The 12.3-megapixel Nikon D300 digital SLR is finally here, but how does it improve on the already acclaimed D200?
Handling & Performance
Nikon D300 review – Durable Construction
The D300 body is tough and heavier than the polycarbonate entry-level cameras thanks to its magnesium alloy construction. However, if you’re upgrading from say, the Nikon D80, it won’t take you long to master the abundant controls and features. The large LCD on the top-plate allows for easy viewing of shooting info, though we prefer the brighter and larger rear LCD-based displays of Sony and Olympus models. Most of the essential shooting settings can be easily accessed via the body and its well-placed set of buttons and dials. A pair of front and rear command dials lets you easily change aperture, shutter, ISO and so on, which allow the right-hand thumb and forefinger to easily and quickly adjust camera settings without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.
Nikon D300 review – AF Speed
The new AF system is as fast as any camera we’ve seen. The options to control the AF points are situated via a dial on the back, with a thumb pad to move the selection around the frame. Autofocusing generally works very well, and on the odd occasion when it fails, it’s a cinch to change to single AF points and compose.
Nikon D300 review – Buffer Control
The fast frame rate is maintained almost continually, and when it slows down, due to the buffer filling up, simply taking your finger from the shutter release then resuming shooting brings everything back to full speed. In this way, the D300 will pretty much shoot at full speed until the card is full (based on highest quality JPEG settings). It’s a bit slower when shooting Raw or Raw + Jpeg, but still useful. Even in TIFF mode, We could shoot ten continuous frames at high speed before the buffer stopped us.
Nikon D300 review – Viewfinder
Another impressive feature is the viewfinder. With approximately 100% viewing coverage, this is one of the best we’ve seen: bright, clear and a high enough viewpoint for spectacle wearers to see the whole frame. An alternative to the viewfinder is the live view mode, accessed by the same dial on the left of the camera as the drive modes. We believe live view is at its most useful when the screen can be tilted or flipped, as on the Panasonic L10 or Olympus E-3. As the LCD is fixed, the live view works best when the camera is on a tripod. As for the LCD in general, it’s a corker. In playback or live view mode, the image is clear, while zooming in on details really lets you check sharpness.
The menus follow Nikon’s standard design, with a bright clear interface, enhanced by a useful set of help options to explain the features and settings. Simply pressing the ‘?’ button at whichever feature you’re looking at will bring up a brief explanation of its function.
Nikon D300 review – Function Button
An interesting and effective idea is a new function button on the front, situated on the right that allows, at default, quick exposure bracketing. It can also be customised for other functions via the menu. Placing it here is slightly fiddly, but with practice it’s easy to choose between three or five frame bracketing and ±0.3-5EV exposure bracketing.
Finally a word about battery power. We shot several hundred images over a couple of weeks and didn’t needed to recharge once – which, we think you’ll agree, isn’t bad at all.