Nikon D300 Review

 
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Nikon D300 Operation

With its many buttons, knobs, and dials, the Nikon D300 looks intimidating to the unseasoned SLR user. But to the experienced shooter, the Nikon D300's controls will quickly make this camera a photographer's best friend. All key buttons for essential controls are on the Nikon D300's surface skin, and several of the buttons can be reprogrammed to meet your needs. Probably the most valuable control cluster on the D300 is on the top deck, left of the pentaprism housing: the 3-button control for selecting White Balance, Quality and ISO.

Many functions can be changed using a button and the Main Command dial while looking at the Status LCD on the top deck. Other items are changed by pressing the Menu key and using the navigation disk on the back of the D300.

Nikon D300 Top Panel Status LCD

As with most higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the top-panel data readout LCD communicates a lot of information about current camera settings, and provides an interface for setting many camera functions, when used in conjunction with the various buttons and Command Dials. You can also use the main LCD to adjust many of the same settings, but using the top LCD saves power and can be more convenient when the camera is below eye level. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display.

1
Color temperature indicator
14
Flash mode
2
Shutter speed
15
"Beep" indicator
Exposure compensation value
16
Aperture (f-number)
Flash compensation value
Aperture (number of stops)
Sensitivity (ISO equivalency)
Bracketing increment
White balance fine-tuning, color temperature, or preset number
Number of shots per interval
Number of shots in bracketing sequence
Maximum aperture (non-CPU lens)
Number of intervals for interval timer
PC mode indicator
Focal length (non-CPU lens)
17
Aperture stop indicator
3
Flash sync indicator
18
Flash compensation indicator
4
Flexible program indicator
19
Exposure compensation indicator
5
Exposure mode
20
Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
6
Image size
21
Flash value (FV) lock indicator
7
Image quality
22
Clock not set indicator
8
Auto-area AF indicator
23
Image comment indicator
AF-area mode indicator
24
Shooting menu bank
3D-tracking indicator
25
Custom menu bank
9
White balance fine-tuning indicator
26
Exposure, flash and WB bracketing Indicator
10
White balance mode
27
Electronic analog exposure display
11
Number of exposures remaining
Exposure compensation
Number of shots remaining before buffer fills
Exposure, flash and WB bracketing progress indicator
Capture mode indicator
PC connection indicator
Preset white balance recording indicator
28
MB-D10 battery indicator
Manual lens number
29
Multiple exposure indicator
12
"K" (appears when memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
30
GPS connection indicator
13
Battery indicator
31
Interval timer indicator

 

Nikon D300 Main LCD

Like other more recent Nikon DSLRs (starting with the D40, as it didn't have a top panel LCD), the D300 has the ability to display shooting info and settings on the main LCD. The main LCD is larger and in color, so some prefer to use it over the top LCD, at the expense of reduced battery life. It's nice that Nikon gives you the choice with the D300. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display mode.


1
Exposure mode
17
Release mode indicator
2
Flexible program indicator
Continuous shooting speed
3
Flash sync indicator
18
Exposure, flash and WB bracketing indicator
4
Shutter speed
19
Image size
Exposure compensation value
20
Electronic analog exposure display
Flash compensation value
21
FV lock indicator
Number of shots in exposure and flash bracketing sequence
22
ISO / Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
Number of shots in WB bracketing sequence
23
Exposure compensation indicator
Focal length (non-CPU lens)
24
Flash compensation indicator
Color temperature
25
GPS connection indicator
5
Color temperature indicator
26
Beep indicator
6
Aperture stop indicator
27
Flash mode
7
Aperture (f-number)
28
Multiple exposure indicator
Aperture (number of stops)
29
"K" (memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
Exposure and flash bracketing increment
30
Number of exposures remaining
WB bracketing increment
Manual lens number
Maximum aperture
31
White balance
8
Camera battery status
White balance fine-tuning
9
MB-D10 battery type display
32
Auto-area AF indicator
MB-D10 battery status
Focus points indicator
10
Shooting menu bank
AF-area mode indicator
11
Custom settings bank
3D-tracking indicator
12
Picture control indicator
33
Image quality
13
Color space indicator
34
Interval timer indicator
14
Active D-Lighting indicator
35
Image comment indicator
15
High ISO NR indicator
36
"Clock not set" indicator
16
Long exposure NR indicator

 

Nikon D300 Live View modes

In Live View (Handheld mode) the LCD display echoes the optical viewfinder. You can move the AF point around the screen in Single point or Dynamic AF area modes, but the 51-point AF does not reveal chosen AF points.

