My D300 review....

Joined
Jan 30, 2008
Messages
176
Location
Bristol - UK.
Ok - So as it has been a good three weeks with two x Nikon D300’s in my possession, I have decided to become lyrical and write a review for the site, based on what I think about the camera.

Build.

As all reviews start with build, I may as well. In a word, lovely. There is something ergonomically sound about the construction of the D300 - it feels delightful in the hand. big but small, not overbearing when required, but large enough to feel like a serious tool for the job. The button positioning is classic Nikon and straightforward to use, though I have applied a custom option which means I do not have to hold a button down to activate a change. Nice. The top LCD is bright and clear whilst the back screen is stunning. I have never been able to review my snaps with such clarity. However, without sounding silly, I think that the images can look ‘over sharp’ on back screen, until you zoom in. Its a wisp like effect on fine detail such as strands of hair - it is a small thing and I suppose thats down to the sheer number of pixels within the 3” LCD.

Aside from that the back is functional, easy to use, but for me, as I am a left eye shooter, I do need to lock the focal point more often than not as my right cheek or nose can move the focal points.

The three control dial system is intuitive and easy to use. For instance the front dial can change your shutter speed, the rear dial can change you aperture and the settings dial will effect change in how you shoot i.e faster frame rate, live view and mirror up. My favourite Nikon thing ever ‘the double delete’ is here as well, something I have raved about since the days of the D1 and D2 models. Shooting at speed is something I do a lot of and this is such a wonderful way of binning images. Any Canon users who have never seen this, you simply press delete and the press it again to bin the image, rather than scroll to yes and the confirm. Brilliant.

One caveat I have found, which is much discussed is the odd placement for the drive mode switch. Situated in the front left as you shoot, I have found that my lens holding hand can and will change the setting from continuous servo to one shot and manual focus. It simply requires careful handling, but it is a nuisance and I think this could be embedded elsewhere on the machine. I have seen examples where Nikon users carefully cut away the nobble on the switch, thus negating the issue.

Finally If I could I would put the mode button where the ISO button is and put the ISO on the top right of the machine, so you could action an ISO change with your right finger and thumb rather than having to use your left hand at all.

Features.

There can be no doubt that the focusing system on the D300 is quite stunning. In test images, I have found that the camera will locate what I am looking for almost every-time and of course for critical portrait work I tend to pre select my focal point. Last week, I took a street image of a person sat down. No kidding when I say that the review screen showed the CPU selected focal points in the shape of and L, mirroring the shape of the subject. The 3D tracking system is something new and at the moment, a little hit and miss in my opinion. I can understand the ethos of Nikon putting in a focal system where the camera tracks movement within the focal plane, but for instance, in a rugby match where there are multiple bodies building up steam, the camera can try to hard and end up loosing shots. However, I do think this feature could be a massive bonus for motor sports photographers where the subject is that much larger. I suspect that cycle and motor cycle photographers who pan may find this feature useful - likewise with Athletics.

I am delighted to say that the remote flash is a great great feature. You simply tell the camera that you are shooting remote flash, configure your speedlites and snap away. You can control the output from the camera body to, so once your flash guns are in situ, you can alter the levels to suit. Oddly, the on board flash triggers the external lights so that has to be up and the custom menu set to --. Nikon assure me that this is simply a trigger light and it does not affect the exposure. Having taken some test shots, I concur, but I can get my head around that one. After all, it’s available light.

The AUTO ISO feature is very handy. Ideal for all light conditions based on how and where you are working with the camera. For example, if this years Bristol balloon fiesta is as nice as last years, I will probably limit it to ISO 50 - ISO 400 to ensure I get clean, vivid images and the prerequisite shutter speed. If the sun were to go in, then I would up that to 400 - 800. Clever.

6 frames per second is more than fast enough to me. Again, from experience, I felt that ten frames were too much and I often slowed the machine down to six.

Performance.

Well, in all honesty this is a tricky one. The key words here are for the money. I think that for the money, performance is exceptional. I have never had a camera that finds and handles the mid tones so well when exposing an image. When I shoot and review, I find that the histogram is so consistent it amazes me. As with all digital cameras, extreme changes in light would need an ND filter of some sort, especially for landscaping. That said, candid landscapes are coming out of the machine well balanced and I look forward to expanding my style and getting out there to shoot landscape as and when. I have found that the camera will not tolerate mis-exposure that well, so a combination of bad aperture and shutter speeds will create more noise due to mis-exposure. Manual shooter will need to be mindful of that one.

