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The Nikon D300 is a digital single-lens reflex (SLR) camera designed
for professional photographers and serious amateurs. The model number
suggests that it is the successor to the
Nikon D200, (compare prices) (review), which was introduced in 2005 with a
metal chassis, weather sealing, a large viewfinder, and metering
capability with all Nikon manual-focus lenses with auto indexing (AI)
since 1977. The Nikon D300 retains all of those features plus a number
of significant improvements such as Nikon's new auto focus (AF)
system, 8 frames per second (fps) capture rate with the optional
MB-D10 battery pack, live view, and automatic sensor cleaning.
Nikon introduced the D300 on August 23, 2007, along with the Nikon
D3. The two cameras share a lot of features and some components. The
main difference is that the D3 has a larger 23.9x36mm sensor, which is
essentially the same size as a traditional 35mm film frame. Nikon now
refers to that sensor size as the FX format.
If you are new to digital photography, start with two helpful photo.net
The D300 is a highly responsive camera. Powering it up takes a mere
13ms, which is instantaneous for all practical purposes, and the
shutter lag is 45ms (compared to the D200, which has a 15ms powerup
and a 50ms shutter lag). By itself, the D300 can capture 6 fps. With
the MB-D10 battery grip attached and proper batteries inside, it can
capture at 8 fps. In that particular setting, if you quickly press on
the shutter release, the D300 will frequently capture two consecutive
frames instead of one; it is very sensitive.
The D300 has the very traditional Nikon AF-style controls since the
introduction of the F5 in 1996. The shutter release button is on the
top right side with the on/off switch around it. The main and
sub-command dials are behind and in front of the shutter release
button, respectively, for controlling the shutter speed and aperture
as well as various menu selections. AF point selection is controlled
by a multi-selection pad on the back.
There are four exposure modes: M (manual), A (aperture priority), S
(shutter priority) and P (program). Metering options are matrix,
center-weighted and spot. Shutter release modes are S (single), CL
(continuous low), and CH (continuous high). Anyone who is familiar
with Nikon AF SLRs from the last 10 years should be able to use those
without any adjustment.
Beyond that is a complex Shooting, Playback, Setup and Custom Setting
Menus with more options than the previous D2 family and D200
cameras. Both the Shooting and Custom Setting Menus have four
different banks each so that the photographer can have different
options, e.g. portrait, sports, flash photography, etc.
Nikon has made a drastic change to enlarge a review image on the back
LCD. On previous DSLRs, you press on the "Enter" button to select an
image and then while holding down the thumbnail button, you rotate the
main command dial to enlarge or shrink the review image. On the D300,
there are separate magnify and reduction buttons.
The D300 comes with a new AF module, the Multi-CAM 3500,
that is also used on the D3. The D300 has AF capability that can track
moving subjects at 8 fps. My testing of two different D300 bodies
indicates that it can track flying birds and moving surfers with
ease. I would rate it slightly better than the auto-focus on the D2X
that uses the last generation of Nikon's AF module, the Multi-CAM
For photographing still subjects, one can select any one of the 51 AF
points from the Multi-Selector pad on the back of the camera and use
that to directly cover the subject in the viewfinder. Since those 51
AF points are quite wide spread, there is almost no need to focus,
lock and recompose any more. There is also no need to adjust the
composition slightly in order to place an AF point on the subject, as
I used to do with the 11 AF points on either the D2X or D200.
For photographing moving subjects, one can choose a cluster of 9, 21
or all 51 AF points to track the subject, with the center of the
cluster in any one of the 51 AF points. The general rule of thumb is
that the fewer AF points that are involved in deciding the focus, the
faster AF will be. However, using only 9 AF points, it is rather easy
for the D300 to lock onto the background when the subject briefly
moves off the covered area, causing the usual "back focus" problem.
My experience is that using 21 AF points seems to be a better
The back side of the Nikon D300 is dominated by a 3-inch,
922,000-pixel LCD screen. The large LCD is very convenient for
reviewing images and magnified details. The display can be scrolled to
review exposure information (time stamp, shutter speed, aperture, ISO
sensitivity, white balance, etc.), histograms, and blinking
highlights. However, unlike previous Nikon DSLRs, the D300 does not
provide a large RGB histogram as one of the scroll options; it either
shares the LCD screen with the three RGB, channel-specific histograms
or with a small preview image and exposure data. In order to view a
full-screen RGB histogram, you need to set Custom Setting f1, Playback
Mode to View Histograms, and you can view a full-screen histogram by
holding down the center of the multi-selection pad. While the D300's
LCD comes with a cover, the LCD itself is protected by tempered glass
that is scratch resistant.
