With its many buttons, knobs, and dials, the Nikon D300S could look intimidating to the unseasoned SLR user. But to the experienced shooter, the Nikon D300S's controls will quickly make this camera a photographer's best friend. All key buttons for essential controls are on the Nikon D300S's surface skin, and several of the buttons can be reprogrammed to meet your needs or personal shooting style. Probably the most valuable control cluster on the D300S 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 D300S.
Nikon D300S 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 is used in conjunction with the various buttons and Command Dials to set many camera functions. 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. It's also always active whenever the camera is on and not in sleep mode, so you don't have to go into the menu system to make changes to the settings it supports. The panel is illuminated by a green backlight which is activated by a third, spring-loaded lamp position on the power switch. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display.
Color temperature indicator
Aperture (number of stops)
Exposure compensation value
Flash compensation value
Number of shots in ADL bracketing sequence
Number of shots per interval
White balance fine-tuning
Maximum aperture (non-CPU lens)
PC mode indicator
White Balance Preset number
Aperture stop indicator
Number of shots in bracketing sequence
Flash compensation indicator
Number of intervals for interval timer
Exposure compensation indicator
Focal length (non-CPU lens)
Flash value (FV) lock indicator
Flash sync indicator
CompactFlash (CF) card indicator
Flexible program indicator
Secure Digital (SD) card indicator
Clock not set indicator
Multiple exposure indicator
Auto-area AF indicator
MB-D10 power grip (optional) battery indicator
AF-area mode indicator
Number of exposures remaining
White balance fine-tuning indicator
Number of shots remaining before buffer fills
Capture mode indicator
"K" (appears when memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
Preset white balance recording indicator
Manual lens number
Exposure compensation indicator
ISO sensitivity indicator
Bracketing progress indicator
Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
PC connection indicator
Exposure and flash bracketing indicator
WB bracketing indicator
ADL bracketing indicator
GPS connection indicator
Interval timer indicator
Nikon D300S Shooting Info Display
Like other recent Nikon DSLRs, the D300S 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 of display type with the D300S. The rear LCD's greater display area allows more information to be displayed, although it's important to note that not all data elements from the top-panel readout are replicated here. Because it's a full pixel-based display, it can also show greater detail, such as the sub-AF points surrounding the main one in Dynamic-Area AF mode.
Nikon D300S Rear-Panel Shooting Info Display
The rear-panel info display on the Nikon D300S is quite similar to what we've seen on other recent Nikon SLRs, conveys a lot of information.
When shooting under dim lighting, you can opt for a light-on-dark version of the screen that doesn't glare so brightly at night. An Auto mode selects the version for you, based on ambient light measured via the camera's metering system.
The icon bar along the bottom provides quick access to a host of items otherwise buried in the menu system.
The Nikon D300S gives you a lot of choices for what function to assign to the front-panel Func button, plus several options for its use with the command dials as well.
The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts available on the Shooting Display screen:
A really neat feature of the D300S first seen on the D3 is the virtual horizon gauge, activated from the Setup menu. The display remains active as long as certain buttons aren't pressed (such as the shutter release). Sensors in the body are used to detect the orientation of the camera and a virtual horizon is displayed in realtime, similar to an aircraft instrument, though it only shows left/right tilt (or "roll"). This is useful for critical alignment of subjects such as buildings, the horizon, etc. The virtual horizon display works in both landscape and portrait orientations. Unlike the D3 (and D700), the electronic analog scale in the viewfinder and top panel LCD cannot be made to display the amount of tilt. The virtual horizon is also available during Live View mode as one of the overlay options via the "Info" button. In Live View mode, the display is smaller and mostly translucent, so as not to obscure the preview.
Nikon D300S Playback mode
Playback mode is entered by pressing the playback button. The D300S's playback mode provides a great deal of information about your pictures after you've shot them. A variety of up to nine different playback displays can be cycled through using the up/down arrows on the multi-selector, including image with file information and and focus point display, with highlight warning, with RGB / luminance histograms and white balance information, 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 D300S 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.
As with the Highlights display mode, the blinking highlights in the histogram display mode can also be displayed separately for each color channel by selecting R, G, or B in the RGB Histogram display mode. The screenshots at right show an example of where this might be useful: The bright, strongly colored lamp shade (deliberately shot with an incorrect white balance, to produce the strong hue) showed only minor lost detail in the screenshot above, looking at the RGB or luminance highlights, but the shot at right shows that the red channel is badly blown. This is quite common: It's easy to lose detail in a strongly-colored object well before other, more neutral-colored highlights are lost.
Finally, the shot at right shows a nice feature that is we're surprised isn't more common: You can zoom into the image and pan around the magnified display, and the RGB histogram will change to show only the portion of the image that you're looking at. In this mode, you lose the blinking highlights, but this strikes us as very useful for checking critical parts of the image, to see if you've held highlight or shadow detail in areas you really care about.
Of course the D300S 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-, 9- or 72-image thumbnail displays available by pressing the thumbnail/zoom out button (unlike the D90 however, no calendar view is offered), and you can magnify them up to approximately 27x for large, 20x for medium or 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. When you zoom in or out on an image, a little navigation window pops up in the lower right corner of the display, showing a thumbnail of the image, with a yellow box indicating the currently-viewed area. Portrait-mode images can also be automatically rotated to match the camera's current orientation, using the Rotate Tall option in the Playback menu. Of course, there are the usual options to protect or delete images or movies in Playback mode, as well. Since the D300S offers dual memory card slots, the playback mode also allows the user to select only one card for review; it's also possible to limit review to only data from a specific folder, or only data captured using the D300S (but not other cameras).
Using Custom Function f2, you can also program the multi-selector center button to automatically zoom in on the active focus point, to a preselected initial zoom setting (low, medium or high; high is shown at right), to make focus verification faster and more convenient. We liked this function a lot, for quickly checking focus on the most critical part of an image. (Great for portrait shots: Put an AF point on the subject's eye, then check quickly after the shot to make sure the eyelashes are sharp.) Another handy feature for portraits is face detection in playback. Pressing the magnify button enables face detection, and if the camera detects faces, it will briefly highlight them with a white box in the navigation window, and you can quickly scroll through all detected faces at the current magnification using the front command dial.
Movies can be played by pressing the multi-selector's center button, and during movie playback both the down arrow and OK button serve as a pause / resume control. The left and right arrows allow cuing during playback, with subsequent presses adjusting the speed to 2, 4, 8 or 16x. While paused, these same buttons allow cuing through the video one frame at a time. Before movie playback is started, the OK button can be used to call up an edit screen, where the start and end points of the movie can be specified for trimming, with the same controls as during regular playback, and the result saved as a new file. Movies shorter than two seconds in length cannot be edited in-camera.
To return the D300S to shooting mode, simply press the playback button again, or half-press the shutter button.