The front of the Nikon D300 has a well-defined right hand grip covered in a rubber material that is textured to look like leather. Near the top is Nikon’s hallmark red swath that sits just below the sub-command dial. Above the dial, the hand grip slopes upward to the top. The shutter release button is surrounded by the power switch, and behind it are two buttons for exposure compensation and mode that can all be seen from the front.

To the right of the shutter release area is the large and bright autofocus assist lamp that also shoots out beams when it acts as a self-timer indicator. Below it is a depth of field preview button and, at the bottom, a function button. These are just within reach of the right fingertips.

Just where it should be is the lens mount with its metal couplings and the half-moon lens release button to its right. Directly above the lens mount is the classic Nikon logo where the pop-up flash folds into the top of the camera body. Just below the lens release button, the side of the focus mode selector can be seen.

In the upper right corner is the D300 logo. Just below it are two rubber covers that together look like a single oval. They open to reveal the flash sync terminal on the top and the remote terminal on the bottom.

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Back (9.0)

The back of the D300 is littered with buttons and controls and, of course, the glorious 3-inch high-resolution LCD screen. The LCD is positioned below the viewfinder and comes with a thin plastic cover to protect it. There is a Nikon logo at the bottom. Along the left side of the LCD is a column of five buttons. From the top to the bottom, they include: menu, info/help/protect, thumbnail/playback zoom out, playback zoom in, and OK (this was called "enter" on the D200).

In the upper left corner of the back are the playback and delete/format buttons. Above them, the grooved edge of the drive mode dial can be seen. To the right of these features and directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder surrounded by a removable rubber eyecup. The diopter adjustment control peeks out from the upper right corner of the viewfinder, while the hot shoe sits at the apex above the viewfinder.

To the right of the finder is an auto exposure and autofocus lock surrounded by a metering selector. To its right is a button labeled AF-on that acts the same as pushing the shutter release halfway and is used mainly when shooting with the live view. The main command dial sits in the upper right corner of the D300’s back.

To the right of the LCD is a nickel-sized multi-selector with a focus selector lock around it. Below this combination of controls is a round switch that moves between three autofocus area modes. Between the multi-selector and the autofocus area switch is a tiny LED labeled "CF" that shows when the memory card is being accessed. At the very bottom of the camera is a lever that is tightly spring-loaded but, when turned, releases the memory card door on the right side of the camera. The right edge of the camera has the same rubber material used on the front, and there is a lip on the camera that makes it a little easier to hold.

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**Left Side (8.5)

**The left side of this DSLR shows the drive selector dial at the top and the sturdy chrome neck strap lug just below it. Near the front of the camera is the flash pop-up button with the flash mode and compensation beneath it. By the lens mount, the side of the lens release button can be seen. Below it is the focus mode selector that moves between Continuous, Single, and Manual servo modes.

Where the left hand actually wraps around the camera (when not cradling the lens) is a rubber coating that matches the other gripping surfaces on the camera body. Near the back is an inconspicuous cover that is sturdier than the average rubber cover. It opens to reveal a large area with four ports. The video-out jack is on top, the HDMI connector is just below it, the DC-in adapter jack is next, and the high-speed USB function is at the very bottom.

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Right Side (7.0)

The right side seems very bland when compared to the other angles of the camera body. That’s a good thing, though. This is where the right hand supports the bulk of the camera’s weight. The only mentionable features from this side are the tightly sealed memory card compartment that can only be opened from the back, and the neck strap lug near the top.

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Top(8.5)

The top of this DSLR shows a few more controls and dials. On the left side is the release mode dial, which peeks out on the back and shows which drive mode is selected. This dial remains stiff and can only turn when the half-moon button above it is pushed. There are three buttons in its center for image quality, white balance, and ISO.

The viewfinder hump sits above the lens mount and shows where the pop-up flash comes up near the front. At the back is the D300’s hot shoe. On the right side is a large monochrome LCD panel that shows shooting information. Above the right side of this LCD is the shutter release button surrounded by the power switch, and two buttons for mode/format and exposure compensation. These controls tilt from the front toward the front and are visible from both the top and front angles.

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Bottom (8.0)

The bottom of the camera shows a thin plastic door under the hand grip where the battery fits into its compartment. There is also a rubber cover that surrounds two sides of the battery compartment and houses contacts to communicate with the optional battery grip. Directly below the lens is a ridged rubber surface that also has a metal tripod socket centered on it.

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We found that the Nikon D300 performed extremely well overall in our tests; the color in captured images was good, and there was a great level of detail. But it wasn’t without its quirks; the long exposure noise reduction made only a very slight difference and takes a long time. But the iamge quality is overall extremely good.

One important caveat to consider here: with SLRs, we would normally test with the kit lens that is sold with the camera, but the D300 does not have this option. Instead, we tested it with a Nikkor 17-55mm AF-S lens that added $1200 to the cost. The total cost of the lens and body combination that we tested was about $3000.

Color (9.04)

The images that the D300 captured had bright, accurate color. Images came out looking as you would expect from a $3000 camera, with color that was very close to the real world.

We test color accuracy by photographing a color test chart under precisely controlled lighting conditions, then running the images through Imatest, a high end image analysis program. This looks at how close the colors in the image are to the originals on the chart, and produces this version of the test chart.

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In this, the outer section of each of the color is what the camera captured, while the inner square is the camera captured color after it has been processed with luminance correction. The vertical rectangle represents the original color.

Imatest also produces a graph that illustrates the accuracy of the colors the camera captures; the squares are the original, ideal colors, and the circles are the colors in the captured image. The shorter the line between the two, the more accurate the camera is at capturing colors.

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Most of the lines here are short; the colors are generally pretty accurate. The exceptions are some of the blues and some of the more subtle reds; these colors are a little off, but these are minor issues. The overall mean color error was an impressive 6.63, and the images were only about 6% oversaturated. Both of these are very good figures, showing that the D300 captures good, accurate color. These results show a slight improvement over the Nikon D200, but the color performance is not significantly changed. But they aren’t as good as some similar cameras that we’ve tested: Canon 1D Mark III performed slightly better in this test, managing a mean color error of just 5.69. Likewise, the Canon EOS 40D also had very slightly better color; we found a mean color error in our tests of 6.71.

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We tested the D300 in its default picture control mode (called standard), but it also offers neutral, vivid and monochrome picture control modes. We also tested in the default color space setting (sRGB), but the D300 is unusual in also offering support for the Adobe RGB color space model. This supports a wider range of colors, which would make the images more suitable for post-processing. However, most users won’t need to use this setting; only those who heavily edit their images and want the extra color space it offers will need this.