The Nikon D300 now features Live View, or the ability to see a live image from the camera's sensor on the LCD. What makes Nikon's Live View mode unique are the two options it provides for autofocus operation. The first Live View (Handheld mode) is the one used by everyone else. Because the traditional AF sensors are blocked when you flip up the mirror for Live View mode, you have to drop the mirror to focus, then flip it back for Live View. There's significant delay in this mode, to be sure, and a blackout for as long as it takes for the D300 to focus.

In Live View (Tripod mode) you can move the AF point around the screen in small increments...

...and use the zoom buttons on the back of the camera to move in up to 10x to focus.

The Nikon D300's second mode is the real charm: Called "Live View (Tripod mode)," this mode uses contrast detect autofocus, driven from the imaging sensor. Instead of flipping mechanical switches, the Nikon D300 simply reads data off the CMOS image sensor and evaluates how abruptly light to dark (or dark to light) transitions happen on the image plane. Contrast-detect AF isn't nearly as fast as phase-detect (which is why the shutter response of most digicams is so much slower than most digital SLRs), but at least these new Nikons can focus without interrupting the Live View display.

As an added benefit, because it's working with data coming from the main image sensor, you can move the AF point anywhere you want within the frame area, right out to the extreme edges. AF operation in this mode is unfortunately quite slow, so they really mean it when they call it Tripod mode. You can use it handheld, but you won't get the best results.

The Nikon D300 also provides up to a 10x zoom in Live View mode, providing excellent focus discrimination when focusing manually. This is pretty important, as less than 10x magnification really doesn't do the trick for getting the focus set right, but at 10x we felt we could pretty well nail the focus every time.

Both the new Nikons and Canons include the ability to control the camera from a computer remotely, and that includes receiving a Live View image from the camera. You can focus, adjust settings, and fire, all from a computer. What's more, you can do it via cable or WiFi connection, with the optional WiFi adapters.

The new Nikons require optional Camera Control Pro software to enable this feature. Software for this feature is bundled with Canon cameras.

 

Nikon D300 Playback mode

Playback mode is entered by pressing the playback button. The D300's playback mode provides a great deal of information about your pictures after you've shot them. A variety of playback displays can be cycled through using the up/down arrows on the multi-selector, including image with file information with optional highlight warning and focus point display, RGB histogram, three screens with overlaid shooting and image parameter information (an additional GPS info screen is available when a GPS device was used when the image was captured), and an overview display with basic shooting data and luminance histogram. The screenshot animation at right shows the sequence when the down arrow is used.

As you'd expect, the Nikon D300 offers a comprehensive RGB histogram display mode. Histogram displays are common on professional digital cameras (and many amateur models now), regarded as almost mandatory by many pros for evaluating exposure levels. A histogram is simply a graph of how many pixels there are in the image at each brightness level. The brightness is the horizontal axis, running from black at the left to white at the right. The height of the graph shows the relative number of pixels having each brightness level. This sort of display is very handy for determining under- or overexposure. Ideally, the histogram would stretch across the entire width of the display, using the full range of brightness values available. An underexposed image will have a histogram with all the data lumped on the left-hand side, with nothing reaching all the way to the right. Likewise, an overexposed image will have all the data lumped on the right hand side. Clipped highlights are shown by blinking any highlights that are saturated in any of the color channels. It does this by taking the nearly-white areas on the LCD and toggling them between white and black. Highlights can also be displayed separately for each color channel by selecting R, G, or B in this display.

Of course the D300 also lets you zoom out to quickly find and select images, or magnify them for closer inspection on its gorgeous 3-inch, 922K pixel LCD. You have the normal 4- or 9-image thumbnail displays available by pressing the thumbnail/zoom out button, and you can magnify them up to approximately 27x for large, 20x for medium and 13x for small images, using the zoom in button. Once magnified, you can scroll around the image using the multi-selector to examine critical detail and framing. You can also program the multi-selector center button to automatically zoom in on the active focus point with a preset the initial zoom setting (low, medium or high), to make focus verification faster and more convenient.

To return the D300 to shooting mode, simply press the playback button again, or half-press the shutter button.

 

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