty of light was a piece of cake, as the D300 has control over the shutter speed. The camera captured lots of detail -- you can even see steam rising from one of the buildings in the distance. The camera did a good job of not blowing out the highlights too, especially on the US Bank sign at the center of the photo. If you're looking for noise, there isn't any -- the photo is clean. My only complaint is that there's some purple fringing on the Millennium Tower going up on the left side of the photo. I have a feeling that closing down the aperture would've taken care of that, though.

I have two ISO tests in this review, and the first one uses the night scene you can see above to show you how the D300 performs in low light situations. Long exposure noise reduction was turned on for these. Here we go:


ISO 100 (L1.0)

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (H1.0)

No news is good news for the first two crops. You can see some minute amounts of noise at ISO 400 and 800, but it's barely noticeable. Noise starts to pick up at ISO 1600, reducing your print size to small or medium, though you may be able to go larger if you shoot in RAW and use noise reduction software. At ISO 3200, the image has a kind of blotchy appearance from noise and presumably noise reduction. You may be able to squeeze out a small print at this sensitivity with a little help from NR software. There's too much detail lost at ISO 6400 (H1.0) for the photo to be of much use.

NIght shots are hard to compare (since conditions are never consistent), but I'm thinking that the D300 did better than the Canon EOS-40D in this test. Both the D300 and the 40D performed better than the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700, which isn't so hot in low light at high sensitivities.

Redeye? On a digital SLR? You're kidding right? There's none here, but if you should encounter some redeye, there's a tool in playback mode that'll get rid of it.

Here's the second of the two ISO tests in the review. This one is taken in our studio, and the results can be compared to those from other cameras that I've reviewed recently (so now's a good time to open up the 40D and A700 reviews). While the crops below give you a good overview of the noise levels at each ISO setting, I encourage you to look at "the whole picture" to really see the differences.


ISO 100 (L1.0)

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400 (H1.0)

This is why I love digital SLRs -- the D300 produces buttery-smooth, noise-free images through ISO 800. At ISO 1600 do we start to see some noise, but it's barely there. At ISO 3200 the noise becomes noticeable, but it's still quite low overall. That trend continues at ISO 6400, but the results are definitely still usable, especially if you're shooting RAW. Just send those photos through noise reduction software and you'll get yourself some nice 4 x 6 inch prints (click to see the ISO 6400 shot after noise reduction). Once again, I think the D300 beats both the 40D and the A700 in terms of high ISO performance -- and I think you'll agree if you compare the test photos.

Once you tweak a few settings, the D300 is capable of producing excellent quality photos. Straight out of the box, the D300's photos are quite soft, which has been my experience with other Nikon D-SLRs. Some people like it that way, preferring to do the sharpening themselves while post-processing. I'm not one of those people, but I will say that the sample photos I took look great after a little unsharp mask action. The easy fix, though, is to just modify the Picture Control settings, increasing the sharpness to your liking. Another issue I found is that the camera seemed to overexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop fairly often, so I quickly became familiar with the D300's bracketing feature. Otherwise, the news is all good. The D300's colors are accurate, and quite saturated as well. As I just illustrated, noise was not a problem until the very highest ISOs. I did not find purple fringing to be a problem, though keep in mind that the lens you're using has a lot to do with this.

One of the selling points of the D300 is to record 14-bit RAW files, which allows the camera to capture more color data. I took a photo of the test scene at both 12 and 14-bits, stared at them for awhile, and couldn't see a difference. If you want to see for yourself, then feel free to download the 12-bit and 14-bit RAW files.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery, printing the photos if you'd like. Then and only then can you decide whether the D300's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

Digital SLR cameras do not have movie modes.

Playback Mode

The D300 has a pretty elaborate playback mode, by D-SLR standards. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and "zoom and scroll". This last feature lets you enlarge an image by as much as 27 times, and then move around in the enlarged area. You can use the rear command dial to move from one image to another while keeping the same zoom and position the same.

