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D300 low-ISO noise and sharpness disappointment

Discussion in 'Nikon DX DSLR Forum' started by grepmat, Jul 18, 2008.

  1. grepmat


    May 5, 2008

    After reading all the posts about a "~1 stop" improvement in noise (and equivalent sharpness) over the prior-generation cameras, I have to say I'm disappointed.

    Directly comparing a D40x against a D300, using the same lens, same lighting, etc., shooting RAW in both 12 and 14 bit modes, I'm just not seeing it.

    Comparisons were made using a Nikon 105 f/2.8 VR (macro) at a distance of about 25 feet in bright light at f/5.6, VR on, leading to a minimum shutter speed of 1/500. I was careful to match exposures between the two cameras, and obtained results that were within a fraction of a stop between each other.

    First, using 12 vs. 14 bit modes makes no visible difference whatsoever, even when enhancing shadows.

    To equal the noise performance of the D40x at ISO 100-200, I have to use exactly the same ISO in the D300. At the very best, there may be a 1/3 stop improvement, but that's mostly just wishful thinking.

    What is worse, the sharpness of the D300 is lower than that of the D40x. This includes both with and without resampling to make the file sizes the same. The difference is serious and cannot be recovered by post-processing.

    The only good news is that by ISO 400, the noise performance of the D300 does improve over the D40x.

    Needless to say, I'm disturbed and disappointed. I'm not a high-iso maniac. I shoot mostly in base ISO and seek the highest performance for landscapes, etc. The "base" ISO of the D300, at least as far as noise is concerned, is clearly 100, not 200, as there's a significant difference in noise between the two.

    The camera does handle well, and exposes nicely. I can live with Lo-1 if there were not rumblings of side-effects of using it (not clear to me yet). But having sharpness distinctly lower than a D40x - I'm crushed!
  2. Are you shooting raw? Also, what sharpening settings are you using in PP? And which RAW Converter?

    Also, most cameras perform well at low ISO's good performance with noise can be measured at high ISO, to see performance, compare the cameras at ISO 3200.
  3. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    Yes, I am shooting raw. I am using Photoshop CS3's raw converter. I do not believe that CS3's converter incorporates in-camera sharpness or noise settings when importing, so I believe it treated all files equally.

    I am not saying that the low ISO performance is bad. I'm saying that it's not improved over the previous CCD-based Nikon's as I had hoped. Noise at low ISO is most important to me, especially when trying to bring detail out of shadows.

    What is extremely disappointing, though, is how the sharpness is lower. I've tried two lenses, by the way (the second was the Nikon 17-35 f/2.8 at f/8). I cannot understand this. It's as if they are throwing away the extra pixels and then some.
  4. are you sharpening with the sharpening raw control or via USM?

    Have you tried putting the D300 files through Capture NX?

    Low ISO performance is very very good on even the most basic D-SLRs, if you're needing a lot of detail in shadows and bigger range, then MF Film is probably a better choice of format.
  5. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    Whether I add sharpening or not, or how I add it, does not affect the fact that I'm finding that the D300 is less sharp than the D40x (e.g., less sharp without added sharpening, and less sharp with USM or "Smart Sharpening"). I used to shoot MF film, by the way.

    I wish I could compare it to my old D200, but I've sold that. Perhaps it is the case that the D40x has a significantly weaker anti-aliasing filter, but it remains disappointing that the D300 appears to have wasted the extra pixels and file size relative to the detail available from the D40x.
  6. Triggaaar


    Jun 15, 2008
    From the comparisons at DPReview: "For a (more) level playing field for comparison we also shot our studio scene in RAW mode with each camera and converted it using Adobe Camera RAW. Because Adobe Camera RAW applies different levels of sharpening to different cameras (this confirmed) we had to use the following workflow for these conversions:
    Load RAW file into Adobe Camera RAW (Auto mode disabled)
    Set Sharpness to 0 (all other settings default)
    Open file to Photoshop
    Apply a Unsharp mask: 80%, Radius 1.0, Threshold 0
    Save as a TIFF (for cropping) and as a JPEG quality 11 for download"

    Comparing the samples from the D40x and D300 in the DP reviews, there's not a great deal in it for sharpness at base ISO, but the D300 images do look better to me. Have you got some images/crops to post? You could also try Capture NX2 to remove camera sharpening etc.
  7. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    I think the noise advantage really starts at ISO 800 and above, at ISO 1600 there really is about 1 stop.

