Nikon D300S Review

Nikon D300S Review

There were rumours about the successor to the D300, which was initially presumably called D400. Now the time has come: With the D300S, Nikon presents a solid product care for the D300, which is popular with amateur, hobby and professional photographers alike. New features include a dual memory card slot (SDHC and CompactFlash), video mode and higher continuous shooting speed. What has remained are proven features such as the 12.3 megapixel resolution image sensor, housing shape, image processor, screen, etc.

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Good image quality with acceptable image processing
  • Versatile, easy to use flash system
  • Reliable exposure metering and autofocus
  • With many direct-dial keys, it takes getting used to, but good ergonomics
  • Solid, precisely machined, splash-proof and dustproof housing

Cons

  • 14 bit RAW only at significantly slower continuous shooting speed
  • Spongy control pad
  • Memory speed on CF and SD far below the technical possibilities

 

The Nikon D300S is the APS-C “workhorse” in Nikon’s product range and also the top model with DX sensor. The differences to the D300 are manageable and are primarily technical in nature or in the range of functions, such as the video function or the CF-SD dual-card slot. The D300 and D300S are very popular with customers and have a good reputation among photographers of other brands. In this review I show, as best as possible, whether the D300S can really live up to this expectation and is convincing all along the line. I practice myself with the camera for two working days and utilize the test software to retrieve the results for the review.

The D300S’s dual memory card slot can write to both cards simultaneously. For example, it is possible to write JPEG images to one card and RAW images to the other. Or you can use one card for videos and the other for photos. The former are recorded in HD quality (1,280 x 720 pixels) at 24 fps for a maximum of 5 minutes, stereo sound can be recorded via an optionally connectable microphone. At lower resolutions, the D300S films up to 20 minutes at a time. A virtual horizon can be superimposed during recording to facilitate horizontal alignment of the camera. The movie clips are saved as AVI Motion-JPEG, and the focus is optionally adjusted automatically during movie recording with the somewhat slow contrast AF. Both movies and videos can be displayed in high quality on FullHD televisions via the digital HDMI interface.

Nikon has improved the continuous shooting speed, which now reaches 7 fps (8 fps with MB-D10) without the multifunction grip. However, the housing shape (protected against splash water with seals) and operation are proven and unchanged, and the 3″ (7.6 cm) VGA screen is also the same. The autofocus has 51 metering fields, the exposure sensor has 1,005 RGB metering sensors that allow extremely accurate exposure taking into account the shooting distance. The CMOS image sensor in APS-C format (which is called DX by Nikon) has a resolution of 12.3 megapixels and is about 1.5 times smaller than a 35mm film. Minor improvements have been made in detail, such as the multi-function selector feature granted on the D3 and D700, which is now also available on the D300S. In Silent mode, the shutter sound is slightly quieter, as the mirror does not fold down again until the shutter is released. This had already been done with the D5000 and copied from Leica.

The illumination angle of the integrated flash has also been improved to 16 mm focal length (24 mm corresponding to 35 mm). The D300S is available since 2009, although urgent pre-orders are best placed with “Nikon System Partner Pro” status dealers, who are preferred by Nikon. The price of the case is around 1.830 EUR, in the set with the AF-S 16-85mm 1:3,5-4,5 VR about 2.370 EUR will be due, with the new AF-S 18-200mm 1:3,5-5,6 VR II (see further links) even 2.480 EUR.

Ergonomics and Workmanship

Solid and heavy is the first impression when you pick up the D300S. Its large housing with a pronounced handle is a hand flatterer – at least for medium and larger hands. The weight of almost one kilogram (without lens of course) also contributes to the robust impression – truly nothing for delicate hands or a weak biceps. The housing consists mainly of a magnesium alloy and plastic from which the flash and flaps are made. Where necessary, Nikon has generously applied rubber in grained optics, which gives the camera the necessary grip. The entire camera body is fitted with seals to protect the sensitive interior from moisture, dust and dirt. Thus, in case of a rain shower or spray at the sea, one does not need to pack immediately – provided that the lens is sealed. Just as you would expect from a “tool”. Whether the lens is sealed can be determined by looking at the lens bayonet. If there is a rubber ring there, the lens is also sealed – like the 17-55 mm 1:2.8G used in the test.

