Nikon D300S review: Nikon D300S

Also, I'm not crazy about the Live View/movie interface implementation. It may seem trivial, but in that mode, Nikon switches the function of the playback button to handle volume and display brightness, which means that to review videos or photos shot in LV you need to first exit.

One of the best new features is the addition of an SD card slot and the fairly flexible dual card slot implementation. You can configure the camera to use whichever card you deem secondary to be used for overflow, backup, and JPEG only (when shooting raw+JPEG), though only for stills; for movies, you can only pick a primary, with no alternate behaviors. (A PDF of the D300s' manual was not available online in English at the time this review published, but you can check back here, or download it in Spanish now from the same page.)

  Nikon D300s Canon EOS 7D Olympus E-3 Pentax K-7
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1-megapixel CMOS 18-megapixel CMOS 10.1-megapixel Live MOS 14.6-megapixel CMOS
23.6mm x 15.8mm 22.3mm x 14.9mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm
Magnification factor 1.5x 1.6x 2.0x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 3,200 ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 60 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync
Continuous shooting 7fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
16 raw/90 JPEG
16 raw/unlimited JPEG
5.2 fps
40 JPEG/15 raw (PEF)
magnification/effective magnification
100% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
Autofocus 51-pt AF
15 cross-type
19-pt AF
all cross-type
11-pt AF
all cross-type
11-pt AF
9 cross-type
Metering 1,005 pixel 63 zone 49 point 77 segment
Live View Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video 1,280x720 at 24fps 1,920x1,080 at 30fps; 1,280x720 at 60fps; H.264 MOV No 1,280x720 at 30fps Motion JPEG AVI
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
2.5 inches articulated
230,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
Wireless flash controller Yes Yes Yes Yes
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles n/a cycles
Battery life (CIPA rating) 950 shots 800 shots 610 shots 740 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.8x4.5x2.9 5.8x4.4x2.9 5.6x4.6x2.9 5.1x3.8x2.9
Body operating weight (ounces) 34.2 30.7 (estimated) 31.6 26.5
Mfr. Price (body only) $1,799.95 $1,699 $1,399.99 $1,195

Nikon managed to tweak the performance so that the D300s is speedier across the board--except for start-up time--than the already fast D300. The AF system is the same as that of the D300, and the advanced technology it incorporated at the time holds up well and, theoretically, should still fare well compared with the new AF system debuting in the 7D.

Numbers simply don't reflect how fast this camera feels for its class; as with many higher-end pro cameras, you press the shutter in continuous-shooting mode and it just drags you along for the ride. Single shot mode feels very responsive as well. The camera takes 0.3 second to power on and shoot, and it takes the same amount of time to focus and shoot in good light; in lower-contrast light, it takes 0.7 second. Typically, two nonburst JPEG shots in a row require about 0.4 second; that bumps up to 0.5 second when shooting full raw. With the on-camera flash, it takes about 0.9 second from shot to shot. And it produces a D3-class continuous-shooting rate of 6.8 frames per second.

The D300s incorporates the same video engine as that of the D90 that, at 720p resolution but limited to 24fps, isn't the greatest video we've seen. However, it's still pretty good, with no significant artifacts to speak of. Yes, if you shake the camera you can induce the Jell-O wobble some people have complained about, but it doesn't occur under normal conditions. Unfortunately, the D300s' implementation suffers from the same flaws as most dSLR-based movie capture. It supports AF during movie capture, but it's highly impractical. It only works in the Live View Tripod (mirror up) contrast AF mode, which is extremely slow and hunts quite a bit. You can always focus manually, but I find the LCD isn't quite sharp enough for focusing (there's no zoom magnifier for focusing while shooting). This is especially true with the cheaper lenses with designs that aren't really optimized for manual focus--focusing while shooting a movie handheld can be quite cumbersome. The built-in mic also picks up the lens noise. However, there's a stereo mic input to get around that. You can use the Picture Controls to adjust the tone and color in movie mode, which is nice if you want to shoot black and white videos.

While the photo quality remains excellent, it doesn't have any better noise reduction at the high ISO sensitivity settings--something you'd expect, given that it uses the same sensor. Given that we're two years on since its introduction, the rapidly changing competitive landscape, and the camera's continued high price, I've rated the image quality as an 8 rather than the 9 of its predecessor. Images begin to look "processed" at ISO 800; you can begin to see some sharpness degradation starting at ISO 1,600, but it doesn't become obtrusive until ISO 3,200. By Hi 1 (ISO 6,400) you can see luminance and color noise as well as distinct softness. Nikon seems to have brightened its exposures between the two models and that change results in the D300s' noise at ISO 6,400 (Hi 1) becoming more noticeable.

However, the colors look even better than before. They are bright and saturated, but still accurate. Nikon seems to have changed the camera's exposure parameters; all the exposures seem brighter, regardless of metering setting, then they were with the D300. In our lab tests, the same aperture and shutter values produced brighter exposures with the D300s than the D300, and the D300s produces generally brighter exposures than Nikon's midrange and pro dSLRs have rendered in the past.

Fast, with a flexible feature set, durable body, and excellent photo quality, the Nikon ably fills its predecessor's shoes, though it fails to blaze any significantly new trails in them. If you don't need or want video, slightly faster low-light AF, or a bump in continuous-shooting speed, current D300 owners needn't get upgrade envy and new purchasers might want to consider the older model if they can find it at a significantly lower price--though that may be difficult.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Raw shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim light)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Nikon D3
Olympus E-3
Nikon D300s
Canon EOS 50D
Nikon D300

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Nikon D300s (with 18-200mm lens)

Part Number: 9740 Released: Aug 31, 2009
Low Price: $2,549.95 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Aug 31, 2009
  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Zoom 11.1 x
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 12.3 Megapixel
  • Image Stabilizer optical
  • Lens 27 - 300mm F/3.5
  • Optical Sensor Size 15.8 x 23.6mm