Resolution (11.89)

With a 12.3 effective megapixel image sensor, it’s no big surprise that the D300 did well in our test that analyzes the resolution that the camera can capture. But there’s more to this test than the image sensor; we’ve seen plenty of cameras with high megapixel counts, but poor resolution because the image wasn’t processed well after it was captured. To analyze this, we take a series of photos of a resolution chart at a variety of settings for focal length and aperture, then run the captured image through Imatest to see how much detail there is in it. Our scoring system takes resolution into account, so a 5-megpixel camera can earn the same score as a 10-megapixel one if the images it captures contain the same level of detail relative to the resolution.

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Imatest produces a measure from this analysis called line widths per picture height, which is a measure of how many alternating black and white lines the camera could capture before they disappear into a grey mush. The higher this number, the more detail the camera is capable of capturing and storing in an image. The D300 did extremely well in this test; the combination of the D300 and the 17-55mm lens we used for testing managed to capture an impressive 2031 lw/ph horizontally and 1762 lw/ph vertically, both with undersharpening of about 3%, which is pretty close to the 4% ideal we look for in digital SLRs. These are the highest results we have recorded for SLRs, so it’s safe to say that the D300 captures a great level of detail, and that the images would be able to be enlarged to huge sizes, or cropped in tightly and still retain plenty of detail.

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Noise – Manual ISO(13.25)

Noise is the stuff that ruins photographs: the blotchy patches in images and the static that turns a family snapshot into a poorly tuned TV picture. And more megapixels often means more noise; as the size of the individual sensor elements gets smaller, they become more prone to picking up the electronic background noise that causes noise in photos. And upping the sensitivity ot light of the camera by increasing the ISO just adds another problem; as the ISO goes up, the noise gets amplified along with the signal from the light hitting the sensor. So, given that the D300 takes photos at an impressive 12 megapixels at an ISO setting of up to 3200, how much noise is there in the photos it takes? The answer is surprisingly little; we found that the images were impressively low in noise.

We test noise by taking a photo of our color test chart under bright light, then gradually increasing the ISO level and using Imatest to analyze the noise in the resulting images. We then produce a graph like the one below that shows how the noise increases as the ISO increases; the noise is measured as a percentage of the total signal, and the higher the noise, the worse the image.

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The D300 has three different levels of noise reduction; low, normal and high. There’s also a setting to turn off the noise reduction completely, which is indicated by the pink line. As you can see, the noise reduction features did an excellent job of reducing the noise in images; even at the maximum setting of ISO 3200, the noise was only just above 1 per cent with the normal and high noise settings. The default normal setting also did a good job of keeping noise down; although the noise at 3200 ISO was noticeable, it was a lot less obvious in the images that many cameras we’ve tested.

There is still noise in the images with the High ISO Noise Reduction setting on high but it is much reduced from the normal setting. However, images did lack some definition with the high setting enabled; although the camera is doing a great job of preserving the color information in the image, some of the detail gets slightly reduced by the noise reduction process, giving images a slightly soft look; see the edges of the text in the images above for an example. We’ll go into more detail on this in the low light tests below.

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Auto Noise (8.35)

We also test the noise levels with the ISO set to automatic, where the camera picks the appropriate ISO level for the lighting situation. Because this is a well-lit color chart, the camera unsurprisingly picked the ISO 200 setting, which produced a low level of noise.

Nikon-d300-auto-noise-scores.jpg

White Balance (9.17)

In this test, we look at how well the camera judges the qualities of the light it is capturing; particularly the color temperature. White light often isn’t as white as you think; the color of the light emitted by the sun is very different to the color of the light given off by a florescent light. This is called the color temperature. Your eye and brain automatically adjusts for the color temperature of the light, making white object seem white whatever the light. The camera has to as well, with something called white balance. We test two aspects of this; the automatic white balance (where the camera examines the light and adjusts the white balance) and the presets, where the camera has a number of built-in settings for different types of lighting. We test by illuminating a color chart in 4 different types of light (flash, florescent, shaded daylight and tungsten), taking photos using both the auto and preset white balance settings, then analyze the captured images in Imatest.

Auto (6.7)

As with most SLRs, the D300 had some issues when using auto white balance: it had issues with several of our light sources; particularly the flash and tungsten settings. The latter of these was particularly off; the whites had an unpleasant orange tone. The daylight white balance was acceptable, though; it did a decent job of judging the light in that situation.

Preset (11.6)

The white balance presets were much more accurate; in this test, the images had white balance that was accurate for most of the light sources; the tungsten and overcast daylight preset were almost perfect.

One thing that we don’t score on is the evaluative white balance, where you supply the camera with a white object and it judges the color temperature of the light from that. We found that this mode on the D300 did an excellent job of judging the light; it produced much more accurate results than the auto white balance. So, the bottom line here is that if accurate white balance is important, use either the presets or the evaluative white balance. The auto white balance did an adequate job of judging daylight, so it should be fine for outdoor shooting, but it didn’t work well under tungsten of florescent light.

Still life

Click to view the high-resolution images.

Low Light (9.02)

In many situations, you can’t use the flash that comes built into your camera. Flashes are banned at most performances, so if you want to capture your childs oscar-worthy performance as a sunflower in the school play, you’ll have to use whatever light is available. That’s why we test the low light performance of cameras; to see how well they can deal with this sort of difficult lighting situations. We test the low light performance of cameras in two ways, measuring their performance with long exposures and at different light levels. In both tests, we found that the D300 did an excellent job of capturing images without producing ugly, grainy images; they were consistently low in noise, but with strong color.

Our first low light test measures the performance of the camera at different light levels, from 60 lux (about the same as a well-lit indoor room) to 5 lux (about what you’d get in a dark room with just a single candle). For this test, we set the ISO level to 1600. We then analyze the captured images, looking for how accurate the colors remain and how much noise there is in the image as the camera struggles to make the most of the existing light.

The D300 did well in this test; as the light level fell, the amount of noise in images grew, but not as much as many other cameras that we’ve seen; even with just a minimal 5 lux of light, the D300 produced images with low noise. With the noise reduction disabled, we measured the average noise at about 2.4 percent, which is a little higher than the noise we saw in the canon 40D (around 1.5 percent). But with the noise reduction on its highest setting, the noise dropped to just 1.11 percent, while the 40D’s noise reduction mode only pushed the noise down to 1.22 percent. So the noise reduction feature on the D300 did a very impressive job here; although the noise in images was very low to begin with, it reduce it even further.

For our long exposure test, we take a series of images with exposure times of 1 seconds to 30 seconds and then use Imatest to analyze the amount of noise present in the images. For the D300, we tested it with the long exposure noise reduction both disabled and enabled. We then produce the following graph, which shows how the noise in the images increases with the exposure time.