Corresponding seals are also found on the battery and memory card compartment, the other protective caps are made of rubber anyway. The D300S is equipped with a wide range of interfaces, including HDMI, USB, AV, microphone (3.5 mm jack), DC input, flash sync socket and multifunction interface (including GPS and cable release). The memory card compartment has two slots, one for CompactFlash type I and one for SDHC cards, whereby switching is done via the menu and one can determine whether the cards are filled one after the other or, for example, RAW and JPEG are separated or a backup copy is stored on the second card. The battery compartment can be opened via the bottom of the housing. Due to the size of the camera, removal is possible without any problems even when the tripod changing plate is mounted. The tripod thread itself is made of metal and in the optical axis. The battery type EN-EL3e has a voltage of 7.4 V and a capacity of 1,500 mAh, with which an energy of 12 Wh can be stored. This allows about 1,000 exposures according to CIPA standard measuring procedures, i.e. with flash for every second exposure. If the battery capacity is insufficient (or the camera is still too small and light), the battery handle, which is sold separately, can be screwed on, leaving one battery in the camera and another in the battery handle. Instead, 6 AA/Mignon batteries or rechargeable batteries can be used via a sledge, which gives the photographer more flexibility when travelling to remote areas. Unlike the camera, the battery grip has very few controls, such as two control wheels, the shutter release button, an AF button, and a multi-function selector that is rather difficult to use.

The many controls are scattered throughout the camera, making it clear that the D300S is made for experts who want to set many functions as quickly as possible without menu orgies. The beginner, on the other hand, will be overwhelmed at first. The D300S, like other high-end machines, takes a long time to get used to, not least because of some cryptic designations. This is most obvious on the wheel to the right of the flash/finder hump. It is identified by the characters “S”, “CL”, “CH”, “Q”, the symbol for the self-timer mode and “Mup”. Here you can adjust the release mode, i.e. “S” for single (single frame, the normal mode), “CH” for fast continuous shooting, “CL” for slow continuous shooting, “Q” for the quiet release mode in which the mirror does not swing back until the shutter button is released, the self-timer and the mirror lock-up. There is no classic program dial; instead, a mode button together with the thumbwheel is used to set the program and display it on the info display and viewfinder.

I searched scene mode programs in vain – they simply do not belong in such a camera. Two-finger acrobatics runs through the direct-dial button settings, with the front and rear control dials adjusting different parameters of one and the same function for some functions (such as white balance or file quality setting).

In addition to the upper, illuminated information panel, the monitor plays an important role in setting up the camera, at least when it comes to the menus and extensive individual functions. Because there’s almost nothing you can’t adjust on the D300S. The screen is permanently installed and measures 3″ (7.6 cm) diagonally. The resolution is a fine 920,000 pixels, which corresponds to VGA (640 x 480 pixels). Instead of a scratch-resistant coating (as on the Pentax K-7), the D300S features a holder for a plastic monitor protector. One is included in the scope of delivery and can be purchased separately if scratched too much. The otherwise brilliant and flawless image quality suffers minimally due to the “double pane”, the reflections are slightly intensified and there are more layers on which annoying dust can accumulate.

Due to the sheer variety of settings, the camera menus are a bit confusing, but easy to read. Thanks to the favorites menu, you can quickly access frequently used functions. A little confusing is that some functions can be confirmed by pressing the center button of the multifunction selector, while others, such as formatting the memory card, explicitly require pressing the OK button on the left of the screen. The multifunction selector itself is probably the biggest weak point in ergonomics: it is very spongy and has long adjustment ranges before the then crisp pressure point is reached.

The optical reflex viewfinder is flawless. Thanks to the pentaprism, 100% field coverage and 0.94x magnification, it is very convenient to use – for an APS-C camera. Only the somewhat weak dioptre correction could be criticized, but even with glasses the viewfinder is still quite usable. A grid can be superimposed and looks as if it is engraved on the viewfinder screen. The 51 autofocus fields light up in the viewfinder when activated, and below the viewfinder image important shooting information is displayed, so that the camera can be operated partly “by eye”. Instead of the viewfinder, the screen can also be used as long as LiveView is activated with the separate button. With the weight of the camera, however, this is less recommended for hands-free shooting. However, thanks to the focusing magnifier and contrast autofocus, this mode can prove very useful in certain situations.