    Noise at ISO 100-200 in D40x vs D300 I think they probably are the same, or maybe not? Curious,
  8. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    Hi Triggaar. I have sharpness turned off in ACR ("preview only"), but I turned even that off too, just in case. I'll try NX as well.

    I don't seem to be allowed to post attachments.

    Yes, Wade, I see a bit of noise advantage by ISO 400 (say 1/3 stop) and by 800 it's pretty clear (something like 2/3 of a stop, I'd say). I haven't tried 1600 yet since I'd have needed to stop down further.

    For low-ISO work, the images genuinely do not seem better than the D40x when considering noise and sharpness. Clearly there are many other superior features in the D300, but if I can take home the same photos (or better?) with a lowly D40x, I'm just not sure about this purchase.

    I have not evaluated over-all picture quality yet. I need to play with this a bit more.
  9. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    I also tend to like the blue skies with my older D200 and D2Xs than I do the D300 because of noise in the skies at ISO 200 vs 100 in the D200.

    I always compare the lowest native ISO that is given from Nikon.


    If you really don't need high ISO, seriously consider a unsed D2Xs or D2X, they are really priced well right now, and you will appreciate the build quality and AF abilities.

    I prefer my D2Xs and D3 to the D300 for scapes,
  10. grepmat


    May 5, 2008

    Do you know of any issues with Lo-1 on the D300?

    How would you compare low-ISO on the D200/D300 vs. D3?

    With all the fanatical hype about high-iso performance, some of us mostly still care about low-iso. I'm feeling worried that selling my D200 was a mistake.
  11. Triggaaar


    Jun 15, 2008
    I've never used CS3's RAW converter, I just noticed DPReview saying that RAW files are treated differently for different cameras. Having a go with the trial version of CNX2 would be easy enough, and allow a good comparison.

    You have to upload them to another site, like flickr, photobucket etc, then provide a link from here to there.

    If your camera is always on a tripod for landscapes, the D300 isn't the most suitable choice. Not that it's going to do a bad job, but you are not making use of it's high iso, AF abilities, or handling (lots of hard buttons and programable functionality etc for quick changes).
  12. Commodorefirst

    Commodorefirst Admin/Moderator Administrator

    May 1, 2005
    I have not heard much except rumors (only rumors) of a reduction in dynamic range compared to the native ISO.

    there is a smoothness in the files of the D3 vs the D300 and even D200.

    I think there is long thread here about it where I posted some thoughts on D3 vs D300

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 15, 2017
  13. cleoent


    Dec 21, 2007
    San Jose, Ca
    That's why everyone says it's all about the glass.

    Get a newer body for the features (8fps, 51 point auto focus, iso 6400, built in af-motor, etc), build quality, get glass for the IQ.

    That's my thinking anyways.
  14. Debbie H

    Debbie H

    Aug 23, 2007
    You know when I first bought my D300 I found that I had to AF-Tune some of my lenses. I went out a shoot and I was taking several pictures and kept looking at the LCD screen and I was thinking what the heck is going on:eek:  well that lens was back focusing. As for as the noise I'm getting pretty good results compared to the D200. I still have my D200 because I really like it. But for shots that I know I will have to use a higher ISO I always grab my D300. Just a thought. Debbie
  15. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    I have some excellent glass (17-35, 105VR, 70-200VR). At f/8 and at 35+ feet distance, the depth of field should be quite good on the 17-35. Anyway, after more trials I remain convinced that the D40x has a slight edge on sharpness. It's minor, but it hurts to see that.

    I don't use a tripod as much as I should, since I'm generally traveling with people who don't appreciate it when I stop and use one. So I do appreciate a faster-handling camera.

    I was hoping to get a few things from the D300 in terms of image quality: One, I was hoping that ISO 200 would be as good as ISO 100 on the D200. This is clearly wrong, at least when pixel-peeping.

    Second, I was hoping that ISO 400 might be usable more often (likely true) when the light is getting worse (I used to hate using ISO 400).

    I was also hoping for a bit more dynamic range.

    Finally, I was hoping that I wouldn't have to use exposure compensation quite as often. I remain hopeful on this. The bigger and better LCD, battery performance, etc., are all icing.

    At the moment, I'm sorry I sold my D200. I'm also wondering if I should spring for the D700 (which would almost require a new mid-range lens, too). Or, I'm wondering how I can stop worrying about this move; I should print some real-world pictures and see how it fares that way.

