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Nikon D300s Gordon Laing, September 2009
 
   
 

Nikon D300s review



Nikon’s D300s is the new flagship in the company’s DX-format range. Announced in July 2009, it inherits a great deal from the earlier D300, including its 12.3 Megapixel CMOS sensor, tough body, large viewfinder, 3in VGA screen, powerful 51-point AF system, Live View and HDMI port. It remains a powerful feature-set a year-on from its launch, but the D300s further enhances it with 2009’s key features, along with a couple of surprises.

Most notably, the D300s now boasts an HD Movie mode (with some enhancements over existing models), a slight boost in continuous shooting speed to 7fps and dual Compact Flash / SD memory card slots. The D300s also now features a Quiet shooting mode and a virtual horizon in live view.

It’s no surprise to find the D300s D-Movie mode is strongly based on that of the existing D90 and D5000. Like those models, the D300s can capture progressive format video at 24fps in a choice of three resolutions: 320x216, 640x424 and a high definition 1280x720 mode. Video is stored in the Motion JPEG AVI format which may not be as efficient as H.264, but is much easier to edit.


Nikon D300s


 

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While the D300s features a built-in mono microphone like the D90 and D5000, the new model becomes the first from Nikon to feature an external stereo microphone input. The D300s is also able to autofocus if set to its ‘tripod’ mode, although this contrast-based process takes a few seconds, so isn't really appropriate for use while filming. You’re also able to trim movie clips in-camera.

Of these enhancements, the microphone input (along with the possibility of capturing stereo) is the most exciting one, potentially greatly improving audio quality and bringing this facility in-line with Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 – although both those models also offer 1080p video and more powerful manual exposure control.

The earlier D300 was no slouch when it came to continuous shooting, firing at 6fps or 7fps with the optional battery grip. Now the D300s slightly accelerates this to 7fps with the body alone, or 8fps when coupled with the battery grip.

A new Q option on the Release dial sets the D300s into Quiet shooting mode, which Nikon claims greatly reduces the sound of the mirror flipping – ideal for discreet shooting of wildlife or interiors. As mentioned above, the D300s also inherits the Virtual Horizon in Live View from higher-end Nikon DSLRs.

Arguably the most exciting enhancements are the dual memory card slots: one for Compact Flash and one for SD, allowing you to record duplicate images to both cards for instant backup, or RAW files to one and JPEGs to the other for easier management. Alternatively you can set the secondary slot to ‘overflow’, allowing it to take over when the primary card fills-up. The ability to use two cards simultaneously in this way is a killer feature and the first time it’s been offered at this price point.

Beyond these enhancements, the D300s remains essentially the same as the D300, but that’s no bad thing as this earlier model remains a powerful and feature-packed DSLR today. So as mentioned above, the D300s inherits the same 12.3 Megapixel sensor which delivers some of the cleanest, lowest noise images in its class. It gets to re-use the industry-leading 51-point AF system. It shares the same large, bright viewfinder with almost 100% coverage, along with the superb 3in VGA screen. And it’s all packed-into essentially the same body with superb build quality and ergonomics.

In our full review we'll examine all the features, both old and new, along with comparing its image quality against key rivals. The D300s may enhance what was already one of the best DSLRs at this price point, but the competition has not stood still. So read on to discover if the D300s retains the crown as the best cropped-frame DSLR on the market - and check out its new features in our HD video tour!

Testing notes

We tested a final production Nikon D300s running Firmware versions A 1.00 and B 1.00. Following our convention of using default factory and best quality settings to test cameras unless otherwise stated, the D300s was set to its best quality Large Fine JPEG mode with Auto White Balance and the default Standard Picture Control, Normal High ISO NR and Active D-Lighting switched off. For our main results pages we switched to RAW for the best quality.


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