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.
Picture Controls (Nikon's name for its image parameter presets), can be modified, saved and transferred between the D5000 and all the more expensive Nikon DSLRs to allow consistency of output between different cameras. Obviously the noise and noise reduction characteristics each camera will have an impact on the final results so the output won't be identical but the results will be consistent enough for the Nikon spokesperson we spoke to describe Picture Controls as: 'the digital film of the future,' which is nice.
Artificial light White Balance
The D300S's performance is not nearly as accurate as the D90 was in the same test. However, its choice of seven Fluorescent presets means there's likely to be at least one setting in which it will produce excellent results. The problem with having so many options is choosing the correct one for the situation you're shooting in (personally I can't spot the difference between a Daylight Fluorescent and a Day White Fluorescent tube when I walk into an unfamiliar room), not helped by the inability to switch between fluorescent presets from the interactive control panel. It's quite possible to shoot a raw image then pre-process that in-camera to test the effects of each preset, then use the White Balance option in the shooting menu to select that preset, but if you're going to do all that, it's probably easier to shoot a neutral target and set a custom white balance from that.
Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.3%, Blue: -10.0%, Average
It's hard to argue with this flash performance - both the exposure and color rendition are very good. The D300S also features Nikon's wireless 'Creative Lighting System,' allowing the remote control of external flashguns. The internal flash can control two groups of up to four flashes (though more groups can be established if you mount an SB-900 or SB-800 flashgun or SU-800 commander unit on top).
Active D-Lighting has been included in Nikon DSLRs since the D300. It mixes a metering correction and tone curve shift (as per Canon's Highlight Tone Priority mode), with sophisticated dynamic range compression techniques, based on technologies from Apical (similar to those in the Sony DRO and Olympus SAT modes). The effect is that highlights are preserved and detail pulled out of the shadows.
The theory is that this results in images that are closer to the way the human brain perceives the scene. The cost is that you get additional noise in shadow regions of the images, and that these changes only appear in JPEG (they are not perfectly reproducible in RAW converters - even Capture NX). The default setting for Active D-Lighting on the D5000 is 'Auto,' which assesses the contrast in the scene and applies what it considers to be an appropriate level of D-Lighting.
On the whole, it's a question of taste but there are plenty of situations in which a small increase in noise is an acceptable price to pay for a final image with a more balanced tonal range, so we'd be inclined to leave it on Auto or even hike it up to High in some situations. Those people shooting RAW and planning to post-process all their images are probably better off switching it off, however.
Anyone who has read a review of a recent Nikon DSLR (particularly one of the models based around a 12MP APS-C CMOS sensor) won't be surprised by any of our findings about the D300S. As usual, the main thing that turns up when you compare images as we do - viewing at 1:1 - is the Nikon's comparatively soft JPEG output. As we've shown before, a little extra sharpening brings it up to the same levels as its peers.
Beyond that, there's not a lot to find fault with about the D300S - it is generally as dependable a photographic tool as its build quality implies. If you look closely, it's not uncommon to notice 'grain' in what should be clear blue skies and this isn't the camera for you if that worries you (it's rarely objectionable, particularly at normal viewing distances, but it is there).
Because the D300S also corrects for lateral chromatic aberrations when you shoot JPEGs, it may comes as a bit of a shock to then use a RAW converter that doesn't automatically apply such corrections. In general the JPEGs do a good job of making the best of the underlying RAW data, which makes them useful whether you're offering clients an early proof or using them as the end product.