Nikon D300s Review

    | Reviews | 16/06/2010 12:24pm
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    A significant upgrade to the hugely popular D300 or a minor makeover with HD video thrown in?

    Nikon’s D300 has been a huge hit, and a major thorn in Canon’s side as the two companies fight for dominance of the lucrative enthusiast market. So it’s hardly a big surprise to see Nikon upgrading its cash cow so it includes the hottest SLR feature du jour, namely HD video recording. Somewhat controversially, the 12.3-megapixel DX sensor hasn’t changed, though the new camera is faster in burst mode, taking 7 JPEGs per second, and 2.5 RAWs.

    Nikon D300s Review: Overview

    Nikon’s taking a bit of a risk here, as like it not, the megapixel count still has the power to sway the wavering punter. Obviously, the inclusion of HD video is going to be a big selling point, but let’s look at the new movie mode later. Like its predecessor, the D300s is a tremendously well-built camera and the magnesium alloy body instantly inspires conidence. Your reviewer lugged the D300s around some humid and hectic locations in Thailand and Malaysia for two weeks, and the camera still looked box-fresh at the end of it.

    One major improvement to the body is the inclusion of a three-inch LCD, offering 920,000 colourful dots, 170-degree viewing angle and 100% frame coverage. Another new addition is a multiselector thumb pad, with a convenient centre button for activating starting and stopping movies. This is a big improvement over the D90, where finding the movie mode requires detection skills worthy of Poirot!

    Using the camera is very easy, though it’s not without its quirks; image review can feel jerky and sluggish until you get used to the multi-controller, and our review sample proved annoyingly reluctant to switch back to standard single image review once we’d selected a multi-view option. These are minor niggles though, and even somebody coming fresh to the D300s from another SLR system will soon get to grips with it. The menu system is easy to navigate and setting up customised shortcuts is easy via the My Menu function.

    Wildlife, travel and performance photographers will also be intrigued by a new ‘quiet’ mode for shutter release. As well as turning off the AF beep, it basically locks up the mirror until you take your finger off the shutter release, then lowers the mirror slowly and quietly. It’s not totally silent but should help when you don’t want to draw attention to yourself.

    Nikon D300s Review: Overview
    Nikon D300s Review: Image quality and HD video
    Nikon D300s Review: Sample images
    Nikon D300s Review: Specifications, price and product images

     

     

    Nikon D300s Review: Image quality and HD video

     

    On to the image performance. Put simply, the D-300s builds on all the virtues of its predecessor. The metering system is very intelligent, with the usual 3D Color Matrix, centre-weighted and spot modes, and handily-placed exposure indicators mean you can spot trouble before you take the shot. The exposure compensation range is generous and easy to adjust too, while the built-in flash is powerful and flexible for an integrated unit (very handy when using fill in flash in Av mode, for instance).

    On the subject of lighting, this camera really stands out for its ISO performance. The ISO range stretches from 200 to a reckless 6400; as our test shots reveal, noise is well controlled until you kick the ISO up to mad levels, and even then you can get passable shots. So is the noise-reduction ‘better’ than on a comparative Canon SLR? It’s a close run thing, and obviously inluenced by the different sensor technologies, but high-ISO noise on the D-300s seemed somewhat ‘cleaner’ and easier to remove. For everyday photography at typical ISO levels, it’s not a worry. The AF system is fast and highly effective, though not as immediately intuitive as that on a Canon 50D or 7D. Shoot action and you also really appreciate the extra speed of the D300s, particularly if you buy the beefed-up battery pack.

    So on to the big selling point, HD video. Rather like the curate’s egg, it’s good in parts. First the good news. Unlike earlier Nikons, movie mode is easy to activate; just go into Live View mode and hit the central button. Setting the movie quality via the menu is easy, too (you can shoot 320 x 216, 640 x 424 and, best of all, 280 x 720 at 24fps). What’s more, there are some cool extras that you don’t get with the D300s’s rivals, such as port for a proper stereo microphone and the ability to record video to both SD and CF memory via the twin card slots.

    Shoot at the highest setting, and the video is of a high quality, even on the standard 16-85mm kit lens. The chief drawbacks of using the D300s for video are the lack of exposure controls, tardy focusing and limited duration. Compared with AF for still images, the video-focusing system feels sluggish, though it works well enough when it kicks in. More annoyingly, you can only record about five minutes of video in 720p HD mode. So, what we have here is an excellent stills camera with HD video bolted on as a nice extra – but not really much more.

    If you’re going to shoot a lot of HD video, you may be better off considering a rival SLR with a more sophisticated movie mode, such as the Panasonic GH-1, or if your budget stretches, the Canon 5D Mk II. Or, wait until Nikon releases a firmware update to beef up the video features – market forces will probably prompt the company to release an update of some kind.

    The Nikon D300s is a high-quality enthusiast SLR, one that ticks all the boxes apart from full-frame sensor and sophisticated HD video it’s noticeably limited compared with some of the competition). When you take HD video out of the equation, we’re not convinced there’s enough new here to justify an immediate upgrade from the D300, but if you’re looking to upgrade your D90 (or change to a Nikon enthusiast SLR from a rival system) this is an outstanding buy.

     Nikon D300s Review: Overview
    Nikon D300s Review: Image quality and HD video
    Nikon D300s Review: Sample images
    Nikon D300s Review: Specifications, price and product images

     

    Nikon D300s Review: Sample images

     

    Nikon D300s Review: Overview
    Nikon D300s Review: Image quality and HD video
    Nikon D300s Review: Sample images
    Nikon D300s Review: Specifications, price and product images

     

    Nikon D300s:Specifications, price and product images

     

    RRP: £1, 495
    Image sensor: 12.3 Megapixels
    Focal length conversion: 1.5x
    Viewfinder: Yes
    Lens mount: Nikon F
    Memory: CF, SD compliant
    Metering modes: 3D Colour Matrix, centre-weighted, spot
    Focusing modes: Includes Auto with 51 or 11 focus points, AF-S, AF-C, manual
    Shutter speed: 30s to 1/8000 sec, bulb
    Integral flash: GN17 at ISO 200
    Flash sync: 1/250 sec
    Flash modes: Includes front curtain sync, flow sync, red-eye reduction
    Drive modes: Single frame, continuous low speed, continuous high speed, quiet shutter-release, self-timer, mirror up
    ISO sensitivity: ISO 100 – 6400
    Exposure modes Program, Aperture, Shutter, Manual
    LCD monitor: 3-inch colour TFT LCD
    Weight 840g
    Battery life: 950 shots
    Power supply: Rechargeable Li-ion EN-EL3e
    Transfer: High speed USB, video out, HDMI, stereo mini pin jack
    Software: Nikon Transfer and View NX

    Nikon D300s Review: Overview
    Nikon D300s Review: Image quality and HD video
    Nikon D300s Review: Sample images
    Nikon D300s Review: Specifications, price and product images


    Posted on Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 at 12:24 pm under Reviews.

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