Real World Review: The Nikon D300 – Still Great After All This Time

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Wait…didn’t this just come out…….?
The Nikon D300 has been in our hands now for a couple of months. Of course Nikon just announced the D700. Not so many months later.

But thankfully, it was added to the line, and not a replacement.
So consider this outstanding camera, the D300, and relish the fact that perhaps there may be a small price drop.

We put it through a variety of paces; Studio light, bounced and reflected natural light, and simple available light.
At first blush, it was simply the larger screen; same great ergonomic feel of the body, and a few extra touches (better connection caps on the 10 pin and USB connectors for instance) that spruced up the unit.
But would it be worth an upgrade from the D200? And how about the latest D700 just announced? Should you leap frog?

It’s a 2-part question:
A. Do you want to spend the same dough again, because I promise you, there will be a newer version next year. It’s just the way this digital world goes. (The D700 is actually the middle body in this lineup, as we mentioned.)
B. Is a better image processor and over all more control on the front end important to you?

For most folks, you can probably leapfrog models and live with what you have. We know that a lot of folks may not use their D200 all the time, but when they do, are very happy with the results . BUT if that extra mile is what you need, this camera will give you that additional quality in your digital file. Much better processor, especially.

And it’s about workflow, too. The more you deal with tons of digital media, the less time you’ll like to spend tweaking them to your specifications: color, exposure, contrast, etc.

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The D300 has one of the most sophisticated, yet easy to use, color maps to customize your photographs in camera. Make sure you look at a calibrated monitor to start, but the short time you put in up front with the camera, will save you time on the post end.

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Nikon’s Active D-Lighting Image enhancement: Provided on the fly while shooting, Active D-lighting produces broader tone reproduction in both shadows and highlights by controlling light intensity and exposure compensation while applying localized tone control technology to achieve the right level of contrast across the entire image for sharp, detailed results.

There are other post features on board, but the color and D-lighting, we found to be the most useful.

Let’s keep going-

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The Flash controls are as good as they ever were, giving you the ability to get into the Commander mode, where your SB-800 strobe comes off the camera and goes wireless. Extremely easy and when you want to bounce some light, it’s a great tool in the lighting toolbox.

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above is an example of a light bounced into a reflector, mixed with natural light. One SB-800 used in Commander mode.

Of course Nikon’s famous ability to shoot both Raw and Jpeg in a selection of sizes is still standard and perfect. Sometimes the size of a jpeg may be all someone needs, but to have a fully uncompressed companion file is mandatory in our humble opinion.

Borrowing the 51-point focus system from the D3, this unit rocks for auto focus. The simple button which allow you to place the center of focus where want it without moving your eye form the eyepiece make life easy.
The active auto focus, the best in the business, insures a sharp image.

Of course we will freely admit that we do have a slight tendency to use the floating ISO feature: set the manual adjustments you want and let the camera pick your ISO. Good only in certain circumstances, like an event sans flash, it has been a lifesaver on occasion.

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At the end of the day, ergonomics for us, are a critical factor. This camera has a solid weighty feel, with all of the controls in just the right places. The left hand controls the viewing and reviewing of the images, while the right controls the exposure.

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GeoPic II mounted on top of D300, in one of 3 geotagging modes

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GPS data shown on the D300 info screen

Plus the Nikon 10 pin connector is only one of 2 cameras that takes, in our opinion, the current leader in geotaggers, the GeoPic II. Tiny, fits on the hot shoe, embeds the GPS coordinates onto the EXIF file, and displays it on the large screen in the back while we check all of the other stats.
Truly a great feature, and feels like and imaging computer in our hands.

Oh ……it is a computer. Right.

But it feels as great as any of the best 35mm cameras we’ve ever owned.

Theses are a few of the unique features of the D300, and we know many of the other units in the pay grade, share a bunch of common features, so you have to ask yourself one question:
Is it worth it?

And we’re back to the beginning questions: money and quality.
How do you use your camera? What do you do with the end images?

We’ve been happy to use this camera for a couple of months. And easy transition from a D200. Now that the D700 has been announced, it changes the landscape a bit.

With many of the features of the D3 in this new unit, you have to decide whether the additional $1200 for the D700 is worth it to you now.

And remember, since the sensor is the full frame FX variety on the D700, if you use 2 bodies, they should probably match in the way they use the lenses and virtual focal length. Big new investment.

At the end of the day, we loved the D300 for the simple reasons of processor, color control, and auto focus. Geotagging is a plus, but personal. The feel in the hands is solid and substantial.

The downsides are the lack of the full size sensor ( although now available in the mid-range ) and perhaps for some, the weight.

We encourage you as always to visit you local camera store and put one in your hands. Only you know how the tool works / feels for you.

We fell in love the first time the D300’s RAW image processed in Lightroom and there were no color artifacts.

You can visit the other sites for the hardcore specs and see how other folks have used the camera.
We just open the box and use it. Like you would. Yes, we go through the manual. Once. Then refer back when we discover a new thing.
That’s why we take a bit of time.
The camera is with us everyday, when we review. Just like your camera.
It’s about the image, this is a tool.
And the D300 is a superb one.

Here are some additional images using some of the features we discussed.
While shooting some of the best skateboarders today, the descendants of the original Dogtown, we used the D300 and some SB-800’s the way they were meant to be used.

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While in the bowl, the 51-point focus was critical to capturing these dudes. Plus on the bike shot on top, being able to adjust the main focal point, the guarantee of crystal sharp photographs was a lock. Plus the high ISO let me shoot with no additional lighting.

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When it came to getting a single, full story shot, the burst rate came in handy. On the second shot, you can see that an off-camera SB-800 was used in Commander mode to add a bit of light. This is the raw image before photoshop was used to remove the shadows from the fence.

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Utilizing the high ISO in a natural setting, gave me time to shoot a natural portrait between runs.

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Here is a more formal portrait using the SB-800 once again the wireless commander mode.

So there you have it. A real world usage of one of the best cameras out there.

All photos © Damon Webster

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