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Conclusion - Pros

  • Highly competitive image quality at all ISO settings
  • Excellent high ISO performance with low noise and good levels of detail
  • Highly configurable Auto ISO function (can set maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed)
  • 7 frames per second continuous shooting speed (8 with battery grip)
  • Makes good use of its dual media card slots
  • Sophisticated AF system with effective subject tracking
  • Excellent build quality with magnesium body and environmental sealing
  • Good ergonomics, well shaped and comfortable hand grip
  • Well-placed and configurable buttons
  • Menu is well organized and quick to use despite its size and the camera's complexity
  • Large and bright viewfinder with 100% coverage
  • (Relatively) quick contrast detect AF in live view
  • Good quality 720p video output
  • Easy switch between stills mode, movie mode and live view
  • Contrast detection available in movie mode
  • External microphone socket
  • Useful Active D-Lighting feature protects highlights as well as boosting shadows
  • Reliable flash exposures
  • Comprehensive wireless flash control
  • Wide range of accessories (WiFi, Battery Grip, GPS)
  • Good battery life
  • Sophisticated interval timer feature
  • Comprehensive software bundle
  • Built-in AF assist lamp

Conclusion - Cons

  • Unreliable white balance under artificial lighting
  • Slight tendency to overexpose in contrasty conditions
  • Rolling shutter effect when shooting video
  • Occasional 'grain' in blue skies, even at base ISO
  • Contrast detection AF is slow (as it is on all DSLRs)
  • Internal microphone readily records lens noise
  • No liveview histogram

Overall conclusion

The D300S isn't nearly as significant a step forward for Nikon as the D300 was but that in part is a testament to how good the D300 was. When we reviewed it, Phil stressed how difficult he'd found it to find things to criticize so it's not surprising that Nikon has found it hard to know what to improve. But there are improvements and ones that will be welcomed by certain sections of the photographic community. The ability to shoot movies, although seemingly gimmicky, does appear to be a benefit both in terms of creative options and commercial potential, so shouldn't be dismissed. The addition of a second card slot and the useful ways in which it can be used also considerably increase the flexibility of the camera.

Image Quality

With a 12 megapixel sensor, it would be easy to think of the D300S as being a touch out-of-date. However, that would be to miss the point, as the difference between 18 megapixels and 12 (20% in each direction), is only of value in certain specific circumstance, especially when you're talking about 12 very well captured and processed megapixels. And that's what you get with the D300S - dependable, quality images which it's very hard to find fault with. The JPEGs may be a little softer than we'd choose but they respond well to the sharpening being pushed up a notch, so it's just a matter of tuning them to suit your purposes. Processing from raw brings even better results.

Handling

Handling is one of the places that the D300S really shines - both its ergonomics and build quality are first class. Although it's easy to initially be intimidated by the sheer number of external controls, you soon become familiar with them and find yourself glad of them. Then, thanks to the high level of customization, you can add other features you want direct access to onto the user-definable function buttons on the front of the camera. Furthermore, if you're unfamiliar with the Nikon way of working (dials and indicators all have positive on the left and negative on the right), the behavior of both can be switched so that it more close resembles the cameras you're used to.

Although the button changes over the D300 are subtle, they make a surprising difference, not least in terms of making access to video really straightforward. There isn't universal agreement here about the positioning of the buttons on the camera's left shoulder (White Balance, ISO and Image Quality), but that's about the only point of contention, despite us all being familiar with different brands.

The final word

The D300S is not the standout product that its predecessor was and unless you find your clients are clamoring for video footage, we can't see much need for existing owners to upgrade. But that shouldn't take away from an absolutely excellent product - a gently polished and refined update of a product that we considered a benchmark when it was released. The EOS 7D may prevent anyone with a foot in the Canon camp from contemplating defection but unless you desperately need that camera's higher resolution, it's hard to overlook the appeal of the Nikon.

Nikon D300S
Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Pretty much anything from landscapes to sports
Not so good for
Serious movie making
Overall score
82%
A relatively minor upgrade to one of the defining cameras of the semi-pro sector adds a useful HD video mode and a wealth of minor improvements that improve the already excellent handling. Although the D300S has stronger competition than its predecessor, it still manages to impress, as do the images it produces.

Original Rating (November 2009): Highly Recommended
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean

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Comments

BobFoster

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

1 upvote