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Color reproduction

Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.

Apart from a few subtle contrast differences the D300 delivers virtually identical color response (hue and saturation) as the D200, and to a large degree this is a good thing as it means consistent results for upgraders and heps to maintain a 'family look' for all Nikon DSLR models.

Nikon D300 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardNeutralVividMonochrome
Adobe RGB

Artificial light White Balance

The D300's automatic white balance in artificial light could be described as slightly better than the average but still poor enough for you to consider using the bulit-in presets, to shoot manual white balance or better still shoot RAW and sort out the white balance later. It's still a curiosity to me that the DSLR manufacturers haven't yet sorted out automatic white balance in artificial light, there isn't one current DSLR which stands out as allowing you to shoot confidently in auto white balance mode in such light.

Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 9.9%, Blue: -19.8%, Poor
Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: 7.6%, Blue: -12.7%, Poor
Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: 6.0%, Blue: -15.6%, Average

Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red: 5.4%, Blue: -4.2%, Average

Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots

As is becoming the norm our 30 second 'night shot' exposure produced no hot pixels with noise reduction turned off. The D300 does provide optional 'dark frame subtraction' noise reduction which requires a noise sample frame to be taken directly after the main exposure.

Noise reduction Off Noise reduction On
ISO 100, 30 sec, F8 ISO 100, 30 sec, F8
(100% crops)

Flash

The D300's built-in flash produced a decent enough performance, well metered, no color cast and even coped well with our test chart with its white background (something which often throws out most metering systems). The D300 uses the newer i-TTL metering for internal (and external if compatible) flash which produces three lower powered pre-flashes before the main flash.

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

Overall the D300's image quality is very impressive, Nikon have taken big strides in the last few years to catch up with and I would go so far as saying overtake much of the competition. On almost every metric image quality is improved; lower noise, higher dynamic range, better default JPEG sharpness and a now brand-consistent color response.

As we have come to expect Nikon have taken a more conservative approach to image sharpening than we see from their competitors, that said the situation is certainly better than it was with the D200 where our general recommendation was to turn sharpening up to its maximum setting when shooting JPEG.

Mentioned before, but it's worth mentioning again; we do prefer Nikon's approach to noise reduction. The visibility of noise comes in two distinguishable flavors; luminance (monochromatic grain) and chroma (color grain / blotches), Nikon tend to use mostly chroma noise reduction leaving luminance either untouched or reduced using very low levels of NR. This tends to leave higher sensitivity images looking grainy but without the smeary loss of detail we see from other noise reduction systems. The appearance of monochromatic grain in an image is far less of a concern than the loss of real detail because of overpowering luminance noise reduction, indeed many prefer this look as a more 'film like' response.

Built-in Chromatic Aberration correction

The D300 and D3 feature built-in Chromatic Aberration (CA) correction. This feature works by analysing the image, the image processor looks for CA in the image and actively corrects for it. If you're shooting RAW the analysis still occurs but instead of being applied the results of the analysis are simply written into metadata and are used by Capture NX to (optionally) correct. Obviously if you're using a third party RAW converter you won't get automatic CA correction. Our experience was that this worked very well and delivered surprising levels of CA reduction while also improving sharpness (probably due to the fact that the correction itself is effectively drawing the color channels back into alignment).

The amount of correction achieved can be demonstrated pretty clearly with the following graphs (from our lens analysis software). The top graph from Adobe Camera RAW with no CA correction, the bottom from a camera JPEG with the D300's automatic CA correction. Lens: 18-200 mm @ 18 mm, F3.5 (wide open).

Below you can see a visual comparison of the difference between images, shot as RAW+JPEG, the RAW image converted using Adobe Camera RAW.

Adobe Camera RAW JPEG
A crop from our lens test chart, magnified 200% The same crop but shot as JPEG
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