Brightening up an image with D-Lighting Adjusting color balance

I mentioned the Image Retouch menu options in the previous section, but just in case you missed them, here they are again. You've got (post-shot) D-Lighting, redeye removal, trimming, virtual filters, color balance adjustment (see screenshot), and the ability to combine two images into one. Do note that all retouched images end up as JPEGs, regardless of their original file format.

Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. If you go to the playback menu, you can select a group of photos to delete -- a feature I always appreciate.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but if you press up or down on the four-way controller you can get a lot more, as you can see above.

The D300 moves from photo to photo almost instantly. A slightly lower resolution image is shown right away, with the high res version arriving a fraction of a second later.

How Does it Compare?

When Nikon announced the D300, the digital photography world stood up and took notice. When people call the D300 a "baby D3", they're not kidding. The D300 has nearly the exact same feature set, but with an APS-C / DX-format sensor instead of a full-frame one. That means you get the super-fast performance of the EXPEED image processor, live view on a brilliant 3-inch LCD display, a 51-point autofocus system, dust reduction, full manual controls, and the expandability that you'd expect on a Nikon SLR. You also get excellent image quality, especially if you tweak a few basic settings. It's not often that I review a camera actually lives up to the manufacturer's hype -- and the D300 does exactly that.

The Nikon D300 is a midsize digital SLR that's built like a tank -- mostly. The camera has rugged, magnesium alloy body whose controls, doors, and I/O ports are sealed against dust and moisture. The camera's cheap plastic memory card slot door feels really out of place, though. The D300 has a good-sized grip that puts the camera securely in your hands. The camera has more than its share of buttons, dials, and switches, so it takes a while to figure the whole thing out. The D300 has an ultrasonic dust reduction system (similar to what Olympus has been doing for years) to knock dust off of its 12 Megapixel CMOS sensor. The camera uses the standard Nikon F-mount, with support for scores of lenses with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio. The D300 supports numerous accessories, most notably a battery grip (which doubles battery life and boosts continuous shooting speeds) and a wireless file transmitter. Another notable feature on the D300 is an HDMI port, which you can use to connect to a high definition television.

On the back of the camera you'll find easily the best LCD on the market (it's also found on the D3 and the Sony A700). The screen has 307,000 pixels (920,000 dots), and it's light years ahead of the competition in terms of sharpness. The D300 (along with the D3) is the first Nikon D-SLR with live view, and they've done a pretty good job implementing it. There are two modes to choose from -- tripod and handheld -- with the difference being their approach to focusing. In both modes you can enlarge an area of the frame, which comes in handy when focusing manually. The live view doesn't preview exposure, and there's no live histogram or self-timer support. You'll probably do most of your shooting with the D300's nice optical viewfinder, which has a 0.94X magnification and shows 100% of the frame.

The D300 isn't one of those SLRs that caters to people moving up from point-and-shoot cameras -- it's an enthusiasts camera at heart. There are only four shooting modes: program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual (sorry, scene mode fans). And that's just the beginning. There are numerous white balance controls (including fine-tuning), lots of bracketing options, Active D-Lighting (to brighten shadow areas), and Picture Controls that let you store sets of shooting parameters. There are 51 focus points available, and you can select them individually, or let the camera do all the work. Naturally, the camera supports RAW (and TIFF too), six times over: uncompressed, lossy compressed, and lossless compressed, each at 12 or 14-bits. Like to customize things? Many of the camera's buttons can be redefined, and you can store four sets of shooting and custom settings. Speaking of custom settings, there are tons of them -- almost everything on the D300 is adjustable. If you do get confused about any of the camera settings, you can press a help button to get a description right on the camera, or you can consult the lengthy (and very good quality) camera manual.

