The Nikon D300s adds video and other features to the already exceptional D300 model, but is it enough of an improvement or more of a minor upgrade? The What Digital Camera Nikon D300s review gives you the lowdown...
The Nikon D300s remains remarkably similar to the ever-popular D300. In fact, and as its name suggests, the new model is really more an extension of the D300 as opposed to something built from the ground up. Is this a good thing, or has Nikon missed a trick? The What Digital Camera Nikon D300s review…
Nikon D300s review – Features
The Nikon D300s introduces a movie mode – the main addition over the previous D300. As with Nikon’s other recent video-sporting DSLRs, this records 720p high-definition footage (1280 x 720p) as Motion JPEG (M-JPEG) at a rate of 24 frames per second, saved in AVI format – though, compared with its other models, Nikon has given the D300s user a little more functionality, most notably via a dedicated microphone port. This allows the camera to record stereo sound to accompany movie files; otherwise the camera records mono audio through a small microphone on the front of the body. Autofocus is possible during recording, and there’s also a basic option to edit movies, whereby any surplus footage from the start or end of the file may be discarded.
In contrast to the D300, activating the D300s’ live view function (through which video recording is accessed) is now achieved using a dedicated live view button on the rear, rather than through the release mode dial. In its place on the mode dial is a new Quiet Release option that dampens down the sound of the mirror as it flips up and down, and silences the beep when focus is confirmed. Potentially, this is useful in any environment where it is necessary for noise to be kept to a minimum, for example when shooting wildlife. And for those who do wish to make a lot of noise, Nikon has increased the maximum frame rate from the original D300’s 6fps to 7fps for the D300s, which may be boosted even further to 8fps when using the optional MB-D10 battery pack.
Nikon has also added a slot for SD media next to the existing CompactFlash one, and with it a number of options as to how these may be configured: using two cards, the camera may use the secondary one as an overflow; recording each file to both, effectively making one a backup; or recording JPEGs to one card and Raw files to the other. Copying files between the two is also possible, while through the movie settings you can choose to assign video files to one card, leaving the other one free for images.
Aside from these and a few other minor changes, the D300s is practically a carbon copy of the D300. The DX format CMOS sensor contains a total of 13.1MP, with an effective 12.3MP that applies a 1.5x conversion factor to the focal length of any mounted lens. The low-pass filter in front of the sensor vibrates itself to dislodge any dust that may have got inside, and may be set to activate either on start-up, shutdown, both or neither, as the user wishes.
The D300s has a sensitivity range that runs from a base of ISO 200 up to ISO 3200, with ISO 100 and 6400 extensions also available on either side of this. When shooting in the Auto ISO mode, it is possible to set a maximum sensitivity and a minimum shutter speed for the respective benefits of noise control and sharpness, while noise reduction is available for both long and high ISO exposures.
With Nikon’s Expeed processing system at the helm, a number of the company’s now-standard technologies are also present. The D300s has a 1005-pixel metering sensor which works with the Scene Recognition System to adjust focus, exposure and white balance prior to exposure, while the Active D-Lighting facility welcomes a new bracketing function, which takes up to five images with different degrees of the effect applied. The Picture Control System, meanwhile, comprises Standard, Vivid, Natural and Monochrome colour settings (as well as the further options of downloading and creating your own profiles).
Nikon D300s review – Design
Just as the D300s has specifications that closely mirror those of the D300, so does its design. The camera is constructed from a magnesium alloy frame, with rubberised panelling around its grip, thumb rest and sides, and various sealings around the body to prevent water and dust incursion.
The camera’s pentaprism viewfinder is identical to that of the D300, with a frame coverage of approximately 100% and a 0.94x magnification factor. The user has the option of overlaying an electronic grid to facilitate level shooting, and all of the key exposure information is viewable at its base.
Despite the fact that comparable models are constructed from similar materials, there’s something about the D300s that gives the impression it’s a different beast entirely. Nikon has not skimped on any part of the camera’s build quality; it could certainly give some of the more ‘professional’ models available on the market, such as Canon’s 5D Mark II and Sony’s A900, a good run for their money.
Aside from the dedicated live view button, the rear of the D300s also welcomes an info button underneath this for toggling between display options, as well as a multi-selector pad with a central button. This is similar to the type found on both the D3 and D700 bodies, and allows the user to start and stop video recording at short notice. I found it fiddly to use though, as the pad’s diameter is shorter than the width of my thumb. This can be problematic when you consider just how many options there are through the various menus and custom settings, and how accessing them quickly and easily is key. I am, however, glad to see Nikon has opted for a card door with a sliding mechanism as opposed to one with its own latch, as on the D300 – this makes it far easier to open in a hurry. The addition of dual CF and SD card slots is a nice touch too.