Equipment And Features

There’s virtually nothing that can’t be configured individually on the D300S. Be it a favorites menu or the assignment of various control elements up to certain camera functions such as the flash sync speed. One setting, for example, is for “slow” continuous shooting speed. Not always 7 fps (or 8 fps with battery handle) are desired. Any smaller number can be set. The D300S also records video. However, only the AVI Motion-JPEG format is used and the frame rate is fixed at 24 fps. The maximum resolution is 1,280 x 720 pixels, which is the “small” HD resolution. If you switch to 640 x 424 or 320 x 216, you get 3:2 videos instead of 16:9. Thanks to a large sensor and a wide selection of fast lenses, you can still be very creative with the camera as a “filmmaker”, because with the selected depth of field you can set optical accents that only professional video cameras offer. But you should be able to focus on the point manually. Continuous AF is not available during recording. However, you can focus at the touch of a button during shooting, provided that live AF is set to tripod mode. The built-in mono microphone is just a stopgap, the 3.5mm jack socket allows the sound to be captured externally in better quality and above all in stereo. After all, the video menu offers the adjustment of the input level in three steps plus automatic plus mute.

The D300S’s built-in flash must be manually flipped open and, with the exception of manual power levels, offers all the settings you’d expect from a unit in this class. I.e. slow sync, flash firing on the first or second shutter curtain, red-eye reduction, and asymmetrical flash compensation in the range of -3 to +1EV. However, there is no automatic flash; if the flash is open, it always fires. Not only studio flashes can be connected via the sync socket, but also system flashes can be plugged into the standard socket. However, these can also be triggered wirelessly via the internal flash – naturally with TTL measurement. Channel and flash group can be easily adjusted, and the external flashes can also be weighted in terms of light output. With a measured guide number of 14.5, the internal flash already has a relatively high “bang”. The flash output is perfectly dosed and coordinated with the ambient light.

The normal sensitivity range of the D300S extends from ISO 200 to 3,200 and is adjustable in 1/3 EV increments, and the operating range of the automatic system can also be set within these limits. But typical for Nikon is the range extension with “L” and “H”, whereby ISO equivalents from 100 (L 0.3) to 6,400 (H 2.0) are achieved. The degree of noise reduction can be adjusted as well as the noise reduction for long exposures. To increase the clarity of shadows, the D300S uses Nikon Active D-Lighting, which digitally brightens shadows to reveal details. Here the photographer has the choice of leaving the strength of an automatic or choosing the power himself in four stages.

Astonishing for a camera of this class are the many image processing possibilities. This ranges from a RAW converter to the trimming of films to the removal of red eyes, subsequent colour balance, various filter effects such as black and white and subsequent selection of sections. This enables the photographer, especially with the help of the copy function from CF to SD card, to compile a few photos at the shooting location, edit them rudimentarily and, for example, give them to an assistant. The memory speed is somewhat disappointing, though.

Lens

The Nikon F bayonet has been available since 1959, so it offers a wide range of suitable lenses, “old treasures” can still be used since 1977 (introduction of AI aperture control). However, when buying new lenses, you should use modern lenses with electronic support and autofocus, which make better use of the camera. Somewhat unusual is the direction of rotation of the lenses for locking in the bayonet – exactly the other way round, as one is used to from other manufacturers or screw threads. The F bayonet is the smallest in diameter on the market. However, this only brings theoretical disadvantages for full-frame cameras, which do not apply to the APS-C sensor with focal length extension factor 1.5 used in the D300S. This allows the D300S to use all lenses, losing some of the wide angle but gaining telephoto.

The 17-55 mm 1:2.8G used in the test is specially calculated for the smaller image circle (with Nikon a so-called DX lens in contrast to the FX full format) and results in a small image equivalent focal length range of about 26 to 83 mm. With a continuous aperture of F2.8, this is an excellent standard zoom for wide-angle to portrait photography. The lens is extremely robust, protected against splash water and dust, but also very heavy. The only thing that can be criticized about the lens is the missing image stabilizer. Focusing is quiet and precise thanks to the ultrasonic motor, while the focus speed is only average with measured 0.4 to 0.6 seconds.

