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Nikon D300S In-depth Review

November 2009 | By Richard Butler, Lars Rehm
Buy on From $2,549.95

Review based on a production Nikon D300S

The Nikon D300 made quite an impact when it was first launched - enough to prompt us to conclude: 'There's simply no better semi-professional digital SLR on the market.' And, in many respects, it is still the camera to beat in that class - nearly two years later and it is still able to command essentially the same price as at launch (though the strong Yen has pushed all prices up). And this success appears to have left Nikon unsure how to improve on its APS-C flagship.

Although the many of the additions to the D300S are simply those that we've seen appear on Nikons since the D300 arrived (virtual horizon from the D3, movies from the D90), one genuinely new feature is the inclusion of contrast-detection autofocus that operates while in movie mode - a first for a Nikon DSLR. It's not the quickest focusing you'll ever see, though, and you'll also need to make use of the external mic socket if you're to avoid the distant generator chuntering or asthmatic rodent sounds that autofocus motors seem to so accurately mimic.

The D300S inherits the non-latched memory card door we first saw on the D700, but now with both a CF and SD slot behind it. As you'd expect at this level, the exact behaviour of how the camera writes to the two cards can be defined: use one after the other, write backups to the second card, RAW and JPEG to different cards or split stills and videos. In fact many of the changes make the D300S even more similar to the D700, including Nikon's now-standard multi controller with separate central button that, on this camera, initiates movie recording when in live view.

The continuous shooting speed has been given a bit of a boost, with the camera now capable of shooting at 7fps using its own battery and 8fps with the MB-D10 battery grip. The settings display screen is now, in line with most current DSLRs, interactive, allowing most shooting settings to be changed more quickly, a couple of extra Active D-Lighting options ('Auto' and 'Extra High') have been thrown in too. Finally the 'Quiet' drive mode first seen on the D5000 also makes an appearance.

However the arrival of the distinctly pro-targetted Canon EOS 7D and the accomplished but more wallet-friendly Pentax K-7 could make Nikon's gentle refresh of the D300 look insufficient. (Due to the similarities between the two cameras, some product images come from the D300 review)

Model line history

Effective pixels
Auto focus
Continuous highest (JPEG)
LCD monitor
D100 Feb 2002 6.0 mp 5 point 3.0 fps, 6 frames n/a 1.8", 120K dots
D200 Nov 2005 10.2 mp 11 point 5.0 fps, 37 frames n/a 2.5" 230K dots
D300 Aug 2007 12.3 mp 51 point 6.0/8.0 fps, 100 frames n/a 3.0" 922K dots with Live View
D300S Jul 2009 12.3 mp 51 point 7.0/8.0 fps, 100 frames 720p at 24fps 3.0" 922K dots with Live View

Nikon D300S vs. D300 feature and specification differences

  • 720p / 24 fps HD video recording
  • External stereo sound input
  • Basic in-camera movie editing
  • Faster 7 fps continuous shooting (6 fps on the D300)
  • Dual CF and SD card slots (CF only on the D300)
  • Quiet release mode
  • D3 style multi-controller on the camera rear
  • Interactive settings display screen
  • Dedicated Live View button (LV is a drive mode on the D300)
  • Dedicated Info button
  • Type C HDMI interface (Type A on the D300)
  • Auto and Extra High Active D-Lighting options
  • Virtual horizon
  • In-camera editing (RAW resizing)

Nikon D300S Key Features

  • 13.1 megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor (effective pixels: 12.3 million)
  • 720p HD video
  • 3.0" LCD monitor (920,000 dots)
  • Image sensor cleaning (sensor shake)
  • 51 AF points (with 3D tracking)
  • IS0 200-3200 range (6400 expanded)
  • 7 frames per second continuous shooting (buffer: 17 RAW, 44 JPEG fine, 100 JPEG Normal)
  • Expeed image processing
  • Picture Controls - image parameters consistent with all current Nikon DSLRs
  • Same EN-EL3e battery as D300
  • 72 thumbnail view in playback
  • 14-bit A/D conversion
  • Super fast operation (power-up 13 ms, shutter lag 45 ms, black-out 100 ms)
  • Shutter life 150,000 exposures
  • Multi-CAM3500DX Auto Focus sensor (51-point, 15 cross-type, more vertical coverage)
  • Auto-focus tracking by color (using information from 1005-pixel AE sensor)
  • Auto-focus calibration (fine-tuning) now available (fixed body or up to 20 separate lens settings)
  • Scene Recognition System (uses AE sensor, AF sensor)
  • Picture Control image parameter presets (replace Color Modes I, II and III)
  • Custom image parameters now support brightness as well as contrast
  • Compact Flash UDMA support
  • Live View with either phase detect (mirror up/down) or contrast detect Auto Focus
  • HDMI HD video output
  • 'Active D-Lighting' (adjusts metering as well as applying D-Lighting curve)
  • Detailed 'Control Panel' type display on LCD monitor, changes color in darkness
  • New MB-D10 vertical grip fully integrates into body, multi battery type compatible
  • Buttons sealed against moisture
12.3 megapixel DX format CMOS sensor Viewfinder pentaprism
Main board with image processor EXPEED processing
51-point Multi-CAM 3500DX AF sensor module 51 AF point locations in frame (approx.)
1005-pixel metering sensor Shutter

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

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Great camera excellent review - but I feel like someone watching the review of a Ferrari on Top Gear fat chance of me owning it but you can dream! lol

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