One can duplicate the exposure and auto focus information on the top
monochrome LCD onto the back LCD by pressing on the "info" button,
which is also the "key lock" button on the back of the D300. Since the
back LCD has much higher resolution, it can provide additional details
such as which AF point is currently active and which group of AF
points is used in Group Dynamic AF.
The D300 has a very good viewfinder - bright and large for a DX-sensor
(small frame sensor) DSLR. It has the on-demand gridline feature
(Custom Setting d2) that adds horizontal and vertical lines in the
viewfinder to help the photographer keep the composition level. This
is also helpful for figuring out where an 8 x 10 image will land. Keep
in mind that even though the camera may be switched off, Nikon cameras
with the on-demand gridline feature require a trickle of battery power
to keep the viewfinder transparent and bright. If you remove the
battery from the D300, its viewfinder will become very dim and
blurry. It should return to normal as soon as you insert a battery
Inside the viewfinder, below the image, is some essential camera
setting information. This includes the in-focus indicator, metering
mode, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity,
remaining frame count (capacity in the memory card), and flash-on
indicator. If you press half-way on the shutter release button, the
remaining frame count will change to a number with an "r" prefix. That
indicates the remaining capacity in the image memory buffer. It is not
an error code.
High ISO Performance in Low Light
Until the D3 and D300 were introduced in 2007, high-ISO performance
was always a weakness in Nikon DSLRs. The D2X rated ISO is limited to
800, and for the more demanding photographers, it is best not to
exceed ISO 400, one stop below the rated maximum. The D200 improves
everything by one stop and the D300 is better by yet another stop. On
the D300, the rated maximum ISO is now 3200. I would be comfortable to
use ISO 1600 in essentially any dark conditions. As long as there are
not a lot of deep shadow areas, ISO 3200 is also very usable. That
means I can hand hold an f/2.8 zoom under fairly dark indoor
at 1/50 sec.
While the D300's rated ISO range is from 200 to 3200, it has an
extended range on both ends from Low 1 to High 1, which is essentially
ISO 100 and 6400, respectively, and should only be considered an
option as a last resort. Using a DSLR in its extended high range
typically introduces a lot of noise and a loss of details. On the
other hand, the D300's minimum rated ISO is 200 because that is where
the camera performs best. In some situations such as outdoor fill
flash, it is better to have a lower sensitivity because of flash sync
speed limitations. I have tested the D300 at Low 1 (ISO 100) and the
loss of quality from ISO 200 is negligible.
The D300 provides some rudimentary image editing capabilities on
camera, such as D-Lighting adjustment (similar to the
shadow/highlights adjustment in PhotoShop to brighten up shadow
areas), cropping, and red-eye elimination. If one does any
post-processing at all, it is much easier to edit on a computer with a
much larger screen and a computer mouse.
The D300 has a built-in pop-up flash which has all the common
disadvantages for pop-up flashes: lack of flash power, inability to
bounce off any reflector, prone to red-eye, and the potential to be
blocked by a big lens and/or lens hood.
However, the D300's pop-up flash can serve as the master to control
remote flashes such as the SB-800 and the SB-600 in Nikon's Creative
Lighting System (CLS). The pop-up flash can control all four channels
(1 to 4) and groups A and B (but not C) in CLS.
For optional external flashes, the best ones are the
Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight, (compare prices) (review), and
Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, (compare prices) (review). Both of them have swivel heads that
can be tilted upward for bounce flash in both the horizontal
(landscape) and vertical (portrait) orientations. The SB-800 has more
power and can serve as the master in a CLS set up. It can accept an
optional 5th AA battery and an external high-voltage power pack for
faster recycle time.
The D300 uses one Type I or II CF memory card or
microdrive. The D300 is UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) compatible
such that it can take full advantage of the high write speed of some
of the latest memory cards.
The D300 has a 17-frame RAW buffer, which is fairly generous except
for action photography such as certain types of sports and wildlife
work. Fortunately, the D300 can write approximately one uncompressed
RAW file (about 20MB) per second onto fast memory cards such as
SanDisk's Extreme IV and Lexar's 300x. Therefore, the RAW buffer frees
up fairly quickly.
Similar to the earlier D200 and D80, the D300 requires one EN-EL3e
battery inside the camera. The EN-EL3e is a 7.4v, 1500mAh
Lithium-ion battery and an improved version from the earlier EN-EL3
and EN-EL3a for the D100, D70/D70s and D50. While the new EN-EL3e can
be used on all cameras mentioned in this paragraph, the old non-e
model batteries cannot be used on the D300. With a fully charged
EN-EL3e, Nikon lists the life of the battery at 2000 images. This
number will vary, depending on your use of flash and/or image
previewing on the LCD.