What this shows is that the D300 did a great job with keeping the noise level low, even with the longest 30 second exposure. Even with the long exposure light level setting disabled, the noise level never rose above just over 1.2 percent, which is a very small amount of noise. The long exposure noise reduction setting did a very creditable job of reducing this low noise level even further; the noise in this test hovered at around 1 percent. Both of these figures are extremely good; in many compact cameras we see noise levels of 4 to 5 percent, and the D300 did better in this test than most other SLR cameras as well. Of the camera that we’ve tested in the past year, only the Canon 1D Mark III had lower noise in long exposures.

However, there is a price to pay for using the long exposure noise reduction mode; it doubles the shooting time, as the camera takes as long to process the image and reduce the noise as the shutter speed. So, if you are shooting for 15 seconds of exposure time, you won’t see the image for another 15 seconds after the shutter has closed. Whether this is worth it depends on how important the noise reduction is to you; if you are photographing things that don’t mind holding relatively still (such as the moon or the stars), then it’s probably worth it.

Dynamic Range (11.27)

Dynamic range is how well the camera can capture the full range of shades, from the deepest black to the whitest white. While this sounds like a washing powder commercial, it’s a very important test; the wider the dynamic range a camera can capture, the more of the highlights and lowlights of an image they will be able to capture. Again, the D300 did very well here: we found that it had good wide dynamic range, and that this dynamic range was well maintained as the ISO level increased. Although it did drop off, the D300 had less of a steep decline of dynamic range as the ISO level increased.

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Most digital SLRs do well in this test, as the extra processing power that they have allows them to keep more shadow and highlight detail in images as they compress the images. The D300 did better than most, though; the only digital SLR we’ve tested that had a wider range was the Canon 1D mark III.  

Speed/Timing – All speed tests were conducted using a 2GB SanDisk Ultra II Compact Flash Card, with the camera shooting large, superfine JPEGs.

Startup to First Shot (9.7)

We test how quickly cameras start up by photographing digital timers. Our first test measures ho quickly the camera can take the first shot after you turn it on, and the D300 was very fast here; we could turn the camera on and snap a shot in around 0.3 seconds. That’s very quick; most SLRs take a couple of seconds to warm up, but the thing that took the longest time with the D300 was turning the dial to turn the camera on. This doesn’t count time for the lens to focus, though; we use manual focus in this test to get the quickest possible time.

Shot-to-Shot (10.2)

Shooting JPEG images on a fast CompactFlash card, the D300 managed an impressively short time of just 0.17 seconds between shots, for an average of 5.8 frames per second. That’s in the continuous high mode; in the slower continuous low speed mode, the time between frames drops to .33 seconds, for an average of 3 frames per second.  In the continuous high mode, we were able to capture 21 frames before the camera began to shoot at a significantly slower frame rate, but it was able to keep shooting in the continuous low mode continuously, until the memory card was filled. This is dependent on the speed of the card, though; we use a fast memory card, so a slower one would be more of a bottleneck. An indicator on the top display shows how many approximate frames of buffer memory are left.

Shutter-Shot (9.0)

We were unable to ascertain the shutter delay of the D300; it was too small to accurately measure. But we can safely say that it isn’t much; the camera is extremely quick to capture an image when you press the shutter.

Processing (9.0)

Image processing was also very, very fast; images were displayed less than a second after they were captured.

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Viewfinder (9.0)

The Nikon D300 has a fixed eye-level pentaprism optical viewfinder that delivers a 100 percent view of the recorded image, up from the 95 percent view on the D200. The D300’s viewfinder is large and bright and is complemented by a clear view.

There is a Type-B BriteView Clear Matte focusing screen with superimposed focus points on it. You can add brackets and grid lines as well.

The viewfinder is surrounded on three sides by a removable rubber eyepiece. It is cushioned and feels nice, but is probably the first thing you’ll lose, as it slides off pretty easily. Peeking out from the upper right corner of the viewfinder is a diopter adjustment dial that is about the diameter of a pen. It has tiny grooves on its edge and moves within its -2 to +1 range. Several optional adapters are available for the viewfinder, including a magnifying and right-angle adapter.

Like the D200, the D300’s viewfinder has an eyepoint of 19.5mm and displays the scene at 0.94x magnification (with a 50mm lens at infinity). This means it's good for glasses wearers as well as those who use contacts or have good eyes. There is a row of information along the bottom of the viewfinder that includes the following: focus indicator, metering, auto exposure lock, shutter speed, aperture, exposure modes, flash compensation indicator, exposure compensation indicator, ISO sensitivity, number of exposures remaining, shots remaining before memory buffer fills, white balance recording indicator, exposure compensation value, flash compensation value, PC mode indicator, flash-ready indicator, FV lock indicator, flash sync indicator, aperture stop indicator, electronic analog exposure display, exposure compensation, auto ISO sensitivity indicator, and "K" appears when there are more than 1,000 exposures remaining on the memory card.

A new alternative to the viewfinder is introduced on the Nikon D300: live view technology on the LCD screen. Live view was popularized on compact digital cameras and is making its way onto DSLRs as seasoned point-and-shooters grow out of their compacts and buy into the DSLR market. Read more about this feature in the next section.

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LCD Screen (9.5)

Much of the Nikon D300’s back is occupied by a glorious 3-inch LCD screen. The size isn’t the best characteristic of this screen; it’s the 921,000-dot resolution that makes the image look smoother than anything you’ve ever seen on the back of a camera. The new screen makes the D200’s 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD look cheap.

The D300’s LCD sounds much like the Sony A700’s. Both DSLRs have the same size screen with the same resolution. Several recently Sony models (including the A700 and A200)  have an interesting feature that dims the LCD when users look into the viewfinder; that isn’t included on this Nikon. The screen is blanked when you press the shutter halfways down, though.

The D300’s low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD has a tempered glass screen that could be a little fragile. Nikon includes a plastic cover that snaps over the LCD on the back; this can easily be chipped or lost. The screen itself can be seen from many angles: high, low, and to the sides to about 170 degrees. This makes it great for overhead shooting: you can get a feel for how the captured images look when you are holding the camera overhead.

The Nikon D300 was announced in August 2007 on the same day the D3 was unveiled, and both add live view technology on their high-resolution LCD screens. The D300 has two live view LCD modes: handheld and tripod. The biggest difference between the two modes is the type of autofocus employed when selected: phase-detection is used for the handheld mode and contrast-detection is used for the tripod mode.

The live view mode isn’t all-purpose. It can’t be used for Burst mode shooting, nor is it for any type of photography that needs to be hastily done. The live view shows when the shutter is pushed lightly and the drive dial is selected to "LV." The live view is a noisy endeavor; the mirror flips up to allow the live view to be shown on the LCD screen. If you want a focused view, though, you must push the AF-ON button. That makes the view black out until the button is released. When the view returns, you can then take a picture by holding down the shutter button until it clicks twice. The live view is great for portrait photography or in other circumstances when viewing the camera from afar is convenient and subjects are still and/or patient, but it's not good for candid shooting; the process of the mirror flipping up and down just takes too long.

