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Nikon D300S review: Nikon D300S

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The Good Outstanding performance for its class; excellent photo quality; solidly built; flexible custom settings architecture; video capture; onboard wireless flash controller; dual card slots.

The Bad Some annoying design and interface quirks; no significant improvements in high ISO noise performance.

The Bottom Line The Nikon D300s is a great camera, especially if you need the burst speed or slightly improved low-light focus, but if you don't care about video you might consider looking for a really good deal on a D300 and using what you save to splurge on a good lens.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 8

Editors' note, October 10, 2012: In light of changes to the competitive landscape, we've decided to adjust the rating of this camera by dropping the features subrating from 9 to 8. Though it's still an excellent camera, its 3-year-old feature set can't match that of more modern units; many of the features that were novel at the time are now standard for its price class.

When a camera has an 18-month product cycle, it's hard to squash some disappointment when its follow up has only a few enhancements, despite the fact that it's common to only make a major update with every other generation. When it's a great camera to start with, like the Nikon D300, the ambivalence quotient increases even more. In some ways, I wish Nikon would have simply (or additionally) dropped the price on the D300 rather than make the few changes it did: adding video support and tweaking performance. Even the median street price hasn't changed significantly on the D300 since the D300s' announcement, at least at the time of this review, and as far as I can tell, Nikon has no plans to drop it. Just as Canon had a competitive gap in its line for the D300 for years until it announced the EOS 7D this summer, Nikon has nothing facing off with the 50D. (Note: I'm reserving judgment on how the D300s stacks up in its segment until I get a chance to test the 7D.)

Nikon's offering a body-only box of the D300s, though so far a kit has also surfaced with the 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G ED VR II lens (27mm-300mm equivalent), an updated version of this lens. I tested primarily with that kit, as well as the ubiquitous 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 VR model. If you're considering the kit, the 18-200mm model represents a very convenient focal range in a relatively compact body that balances well on the D300s, but it's simply not as sharp as I'd like for the money, the zoom ring has an annoying, inconsistent rotation feel, and it still suffers from lens creep (Nikon put a lock on it to prevent creep when it's not in use, but that doesn't help while you're working with it). Ironically, I feel like I get better results with the relatively cheap 18-55mm lens, which can also focus a lot closer--10.8 versus 19.2 inches.

  Nikon D90 Nikon D300 Nikon D300s Nikon D700
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.3-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel CMOS 12.1-megapixel CMOS
23.6 mm x 15.8mm 23.6 mm x 15.8mm 23.6mm x 15.8mm 36mm x 23.9mm
Magnification factor 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6,400/25,600 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 4.5fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
n/a raw/100 JPEG
17 raw/100 JPEG
magnification/effective magnification
96% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
95% coverage
Autofocus 11-pt AF
center cross-type
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
Live View Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video 1,280x720 at 24fps No 1,280 x 720 at 24fps No
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
Shutter durability 100,000 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Battery life (CIPA rating) 850 shots 1,000 shots 950 shots 1,000 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.2x4.1x3.0 5.8x4.5x2.9 5.8x4.5x2.9 5.8x4.8x3.0
Body operating weight (ounces) 26.0 32.6 34.2 38.7
Mfr. Price (body only) $999.95 $1,799.95 $1,799.95 $2,999.95

The body design and interface haven't changed substantially since the D200: that's both good and bad. It's still built like a tank, dust- and weather-sealed, though it's put on a couple of ounces. Despite its heft, it's comfortable to grip and operate, with one of the nicest viewfinders in its class--big and bright with 100 percent coverage and an optional grid display--and a usable streamlined layout for the traditional shooting controls. As with its predecessor, I really like the switch for the AF-Area modes, and would have liked a similar feeling control for the metering selector, to allow for thumb-only operation, such as with the D3.

As time goes on, however, certain aspects of the camera's operation have begun to annoy me. For example, Nikon carries over the ultraflexible user-settings menus that consist of two banks--shooting settings and custom settings--with four nameable slots each. But I found myself wishing they were more easily accessible, such as sitting on the mode dial a là Canon.

One of the fastest ways to access the custom settings banks is via the information display, and it still requires at least four button presses (two to get into the interactive display, one to get into the menu bank, and at least one to navigate to the desired setting with the multiselector). However, the capability to access less frequently used settings via the information display is a welcome addition to the D300s.

This may be because the multiselector used for navigation feels so mushy and imprecise that using it feels like extra work, even if only for a couple of button presses. I also wish Nikon had separated the movie settings somehow, as well as adapted the information readout to display or access movie setting information.

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.

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