The photographer has a choice of 51 focus points. They are distributed over a wide area of the image field and thus enable precise tracking of the subject. Nikon also uses the information from the 1,005 RGB pixel exposure meter to help you get a closer look at the subject detail you want to track. The D300S will not get out of step if a moving object is partially obscured by the foreground, such as reeds, and then reappears. The sensitivity of the autofocus allows you to work in dim light, but whether the camera uses the integrated bright white auxiliary light is up to the photographer. More discreet is the use of the red light projector of system flash units. For more precise focus, it is possible to set the focus point to a measuring field or a group of measuring fields. Of course, manual focusing is also possible.

In LiveView mode, there are two automatic focusing methods: tripod mode and Quick AF. The former uses a contrast measurement directly on the sensor. This is slower, but more precise and without the annoying folding down and up of the mirror. That’s exactly what the Quick AF does, which is quite loud, but can use the fast phase autofocus with its 51 measuring fields. The live image is a great help when manually focusing from a tripod, at the latest, because the magnification function allows pixel-precise focusing on the sensor. In order to compensate for lens inaccuracies when using phase autofocus, up to 20 lenses can be registered and individually corrected in the camera.

Image quality

With a sensor resolution of around 12 megapixels, the D300S can almost be described as conservative, and malicious tongues would even call it Stone Age. Canon, Sony and Pentax offer with 15 to 18 megapixels significantly higher pixel densities on APS-C sensors. But 12 megapixels also have advantages, so lens weaknesses don’t become visible as quickly, and image noise is easier to control.

The 17-55 mm shows a visible, but gently sloping edge when the shutter is open. The overall resolution is highest at 17 mm and lowest at 55 mm, but when stopped down to F5.6, the focal lengths are almost the same. The gain at 17 mm is marginal, so that the lens can be attested an excellent resolution performance at open aperture. Also the edge dimming is surprisingly low there, but at 17 mm it increases quite steeply in the outermost corners of the image, which is why it is more visible there than at longer focal lengths. Dimmed, the edge darkening decreases, but here too the measured values at 17 mm show a slight image circle limitation. The distortion is still moderate at 2% barrel shape in wide angle, but at medium and long focal length, there is a cushion distortion of about 1%. This is more conspicuous than the barrel shape and could gladly be smaller.

The D300S is well balanced when it comes to processing fine image details. There are slight artifacts, but not as strong as on cameras with aggressive tuning – a good middle ground. The image-processing-friendly tuning (mind you, JPEG) is also evident in the sharpness of the image, which is very restrained and perfectly distributed over the brightness range. The noise reduction is much more effective. From 800 ISO and even more so at 3200 ISO, it increases visibly, so that especially 800 ISO produces less noise than 400 ISO, but this is also noticeable in the loss of detail that decreases from this sensitivity. The noise itself is consistently free of color noise, making it look very natural and similar to film grain. The deepest shadows are particularly denoised to improve the dynamic range. Up to ISO 800, it is good at around 8.5 f-stops, but decreases continuously thereafter. At ISO 6.400, the dynamic range is already clearly limited with only 7 aperture stops.

The tonal value curve is again professionally adjusted, i.e. with a neutral gradient especially at the medium image brightness levels. Only the brightest highlights and deepest shadows are softened to prevent the highlights from being pulled out or the shadows from drowning. But the latter are at least from ISO 400 upwards a little too bright – a case for a histogram correction and/or the manual setting of a black point in the image post processing. In JPEG mode, the D300S offers three levels of compression. The first one works visually without loss. The second one compresses only slightly more and is close to the first, while the highest compression level reduces the image data much too much and is practically unusable. But if one uses RAW, one has the choice between no compression, then an image file has a size of approximately 17 MBytes, a lossless and therewith preferable compression with files of 11 MBytes or a lossy compression that is not recommendable. Normally, RAW images are saved with a color depth of 12 bits per color channel (JPEG only 8 bits). But the D300S also offers 14 bits for even finer gradations. However, this costs a lot of speed, 7 to 8 fps are then no longer possible. So 14 bit is not for sports and action, but rather for landscapes, architecture and other still motives.

