Nikon D300 Digital SLR Camera review

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, January 2008
Manufactured by: Nikon USA, Nikon Canada, Nikon UK
Requires: An interest in photography
MSRP: US$1,799.99, CAN$1,869.95, UK£1,299.99

In the annals of photography history there are lists of important inventions and product developments which herald sea changes - dramatic improvements - which serve to draw large numbers of new enthusiasts into the realm and activity of photography. The Nikon D300 Digital SLR camera is just such a product, and along with its bigger professional brother, the D3, represents the current cream of the crop. Canon has been beating up on Nikon for several years. Turnabout is fair play, so now it's time for Nikon to return the favor. The D300 is a 12.3 megapixel, CMOS APS-C size (DX) sensor, 14-bit color camera. It features a high resolution (922,000 pixel) 3" LCD rear monitor suitable for spot proofing, switchable Live View through the rear LCD, weatherproofing, a 150,000 actuation synthetic shutter, UDMA high speed CompactFlash card support, a new CPU (the EXPEED processor), a switchable 51(!) point auto focus system, automatic face recognition and focus tracking by color, customizable focus calibration to accommodate focus variations in up to twenty different lenses, scene recognition, HDMI high definition video output to high definition televisions and display devices, Active D-Lighting for automated in-camera shadow & highlight control of high dynamic range (HDR) scenes, and extremely fast operation. There's lots more, but you get the idea. The Nikon D300 is an awful lot of camera.


I've been shooting with the Nikon D300 Digital SLR camera for five weeks, so it's time to stop having so much fun for a short while and start writing. The problem is, I just don't want to put down the camera. It has its quirks and could use a bit of improvement in a couple of areas, but to date is the most complete digital SLR I've ever seen. My perspective is based on analysis of image quality, feature sets, hardware quality, ergonomics and general usability compared with the top-of-the-line digital SLRs from Canon (EOS 40D), Fuji (Finepix S5), Leica (Digilux 3), Olympus (E3), Pentax (K10D) and Sony (a700). If the goal of photography is to make photographs, then the Nikon D300 does the best job of any camera, except for the much more expensive Nikon D3, Canon 1D Mk III and Canon 5D, at just getting out of your way and letting you do that. Even in a direct comparison with the wonderful Canon 5D full frame sensor powerhouse, the D300 is its equal in low noise, high ISO shooting, and obviously better at image proofing and review using the glorious, bright, high resolution 3" LCD which remains almost reason enough by itself to purchase a D300. The days of using the camera LCD to review a shot you just took and never being sure if it's color balanced or properly focused are gone. The D300 LCD screen is a true monitor with the resolution, clarity and color depth that photographers have been demanding for many years.

The old story about buying a camera to accommodate the lens system you currently own still holds true. The main reason is that even a modest collection of lenses is a lot more expensive to switch or replace than any camera body. Nikon digital SLR system owners with three or four lenses stick with Nikon camera bodies because a good lens is something you rarely give up. The Nikon lenses won't work on any other brand of SLR camera except Fuji (which is based on the Nikon system). Similarly, Canon lenses only work with Canon cameras. Pentax lenses only work with Pentax bodies, etc., etc. Developing a collection of expensive lenses over the years tends to bind people to a particular system: Canon, Leica, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony each offer comprehensive selections of lenses in almost every price range. Sony, while new to the digital SLR game, previously acquired all of the Konica/Minolta technology and so offers the advantage of access to all the old Minolta lenses on the market. Sigma, a lens maker first and foremost where photographers are concerned, makes third-party lenses with Canon, Nikon and Pentax mounts in addition to its proprietary mount for its branded digital SLR line. The point of all this is simply that only the upper echelon of semi-professional and professional photographers (i.e., people making their living from photography) ever dump all, much less a portion of their gear to jump from one proprietary brand to another.

Three things have happened over the past two and a half years to change that long-standing rule somewhat. First, Canon brought out the EOS 5D full frame sensor digital SLR. Canon poured its heart and soul into the 5D and the results were superb. Although a number of important features were missing (a decent LCD, user configurable hi/lo ISO limits, color saturation controls to name a few), Canon's penchant for image detail, an excellent full frame sensor, smart programming, low image noise and keenly considered ergonomics made the 5D a destination product for an uncomfortably large number of Nikon, Olympus and Pentax users. Good for Canon, bad for everybody else (except Leica users who remain irrationally loyal despite the absurdly high prices of everything related to Leica). The second thing that happened was Canon's release of the 1D MKIII and the 1Ds MKIII which the top of the professional 35mm format world has embraced with open arms. Once again, a noticeable percentage of the top Nikon pros sports and pro wildlife shooters migrated to Canon, trading away or selling off a lot of very expensive gear in the process. Good for all the other millions of Nikon shooters who've benefited from reasonably priced access to all that top quality used gear which hit the market, but bad for Nikon the company. Then late in 2007, the third thing happened which turned the tables yet again. Nikon released the D300 and its D3 big brother. Suddenly, an uncomfortably large number of Canon shooters are looking with disdain at their gear and trading it away or selling it off in order to get their hands on a D300 and/or a D3.

Let it be stated here, without equivocation, that once you get past a certain point of quality (which quality is certainly offered in the top digital SLRs and lenses from Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Sigma and Sony), it's the photographer who makes the photo, not the gear. Some really smart and accomplished professional photographers will also tell you (and show you) how a skillful photographer using a decent point & shoot compact camera can run creative rings around less talented photographers who are using tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear. Still, we do like our expensive toys don't we?

The Nikon D300 Digital SLR, coupled with a selection of Nikon lenses, is everything you'll ever need as a snapshooter, amateur photographer, serious photography hobbyist or general photography professional. The D300 is weatherproofed which means the camera can function just as easily and at just as high quality as you'll get from it indoors. Ergonomically, the camera fits most hands well. Unusually, we found that even people with small-to-medium size hands found the camera comfortable to use, while a couple of testers with very large hands also reported the same great comfort levels over hours of continuous use. Only younger kids and people with very small hands will experience any problems with the D300 control layout, grip or body weight. We shot a huge and varied selection of subjects: wildlife at a local conservation area, sports at a local arena - hockey and volleyball, portraits of family members, urban locations, night shots, street scenes, textures, products being prepared for eBay listings, and in miserable weather, great weather, indoors, mixed lighting and you name it. We did the vast majority of our shooting with four lenses: Nikkor 12-24mm f4 DX wide angle zoom, Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 DX VR zoom, Nikkor 17-55mm f2.8 DX professional zoom, and the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 VR professional prime lens.




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