Of note is an LCD brightness adjustment in the Setup menu. It shows a grayscale on the screen for more informed judgment. The brightness can be set from -3 to +3 in full steps.

All in all, the high-resolution 3-inch back LCD screen is pretty incredible. Nikon’s first attempt at live view is respectable and will make the D300 attractive for photographers who can’t or don’t want to be locked onto the viewfinder at all times.

The second screen is the monochrome LCD on top of the camera that provides shooting information at all times. There are vast amounts of info presented here: everything from shooting mode, shutter speed and aperture to whether a GPS unit is connected or how many frames are left in the auto bracketing sequence. The monochrome LCD can be lit up with a green backlight when the power switch is pushed to the light icon. The light stays on for only a few seconds before darkening again.

Flash (8.0)

A pop-up flash appears above the lens mount when the flash release button on the left side is pushed. There is a Flash mode button near it that has dual function: it chooses the Flash mode when pushed along with the rear control dial, and it chooses the flash exposure compensation when pushed simultaneously with the front control dial’s rotation.

The Flash modes include Front-Curtain Sync (Normal), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, Slow Sync, and Rear-Curtain Sync. The flash exposure compensation can be set from -3 to +1 EV in increments of a third, half, or one EV.

The D300’s flash has a guide number of 17 at ISO 200. It can sync to 1/250 of a second, the same as the D200. The flash sync can speed up to 1/320 when used with an optional Speedlight flash.

Dedicated Nikon flashes such as the Speedlight SB-800, SB-600, and SB-R200 can be attached to the ISO 518 standard hot shoe atop the camera. For non-dedicated flashes, there is a PC sync terminal to the left of the flash when viewing from the front of the camera. Nikon’s older flash systems cannot be used with the D300; only these three Speedlights can be used on the hot shoe.

The flash coverage looks as even as it did on the D200, which is vastly improved upon from the archaic Nikon D100.

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Lens Mount (9.0)

The Nikon D300 comes with the same F-mount as its other DSLRs and accepts all modern Nikkor lenses. Almost all Nikon lenses can be used, but older lenses may have some restrictions.

The D300 is fully compatible with all DX, D- and G-type AF Nikkor lenses. Standard AF Nikkor lenses are fully functional except for the new metering system on the D300. AI-P Nikkor lenses cannot use the autofocus system nor the Matrix Metering II, but are otherwise functional. Non-CPU AI Nikkor lenses can be used in the Aperture Priority and Manual modes with limited control.

Near the lens release button is a lens servo switch that moves from Single to Continuous and Manual modes. The Continuous servo activates predictive autofocus tracking technology.

The Nikon D300 is sold as the body only or packaged with one of the following lenses. With an 18-135mm lens, the D300 kit sells for $2,099, and with the 18-200mm lens, the package costs $2,539. The camera we reviewed came with a $1200 AF-S Nikkor 17-55mm lens.

One of the major criticisms of Nikon’s DSLRs is their lack of internal image stabilization; instead, you have to reply on the image stabilization features of the lenses. Nikon offers this  image stabilization, which it calls "vibration reduction," in many of its lenses, but the cost more than their standard cousins. Other DSLR manufacturers like Sony, Pentax, and Olympus are including sensor-shift stabilization.

**Model Design / Appearance (8.25)

**The Nikon D300 looks like a tank of a camera. It has a solid magnesium alloy body that is tightly sealed and well-built. The design hasn’t changed much from the D200. Many of the same contours and surfaces are still around on this model. The D300 also carries the inverted red triangle that is a hallmark of all Nikon DSLRs. The D300 has a little twist on it, though: the right side of the triangle seems stretched toward the lens mount and looks more like a swoosh than a triangle.

Size / Portability (7.0)

Tanks have the disadvantage of being somewhat heavy, though; The Nikon D300 is almost as heavy as its predecessor the D200 at 1.82 pounds (825 grams) not including the battery, memory card, body cap, or monitor cover. It's nearly the same size as its as well at 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 inches (the D200 is only 4.4 inches tall). Add a decent sized zoom lens and your wrists will surely get a good workout. Add a tripod and they’ll get some relief.

This DSLR comes with strap lugs on the sides and a nice Nikon-emblazoned neck strap that is thick and comfortable.

Handling Ability (7.5)

The Nikon D300 has a comfortable right hand grip with a nice rubber-like surface that wraps around it. There is a defined divot on the front for fingers to rest in along with a lip on the back of the camera for the thumb to better support the camera. The left hand will likely support the base or lens from the bottom, as this DSLR is quite heavy. The buttons are all well-placed and labeled and only enhance the physical handling of the D300.

**

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Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size (8.25)

**As with many DSLRs in its category, the Nikon D300 has a button on its body for just about everything. There are two command dials – one at the front of the grip and the other at the back - that can be customized to access the shutter speed, aperture, and other functions. This, along with most other controls on the camera, are unchanged from the older D200’s layout.

The function button, preview button, and AE/AF-L buttons can all be customized to access a variety of different options from the camera’s menu system. This makes it very easy for photographers who need to quickly change certain items that are normally menu-bound with a touch of a button; they can map these features onto the buttons for quick access.

There are dozens of buttons and each seems to be surrounded by a dial of some type, so there are only so many on-camera functions that can be performed quickly. The buttons are all well-placed and labeled, making them comfortable and easy to access.

Menu (8.0)

The menu system looks similar to those on other Nikon DSLRs. There is a menu button to the upper left corner of the LCD screen. When pushed, the menus appear on the large, high-resolution LCD with enough room to fit eight options on the screen at once. There are six folder tabs to the menus that appear along the left edge. There is also a help icon at the bottom that explains features when the button to the left of the LCD labeled with a "?" is pushed. The Playback menu icon is the top folder in the column.

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Below the playback icon is an icon of a camera to designate the Shooting menu. This hosts a plethora of items.

 

There is a pencil icon that represents the Custom Shooting menu.

 

Whew. The Custom Settings menu is perhaps the longest and most verbose, but hopefully it won’t need to be as frequently accessed as the standard Shooting menu or even the Setup menu.

  
Below the setup icon is a retouching icon that accesses a menu that's detailed in the Playback mode section. And to top off the amazing selection, the bottom icon accesses an option called "My Menu," which allows photographers to add and remove items from certain menus and even rank them in the priority that they are used.