The D300 accepts an optional MB-D10 battery pack, which doubles as a
vertical grip. With the battery pack on, the internal EN-EL3e battery
may remain inside the D300 but is no longer mandatory. The MB-D10
battery pack can be powered by one of three ways:
Another EN-EL3e battery (once again, the earlier EN-EL3 and
EN-EL3a are not compatible). The D300 remains at 6 fps with this power
Eight AA batteries with the MS-D10 battery module,
included with the MB-D10. The frame rate increases to 8 fps.
One EN-EL4 or EN-EL4a battery originally for the D2 and D3 series
DSLRs; it requires an optional BL-3 battery chamber cover. The frame
rate increases to 8 fps.
When the MB-D10 is attached, the D300 user may select to use the power
in the MB-D10 first or the internal EN-EL3e battery first (custom
setting d11). However, batteries are required either inside the camera
or inside the MB-D10. In other words, one can attach an MB-D10 with no
battery. In that case the MB-D10 strictly serves as a vertical grip
with its own set of shutter release, command dials, and
Similar to the top-line and prosumer Nikon SLRs in recent years, the
Nikon D300 has a metal chassis, a rubberized outer shell, and weather
sealing on the button and switches. All control buttons, command dials
and selection pads have a solid, durable feel. The weak parts of the
similarly-constructed D200 are the pop-up flash and the battery
compartment door. There have been complaints that in some D200
samples, the battery compartment door does not press hard enough on
the EN-EL3e battery so that the battery is making poor electronic
contacts; as a result, the camera may suddenly lose power. I have not
experienced that on either my D200 or D300, but is something to watch
The optional MB-D10 battery pack also has an all-metal outer shell and
a rubberized grip area. That is a major improvement from the D200's
MB-D200 battery pack, which is all plastic. The buttons and dials on
the MB-D10 are also solid. However, because of the lack of space, its
additional vertical multi-selector pad is small and difficult to use.
The MB-D10 is securely screwed onto the D300 via the tripod socket at
The Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX, (compare prices), is a "one size fits all" super
zoom from moderate wide to long telephoto, and is included as a kit
lens option with the D300. The optical quality is still quite good. It
is an ideal lens for those who would rather not change lenses and is
excellent for travel photography. The vibration reduction (VR) feature
enhances the results from hand holding. However, at maximum aperture
of f/5.6 at full zoom, it is quite limiting indoors.
The Nikon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S DX, (compare prices), is another kit lens option
included with the D300, which has a wide zoom range from moderate wide
telephoto with a consumer-grade construction and plastic mount. It is
on the slow side at 135mm maximum f/5.6 and lacks vibration
reduction. Most D300 owners will probably prefer higher-quality
For those who prefer a super-wide lens, Nikon has a
Nikon 12-24mm f/4G ED IF Autofocus DX, (compare prices) (review), which spans from super-wide to
moderate wide. It is ideal for landscape photography and interiors of
buildings. It has a relatively slow maximum aperture at f/4. For those
who prefer an f/2.8 wide zoom, there is a new
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S, (compare prices), that can cover the full frame sensor
(FX), but is a much bigger and heavier lens with a metal construction
and a convex front element with no filter thread.
For those who would like a fisheye lens for wedding, architectural,
certain sports photography, Nikon makes a high-quality
Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye, (compare prices), but that is not an AF-S lens. This is
more like a special effect lens.
Compatibility with Older Lenses
Nikon has never changed the basic F mount since the original
Nikon F from 1959. The D300 is fully compatible with almost all F
mount lenses, both manual focus and auto focus, since Nikon introduced
indexing (AI) in 1977, with a few rare exceptions (such as the two AF
lenses specially designed for the F3, AF version). Pre-AI lenses from
1959 to 1977 must be AI converted before they can be mounted onto most
Similar to the D200, D2 and D3 family DSLRs, the D300 has the
traditional mechanical aperture setting linkage so that it can meter
with manual-focus lenses that have no built-in CPU, for both center
weighted and spot metering. Additionally, the D300 has a mini lens
database inside. If the information for manual-focus lenses is
pre-programmed into the database so that the D300 body knows what the
maximum aperture is, matrix metering is also available.
Compared to the D200, D2X and D3
Based on the camera model number, the D300 is apparently the direct
successor to the D200. The D300 retains all of the D200's features
plus much improved auto focus, improved high ISO performance by
approximately one stop, a faster frame rate (8 fps with grip vs. 5
fps), a much better vertical grip, in addition to other improvements
such as live view, sensor cleaning, and two more megapixels, etc. For
those who photograph sports, action, and in low-light conditions, the
D300 represents some fairly significant improvements. For more static
subjects under lower ISOs, the differences are subtle.
