The last few months have brought updates to all of the major midrange digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs). Nikon’s offering in this category is the D300, an updated version of the successful D200 ( ). While the D200 was a good camera, its images shot at high ISOs suffered from noise. In the D300, Nikon has fixed that problem, installed a 12.3-megapixel sensor with built-in dust cleaning, implemented 14-bit analog-to-digital converters, widened the ISO range, and added a slew of new features.
The most obvious change between the D200 and D300 is the larger LCD on the back of the newer camera. While 3-inch LCDs are not unusual on the current crop of midrange DSLRs, you won’t find another camera with a LCD as good as the D300’s. With its very high resolution (920,000 dots) and technology that obscures the on-screen pixel grid, the D300’s LCD is silky smooth and reveals fine details that are lost on other DSLRs. No LCD is color accurate (and the D300’s is no exception to this rule), but checking focus on the D300’s LCD is a simple act.
To fit the LCD onto the back of the D300, Nikon had to move some buttons from their familiar locations. If you’re upgrading from a D200, you’ll find some controls in new places. Fortunately, there’s logic to the D300’s design—it actually makes more sense than the previous control layout.
Like other Nikon DSLRs, the D300 is a sturdy, comfortable camera built to refined tolerances. Though not fully weatherproof like the Olympus E-3 ( ), the D300 has sealed ports and covers, making it durable in harsh climes. As with previous Nikon DSLRs, shooting with the D300 is enjoyable. The camera fits well in the hand and has a secure grip. Almost all of the essential controls are easily accessed while looking through the viewfinder.
Note that I said “almost.” You can change shooting mode, exposure compensation, program shift, and exposure lock using your shutter finger or thumb. But changing ISO isn’t as quick; you must press a button on the left side of the top of the camera. While the viewfinder shows all of the status information you want, the camera’s design forces you to take your eye away from the viewfinder to effect an ISO change. Nikon still thinks of ISO the way film photographers do—you set it once for an entire roll of film. Digital shooters use ISO alongside shutter speed and aperture as a third exposure parameter.
Nikon includes every feature you want for everyday shooting (including two- to five-step autobracketing, and two drive speeds), as well as features that you won’t find on other DSLRs. JPEG shooters will appreciate the in-camera image processing that allows for customizing a huge range of image parameters. The D300’s built-in intervalometer provides everything needed for creating time-lapse sequences. The feature list goes on and on, and almost all of the features are things you’ll actually use.
Nikon’s menuing system is cumbersome and not easy to navigate. To help with the interface, the D300 provides a customizable menu page where you can group frequently-used options. The front of the camera has two handy programmable buttons, but Canon’s EOS 40D ( ) is more flexible with its three custom user modes.
Nikon did a good job with the live view option in the D300, which lets you use the LCD as a viewfinder. The D300’s Live View offers both normal autofocus (which temporarily disables the LCD) and contrast-detecting autofocus, (which doesn’t disable the LCD, but is so slow that it’s only practical with tripod shots). The contrast-detecting autofocus lets you choose any point on the screen as your focus point—a nice touch.
With its 14-bit sensor and new image processing engine, the D300 produces excellent images all the way up to 3,200 ISO. Nikon’s been behind in high ISO shooting, but with the D300, they’re at the top of the pack, right alongside Canon’s 40D.
The D300 is speedy, with a burst rate of around 6 frames per second and a big buffer for continuous shooting.
Owners of HDTVs can take advantage of the D300’s HDMI port, so you can connect the camera to a HDTV and preview the camera’s images. The D300 has support for 1080i HDTV.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Nikon D300’s excellent image quality, high ISO performance, robust feature set, and sturdy build make it a DSLR to seriously consider. There’s no doubt about it—the D300 is a great DSLR.
[Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography fourth edition (Charles River Media, 2007).]