    Thanks for the comments.
  16. jfenton


    Jan 26, 2005
    Haverhill, MA
    I'm Confused

    A) The D300 is 12 MP vs whatever the D40 / 40X was. That in of itself is a great improvement if the noise is even held to be the same.

    B) If you're thinking the D40 is sharper, it's simply because you have not learned to correctly sharpen the D300 images. I find them to be so detailed and sharp that I need to tone them down in post vs other Nikon bodies I've owned. The anti aliasing filter is stinger on the D300...you just need to know how to handle the files. There is no way the D40 or 40X prouced more detialed images either. Shoot a landscape with each and look at the fine detail.

    C) My wife had a D40X and IMHO, you've absolutely picked up DR in the D300.

    D) For either camera, you're not getting optimal RAW conversion IMHO using Camera Raw.

    E) There is no way the D200 compared in IQ unless you're talking lower ISO.

    My guess is that you'll be much happier once you properly learn to process the D300 files.
  17. ReinhardG

    ReinhardG Guest

    I had the D200 before and the Adobe Lightroom RAW converter worked well for me. With the D300 I missed sharpness in my photos. Only after a few months I realized that it is not the camera, but the RAW converter. It seems just not to work well for the D300. By reading this forum I used Capture NX and was amazed about the difference, especially in sharpness.
    Over the last few weeks I reprocessed all my important photos through Capture NX.

    Attached a crop of a tortoise to see the comparison. You should be able to see which was the Adobe Lightroom RAW Converter and which one Capture NX:



    As recommended give Capture NX or NX2 a try and see if it makes a difference. By the way not matter what I did in Lightroom came even close to the Capture NX result.
  18. grepmat


    May 5, 2008

    With regard to the size of the files (12 vs. 10 Mp), yes, that would reduce the noise in equal sized prints by say ~10%. Not huge, but a help.

    With regard to sharpening, the sharpness is greater in the D40 files even without any sharpening at all. It's a minor difference, but one that is contrary to my expectations.

    I haven't looked into dynamic range yet, and in fact I'm trying to figure out a good way to do so short of uploading files into Matlab.

    I haven't been able to compare to a D200, but I'm using the D40x as a proxy (same chip in principle).


    I'm an experienced user of photoshop, etc. I've never used NX, but I just tried it now. Yes, it definitely does a superior job of processing the raw files over ACR! It's obvious in side-by-side comparisons (but not like your example, surely one is heavily sharpened in NX and the other is not sharpened at all in ACR?).

    But, when I process the D40x files in NX along side the D300 images, the D40x still shows a slight edge in sharpness (again, whether sharpened or not, and whether scaled to the same size or not). But NX definitely does a better job than ACR.
  19. pforsell


    Jan 15, 2008
    The D300 noise reduction engine kicks in at ISO 800. The camera has less noise at ISO 800 than at ISO 400, in absolute terms. At lower ISO it was a little bit disappointing when I tested a loaner on two separate weekends. The fake "grain like" looks of the noise at higher ISO propably comes from the fact that the aggressive reduction of chrominance noise creates luminance noise as a result and the luminance noise looks a little bit like film grain.

    The RGGB Bayer sensor does not capture/generate luminance noise, only chrominance noise. The demosaicing algorithms and chrominance noise reduction algorithms are the source of luminance noise.

    The D300 cannot touch the image quality of D200 when the latter is shot at ISO 100, IMHO. I am sure we will see a truckload of oscilloscope prints to prove the opposite, but there are qualities in images that the present measurements just don't yet reveal. Image is more than just resolution, noise and dynamic range. Certain tonality, presence, three-dimensionality and realism are things that I have not yet seen quantizised by any measurement index.

    As a whole noise has never bothered me. It is there and it is unavoidable with current technology. It has never been a problem for me because it is not visible on prints of any size at normal viewing distances at any ISO. I have made 16x24" prints with D100 at ISO 3200 and they are great. (Yes, D-one-hundred).
  20. fscherz


    Jul 28, 2007
    I was using in the past Lightroom and was not happy with D300 compared to my previous D80.

    After that I first switched to NX (which came with D300) but after all I changed to DxO which since V5.1 is a great tool and achieves results like NX. Now with V5.2 it's even better because it has very good noise reduction and I do not need to adjust individual settings apart from white balance usually.

    DxO integrates also into Lightroom & Photoshop and I prefer it over ACR all time!
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