Compared to the Nikon D2Xs, (compare prices) (review), the D300 has an
improved high-ISO performance (by approximately 2 stops) and a
considerably faster frame rate (8 fps with grip vs. 5 fps). Also, the
D300 is less than half of the D2X's initial selling price. Many D2X
owners are upgrading to the D300 as the D2X is a somewhat dated design
and its main advantage over the D300 is higher build quality.
The more interesting comparison is against the
Nikon D3, (compare prices) (review). The two cameras share the same AF module
and many features. The D3 is Nikon's first full frame sensor (FX)
camera, and also features superior low-light performance with ISO
range 200-6400, and Nikon's professional-build quality. For those who
specialize in indoor sports, news, and weddings, the D3 is the better
choice. However, for wildlife and outdoor sports photographers who
need the telephoto reach, the D300's smaller sensor and higher pixel
density are advantages.
The D3 also has dual CF memory card slots so that each
image captured can be recorded onto both cards, essentially
eliminating all memory card failure concerns. While memory card
failures are rare, this feature provides the extra peace of mind for
wedding and news photographers who frequently have no second chances.
Key D300 Features
12MP sensor, 4288 x 2848 pixels
23.6 x 15.8mm CMOS sensor, Nikon DX format
12-bit and 14-bit capture options
New Multi-CAM 3500 DX AF module with 51 AF points, 15 of them
6 fps native, 8 fps with optional MB-D10 battery pack/vertical
grip and appropriate batteries
Built-in pop-up flash, which doubles as master for Nikon Creative
Lighting (Flash) System (CLS)
Sensor sensitivity from ISO 200 to 3200, with an extended range
from ISO 100 to 6400
100% viewfinder coverage
3.0-inch LCD monitor with 922,000 pixels
Compact flash (CF) memory card storage
USB 2.0 interface, HDMI high-definition video output
Live view option
Automatic sensor cleaning
The D300 is a strong successor to the D200. The D300 maintains all of
the D200's advantages as an excellent general-purpose, prosumer DSLR
and improves on several key areas. For about $3000 less, the D300
offers Nikon's current best AF module, which is also featured in their
top professional model, the D3. With the Multi-CAM 3500 and the
ability to capture 8 fps, the D300 also replaces the D2H and D2X as
Nikon's top DX-sensor DSLR suitable for action and sports photography.
The D300 is a complex camera with numerous options and custom setting
possibilities. The behaviors for various settings and AF modes will
also take some time to fully master. Therefore, the D300 is not a
camera for casual photographers who prefer a few simple beginner scene
modes rather than the need to customize a complex camera. For those
consumers, the user-friendly Nikon D80, (compare prices) (review), and
Nikon D40x, (compare prices) (review), DSLRs are more appropriate.
On the other end of the spectrum, for those photographers who demand
the absolute highest build quality, reliability, and low-light
performance, the Nikon D3 is the best choice in the Nikon
line. However, for less than $2000, the D300 provides professional
features and quality.
Where to Buy
Photo.net's partners have the Nikon D300 available. Their prices
are fair and you help to support photo.net. Also check out some of the
more current models in the Nikon line.
Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S DX, set at 55mm (same
angle of view as 82mm on an FX sensor), aperture-priority mode at
f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 200. Bright, sunny, snowy day, perfect for tubing
at a sledding hill. Almost no post-processing was done, as the camera
processed the blues and highlights in the snowy background correctly.
Nikon 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S (review), (same angle of view
as 450mm on an FX sensor), f/4, 1/1600s. Bird-in-flight images are
always a challenge for auto focus systems. I set my D300 to Dynamic AF
with 21 AF points, thus assuring a good coverage of the subject. This
is my favorite lens for flight images. The rule of thumb for faster AF
is to get fewer AF points involved. However, if I used the 9-AF-point
option, since those 9 are tightly clustered together, with a moving
subject, it would be easy to have the AF points focusing on the
Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S DX, set at 20mm (same
angle of view as 30mm on an FX sensor), f/3.2, 1/40s, ISO 3200. On
Christmas night 2007, we were waiting in line to have dinner at this
new restaurant that was open that evening. I noticed this interesting
alley next to the new building. Even though I was only taking casual
images that evening and didn't have a tripod, I managed to set ISO to
3200 and capture this image comfortably hand-holding the camera.
Nikon 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED AF-S VR II, set at 400mm (same
angle of view as 600mm on an FX sensor). This is my favorite lens for
photographing large animals. It has the flexibility from covering the
environment to a tight image of the subjects. When there is animal
action, the 8 fps capability on the D300 provides a series of
slightly different images so that I can pick my favorites.