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Conclusion - Pros

  • Very good resolution and detail without looking over-processed, even up to ISO 1600
  • Better balanced noise reduction than most; more chroma NR, less luminance NR
  • High ISO 3200 perfectly usable (if slightly softer due to NR), ISO 6400 usable for small output
  • Highly configurable Auto ISO function (can set maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed)
  • Conservative approach to image processing (slightly lower sharpening) helps to avoid 'digital' artifacts
  • Excellent dynamic range from ISO 200 - 800 (good highlight 'reach'), typical at ISO 1600
  • Seldom mentioned built-in chromatic aberration reduction is very effective (JPEG, RAWs through NX)
  • Compact, solid body design with environmental sealing
  • Quality glass pentaprism viewfinder (bright, large view) with electronic grid lines
  • Professional in-use performance (instant power-up, short shutter lag and short viewfinder black-out)
  • Improved auto-focus module (Multi-CAM3500DX) delivers fast and accurate AF lock even in low light
  • Auto-focus fine-tuning by body or per lens
  • Nikon's excellent 1005 pixel RGB metering sensor
  • Numerous 'hidden' designed-in features; AF tracking by color, scene recognition system
  • High speed continuous shooting (6 fps) can be boosted to 8 fps with grip & battery
  • 150,000 exposure shutter life
  • Now Nikon standard range of image parameter presets, addition of brightness adjustment
  • Superb large, high resolution LCD (delivers full-color VGA; 640xRGB x 480)
  • Live view with up to 1:1 pixel view, contrast detect AF as well as passive (mirror flip) AF
  • HDMI video output (up to 1080i)
  • Compact Flash UDMA support, very fast throughput overall
  • Menu system is a pleasure to use, attractive, logical and built-in help
  • Easy to use playback with very logical delete system (press delete button twice)
  • Highly configurable via custom functions (6 configurable hard buttons / dials)
  • Sophisticated interval timer feature
  • Unique in-camera features: Overlay, Multiple exposures
  • GPS data recording feature (requires optional cable, NMEA compatible)
  • Built-in AF assist lamp (white light)
  • Probably the best battery information display in the business (% charge, shots, aging)
  • Optional wireless WiFi transmitter (802.11 b/g)

Conclusion - Cons

  • No timed mirror lock-up function (could be automatic with self-timer)
  • Non-articulating LCD (increases the usefulness of Live View considerably)
  • Average automatic white balance performance, still very poor under incandescent light

Overall conclusion

The D200 was a big step forward for Nikon, the 'baby D2X' certainly gave the competition a thing or two to think about. Its big problem was the fact that Canon was still a generation ahead in the noise stakes, managing to consistently deliver clean images despite megapixel jumps. With the advent of the D300 however Nikon has conclusively removed this disparity and if anything stepped ahead of Canon (mostly thanks to its chroma based noise reduction delivering more film-like grain rather than color blotches).

But that's just one aspect of the D300 story, almost everything else about this camera has been improved. Starting on the outside there's that stunning high resolution three inch LCD monitor, the usefulness of which shouldn't be underestimated (you'll find you get enough detail without magnifying as far), there's perhaps the best implementation of Live View to date with both contrast detect (like a compact camera, although not particularly fast) and passive auto-focus options, and there's HDMI output; a boon no doubt to studio photographers who can now provide live high resolution previews of a shot. And of course we can't talk about the D300 without giving Nikon credit for the superb build quality and robust 'go anywhere' feel the body has.

On the inside Nikon has worked hard to deliver both better image quality and better performance; you get usable images up to ISO 3200, extended image parameter control, improved dynamic range, automatic CA removal (which immediately improves the performance of all your lenses), six frames per second continuous shooting (eight with the grip / battery combo), a new AF sensor, AF tracking by color and scene recognition. There are also an almost infinite range of customization options available, everything from how many AF areas are used to the size of the center-weighted metering circle to what happens when you hold the FUNC button and turn the command dial.

My biggest problem writing this conclusion has been picking out the D300's weak points. The usefulness of Live View would certainly be improved with an articulating LCD monitor (although I'm sure Nikon would argue that this could compromise the integrity of the body), auto white-balance is poor in artificial light (although this isn't anything unique to the D300) and there's still no true mirror lock-up feature. But really, these few niggles are really the only things we could pick out as criticism.

There is price, but sometimes the best products demand a premium and the D300 is no exception. Nikon's biggest problem now will be bettering the D300; it raises the bar to a new high, and represents the state of the art despite strong competition from the likes of Canon, Sony and Olympus. There's simply no better semi-professional digital SLR on the market.

Detail (D-SLR)
Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.5
Ergonomics & handling 8.5
Features 9.5
Image quality 9.0
Performance (speed) 9.5
Value 9.0

Highly Recommended

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