Camera performance was first-rate. The D300 is ready to start up as soon as you hit the power switch (if dust reduction at startup is turned on, it slows things down by around half a second). The camera focuses extremely quickly, usually between 0.1 and 0.3 seconds, even in more difficult focusing situations. The only time focusing is slow is when you're using contrast detect AF in the tripod live view mode -- it can take well over a second. Shutter lag was minimal, except for a slight delay in live view mode while the mirror does some gymnastics. Shot-to-shot delays were as fast as you'd expect on a D-SLR, allowing you to shoot as fast as you can line up the next shot. The D300's continuous shooting mode is very good, though you'll need the optional battery grip (and proper battery) in order to hit the 8 frame/second number that Nikon advertises. Without it, the camera will take 13 RAW+JPEG, 15 RAW, or 37 Large/Fine JPEGs in a row at just under 6 frames/second. The one exception to this rule is if you're shooting 14-bit NEF (RAW) images, where the frame rate drops to 2.5 fps. While the D300 isn't the fastest camera in its class at continuous shooting (the 40D wins by a nose), it easily takes the award for best battery life.

The D300 is capable of taking excellent quality photos, though I recommend adjusting a few settings for best results. Here's what doesn't need any tweaking: the D300 takes photos with vivid colors, excellent resolution, and minimal purple fringing. Redeye wasn't a problem either, but if you do encounter it, you can get rid of it in playback mode. The D300 has surprisingly low noise levels, beating out both the EOS-40D and the DSLR-A700 at the highest sensitivities. As is often the case, you'll get better results at high ISOs if you shoot in RAW mode (instead of JPEG) and run the resulting images through noise reduction software. The areas that I think need some adjusting relate to sharpness and exposure. Like Nikon's other mid and high-end D-SLRs, the D300's images are quite soft at default settings. The easy fix is to bump up the in-camera sharpening in the Picture Control menu. Photos also look good after a trip through the Unsharp Mask filter in Photoshop. The other thing I noticed is that the D300 tends to overexpose photos by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop, though that's easy to resolve with exposure compensation or bracketing.

All things considered, Nikon has done a really impressive job with the D300. They made a lot of promises, and the D300 has delivered on them. It keeps up perfectly with its closest competition, the EOS-40D, and surpasses it in several areas. Whether you're upgrading from an older Nikon SLR, or want something "nice" for your first foray into digital SLRs, then the Nikon D300 is a camera that I can highly recommend.

What I liked:

  • Excellent photo quality (after some setting tweaks)
  • Better high ISO performance than the 40D, A700
  • Built like a brick (though see issue below)
  • Live view on a stunning, ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display
  • Dust reduction system
  • Dedicated AF-assist lamp (instead of flash-based like other D-SLRs)
  • Very quick 51-point autofocus system
  • Excellent continuous shooting mode, especially with battery grip (see below)
  • Six different NEF (RAW) types to choose from
  • Extensive white balance controls
  • User can create Picture Controls with custom sharpness, color, tone curve settings
  • D-Lighting can be used while taking pictures (instead of only in playback mode)
  • Customizable menus and buttons; almost every camera function can be tweaked
  • Support for remote camera control, wired or wireless, with live view option
  • Lots of image enhancement features in playback mode (for a D-SLR)
  • In-camera help system, great manual
  • Best-in-class battery life
  • Optional battery grip and wireless transmitter
  • Supports UDMA CompactFlash cards
  • HDMI video output
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are soft at default settings; camera tends to overexpose
  • Battery grip (and proper battery configuration) required for 8 fps continuous shooting
  • No exposure preview, live histogram, or self-timer in live view mode
  • Sluggish contrast detect AF in tripod live view mode
  • Continuous shooting burst rate drops to 2.5 fps when shooting 14-bit NEFs
  • Flimsy door over memory card slot
  • Remote capture software not included (Canon and Sony bundle theirs)
  • Most expensive midrange D-SLR

Some other midrange D-SLRs worth a look include the Canon EOS-40D, Fuji FinePix S5 Pro, Olympus E-3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, Pentax K10D, and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Nikon D300 and its competitors before you buy anything!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our extra large gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

Want another opinion?

While there are no other reviews of the D300 yet, the previews at Digital Photography Review and Imaging Resource should be completed shortly.