- Brilliant detail, good colour balance, low noise, great detail in shadows, LCD looks wonderful
- Some minor haloing issues, no sensor-based stabilisation, costly
Simply put, Nikon's D300 is one of the finest cameras on the market. Its image quality matches competing models, and while you pay a premium, you get such features as live view, dust reduction, D-Lighting and a bevy of others in return. Perfect for enthusiasts and professionals.
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The landscape of the mid-range D-SLRs has been taking form over the last six months, with a slew of new releases from the likes of Canon, Olympus and Sony. However, one big player was missing; Nikon's D300. Well finally it has arrived, and we can tell you it has been worth the wait.
Sitting at a price point slightly higher than most of its competitors, this most definitely isn't a happy snap camera. It boasts a 12.1-megapixel sensor, six-frame per second shooting and a massive 51 auto-focus points, indicating it is clearly targeted at professionals and amateurs with a wad of cash burning a hole in their pocket.
We tested using a 24-85mm lens which differs a little from the default kit lens, so keep that in mind. As you'd expect the image quality is nothing short of stunning. With a higher sensor resolution than its chief rival, Canon's EOS 40D, it captures incredible amounts of detail. As with previous Nikon SLRs, the D300's images tend to be slightly towards the soft side, but that isn't to say they lack clarity. We captured some of the smoothest most detailed outdoor shots we've ever seen using this camera. If you'd prefer a slightly sharper look of course that can easily be achieved by adjusting a few settings.
Chromatic aberration wasn't really a problem either, with no loss of clarity towards the edges of the frame. There was some minor haloing in high contrast areas but it won't be problematic at most print sizes.
Colours were generally bright and vivid, with strongly saturated reds and blues. Overall accuracy was impressive. We would probably give the edge to the 40D in this regard, but with the multitude of pre- and post-processing options available to photographers these days the difference is negligible.
One noteworthy element of the D300 is its Active D-Lighting, which helps to bring out details in areas of shadow. This worked well and our tests and highlighted some obvious improvements in high contrast shooting scenarios. One of the great challenges for modern cameras is how well they handle scenarios with a great variety of lighting conditions and this model is towards the top of the pack at the current time.
Image noise was kept well under control. The D300 produced clean, usable shots right up to ISO 1600. There was no loss of clarity from noise reduction and what noise was visible had an extremely fine grain that lessens its impact. Even ISO 3200 is suitable if you're only making small prints.
To be honest, the D300's image quality was never in doubt and while it is in every way comparable to other models on the market (and better in some scenarios), it is the feature set that you'll be paying the premium price for. Aside from the aforementioned D-Lighting options, there are the usual array of manual shooting modes, bracketing, exposure and auto focus settings.
In our speed tests everything lived up to expectation. There was no noticeable lag between shots or when powering up, and the burst mode operates at a very respectable six frames per second.
This is Nikon's first camera with built-in dust reduction. It operates in much the same way as Olympus's system, vibrating a panel in front of the sensor at power up; however, we didn't find it quite as effective. What did impress us was the live view implementation on the D300, which manages to focus a little more speedily than its competitors.
It is further enhanced by the brilliant 921,600 pixel 3in display which is, to put it simply, the best screen available on a digital SLR at the moment. Identical to the screen on Sony's new Alpha A700 it has great viewing angles and offers an unparalleled preview of what your pictures will look like.
This is accompanied by a secondary, monochrome LCD on the top of the unit, which is primarily used to change the settings. The controls themselves are a little strange; with no function wheel present (instead a mode button is used). We found the D300 a little more fiddly to use than some of its competitors but after a little practice it becomes relatively simple.
The body itself is rock solid; this camera is built like a tank. Constructed entirely of magnesium alloy it is a hefty unit and should prove sturdy enough for even the most intrepid of photographers. It also has the noteworthy feature of including HDMI for easy connection to a high-definition television display.
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