Nikon D300 Digital SLR Camera review . . . continued

The Nikon D300 digital SLR is ready to shoot instantly. No matter what mode you select or leave the camera in, turn it on and it's ready to go. Controls are responsive and provide positive feedback. Novice or pro, you can feel exactly how the camera is reacting to your handling and input. Novices may leave the notification beeps on for the first few days or weeks of use, but then the D300's smart design and easy handling will likely allow even still slightly nervous beginners to shut off the beeps and rely instead on the camera's mechanical sounds and natural feedback. In a lighter weight body, Nikon has actually enhanced the tradition of superb tactile feedback pioneered and revered in the FE, F4, F5 and F100 and continued through the D100/200 and the D1/2/3 bodies. I look forward to picking up the D300 and using it in any environment because it feels great and secure in-hand and because it offers controls which are smartly placed, easy to activate and well configured. All in all it's a pleasure to use.

Image quality from the D300 depends on the photographer. Let's face it, poorly composed photos full of light flare, unrecognizable faces or objects, tilted horizons, bad angles and any number of other sins won't be corrected by a camera's technical design. However, because of the way the D300's new CMOS sensor handles lateral color (one of two principle kinds of chromatic aberration) it appears to me and most other reviewers that the D300 fixes a number of focus, resolution and chromatic abberation issues in low-to-mid quality lenses. Using the D300 in full Auto and Program (P) mode is almost like using a point & shoot camera. Compose well, look for the effects of light and shadow, turn on Active D-Lighting for high contrast subjects, shoot from a steady position, and you'll end up with photos you may not have ever believed were possible. What I'm saying is that the Nikon D300 digital SLR pushes the limits of your imagination and imposes few if any limits on your interests. If there's a shot or a composition you can think of, chances are you'll be able to capture it superbly using the D300 and an appropriate lens.


Digital SLRs suffer from one cleaning issue that never existed back in the film SLR days: Sensor Dust. Because the digital sensor is exposed to the elements every time you change lenses, small bits of dust will from time to time land on the sensor filter. Cleaning a sensor filter is a very delicate task and mercifully remains something that needs to be done only occasionally. Nikon includes an automated sensor cleaning function in the D300. It works by sending a piezoelectric current to oscillate the sensor filter/cover. The cleaning method got rid of all the smaller-than-the-eye-can-easily-see particles, but large bits and 'welded' dust still have to be cleaned off with the appropriate tools. If you believe that the less time spent in Photoshop or ACDSee cleaning up blotchy photos the better, you'll like the sensor cleaning feature.

Although the D300 features quite a few rubber or neoprene gaskets which effectively seal various doors, ports and control buttons, like most other high-end digital SLRs there is no gasket on or around the lens mount. Comprehensive waterproofing is still not here, but with the improvements over the D200 (already well sealed and an excellent performer in inclement weather), outdoor shooters can work very confidently with the D300. At one point, during a walkabout in the Lynde Marsh consevation area east of Toronto, I got caught in a mess of sleet which turned to rain which turned to snow which turned to rain, resulting in a near-soaked camera. I kept giving the D300 an occassional wipe down with a medium size camera wrap, but it worked perfectly for hours outside in sloppy 30-35 farenheit (-1 to +1 celsius) weather.

The essence of good photography is summed up by some people as the ability to grab a photo as soon as you see it. Essentially, there's nothing worse than seeing something, grabbing your camera, then waiting for the device to start up and take too long to autofocus while doing only an average job of analyzing and setting the exposure as you press the shutter. By the time you finish the sequence with some cameras, the photo opportunity has been lost - the light changes, a subject moves, or you lose sight of whatever it was that caught your eye. The Nikon D300 is ready to shoot all the time. Its amazing focus tracking lets you capture sharply focused birds mid-flight and sharply focused cars in motion like never before. An enormous amount of really smart programming as well has gone into the D300 computer and its new EXPEED chip. Nikon has built on its generations of photography knowledge and has packed more intelligence into the D300 than we ever thought possible. Combine all that intelligent programmng and scene recognition with Nikon's Active D-Lighting in situations offering bright white clouds and main subject matter full of high contrast shadow, and you'll begin to appreciate even more how powerful this camera really is. The exposure latitude (like top quality film) is excellent and results in great photos which, taken with almost any other camera on the market, would be blown-out, overexposed junk.

Cons: Despite its autofocus and auto white balance smarts, the D300 still can't consistently deal with vast expanses of snow. As it is for all cameras, shooting snowy scenes remains more of a manual process if you want to avoid ending up with a lot of grey photographs. Auto ISO is not automatically turned off when you set the camera to M (manual). This has been a Nikon flaw (as far as I know) in every Nikon digital SLR ever made. If you forget to turn off Auto ISO when you go into manual mode, you'll get unexpected results. I've blown a few shots using my D200 because of this, so I'm disappointed to see that Nikon has not changed the configuration. Manual control should be manual-only. If you stow the D300 lens down in in your shoulder bag, backpack or sling pack, you'll likely find that the Continuous/Single/Manual (CSM) focus mode switch, still lightly tensioned and positioned on the left side of the lens mount collar, forces you to be extra careful when putting the camera away because the shoulder rest pads in the bag will push against the switch and change its position.

Pros: The Nikon D300 Digital SLR camera excels at producing rich, sharp, noise-free photographs from its base ISO200 all the way up to ISO1600. Surprisingly, ISO3200 performance is also acceptable for print production at reasonable output sizes depending on the shot, a truly amazing accomplishment at this point in the development of digital photography technology. The D300 LCD display is a revelation for all photographers and a revolution in quality, making it truly usable as an on-the-spot proofing tool. Competitors take note that at least two photographers who used our D300 stared long and hard at that glorious LCD and one of them subsequently purchased a D300 of his own. You can finally playback a photo and see for sure whether or not it's a keeper. The clean, bright, clear viewfinder unobstructed by an etched focus point selector and other junk is a breath of fresh air. The auto focus points just appear out of nowhere as you half-press the shutter or AF-On button in any of the modes (9-point, 21-point or 51-point). Auto focus tracking is remarkable for subjects being followed by panning or which are traversing your field of view. As usual, Nikon's ergonomics are fully in evidence which makes handling the D300 a dream. Battery life is excellent. I'm consistently getting around 900 shots from every charge, and more if I turn off the camera while walking around or traveling from subject to subject. It's a small thing, but Nikon finally did away with its monumentally useless screw-on caps for the remote shutter release and flash/PC sync jacks, grouping both jacks together now and using a tethered little flip-on/off cover. The minor change is a boon to any one of the millions of Nikon owners who've lost the tiny little caps repeatedly over the years. The Nikon D300 Digital SLR camera is the current top dog in APS-C class/size sensors. The camera can be used with almost every lens made by Nikon over the past 30 years. It has an enormous, well designed and intuitive feature and function set. It's just up to you to make good photos. The D300 can make the effort a lot more fun and easier too. Great stuff from a great company. Highly recommended.


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