Like Canon, Nikon has a lot invested in lens-based optical-image stabilization technology, so the D300 lacks the in-body sensor-shift stabilization that Sony, Pentax, Olympus, and Panasonic offer. That's not a big deal if you already have an investment in Nikon's VR lenses or don't really use/care about stabilization. But if you do care about it and making your first dSLR purchase, or contemplating shifting from another brand, then don't discount its importance; the fact that the two kits require a choice between VR and non-VR lenses foreshadows future lens choices you'll have to make.
Other boosts over the D200 include an upgrade to a 3-inch LCD with a 170-degree viewing angle, a stop higher on the sensitivity scale to an effective ISO 100-6,400, the addition of a 14-bit raw mode, and an HDMI connector for optimal HDTV output. Before going into production, Nikon dropped the Virtual Horizon capability (which did make it into the D3). Nice features carried over from the D200 include built-in wireless flash control; selectable 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, or 13mm center-spot for center-weighted metering; and a shutter-speed range of 1/8,000 to 30 seconds. (For a complete list of the D300's features and capabilities, check out the PDF manual.)
There's nothing to complain about with the D300's shooting speed--though it delivers average performance for its class, the D300 does belong to a pretty zippy class of cameras, and it outpaces the D200 on a few tasks. CNET Labs' tests indicate that it wakes up and shoots near instantly, in about 0.1 second. Under good, high-contrast lighting, it focuses and shoots in just under half a second, rising to 0.9 second in dimmer conditions. Typically, it captures consecutive frames in the same half second, edging up to 0.6 second with the built-in flash enabled. And it delivers a quick 5.8 frames per second for high-speed burst shooting. (We tested without the optional battery grip, which brings the speed closer to 8fps.) Nikon traditionally delivers excellent low-light focus performance in its dSLRs, and the D300 is no exception. Even shooting a black cat sitting in the shadows of a dimly lit apartment proved no problem.
As for photo quality, the D300 delivers great results, with a visibly superior noise profile to the D200 as well as to the Sony DSLR-A700 (which uses the same sensor). At their best, photos are sharp, with excellent exposures, accurate colors, and broad tonal ranges. Flash with the SB-800 Speedlight unit especially showed off how well the metering system works, with none of the harsh, overexposed look that I frequently get on the most difficult shots. (For more details on the photo quality, click through the slide show.)
Although the lack of in-body stabilization can be a big liability for certain users, and its interface not quite as streamlined as I'd like, these negatives are more than offset by the great performance and class-leading photo quality delivered by the Nikon D300--earning it an Editors' Choice.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)