The colours that the images retain are lifelike and well balanced. I quite like pushing it to Vivid colours for some lovely saturated images.

NEF (Nikon Electronic Format - RAW) images are stunning and require little PP if you want to keep them vanilla. They stand up to serious movement is a raw suite such as lightroom very well.

To my eyes, JPEGS are arguably as good and slightly sharper, perhaps due to the cameras in house processing. In essence I have no issues filling a card with jpegs at the rugby or football as I know that they will be on the money.

The BIG thing I have noted from the D300 which is a massive improvement on the Canon Mark III is white balance. Absolutely accurate and right all the time. I found that the Canon was getting every other shot wrong which was a nightmare for me when I was covering boxing. I could not shoot raw as I needed the speed of a jpeg buffer but the white balance was so out, it was hard to believe. At the moment, the Nikon is nailing time after time and I like the fact the camera switches to auto flash wb if you are shooting with flash. You can override this if required.

OK - now the one thing everyone concerns themselves with it ISO noise. Being totally honest and truly subjective, I dont think that the ISO noise is as good as I was hoping but it is still remarkable. I need to put that point in perspective.

ISO noise is one of those things that really irritates me from time to time. I feel that too many people pay credence to ISO performance without having to provide ‘real world’ images to deadline or for publishing, perhaps bogging themselves down worrying about it.

I have subbed ISO 3200 images to newspapers before now and seen them in print, with or without noise ware applied - I went back to look at some of my tear sheets this week. Heck, even the backs of the nationals were printing 1600+ ISO shots as they had to. In fairness the Mark III and the D3 have moved the goalposts and I think that we need to remember that. I suppose what I am saying is that i would have absolutely no qualms about subbing 3200 ISO work into a picture desk so in that sense the D300 low light performance is excellent. I do think that the low light gain/noise is a step up from the Canon Digic II processor and it lacks that green speckle that occasionally plagued the Mark II and Mark II N. As someone who loves cameras, it would be trite of me to say that it beats the Mark III. It does not, but then simple science tells us that a larger sensor with less pixels will reveal less noise. Of course the components in the D300 are ‘prosumer’ compared to its high end peers such like the Mark III and the D3.

For me the best way to look at high ISO noise is the analogy of a guitar amp. Noise is noise and of you crank a cheap amp up to 10, you get hiss, distortion and a lesser effect. Now, fire up the top spec Marshall Cab with a separate head and listen to that lovely clean sound. Likewise with cameras. Cost is in play here, its all about the components passing signals within the machine, as such to me, for the money, the D300 is superb.

One final note must go to the quality of the lenses I have got at the moment. The 70-200 F2.8 VR is simply amazing. The 50mm 1.4 is stunning despite its awkward build and the circular aperture creates lovely low light round bokeh when required. The 18-200 VR is a lens I decided go for simply as an ‘everyday lens’. Sure, there is a little distortion at both ends, but its a great workaround lens and one I will take on holiday with me.

Overall.

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind when I say that the D300 is a well rounded, perhaps ground breaking camera. In all honesty, it is the first camera I have used and enjoyed everyday since I owned my Canon 30D. When I look back at my archive, I often note the exif and chuckle when I see Canon 30D and 50mm 1.8.

As someone who loves imagery, I honestly believe that the D300 is going to open up more avenues for me as a photographer. Its size is practical for street, landscape, sport, portrait but above all else it is not an intimidating machine for both the user and the subject. It also gives me access to the best flash system on the market.

I have really been taken by the camera - I simply enjoy using it and as such I recommend it. Evidence I suppose that sometimes, less can indeed be more.

For now, I reside strictly in the Nikon camp and I am striving towards a D3 already, which must be truly exceptional.

Pete.

( A selection of images below, various lens, aperture and ISO - note that the last two US Football images were taken at 3200 in terrible light).

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Joined
Feb 23, 2008
Messages
482
Location
San Diego CA
Hi Pete,
Thank you for your post. I have also just bought the D300/18-200VR combo and want your insight on the best settings for sharpest pictures. To let you know, I am new to serious photopgraphy and just begining my long journey. My pictures, I think, come out a bit soft. I mainly shoot portraits and candid shots of family and friends. What do you think is the best focal distance with aperture to get the sharpest pictures with 18-200 VR? Thank you.
 

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