NEW: Nikon D7000, D300, D3 (D700) and Canon 5D Mark II High ISO Comparison 08 November 2010
Nikon D700 User's Guide app for iPhone and iPod. 21 December 2009
PDF Version of my Nikon D300 Users Guide 19 February 2009
Nikon D300 Plain-English User's Guide 27 August 2008
Nikon D90, D3, D300 and D200 ISO 3,200 Comparison 18 September 2008
Nikon D90, D3, D300 and D200 Sharpness Comparison 18 September 2008
Nikon D3, D700 and D300 Sharpness Shootout 14 August 2008
Nikon D3, D700 and D300 ISO 3,200 Shootout 13 August 2008
Nikon D300 Firmware Updates. Some people (not me) had battery problems. If you do, the new firmware fixes this.
April 2008 More Nikon Reviews
The Nikon D300 is the world's best amateur camera. Forget the old D2Xs, which sells used for about the same price today. The D2Xs is 2004 technology that predates the D200!
The Nikon D300 is far more revolutionary than its specifications suggest. It completely obsoletes everything that came before it, and especially sends the D200 and D2Xs to the dumpsters of digital history.
I've never said this before of any other camera, but the D300 actually makes it easier to create significantly better images than with earlier cameras.
The D300 has better color, better highlights, better shadows, it's sharper because it fixes lens flaws, and its superior AF system and viewfinder free us to compose more freely than any previous camera. The D300 shares these innovations with its nearly identical $5,000 big brother, the D3. Compare their menus or read their users manuals and you'll see that they are the same on the inside! Owning both, I can confirm that they both operate in the same way and give the same look to their images. At ISO 200 with an exceptional lens, there isn't any visible difference I can see.
The D300's numerous internal tweaks and far more processing power have made huge strides forward in real image quality. These improvements are so significant than even a blind artist can see them. These may not be as immediately obvious to people less than fluent in creating images on a daily basis, since these innovations deal with subtle but crucial issues of color and value. Color and value are the critical foundations of every image, as every artist knows.
Nikon D300 enlarge
The important innovations of the D300 are:
The D300 creates far wilder colors than any previous Nikon. I get these results by tweaking the Picture Control Menus. Left at default, it's the same, but I never shoot at default.
Here's a comparison between my D200 and D300, each cranked to maximum saturation. Roll your mouse over to see the difference.
Roll mouse over to compare maximum saturation settings.
White Balance settings are significantly expanded. The gray-card (PRESet) settings can accommodate a crazy-wide range of light sources. For the first time I can get neutral colors under HPS (light orange) streetlights and in dim indoor home and restaurant lighting! The PREset manual settings accommodate a color range far greater than the 2,500 - 10,000K Kelvin settings.
For the first time in a Nikon we can trim the White Balance for green/magenta as well as for amber/blue. (Canon has done this for years.)
Crazier still, for the first time we can trim the color of the manual gray-card settings.
This means I can get and trim great colors in any light, even total garbage.
This means everything to experienced photographers. Color is half the image! These color improvements alone are reason enough to get a D300.
For the first time since the indomitable F4 of 1988, the D300 has a clear finder. There are no scratched-in AF areas to interfere with composition. The D300 only highlights AF areas as needed, otherwise the finder is completely clear!
Better, there are so many AF areas that I can compose-in-place. No longer do I have to focus and recompose, or be lazy and compose based on the location of the AF areas.
The dummy auto AF-area selector mode (white rectangle on the selector) works. It lets me compose and press the button to take a picture, skipping the old focus and recompose step of the past 75 years of hand-held photography!
Thank God for this. These focusing and composition improvements alone would be enough reason to buy a D300.
Better Highlights and Shadows
3.) Remarkable ability to tame extreme highlights automatically, presuming you activate ADR in the menus. Nikon calls this "Active D-Lighting" in the D300 menus, which means nothing. I call it Adaptive Dynamic Range, or ADR.
Roll mouse over to see how ADR fixes blown-out, pizza-like highlights.
The Nikon D300 and D3, when ADR is set ON, has an uncanny ability to handle huge dynamic ranges better than any other Nikon. The D3 and D300 are the first Nikons that don't go blotto when overexposed. Just like film, being 1/3 or 2/3 stops over just makes the image lighter, not blowing-out facial highlights to look like old pizza!
The weakest point in digital capture, even in Hollywood's $250,000 digital cinema cameras which still can't replace film, has been that colored highlights, like sunsets, foreheads and bright stucco walls, turn into bands of weird colors as they wash out to white. The D300 appears to have conquered the problem so its highlights take on the same natural shoulder as film. Look carefully at how the hue of the wall changes from red to yellow as it washes out (ugly), but retains the same hue as it lightens with ADR ON.
These dynamic improvements alone are reason enough to get a D300.
The D300 has an amazing automatic ability to fix lateral color fringes. The D300 actually makes lenses look better than they are! This gives better, sharper results. There's no need to activate this, it just works, with AF and even old manual focus and fisheye lenses.
I kid you not: the 10.5mm DX and manual focus 8mm AI-s fisheyes somehow lose their color fringes and snap back into perfection in the corners. The 24-70mm f/2.8 has a little LCA at 24mm on the D200, and it also goes away with the D300. Ditto with the 18-200mm VR at 18mm: no more color fringes on the D300!