The Nikon D300S works with extremely precise, professional-level exposure metering. Even beginners can hardly do anything wrong here. You have to be a little more careful with the white balance. The question here is whether you want results that are as neutral as possible, which in incandescent and candlelight can only be achieved by manual adjustment or a white balance preset, or whether you prefer a setting that preserves the mood. In any case, the automatic calibration works quite neutrally on the whole, but tends to produce a warmer color rendering in incandescent and candlelight.

Conclusion

The Nikon D300S is a true tool with a range of functions and operating concept at a professional level. If you just want to take a few pictures, you are clearly wrong about her. Once you get used to the many buttons, you will appreciate them. As well as the solid processing and the rather conservatively adjusted image processing. This does not so much lead to record resolutions, but to images that look pleasant and are still a good basis for further processing. A crisp image processing is reserved for the beginner models at Nikon. The image quality, which is practically identical to that of the D300, only shows that the engineers saw no need for action here. The same applies to the unrivalled 51-field AF module and the 3D Color Matrix II exposure metering. Here Nikon sets standards.

Profile

Profile
Manufacturer Nikon
Model D300S
Price approx. 1650 EUR*** at market launch
Sensor Resolution 12.2 megapixels
Max. Image resolution 4.288 x 2.848
(aspect ratio) (3:2)
Lens AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm 1:2.8G ED
Filter thread 77mm
Viewfinder Pentaprism
Field of view 100%
Enlargement 0.94 times
Dioptre compensation -2 to +1 dpt.
LCD monitor 3″
Resolution 920.000
rotatable
swiveling
as Viewfinder yes
Video output PAL/NTSC, HDMI
as Viewfinder yes
Automatic programming yes
Automatic aperture control yes
Automatic timer yes
manual exposure yes
BULB long time exposure yes
Scene modes It does not have
Portrait
Children/baby
Landscape
Macro
Sports/action
More
Exposure metering Multi-field, centre-weighted Integral, Spot
Flash yes
Guide number 14.5 (measurement)
Flash connection System hot shoe, sync socket
Remote release Cable
Interval recording yes
Storage medium SD/SDHC, CF I (UDMA)
Video mode yes
Format AVI
Codec Motion-JPEG
Resolution (max.) 1.280 x 720
Frame rate (max.) 24
Sensitivity
automatically 200-3,200
(adjustable)
manually ISO 100-6.400
White balance
Automatic yes
Sun yes
Clouds yes
Fluorescent lamp yes
Incandescent lamp yes
Miscellaneous Shadow, flash, manual color temperature selection, WB fine correction
Manually yes
Autofocus
Number of measurement fields 51
AF auxiliary light glaring white
Speed 0,4-0,6 s
Languages English
More 16 additional languages
Switch-on time 0,3 s
One-hand operation
(zoom and shutter release)
Weight
(Ready for operation)
958 g (body only) – 1,730 g (with lens**)
Continuous shooting function*
Number of serial images 40 (JPEG
)18 (RAW)
Frequency
(frames/s
)
6.9 (JPEG
)7.0 (RAW)
Continuous****
(frames/s
)
4.1 (JPEG
)1.9 (RAW)
with flash
Zoom
Zoom adjustment at the lens
Zoom levels infinitely variable
Time WW to Tele
Memory speeds*
JPEG 0.3 s (5.9 MByte)
RAW 0.6 s (10.6 MByte)
Trip during
.Saving possible.
yes
Battery life about 1.000 pictures
– = “not applicable
“* with PhotoFast GMonster 8 GBytes 533x Plus CompactFlash memory card**
with lens AF-S DX Nikkor 17-55mm 1:2.8G ED***
without lens****
max. 100 pictures

Brief assessment

Pros

  • Good image quality with conservative image processing
  • Versatile, easy to use flash system
  • Reliable exposure metering and autofocus
  • With many direct-dial keys, it takes getting used to, but good ergonomics
  • Solid, precisely machined, splash-proof and dustproof housing

Cons

  • 14 Bit RAW only at significantly slower continuous shooting speed
  • Spongy control pad
  • Memory speed on CF and SD far below the technical possibilities

