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
- 51-point autofocus with 3D subject tracking
- Huge 3-inch LCD display with 307,000 pixels (920,000 dots) with live view
- 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
- Rugged magnesium alloy body is sealed against dust and
- 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!
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
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
||Battery life, 50% flash use, live view
|Fuji FinePix S5 Pro
|Nikon D80 *
|Nikon D200 *
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10
|Pentax K10D **
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A700
* 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.
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.
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:
||The D300 supports
nearly all Nikkor F-mount lenses
|Get more flash
power and less chance of redeye with
|Wireless speedlight commander
of wireless flashes
||Lets you look into
the viewfinder from above
|Remote shutter release
button on a cord, basically. The expensive
one has a backlit control panel.
|Wireless remote control
||Infrared remote control
|GPS adapter cord
a GPS unit to the camera
||Doubles the battery
life, improves continuous shooting
performance, and gives you extra buttons
for shooting portraits
||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.
||Power your camera
without draining the battery
||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
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.
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
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:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
||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 |
||5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in.
||74 cu in.
||830 g |
||5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in.
||75.7 cu in.
||825 g |
||5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
||64 cu in.
||585 g |
||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 |
||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 |