My D300 hands on review

Well I had the D300 for a little over a week so I didn’t really get to test the full abilities of the camera, But here is my mini review coming from a Canon shooter and this is comparing it with my previous cameras which have been a 300D, 20D, 40D, And 50D and a Fuji S2 Pro.

What I liked

The D300 had a really nice build quality, It felt very solid and well built, And it felt nice to hold, With a nice sized hand grip.

The viewfinder was really nice, Big, Bright and covered 100% of the frame and it was easy to read the settings. The thing with Nikon cameras, Everything in the viewfinder is done using LCD, Rather then being etched like a Canon camera. So when you look through the viewfinder, You don’t see the AF point until the camera locks AF, Then the AF points will light up. There is also a on demand grid that can be turned on and off via the menus which is handy. With Canon if you want the grid, You will have to change the focusing screen. I had the EF-D Grid focusing screen on my 40D, But it was hard to read, And wasn’t as good at the Nikon on demand grid. Also, With the Nikon camera, When you take the battery out of the camera, The viewfinder goes really dark, But once you put the battery back in, It becomes bright again! This is due to the electronics used in the viewfinder.

The D300 has allot more buttons then a Canon XXD series camera! This was nice because you don’t have to go through as many menus to access functions. The D300 offers Mirror lockup via a dial and not through the menus! Canon still haven’t managed to offer a Mirror lockup button yet!

The AF Was fast and snappy and was good in low light. You have a setting on the back where you can select centre point, Choose the point you want, Or use all 51 points. You can also go into the menus and change the settings so the camera only uses 11 points for those times when you don’t need the full 51 points.

You also have a setting on the front of the camera where you can select between Manual focus (When using manual focus lenses) Normal AF, And Continuous AF for when your shooting sports or anything that moves and you use AI tracking.

The On/Off button was nice, Its right at your fingertip just under the shutter button, So you can turn the camera on and start shooting away. I personally don’t like the Canon XXD series On/Off button, Especially on the 40D and 50D where it would sometimes seem to stick and you have two settings, One that locks the rear control wheel, And one that gives your full access to the control wheel. Sometimes you accidentally switch it to the half way point, And you loose access to the rear wheel (The aperture controls) which can be annoying!

The thing I missed though is the rear control wheel (The aperture wheel) On the Canon, I didn’t like the two scroll wheels on the Nikon. With the Nikon though, You can change which wheel controls the Aperture and the shutter speed, And which direction you want to turn the wheel to make the settings go up and down, So you can customise it to your liking via the menus.

Nikon offer a setting called “Active D lighting” Which brings out shadow detail when shooing high contrast scenes, You can select from 4 settings, these are, Off, Low, Normal, And High Depending on the scene your shooting. The Canon 50D also offers a similar feature, But it wasn’t as effective as the Nikon system.

High ISO performance on the D300 was pretty good for a APS-C camera, But ISO 6400 was noisy and would only be good for smaller prints. The D300 was allot better then the 50D though, The high ISO performance on the 50D was very disappointing, And almost useless at 6400 and 12800.

The LCD screen on the D300 was really nice! Very bright and clear to read. Nikon offers a plastic screen protector to keep the screen protected from scratches and smudges etc. I think the D300’s screen was slightly better then the 50D screen, But the 50D’s screen was also nice and clear to read. The 40D’s screen was not that great because of it’s low resolution, And images appeared soft.

The menu system on the Nikon camera was good, But the best menu system I’ve used so far has been on the 20D because you could just scroll through each page by turning the rear control wheel, While all the other cameras you have to select the page, Then scroll through the pages to find the settings you want.
The D300’s settings were easy to find and there are heaps of options to select from, Much more then what is on offer by Canon in their XXD series cameras!

With the D300, You can change the white balance settings after you’ve taken the shot in camera! You can compare the changes, And also revert back to the first setting if you don’t like the changes, And you can save a copy of the photo, So you can have different versions of the same shot with different settings. You can also do multi exposure shots in camera with the D300, But I didn’t get a chance to try out that feature. You can also change the white balance settings via the menus, Via a top button.

The metering was good on the D300, And you can select the metering mode via a small dial next to the viewfinder.

The memory card door was really nice on the D300, You open it via a switch and it pops open and felt more solid then the cheap feeling Canon memory card doors.

Liveview mode was good on the D300, With two options, Hand held where the mirror would flip down to gain AF, Then flip back up, Or Tripod mode where it would use contrast detect AF. The Live view mode was better then the 40D, But I found the 50D to be a bit better, With a better contrast detect AF then on the D300.

The shutter was nice and responsive, And the mirror slap wasn’t to loud, I think the worse camera so far has been the 20D, Which was really loud when it came to mirror slap. All the cameras though have had minimal shutter lag, And the D300 was ready to shoot as soon as your turned the camera on.

The lens mount took a bit of getting use to, Nikon lenses screw onto the mount in the opposite direction to Canon cameras. It’s only a minor thing, But after shooting with Canon cameras for the last 4 years it was something I was unaware of (Note, I’ve had a Fuji S2Pro for a few months, So the D300 wasn’t my first Nikon mount SLR).

The viewfinder provides lots of information, Far more then what you get on a Canon XXD series camera, And also the battery information is very comprehensive with statistics on the performance of each battery etc, Canon has introduced a similar system with the upcoming 5DMkII So I will comment on that when I write up my 5DMkII review in a few weeks.

What I didn’t like

The thing I didn’t like on the D300 was the two scroll wheels to change the shutter/aperture, I find that the way Canon have set up the scroll wheel near the shutter release, And the large rear control wheel on the back to be quicker, Especially when it comes to changing aperture settings. With the D300, I found I had to turn the wheel allot to get the settings I wanted or to make slight changes (I had it set up to on 1/2 f/ stops and shutter speeds rather then the 1/3 default settings) and the Nikon scroll wheels seemed to be a bit to sensitive when trying to make fine adjustments to shutter/aperture settings.