The selection in the menus is incredible, and the navigation isn’t bad either with the smooth-feeling multi-selector. And for those who don’t recognize every option in the menu system, there is a button to the left of the LCD labeled "?" that can be pushed to reveal explanations of certain functions. These aren’t one-liner explanations, either. There is three inches of space on the LCD and most of the time, it is all used up. For instance, the D300 has this to say about the Color Space option: "Choose the color space used to record photographs. sRGB: Choose for photos that will be printed or displayed with no further modification. Adobe RGB: Has a wider gamut than sRGB, making it suited to commercial printing applications."

The options in the menu are extensive, but will get you exactly what you want. And the customization that you can do with the menus means that you can put frequently used menu options right at the top for quick access.

Ease of Use (6.5)

If all you’re used to holding is a compact digital camera, there will definitely be some adjustment to using the Nikon D300. If you’re a seasoned photographer, especially one who has worked with Nikon DSLRs before, then the learning curve won’t be as steep. The controls are clearly labeled and there is a "help" button labeled with a "?" that demystifies any mode or feature on the camera. The handling is superb, as well.

Auto Mode (7.25)

There are only four exposure modes on this DSLR and the most automated is the Program AE mode. Although this can be sued as a full auto mode, it allows access to the shooting menu and just about every other setting except for shutter speed and aperture.

Movie Mode (0.0)

Like most SLRs, the D300 has no movie mode; there is no way to capture videos.

Drive / Burst Mode (9.0)

The Burst mode can be changed with a slide of the release mode dial on the left shoulder of the Nikon D300. It requires some coordination to slide the dial, though: you have to push in the stiff dial release button above it while rotating. It moves from S (Single) to CL (Continuous Low Speed) and CH (Continuous High Speed). It can then move to LV for the Live Viewing mode on the LCD screen, and then to a self-timer position and "Mup" (mirror up).

The Continuous Low Speed burst mode can be set to shoot 1 to 7 frames per second (fps), while the Continuous High Speed burst mode is set to shoot 6 fps; it can shoot up to 8 fps when the optional battery pack is attached. This burst is improved from the D200’s 5 fps and the D100’s 3 fps. The Nikon D300 is well above its competitors in this area; the Canon 40D has a 6.5 fps Burst mode that maxes out after 75 JPEGs, whereas the D300 maxes out after 100 shots. Indeed, the fast continuous burst of the D300 is addictive to play with. We took the D300 to a track meet and were thrilled with the camera’s speed and ability to get the victory shot every time – not to mention the glorious sound of the shutter clicking along. Photo finish? No problem.

The self-timer can be set to delay for 2, 5, 10, or 20 seconds. It cannot, however, take multiple images at the end of the delay like some digital cameras are doing now. Finally, the mirror lock-up mode reduces camera vibrations by keeping the shutter up and still up to 30 seconds before a shot is taken. This is to reduce blur in photos.

All in all, the high-speed burst is one of the best assets the D300 has to offer, and it will be a very powerful tool for sports photographers.

**Playback Mode (8.0)

**The high-resolution 3-inch LCD screen definitely makes the Playback mode a more enjoyable experience. It provides an incredibly smooth view of images and even allows you to greatly magnify images via the button to the left of the LCD screen. When magnifying, a smaller preview of the entire image appears in the corner with a superimposed yellow box showing what portion the rest of the screen is displaying. Pushing on the thumbnail button shows the bigger picture and then goes on to show four or nine thumbnails on the screen at a time.

Basic or full shooting info can be displayed with the image, along with an exposure histogram or an exposure histogram with red, green, and blue histograms. A highlight alert can also be set to flash.

Many of the Playback mode’s functions are tucked away into the menu.

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There is also a separate Retouch menu on the D300. Many of these options are included on the D200, too.

 

Most serious photographers will opt for a more sophisticated software program to edit their images, but in a bind these features can do wonders. The D-Lighting brings out the details in shadows. The filters and color effects will likely be passed up unless users are in need of some speedy direct printing.

The Nikon D300 has a slide show option available, but it isn’t anything fancy. It doesn’t hide shooting information, like most digital cameras, and it has a basic transition effect and a few selectable options for the length of the displayed image. It does not have the Pictmotion musical slide shows the D80 has, but that likely won’t be missed by most shooters.

Overall, the Playback mode has a decent amount of viewing and editing options. The enormous LCD screen provides one of the smoothest views we’ve ever seen on a digital camera, which enhances the viewing experience in the Playback mode even more.

Custom Image Presets (0.0)

The Nikon D300 does not have "Scene modes" per se, but it does have picture control settings. You can save nine combinations of settings on the camera and up to 99 combinations on a CF card. These settings are discussed further in the Picture Effects section of this review.

Manual Control Options

You can manually control just about everything on the Nikon D300. There are buttons all over the camera body that provide easy access to many manual controls. There are also scores of menus chock-full of manual controls, and even a Custom menu that lets you define how, when, and where you want to use them. Read on for more details on specific manual controls.

Focus

Auto Focus (9.5)

The Nikon D300 has the same Multi-CAM 3500DX autofocus module that is included in the $4,999 pro-grade Nikon D3. The D300 out-muscles all its competitors in this area. It has the fastest autofocus system we’ve seen. The autofocus system uses 51 points, including 15 cross-type sensors and 36 horizontal sensors. This is a huge upgrade from the 11-point D200 and the 5-point D100. Even the Canon 40D has 9 cross-type autofocus sensors.

The numbers are not only staggering on a spec sheet: the Nikon D300 focuses quickly in a variety of lighting situations and does it fast. The autofocus system performs well in low light, snapping into focus while the Canon 40D was zipping back and forth looking for the right focus spot. For really dark situations, the camera has a bright assist lamp on its front that shoots out a beam when needed. There are dozens of ways to customize the autofocus system from the shooting menu; you can disable the assist lamp or tweak any of the myriad settings of the system. The default is for the 51-point 3D-tracking autofocus, but you can set the dynamic AF area to 9, 21, or 51 points.

You can set the autofocus to function when the shutter release is pushed and/or when the AF-ON button is pushed. The latter button is used mainly when the live view on the LCD screen is in use. In that instance, the shutter button is used to take pictures and the autofocus button is used to flip the mirror and enable the autofocus system. The live view shouldn’t be used when you’re in a hurry. The autofocus system itself doesn’t take long, but the flipping of the mirror up and down adds a few moments to the process.

The D300’s through-the-lens autofocus system uses phase detection for the handheld Live View mode and contrast detection for the tripod Live View mode. The default is to use the phase detection. All in all, the Nikon D300’s autofocus system is among the best.