Nikon D300S Datasheet

Electronics

Sensor CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)13.1 megapixels (physical) and 12.3 megapixels (effective)
Pixelpitch 5.5 µm
Photo resolution
4.288 x 2.848 pixels (3:2)
3.216 x 2.136 pixels (3:2)
2.144 x 1.424 pixels (3:2)
Image formats JPG, RAW
Color depth 42 bits (14 bits per color channel)
Metadata Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard
Video resolution
1.280 x 720 (16:9) 24 p
640 x 424 (3:2) 24 p
320 x 216 (3:2) 24 p
Maximum recording time 20 min
Video format
AVI (codec n.a.)
Audio format (video) WAV

Lens

Lens mount
Nikon F

Focus

Autofocus mode Phase comparison autofocus with 51 sensors
Autofocus functions Single AF, Continuous AF, Manual, AF Assist Light
Sharpness control Live view

Viewfinder and monitor

SLR viewfinder Reflex viewfinder (prism viewfinder) (100 % image coverage), 19 mm eye relief, dioptre compensation, replaceable focusing screens
Monitor 3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 920,000 pixels
Info display additional information display (top)

Exposure

Exposure metering Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 1,005 fields, spot measurement
Exposure times 1/8,000 to 30 s (Automatic
)1/8,000 to 30 s (Manual)
Bulb function
Exposure control Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual
Exposure bracketing function Step size from 1/3 to 2 EV
Exposure Compensation -5.0 to +5.0 EV
Photosensitivity ISO 200 to ISO 3,200 (automatic
)ISO 100 to ISO 6,400 (manual)
Remote access Remote triggering
Scene modes It does not have subject programs or scene mode programs
White balance Clouds, Sun, White balance bracket, Fine tuning, Shadow, Flash, Fluorescent lamp with 7 presets, Tungsten light, from 2,500 to 10,000 K, Manual
Continuous shooting 7.0 fps at highest resolution, 8 fps with battery handle MB-D10 attached and AA batteries or EN-EL4a battery pack
Self-timer Self-timer with 2 or 20 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)

Flashgun

Flash built-in flash (flip up
)Flash shoe: Nikon, standard center contact
Flash code Guide number 12 (ISO 100)
Flash functions Auto, fill-flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, flash on second shutter curtain, red-eye reduction

Equipment And Features

Image stabilizer no optical image stabilizer
Memory
CF (Type I)
second memory card slot
SD
GPS function GPS external
Power supply unit Power supply connection
Power supply 1 x Nikon EN-EL3e (Lithium ion (Li-Ion), 7.4 V, 1,500 mAh)
Playback functions Image index
Voice memo Voice memo (WAV format)
Image parameters Contrast
Special functions Live view
Connections Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High Speed
AV Connections AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D)
Tripod thread 1/4″
Special features and miscellaneous Ultrasonic sensor cleaningAF-motif detectionD-lighting contrast adjustmentImage stylesExpeed image processorSave

simultaneously to both memory cards (or RAW/NEF to oneJPEG

to

the other or photos to one and videos to the other)

Size and weight

Dimensions W x H x D 147 x 114 x 74 mm
Weight 925 g (ready for operation)

Miscellaneous

standard accessory Nikon BM-8 (Monitor Cover
)Nikon BS-1 (Hot Shoe Cover)
Nikon Capture NX SoftwareNikon
EG-D2 Audio / Video CableNikon
EN-EL3e Special Battery PackNikon
MH-18a Charger for Special BatteriesNikon
UC-E4 USB CablePIXO
C4 Charger for Special BatteriesOcular Cover
DK-5Rubber Eyecup
DK-23Image editing software
Nikon Picture Project for Windows and for MacintoshImage management software
Nikon View Pro
additional accessories Nikon EH-5 AC AdapterNikon
MB-D10 Rechargeable Battery Grip Removable Memory Card

 

Previous articlePanasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100 Review
Next articleSony a200 Review
Peter Dench
I am Peter Dench. Digital Photographer, born in London 1972, currently living in Deerfield, near Chicago. I have numerous photography expositions and also working in model photography. In this website, PhotoPoint, I usually review cameras provided by local dealers in Illinois and by the manufacturers. Sometimes I, Peter Dench, review lenses too, but only when I have a suitable camera for them. Please let me know in the comments if I can improve any of these articles.