Nikon D300S review
The D300S combines some interesting new features with Nikon's traditional excellence at this price.
Review Date: 8 Sep 2009
Price when reviewed: (£1349 ex VAT)
Reviewed By: Dave Stevenson
The Nikon D300S sits at the very top of Nikon's range of consumer-level DSLRs. In fact, that may be stretching the facts a little: there are presumably only a small number of consumers who will be prepared to pay £1500 for a DSLR.
The D300S has a 12.3-megapixel, APS-C-sized sensor at its heart. The reduced-size sensor is the key difference between this and the £500 more expensive Nikon D700. Despite its price, the D300S doesn't produce noticeably better-quality stills than cheaper Nikon fare such as the D90 or D5000. It uses the same Expeed image processing as Nikon's cheaper cameras and, compared to images from the D5000, produces images with similar noise levels at high ISOs.
It distinguishes itself in other ways, though. Where Nikon's cheaper cameras have 11 focus points, the D300S has 51, including 15 cross-type sensors, meaning increased focus speed and accuracy. The D300S is fast, too: Nikon's claims it can hit 7fps (frames per second) in continuous mode proved false in our tests - timed against a stopwatch it was closer to 8fps.
However, the biggest difference between this and Nikon's cheaper cameras is build quality. Whereas Nikon's cheaper bodies are made from plastic, the D300S is made from sturdy magnesium alloy. The increased heft is instantly noticeable: at nearly a kilogram without a lens attached, the D300S makes itself known slung across the shoulder. But this is a DSLR body that feels like it will survive all manner of catastrophe. It's not just the rugged body, either: the buttons, port and battery covers are weather-sealed, so it should survive the worst of what nature can throw at it, too. Not only that, but Nikon claims the shutter mechanism has been tested to 150,000 actuations. Further, every point at which your hands contact the tough-feeling body are shielded in thick, tactile rubber, making the D300S tricky to drop, no matter the size (or sweatiness) of your hands.
While the D300S's build and raw performance are both points in its favour, the reason photographers will fall in love with it - particularly compared with modern budget DSLRs - is its speed of use. If you want to change the ISO, for instance, simply hold down the dedicated ISO button on the left-hand shoulder of the D300S, flick the control wheel on the right-hand side and watch what happens in the secondary LCD screen. The same goes for image quality and white balance. There are two main control wheels as well, one falling neatly under the right-hand thumb and the other under your shutter finger. There's no dedicated mode wheel - program, aperture, shutter and manual modes are reached by holding down the mode button and scrolling through the options with a control wheel. It means that only the more esoteric settings need to be accessed via the 3in, 920,000-pixel screen on the back, and making minor changes to the D300S's settings in its myriad manual modes is unbelievably fast. This reliance on the secondary LCD screen and the absence of a green square automatic mode means the D300S can be a daunting baptism for first-time DSLR owners, but for anyone who's used a DSLR before, it's a revolution.
Nikon has added features beyond speed and build quality. The D300S has an HD video mode. It can shoot for a maximum of five minutes at 720p and 30fps, and the results we got from it were excellent. The D300S offers mid-video focus shifting via contrast detection, but as with most DSLRs, this can be a rather drawn-out process, to say nothing of noisy depending on your lens' focus motor.
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