Manual Focus (8.5)

The manual focus functionality can be selected with the switch near the lens mount. Most new Nikkor lenses have a switch on them as well that moves from M/A to M. The Nikon D300’s viewfinder has a clear and bright focusing screen, which is good because it isn’t interchangeable like some of its competitors. The live view on the LCD shows manual focusing, and that view is certainly bright and sharp enough, too. Bonus: the live view can be magnified with the buttons to the left of the LCD, so you can be sure to get every thread of fabric perfectly focused without sacrificing your own eyesight.

ISO (9.5)

The ISO is easily accessible from its designated button on the left shoulder of the Nikon D300. It moves within a 200 to 3200 range that can be customized to jump in steps of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV. Like other Nikon DSLRs, there are also expansion options on both ends. There are LO 1 (ISO 100 equivalent), LO 0.7, and LO 0.3 options, along with HI 0.3, HI 0.7, and HI 1 (ISO 6400 equivalent). An automatic ISO control can be set, as well. There is a high ISO noise reduction system that can be set to high, normal, low, and off. See how well it performs in the Testing/Performance section of this review.

The Nikon D300’s 200 to 3200 range is shifted slightly from the 100 to 1600 range on the Nikon D200, but most users will prefer the extra couple of stops available at the high end.

**White Balance (9.0)

**The through-the-lens white balance system functions with the help of a 1,005-pixel RGB sensor. There is an automatic setting along with several presets: Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, and Shade. Each preset can be fine-tuned with a +/- 6 color balance grid that moves from blue/amber on the horizontal axis and green/magenta on the vertical axis. An evaluative setting is also available, where you shoot a white card and the camera calculates the correct balance from the card. Five memory locations are available for this; useful if you are moving from one lighting situation (such as outdoors) to another (such as indoors under florescent) and you want to measure and store the settings before you start shooting.

The fluorescent white balance option is really a portal to seven fluorescent options: Sodium-Vapor Lamps, Warm-White Fluorescent, White Fluorescent, Cool-White Fluorescent, Day White Fluorescent, Daylight Fluorescent, and High Temperature Mercury-Vapor Bulbs.

If that wasn’t enough, you can access several Kelvin color temperature settings of 5000K, 5260K, 5560K, 5880K, 6250K, 6670K, 7140K, 7690K, 8330K, 9090K, and 10000K in the Shooting menu. White balance bracketing of between two to nine frames is also available. And if you’re still not satisfied, there’s a color balance setting in the Playback mode – although most DSLR users will opt for their own editing software.

Exposure (9.25)

The Nikon D300 has Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Program exposure modes that allow flexibility in the level of control allowed when coming up with an exposure. The Program mode has a +/- 5 EV scale available in increments of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV. It even has its own button near the shutter release button for quick access if the lighting situation demands a quick shift. More manual controls of the shutter speed and aperture are controllable via the dials on the front and back of the right hand grip.

Auto exposure bracketing is available that can shoot between two and nine exposures in increments of 1/3, 1/2, and 1 EV; very useful if you are shooting high dynamic range images. In the Shooting menu, an "active D-lighting" feature can be turned on to brighten images if needed. This is also found elsewhere in the camera. In the retouching menu, there is a D-lighting option that acts as a sort of auto fix for darkened images. This helps enhance details in shadows with normal and high adjustments.

Metering (8.5)

The D300 has a 1,005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II system that functions through-the-lens. It is enhanced with what Nikon calls a "scene recognition system" that "provides even more intelligent auto exposure capabilities, along with smarter white balance detection and faster, more accurate AF performance," according to the manufacturer’s website.

There are three Metering modes available from a switch on the back of the camera. The default improved Color Matrix metering mode functions with type G and D lenses, while the older version of the metering system works on other CPU lenses. The standard color matrix metering functions on non-CPU lenses if you input the lens data into the custom menu. The Center-Weighted metering favors the central 75 percent of the frame but can be set to a 6, 8, 10, or 13mm diameter circle in the menu. The Spot metering mode uses only 2 percent of the frame and does so from the autofocus point. You can quickly swithc metering modes with the small switch to the right of the viewfinder, which means experienced shooters will be able to change metering modes without looking away from the viewfinder.

Shutter Speed (9.0)

The Nikon D300 has an electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal plane shutter that flips within a wide range of 30-1/8000 of a second. This is the same range found on the D200. The D300’s range can be customized to appear in increments of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV. There is also a bulb option for longer exposures. A long exposure noise reduction system can be turned on and off in the Setup menu.

The shutter life is rated at 150,000 cycles, which is half that of the Nikon D3 but more than most of the competitors within its price range. Many of the competitors, including the Sony DSLR-A700, have a 100,000-cycle lifetime. So, in theory, the D300 shutter should last half as long again.

Aperture (0.0)

The Nikon D300 controls the aperture electronically unless an old non-CPU lens is attached that has its own aperture ring.

Picture Quality / Size Options (9.25)

The Nikon D300 is built with a 13.1-total-megapixel DX-formatted CMOS image sensor. The sensor is manufactured by Sony and is very similar to the one included in the Sony A700, but the D300’s measures slightly larger at 23.6 x 15.8mm. The D300’s 12.3-effective resolution is a 2 megapixel upgrade from its predecessor; the D200 has only 10.2 megapixels on a CCD.

The D300 can record images in JPEG, TIFF (RGB), and RAW (NEF) format. The RAW files offer a wider color gamut than the D200 with 14-bit output, although the 12-bit output of the D200 is also selectable on the D300.

Nikon pairs the new CMOS sensor with a new Expeed image processor that promises increased speed over previous DSLRs. Indeed, the RAW file processing is faster than the D200. Although shooting in RAW does slow things down, the time penalty has been significantly reduced, with RAW images only taking slightly longer to shoot and save than JPEGs. JPEG images can be shot simultaneously with RAW shots or by themselves, of course. The image size can be selected to 4288 x 2848, 3216 x 2136, or 2144 x 1424 with compression options of fine, normal, and basic.

Overall, the Nikon D300’s image size and quality settings are exceptional; pretty much every variation you are ever likely to need is on offer here.

Picture Effects Mode (9.0)

The Nikon D300 comes with a surprising number of picture effects. The menu is revamped from what it was on the D200. There is a picture control setting that can be switched from standard to neutral, vivid, and monochrome. There is also a "manage picture control" setting in the Shooting menu with +/- 2 adjustments on each of those settings along with adjustments for sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. All of those adjustments have different scales. Sharpening moves on a 0-9 scale, while the contrast, saturation, and hue have +/- 3 scales. The brightness moves on a +/- 1 grid.

A firmware update was released in Feburary 2008 that adds a little more to this menu. There are three optional picture controls, one for each of the three Color mode settings on the D2X and D2Xs. These simulate the colors produced from earlier cameras if you're trying to match color from shots taken with these older models.

