Nikon D300s review
Performance, Image Quality & Value
Nikon D300s review - Performance
It should come as little surprise that the D300s performs to a similar standard as the D300. With the same 51-point AF system, the camera's viewfinder is well saturated; even the outermost points find subjects with ease, despite not being as sensitive as the middle 15, which are all cross-type. However, although finding a subject causes the D300s few problems, it can be a little slow when initially bringing it into focus, when the performance of similar cameras is considered.
Using the Quiet Shutter mode, the two sounds made by the mirror during an exposure are split into three slightly shorter sounds with less definition. As such, it results in noticeably quieter operation than with the standard shooting mode - perhaps not quite as much as may be expected but I imagine some will still find it useful, given that its only price seems to be in how many frames you can rattle off continuously.Nikon D300s review - click for full size images
Something that makes a noticeable difference to the D300s' image quality is the lateral chromatic aberration facility. Using the 16-85mm kit lens on a different Nikon body (one without the feature) showed it to suffer from moderate chromatic aberration towards the peripheries of the frame. Shooting the same scene on the D300s, however, revealed how effectively this worked at reducing chromatic aberration, without the image suffering otherwise because of it.
It takes a bit of practice to get right, but relatively good video quality is obtainable from the D300s, despite the feed being visibly affected by the same sensor-wobble effect seen on other video-shooting DSLRs. Finer details also show a rolling moiré patterning, though exposure shifts relatively smoothly from darker to lighter areas and vice versa. The biggest issue is more Nikon's persistence with utilising the Motion Jpeg format, which is larger in size and therefore can only record for a shorter period (up to 2GB max, which is five minutes), and the quality is lower than the H.264 compression used by other cameras, such as the Panasonic Lumix GH1. The sound is also notably compressed, though there are no specific stated details of the compression type or amount.
Nikon D300s review - Value
Having already dropped by around £250 from its original RRP, the D300s can now be picked up for a body-only price of £1,250 - around £150 more than the current asking price of the D300. At this price it has few competitors; Canon's 7D, which will no doubt be viewed as its closest rival, is still around £500 dearer, while Pentax's K-7 can be had for just over £1,000. Although there have been a number of changes to warrant the ‘s' over its D300 predecessor, given the overall similarity between the two, its value can be comfortably assessed by the addition of its video facility. However, if you are already a D300 owner then the D300s is more a ‘polishing-up' of what's already in your bag, albeit with the video functionality. If the latter's not important to you then it's money you may well debate spending, but for ‘first time' buyers it's a fair price point for what's on offer.
Nikon D300s review - Image Quality
Nikon D300s review - Exposure
The D300s exposes consistently and accurately, though Active D-Lighting is recommended as certain images show a touch of underexposure, even when highlights aren't particularly dominant in a scene.
Nikon D300s review - Colour And White Balance
Colour is good, though on a couple of occasions colours produced on the Standard setting seemed a little muted, and so switching to the Vivid mode where appropriate (for example, for a landscape) injected a little needed warmth. White balance is generally realistic and sympathetic to the subject. In line with some of Nikon's other DSLRs, the system noticeably neutralises the effects of tungsten lighting.
Nikon D300s review - Detail and Sharpness
It's clear that the camera can resolve excellent detail, despite the kit lens being a little soft wide open. When stopped down a little, detail is very good, as is default sharpness. Be cautious of overusing in-camera noise reduction however, as its results can compromise detail.
Nikon D300s review - Image Noise and ISO
Noise begins to be visible in midtones and shadow areas at around ISO 400. Without any noise reduction applied in-camera, noise is both textured and coloured (in contrast to the more film-like grain typical of the D700). Though the noise-reduction options make a difference to keep this to a minimum, they do also soften the image, with the highest noise reduction setting losing a notable amount of detail.Nikon D300s review - click for full size images
Nikon D300s review - Raw and JPEG
JPEGs straight out of the camera show excellent sharpness and detail, when compared with their Raw equivalents. In many cases it's difficult to tell the difference between the two.
Nikon D300s review - ISO Quality
In general, image noise is kept to a minimum, with in-camera Noise Reduction a little over-zealous at the highest ISO settings causing image detail loss. With NR off, however, even images at ISO 3200 have a superb fine-grained finish.