These are crops from the top right corners of 100% JPG images:
What is this weird juju? This even works on my old manual focus 8mm fisheye. Is it a magic sensor, magic firmware keyed to the specific lens (sorry 3rd party lens users) or is it clever firmware that looks for odd fringes on any image? No one knows, but it does work, and works perfectly with every lens I've used on the D300, both auto and manual focus.
Three Times the Battery Life of the D200
My D300 gets 1,000 shots per charge. My D200 gets about 333, with the same battery!
I always had to carry a spare or two for a day's shooting with the D200. With the D300, one is all I need.
If the D300 is your first recent Nikon camera, I wouldn't buy a spare battery unless you find that you really need one. If you own other recent mid-line cameras like the D80 and D200, the batteries are interchangeable. The D40, D40x and older cameras use a different battery.
Nikon D300 enlarge
Faster and Easier to Use
From a convenience aspect, the larger 3" LCD screen is nice, but far nicer is how much faster playback responds to button presses. I can scroll around a magnified image much faster, and RGB histograms come up instantly instead of bogging down for a full second for each image as they do on my D200.
Minor D300 Blunders
The only blunders of the D300 are merely trivial annoyances. The hackers haven't discovered any vast-conspiracy-style flaws like the banding of the D200 or the blinking green lights of death of the D70. (Nikon fixed all those under warranty.)
1.) Auto ISO is still partially defective in manual exposure mode. It doesn't automatically deactivate when you go to manual exposure! You have to go to the menus to turn it off in manual exposure, otherwise the D300 tries its best to screw with your manual exposures. The D300 needs an additional menu option labeled "Deactivate Auto ISO during Manual Exposure?"
2.) Continuous advance modes do not work with the built-in flash. That's right, every D300 is defective by design such that you only get one shot in the Cl or Ch modes with built-in flash!
I didn't believe this when I read it on page 175 of my USA manual, but I kid you not: I only get one shot in C advance modes with built-in flash. It works OK with an SB-400, SB-600 or SB-800. A nice touch which doesn't quite make up for the built-in flash fiasco is that the in-finder bar graph now shows by how much the ambient light is underexposed when you get darker than the slowest flash sync speed.
Nikon probably did this to prevent pros from melting the pop-up flash from overuse, but Nikon should have fortified the circuitry, not locked us out from using it.
3.) The Fn button can only be programmed to do half of what it does on the D200. Specifically, on my D200 I have it set for flash exposure lock and hold, and to allow me to enter the focal length and speed of manual focus lenses for matrix metering. On the D300, I only can get one of those functions and have to trudge through menus to get the other function.
4.) Manual lens data now only can be entered though deep menus. Once entered (only 9 lenses maximum, and each setting on a zoom takes one memory) you might be able to select among them with the Fn button, but forget easy, instant direct adjustment as you change lenses as you can on the D200. The D300 is similar to the F6 (10 memories), but the F6 makes better use of the Fn button.
5.) Custom function e4, modeling flash, is still set ON by default. This can cause blindness since it fires off a long, unexpected burst of flash when you hit the depth-of-field button. The first thing I did on my D300 after I cranked the saturation all the way up was to set e4 to OFF. (page 298, USA manual.)
6.) I'm really reaching for this one, but the AF sensor indicator on the top LCD always shows the center sensor or group, regardless of which are actually selected. Press the "info" button and it displays correctly on the rear LCD.
7.) You know the D300 is an amateur camera because the annoying moron BEEP is ON by default. In the professional D3, the annoy-everyone beep is off by default.
This review consists of dozens of pages about the D300. This page is just the introduction and summary of what's really important.
I also have many day-to-day D300 observations on my What's New pages going back through November. I'll be wrangling them back into these pages in the coming days.
Full-Resolution Example Image Made under Full-Moonlight, shot with 24-70mm f/2.8 at 70mm and f/2.8. To those of you who know lenses, this wide-open tele shot should say it all about the lens. Focus is on the nearer row of houses, not infinity, and of course the trees are blowing in this 15 second exposure at ISO 200.
NR at default, no long exposure NR, either. VIVID mode, Saturation set to +3, the maximum, and WB set to tungsten to make moonlight blue. Most other zooms look like mush at this setting and need to be stopped down to become this sharp. PS: The D300 easily autofocused all by itself.
You may have to click again after the 2MB Large Basic JPG (optimize quality) downloads to let your browser show the full image at 100%
Nikon's D300 Users Manual. It's over 400 pages long, just for English. There's nothing new, it's the usual stuff. I read it cover to cover and didn't discover any tricks not already obvious in the menu system.
The Nikon D300 is a far greater step forward than its specs would suggest. The D3 also shares these advances.
My D200 is history. If you shoot as much as I do, the D300 is worth it without any reservations.
If you don't already own a D200, just get the D300 and forget the D200.
If you already have a D200 and are on a budget, don't try the D300, because you're going to want one. Images from the D300, as I shoot it anyway, have significantly more vibrant color and far better control of highlights and shadows.
Sports shooters will love the D300's MB-D10 grip, good for 8 FPS.
The D3 is great, but looks about the same shot at reasonable ISO and with reasonable lenses. The reason to get a D3 is if you want to shoot 14mm-equivalent lenses or shoot at ISO 6,400 and get sharp results, or to shoot at 9 FPS.
I would suggest that serious photographers with D200s trash them in favor of the D300. For normal people, The Nikon D40 is still the first camera I grab for vacations and family photos for its far lighter weight.
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