My very first experience with Nikon was the N50. At that time, top of the line and digital was nowhere in sight. I still remember the sales rep talking to me about the Nikon: "fully automatic with a semi-automatic application. Lens ring made out of metal which will not crack like its plastic competition." 10 years later, my N50 has yet to let me down. Those who know me, know I'm a film babe. The N50 is one of five film cameras I enjoy using. I will admit, my favorites are still the completely manual cameras. Maybe it's the darkroom chemicals from college still affecting my brain, or the simple fact I loved being in complete control. Times changed and a new baby called Digital was born. Yes, I've dabbled with digital...had fun with all the photo retouching programs, but still felt there was still no comparison to film.
The current state of film vulnerability called for me to start researching a comparable, quality, affordable digital camera. So when I was given the opportunity to review the D300, 'what better timing,' I thought.
Nikon's D300 is a pro-level DSLR with 12.3 megapixels in resolution in a DX format CMOS sensor. The camera features a 51-point autofocus with 3D focus tracking and three dynamic AF modes. The camera also features Nikon's exclusive 3D Color Matrix Metering II and Expeed image processing system. The D300 also offers a built-in dust reduction system. Other features include a 3-inch LCD and 8 fps with the appropriate battery pack.
The D300, the look alone when fitted with the AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED lens and Nikon SB-800 Speedlight commands the room. The comments: "that's a serious camera" and "can I trade you for my software" were consistently asked. Okay, so the camera puts me in the cool kid's club. The real question, can it perform?
The D300's alloy textured body allows for an easy, sure grip. When holding the camera, I felt like it was at home in my hands. The camera's response time is almost immediate when engaged (power-up in 13 ms). Although it is a bit heavier than I'd prefer, I do have to admit that it is the first DSLR I've really put to the test.
The camera exceeded my expectations more with just about each shot I took. Not wanting to be limited by a camera, I took the D300 almost everywhere. The Four exposure modes: P, S, A, and M are easy to set and allows you the freedom to control the entire picture or the mindless auto-everything with options in between. For most of the images I shot, I found myself in Manual mode. The shutter speed and aperture settings were easily commanded by the two dials, similar to many other Nikon DSLR bodies.
Besides the standard viewfinder, the D300 comes with a Live View option. This is easily achieved by rotating the release mode dial to "Lv." By pressing the shutter, the camera shows you how your image would look and allows the option to change settings, including the white balance, ISO and the quality of image. To me, that was impressive. The large LCD screen is a great feature. To view a recently taken picture, simply click on the playback button on the upper right hand side of the camera body and scroll through your pictures by using the arrow buttons. This option allows for in camera editing and minor lighting adjustments. The retouch menu is self-explanatory as long as you know what: D-Lighting, Red-eye correction, Trim, Monochrome, Filter effects, Color balance and Image overlay do to your pictures when you use these applications. The Menu screen is large and easy to read. When reviewing your pictures, the camera also provides all photo capture information; which is great for a person like me, who was only used to shooting film and needed to record every aspect of the shot with a trusty pencil and paper. But I think my favorite part of reviewing the pictures is the option to review 1, 4, or 9 images at a time. Granted, the images are thumbnails, but it is a lot easier and quicker to scroll through your images to find a particular frame.
The photo information display gives you a very detailed report of your capture data. The onscreen histogram option is a great tool to use while shooting, to see when you've blown your highlights or whether you've lost detail in the shadows.
As someone who has dabbled with different film speed settings, I was especially interested in the ISO sensitivity. The range went from ISO 200 and ISO 3200 with capabilities to exceed these settings. The D300 was able to handle low-light and night conditions exceptionally well. The fireworks image was taken on July 4th at approximately 10pm. The fireworks were launched over Street Lake in Boulder, WI. I aimed the camera to the sky and waited. Manually adjusting the f/stop and shutter speed until I achieved the desired look.
The Nikkor Lenses bring your subjects to you. In manual focus mode, I was able to capture the veins within the Bumble Bees wings without disturbing the subject. This image was taken mid-day approximately one foot away from bee. The magnification feature lets you easily view the fine details to ensure you've captured the most intimate of details. In addition, after doing portraits, I was able to identify the annoying flyaway hairs by looking closely at the image; and was able to fix them on the subject during the shoot, and not have to deal with them in post production.
Overall, the camera performed to my expectations. I'd have liked the Live View to be more like a video camera, to go on instantaneously when the camera is turned on. Although, to be honest, I really only used the live view when I shot on a tripod.
The Nikon D300 exhibits great versatility. From landscape to action to portraiture, the camera handles it all.
The estimated street price of the Nikon D300 body is around $1,700. For more information visit www.nikonusa.com