Also in the Shooting menu, the color space can be switched from sRGB to Adobe RGB. The sRGB is the default and is recommended for pictures that are being printed as-is. The Adobe RGB has a wider array of colors and is more flexible in editing software.

There are several picture effects available in the Playback mode, too, using the Retouch menu. There is a monochrome option that changes the color to black-and-white, sepia, or cyanotype. There is also a color balance feature that allows you to adjust the color on a grid with +/- 5 green/magenta and amber/blue axes.

Finally, there are skylight and warm filter effects in the Retouch menu. These don’t make any drastic changes that are visible on the LCD screen, and are inferior to editing features in most editing software.

Connectivity

Software (7.5)

The Nikon D300 comes with a CD-ROM that has the Nikon Software Suite on it. That includes, oddly enough, Kodak EasyShare Software. It also has Nikon Transfer and ViewNX programs. It does not come with CaptureNX software that is required to work with RAW images or to use the image dust-off feature in the Camera menu; that will cost you an additional $120.

The Nikon Transfer software is extraordinarily basic. Most computers come with some form of a transfer program anyway, so this likely won’t be necessary. The ViewNX software is more useful. It includes organizational and viewing capabilities. It shows images as thumbnails that can be made larger or smaller. You can tag images as favorites, add comments, or rate them with 1-5 stars. There is quick access to print, e-mail, rotate, and slide show functions, as well as a link to the Nikon Transfer software.

The Nikon ViewNX software skimps on the editing functions. You can rotate images, but that’s about it. You can view histograms and pictures, but nothing can be done to change the exposure. If you buy or own a Nikon D300, you’re going to want to invest in better software than this, especially if you are looking to work with RAW images.

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Jacks, ports, plugs (9.5)

The Nikon D300 has many jacks and ports placed throughout the camera body. The main access point is on the left side where there is a thick rubber door that opens to reveal four jacks. The top one is for the video-out function, which can be set to NTSC or PAL standard. The next one down is for the optional HDMI cable, which hooks up the camera to high-definition televisions to display images at up to 1080i resolution (the 1080p standard on newer HDTVs is not supported). The D300 is equipped with HDMI version 1.3a. The DC-in socket is the next down on the column and the USB jack is at the bottom of the totem pole. Just around the corner are two rubber covers that hide the flash sync terminal on the top and the 10-pin remote terminal on the bottom. On the bottom is where the optional battery grip attaches to the camera. On the top is where Nikon’s Speedlight flashes can attach to the four-pin hot shoe.

Direct Print Options (8.0)

Direct printing to PictBridge compatible printers is available from the Playback menu. You can tag images in DPOF orders and specify them to print 0-99 prints of each.

Battery (7.0)

The Nikon D300 accepts an EN-EL3e rechargeable lithium-ion battery that has a 1500 mAh rated capacity. The camera can also accept a $230 MB-D10 battery pack that doubles as a vertical grip. The pack can accept one EN-EL4a, EN-EL4 or EN-EL3e or eight AA alkaline, Ni-MH, lithium, or nickel-manganese batteries. A power adaptor can also be used.

Nikon claims a battery life of 1,000 shots for the EN-EL3e standard battery before needing a recharge. The camera stores very precise data about the battery; the monochrome LCD atop the camera shows only a five-level image of a battery, but an option in the menu shows the exact percentage of charge left in the battery. This battery is the same one included with the D200 and is backwards compatible, but older batteries can’t work in the D300. This means that you can use your D200 batteries in the D300, but not those from older Nikon cameras.

The camera comes with a MH-18a "quick charger" to juice up the included battery. When the battery is fully discharged, it takes the charger only 2.25 hours to recharge it. The charger isn’t a wall-mount type; like Nikon’s other DSLR battery chargers, there is a separate cable to plug the charger dock into an outlet.

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Memory  (4.0)

The Nikon D300 accepts CompactFlash type I and II cards as well as Microdrive. This clearly separates it from entry-level models that are using more compact-oriented SD media. The D300’s memory card fits into a tightly-sealed door on the right side. The door doesn’t snap open from there, though; it must be opened using a lever on the back of the camera. This is a god thing; you aren't likely to accidentally open the door and get dust and grunge in the card bay. CompactFlash cards remain the best choice for the high-end user; they are faster and have larger capacities than their smaller SDHC memory card cousins.

Other features* (7.5)

Dust Reduction* – The D300 is the first digital camera to introduce Nikon’s dust reduction system, more than a year after Olympus introduced its dust reduction capabilities. This system is great for photographers who change lenses often or do it in dusty environments. Nikon’s system uses four resonance frequencies that vibrate the optical low pass filter, shaking particles from the sensor. You can opt to have the sensor shake the dust when the camera starts up and turns off, or you can do it manually from the Setup menu. There is also an "image dust-off data acquisition" feature that tracks dust specks in images and takes them out when Capture NX software is used.

Text Input – The names of files can be changed from "DSCxxxx" to whatever you desire. You can change the letters and numbers with a 36-character virtual keypad controllable with the multi-selector. You can also attach comments to image files. Both of these are useful features to have if you often take large numbers of shots and need an easy way to distinguish them.

Remote Control – The Nikon D300 can be controlled remotely using a 10-pin cable or a $729 WT-4A wireless transmitter. The latter also allows images to be sent over WiFi connections, which could be very useful if you want to quickly transfer images. With the optional $170 Camera Control 2 software, this also allows the user to fully control the camera remotely; great if you want to hide the camera somewhere  but still be able to shoot images remotely.

GPS Compatibility - The Nikon D300 has a nine-pin port for a GPS unit so it can record data within the image file information. The standard NMEA interface is supported with optional D-sub and MC-35 GPS cables.

Multiple Exposures – The Nikon D300 has an interesting multiple exposure feature hidden within its Shooting menu. It allows you to shoot two to 10 images and combine them into a single file. An auto gain feature can be turned on and off. There isn’t a live preview of what exposures were already taken, so this feature is best used on a tripod and with still or very patient subjects. Once the specified number of images is taken, the file is made and the camera resets to shoot only one image at a time.

Value (9)

The Nikon D300 comes with a retail price of $1,799 for the body only. The D300’s initial retail price comes at a hundred dollars more than the initial price of the D200, but we think the slight hike is justified. The autofocus system is vastly improved, the Burst mode is quickened, and the resolution is increased on an improved image sensor. Yes, it's expensive, but you get a lot of seriously powerful features for the money.