I also found trying to change the “Mode” Settings to be a bit troublesome, You had to press the Mode button and spin the scroll wheel to change the settings, With the Canon XXD and 5 series cameras you have a top control wheel where you can select your shooting mode. It’s only a minor thing, But having to hold the button down and scroll was a bit troublesome IMHO.

Manually selecting AF points was also a bit slow because you had to navigate using the AF point selector pad on the back of the camera, With the Canon cameras you can use the joystick or the rear control wheel to select your desired AF point.

The thing that I also don’t like on Nikon camera is the lack of a “True” ISO 100 setting, Sure you can “Boost” the ISO down to ISO 100, But it’s not the same as having a true ISO 100 setting. allot of my work I do I want to use slow shutter speeds, And the lower ISO settings means I don’t have to get the neutral density filters out as much, And with the APS-C sensors, You really can’t stop the lens down to much due to the diffraction limits on the crop sensors.

The Lens

I had the 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 VR Lens which was a decent lens considering it’s a “Consumer Grade” lens, I did try out the Canon 18-200 IS when looking at the 50D in the shops, And I can say that the Nikon version is better built, And has faster AF due to the AF-S focusing motor. VR was a good addition, However I found it to be only good for about 2 f/ stops of handholdabilty While Nikon claims it to be effective to 4 f/ stops.

The lens was nice and light weight, Which is partly due to it being made of allot of plastic, But it’s good plastics. The lens is a “G” series lens, So you don’t get the aperture ring. It lens was compact when it was at it’s 18mm setting, And wasn’t really that long at the 200mm setting, But as you would expect from a 11x zoom, The barrel did extend quite a bit. The front of the lens doesn’t rotate, So using a Polarising filter isn’t a hassle.

The lens had a metal mount, Unlike the Canon version which has a plastic lens mount.

My copy of the lens didn’t show any signs of zoom creep which has been widely reported, And the zoom ring was nice and tight.

My copy seemed ok for sharpness, It was a little soft at 200mm, But that is to be expected from a consumer grade lens, And from a super zoom lens.

I found the colours seemed weren’t that good though, But then again, I’ve been shooting with Canon L series lenses for the last 4 years, So it’s a bit of a unfair comparison.

The 18-200 VR was a good lens considering it was a 11x consumer zoom lens, It would make a great travel/walkabout lens, But I wouldn’t really use it for serious stuff, Especially if you plan on making large prints.

D300 Vs 50D

The Nikon D300 was a nice camera, Well built, And a much better buy then the Canon 50D. It may only have 12mp, But with the Canon 15mp sensor, You really need to be using top quality lenses. My sharp L series lenses were struggling with the resolution from the 50D!

If your looking at a Semi Pro/Pro APS-C camera and shoot allot of sports/wildlife etc the D300 would proberly be the best camera on the market, It is very good value for money!

So why am I going back to Canon?

The downside of the Nikon system is the cost of good quality lenses. The Nikon “Gold Ring” lenses are very expensive, And then there is the fact that Nikon don’t offer allot of the lenses that Canon do (Fast primes with USM/AF-S, f/4 Pro grade lenses, Lack of AF-S in many of their lenses etc) For the type of shooting I do, I don’t need the expense, Size, And weight of a bag full of f/2.8 zoom lenses.

I also prefer the feel and handling of the Canon bodies, I guess this is because I’ve been use to shooting with the Canon EOS system for so long, Having owned a variety of digital and film SLR’s over the past 5 years.

Nikons current full framed lens lineup is also very limited, Sure you can buy used lenses etc, But for someone who wants to buy new lenses that are comparable with full framed cameras, You will have to either buy some average performing consumer grade lenses, Or fork out big bucks for top quality f/2.8 “Gold ring” lenses, Or buy primes.

Nikon’s “Gold ring” lenses are also much more expensive then the Canon equivalents.

So at the end of the day, I’m going back to Canon for the lenses really. But I think the 5DMkII is the perfect camera for what I shoot, Which is mainly landscapes anyway, So having 51 AF points isn’t to much of a benefit for me personally, And I prefer the viewfinders from a Full framed camera. And having a true ISO 100 with a boost down to ISO 50 is also beneficial to me and my style of photography, And having 21mp at my disposal also means I can make really large prints, Or make really high resolution stitched photos when I need to, Or just shoot at 10mp for general photography.

My Conclusion

While I did enjoy playing around with the D300 and taking a walk over to “The Dark Side” I just miss my Canon cameras and lenses to much to commit to a complete switch over, And the large investment in lenses that I won’t see the full benefits from (Why buy f/2. lenses when I’m shooting stopped down most of the time?) And the lack of AF-S on allot of the lenses (eg. 80-400 VR vs 100-400 IS) make me want to stick with the Canon system.

Nikon’s consumer lens line is better then Canon’s though, Unfortunately a majority of those lenses are in the “DX” format and won’t be fully compatible with a Full framed Nikon camera (You can still shoot in DX crop mode, But it will be at a loss of resolution) If you plan on sticking with the DX format and your only looking at consumer grade lenses, Then the Nikon system might be worth a deeper look.

So in conclusion, If your new to the game and are looking at buying your first camera, Look into the lens systems and weigh out the pros and cons from each system.

And thats just my 2 cents! I hope you’ve enjoyed my mini review and outlook into the pros and cons between the two major d/SLR brands. Stay tuned for my 5DMkII Mini review in a couple of weeks.

Journal Comments

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