Body & Design

The D300 design is very similar to the D200, that's no bad thing, it's virtually the same size (very slightly taller), at the front there are new covers over the remote and PC sync terminals, at the rear a larger AF-ON button and a subtle re-arrange of the buttons down the left of the now larger LCD monitor. Build quality is just as good as the D200 (if not slightly better) and certainly in line with its 'bigger brother' the D3. The body is constructed from magnesium alloy, soft rubber is used on the grips both front and back as well as environmental seals on compartment doors. Just like the rest of the family the D300 features oversized buttons on the rear of the camera which are easier to use when wearing gloves.

There are numerous rubber gasket seals around body seams, controls and compartment doors. Nikon don't claim the camera to be waterproof but it's certainly more 'weather proof' than the average digital SLR. Remember that the camera is only as weather proof as its weakest link, this includes the lens mount and only a few of the more recent Nikkor lenses have rubber seals around the mount ring.

Side by side

Below you can see the D300 beside the recently announced ten megapixel Canon EOS 40D. Despite a $500 price difference (in Canon's favor) these two models are clear rivals and will be compared and contrasted by buyers and reviewers alike. The D300 weighs in at 903 g including its battery, the EOS 40D about 80 g lighter (the same weight as the D300's rechargeable battery).

In your hand

You really have to pick up the D300 to appreciate how nicely it fits into your hand, the ergonomics are great and the soft rubber used on the grip ensures holding the camera steady is an easy task. The control layout is also very sensible and easy to learn, even if you've never used a Nikon DSLR before clear labeling and logical positioning mean you'll be shooting and discovering the D300's features very quickly (and if you are coming from the D200 you'll be right at home because very little has changed).

LCD Monitor

One of the big changes to the D300 is the new high resolution screen. It has four times the number of dots than the 230,000 unit used on the D2X and other such cameras. For clarity, the words pixels and dots are interchanged almost randomly in specification sheets but strictly speaking we should talk of dots (these being red, green or blue sub-pixels) when referring to the figures quoted by manufacturers. The D300's LCD has 921,600 dots, 1920 columns by 480 rows, the dots are a third thinner than they are high and so each group of three dots (sub-pixels) make up one full color pixel.

This high resolution screen really has to be seen to be appreciated, it's beautifully detailed and extremely smooth in appearance because the tiny gaps between dots are too small to be seen with the eye. This extra detail is obvious in Liveview and playback modes where you really can see much 'more' of the image in one glance. Another difference comes when you magnify in playback as you find you don't need to magnify the image as much before you can clearly see sharpness, focus accuracy and even noise. Just like the D200 the D300 has a removable protective screen cover (shown with and without below).

One other difference between the D300/D3's screen and that used previously is the layout of the dots (sub-pixels), this new screen has the same layout as your computer LCD, a simple RGB layout with all rows the same ('stripe array'). The other layout used on small LCD screens is the 'delta array' which uses an RGB pattern on one row then a BRG pattern on the row below, offset by half a pixel.

Stripe array layout LCD Delta array layout LCD

Below you can see a real-life, same-size example of the difference in resolution between this new 921,600 dot screen and a more typical 230,400 dot screen (in this case on the Canon EOS 40D). Both cameras were set in play mode with the same image (note that the D300 doesn't use the whole screen in play unless you magnify), a shot was taken of each camera from the same distance (hence the screens were captured at the same magnification).

Crop from the D300's LCD
(1920 x 480 dots; 640 x 480 pixels)
Crop from the EOS 40D's LCD
(960 x 240 dots; 320 x 240 pixels)

Top Control Panel

The D300 has one control panel on the top, this large display dominates the entire right top side of the camera and provides a full range of information covering photographic and digital settings. The panel has a green back light which can be illuminated by flicking the power switch to the lamp position, it's spring loaded and returns to 'ON', the back light stays on for the 'auto meter-off' time (CSM c2). You can also choose to have the backlights come on with any button press (CSM d8). Note that even when the camera is 'Off' this panel displays the number of frames remaining on the card or -E- if no card is inserted (an indication that the camera is never really powered off but instead in a sleep mode).

A breakdown of information displayed on the LCD panel can be found on the diagrams below.

*1 • Shutter-speed
• Exposure compensation value
• Flash compensation value
• ISO sensitivity
• White balance fine-tuning
• White balance preset number
• Number of shots in bracketing sequence
• Number of intervals
• Focal length (non-CPU lens)
*2 • Aperture (f-number)
• Aperture (number of stops)
• Bracketing increment
• Number of shots per interval
• Maximum aperture (non-CPU lens)
• PC connection indicator
*3 • Number of frames remaining
• Number of shots remaining before buffer fills
• PC mode indicator
• Preset white balance recording indicator
*4 • Electronic analog exposure display
• Exposure compensation
• Bracketing progress indicator
• PC mode indicator

Diagram reproduced with permission from the Nikon D300 user manual.