Comparisons

**Canon EOS 40D – The 40D has a 10.1-megapixel CMOS sensor that outputs 14-bit RAW files. It accepts Canon EF, EF-S, TS-E, and MP-E lenses and has a respectable set of components. It has a 95 percent accurate pentaprism optical viewfinder that accepts interchangeable focusing screens, something the D300 can’t do. The Canon 40D also has a 3-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels and a live view. The resolution doesn’t look as smooth as that on the D300, but the live view functions of the cameras are very similar. Both DSLRs have an autofocus button that must be pushed to flip the mirror and activate the autofocus, which then blacks out the live view for a moment. The 40D has nine cross-type sensors in its autofocus system and a slower 6.5 fps Burst mode that maxes out at 75 JPEGs compared to the D300’s max of 100. The Canon 40D has picture style settings that are very similar to Nikon’s "picture controls." The Canon EOS 40D retails for $1,299 and takes a few shortcuts but has a smaller price tag.



*

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[*Nikon D80](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/content/Nikon-D80-Digital-Camera-Review.htm) – The D80 is a big step down from the D300 but is still considered a serious DSLR. It has a 10.2-megapixel DX-formatted CCD sensor that records 12-bit RAW files, which records a narrower color gamut than the D300. The Nikon D80 has a similar optical viewfinder, but it only gets 95 percent accuracy of the recorded image. It also has a 2.5-inch LCD screen with 230,000 pixels and no live view. It has an 11-point autofocus system and a 3 fps Burst mode that aren’t as speedy as those on the D300. The Nikon D80 appeals more to point-and-shooters who are growing out of their compact cameras with its SD card compatibility and Pictmotion musical slide shows. The D80 weighs much less at 1 pound, 5 ounces, and costs much less, too, at $899 for the body only.

Nikon D3 – The professional grade Nikon D3 has a similar sturdy body but stands a little taller with its built-in vertical grip. It weighs an even heftier 2.7 pounds unloaded and its price tag is equally hefty at $4,999. It comes with some swanky features, though, namely its 12.1-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor. The sturdy D3 is built to last with its shutter tested to 300,000 cycles, twice the life of the D300. The two DSLRs share quite a bit in common. They have the same amazing 51-point autofocus system and 3-inch LCD screens with live views and 921,000 dots for very smooth images. They have the same picture control settings and HD output as well. The Nikon D3 upgrades its ISO to expand to 25,600, and its Burst mode clicks away even faster at 9 fps (11 fps in the DX crop mode).

**Olympus EVOLT E-3 – Opposite the glossy ads for the D300 in many popular photography magazines are more glossy ads for the Olympus E-3. Indeed, these DSLRs seem to be two peas in a pod. They are priced similarly, with the E-3’s retail tag of $1,699 for the body only. Olympus was the first to introduce dust reduction with its Supersonic Wave Filter that shakes the image sensor. The E-3 has a 10.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor that is Four Thirds formatted so it can fit any Four Thirds lens. The sensor can also shift with the camera’s built-in stabilization system, something the Nikon D300 does not have. The Olympus E-3 has a sturdy body that is weather-resistant and has a swiveling 2.5-inch LCD monitor on the back. The LCD hosts a live view that blacks out for the 11-point autofocus system to function. The E-3 has a less powerful flash and a slower Burst mode that shoots 5 fps.

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Sony α DSLR-A700 – This DSLR shares many of the same features as the Nikon D300 with its 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and the 3-inch LCD screen with 921,000 pixels. The image sensors sound similar – and are both manufactured by Sony - but the A700’s is slightly smaller at 23.5 x 15.6mm. The A700’s LCD is large and has excellent resolution, but doesn’t provide the live view found on the Nikon D300. Both camera bodies are well-built from magnesium alloy, but the Sony A700 has more weather-resistant seals. The Alpha has a much less impressive 11-point autofocus system and its Burst mode can only output 5 fps at full resolution. Like the D300, the A700 is equipped with HD output and has an anti-dust system. The Sony A700 has a pentaprism optical viewfinder with 95 percent accuracy and a shutter life of 100,000 cycles as opposed to the D300’s 150,000 rating. The Sony does provide an upgrade in that it hosts a built-in image stabilization system that shifts the sensor to compensate for bumps. The A700 accepts Sony, Carl Zeiss, and Konica Minolta lenses and costs $1,399 for the body only.

**Who It’s For

***Point-and-Shooters* – This DSLR isn’t for the those who just want to pint the camera and press the shutter; although it can work this way, they'll be overwhelmed by the enormous selection of buttons and controls it offers.

Budget Consumers – At $1,799, this is well beyond the budget of most users. They would be better off with a lower end SLR like the Digital Rebel XSi or the Nikon D60.

Gadget Freaks – Gadget freaks will appreciate the four frequencies that vibrate the CMOS sensor, the live view LCD technology, and the superior autofocus and other features on this DSLR.

Manual Control Freaks – Manual controls are scattered all over the camera body and take form in many buttons, dials, and switches. Those who love to take control of the shooting process will be in heaven here.

Pros/ Serious Hobbyists – The D300 is an all-around great DSLR with a 8 fps Burst mode (with the battery grip) that will attract sports shooters and a live view function and picture control settings that will attract portrait photographers.

Conclusion

The 12.3-megapixel Nikon D300 is a fine upgrade to its predecessor, adding a huge range of features to the popular D200. The Nikon D100 was introduced in 2002 with 6.1 megapixels and a 5-point autofocus system. The D200 improved that to 10.2 megapixels. The Nikon D300 not only adds more resolution, but does it on a newer CMOS image sensor that has greatly improved performance.

The D300 has a solid set of components, including a bright and accurate optical viewfinder and a beautiful, high-resolution 3-inch LCD screen that offers live view. The live view has its hang-ups – as do all DSLRs that offer this – because the mirror has to flip to enable the autofocus system, thereby cutting off the live feed to the LCD. But it’s still a nice feature to have when you can’t be as close to the viewfinder as you’d want.

The autofocus system is straight off the pro Nikon D3 and is amazing. It has 51 points and is the fastest we’ve seen. The Nikon D300 is well suited for sports shooting with its 6 to 8 fps Burst mode (depending on whether the battery grip is attached), and quick predictive autofocus tracking.

The Nikon D300 isn’t the perfect camera, but it’s close. It includes a dust reduction system but skimps on the in-body image stabilization many other manufacturers are now offering. Image stabilization is included on individual lenses, but that drives up the cost of the glass. The included software is also insufficient for any real editing, so owners will have to invest in something other than what’s on the CD-ROM. But the users who want to take advantage of these features will probably already have a copy of Photoshop, so that's not a  major problem. And while the D300 is expensive at $1,799, it's a bargain for all the performance it offers.

Sample Photos

You can browse photos taken with the Nikon D300 on the following photo hosting sites:

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Specs Table

Meet the testers

Emily Raymond

Emily Raymond

Editor

Emily Raymond is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

See all of Emily Raymond's reviews
Emily Raymond

Emily Raymond

Editor

Emily Raymond is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.

See all of Emily Raymond's reviews

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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