Nikon D300

Posted on 25 August 2007, 17:21

Nikon D300
Nikon D300

Predictably, just a few days after Canon announced the 40D, Nikon has gone to press with their new D300.

On paper it has lots going for it too. They tell us it has:

12mp CMOS sensor with low noise
51 point AF
Live View with autofocus
Dust reduction feature
ISO up to 3200 – or 6400 with boost
150,000 actuation-rated shutter
3” inch high definition monitor
6 fps (8 fps with the battery pack)
14 bit A/D conversion
EXSPEED (similar to Digic III?)
Highlight protection (as per Canon’s Highlight Tone Priority)

I’ve learned not to trust the hyperbole of press releases..!

Initial thoughts
The first thing that strikes me is that – compared to the 40D – the D300 looks very hi-tech and “busy”: it might be considered that the 40D looks positively bland and boring.

I prefer “uncluttered”, myself, but the look of the camera is hardly relevant to how it works, and in truth the D300 surely looks cool.

The LCD on the D300 will certainly be better than the 40D’s, just as the D200 is better than the one on 30D.

51 point AF??? I only use one of the nine available to me in the 30D (I use the centre point, like most bird photographers), so the extra fifty in the D300 leave me cold.

If however the central point in the D300 is better than the one in the D200, it will be an improvement, perhaps bringing it up to – or even surpassing – 30D standard.

To put that into context though, It has to be said that initial examples of the 40D’s AF are compelling, indicating that it has no problem with tracking moving images, even approaching the camera. And (supposedly!) 30% faster than the 30D.

That would be worth having!

The bigger/lower noise sensor… Forgive the cynicism, but I really need to see proof that this sensor – CMOS or not (previous Nikons in this camera range have always been CCD) – is a challenge to Canon’s sensors.

Will it even be better than the sensor in its predecessor? Well you’d hope so, but CMOS sensors are actually harder to do well than CCD sensors.

Sony (who make the D300’s sensor) haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory with their CCDs, and the sensor in the D200 is awful so you have to wonder how much better they’ll do with a harder-to-get-right CMOS.

But anything’s possible. Let’s hope, because if the D300 is as good as it needs to be, Nikon users will finally realise what they’ve been missing…

While the 14 bit A/D conversion in the 40D is there when needed – including when shooting at 6.5 fps – it transpires that if you want the D300 to work at 14 bits, you need to accept a shooting speed of only 2.5 fps!

Maybe 14 bit won’t matter in a Real World sense, but I’d still rather have an implementation that worked properly when I want it to, instead of it being a “fudge”: if it is worth having, it’s just as desirable at 6.5 fps as it is at 2.5 fps.

Most of the other features of the D300 seem to be in line with what the 40D has: maybe better, maybe worse, but broadly in line with the Canon.

And as none of them interest me (with the exception of highlight preservation), I won’t lose sleep one way or another.

All in all, I don’t see anything about the D300 that excites me from a bird photography perspective. Even if it delivers on all counts it will only incrementally improve on what the 30D does now; and I don’t doubt that the 40D will raise Canon’s game in the sector too.

It’s not a small matter either that the D300’s recommended price of £1299 is a whopping £400 more than the £899 of the 40D. Assuming that both the D300 and the 40D can do exactly what it says on the tin, I really can’t see what makes the D300 worth £400 more.

And – if as I suspect – the D300 won’t live up to the hype, that will just increase the perceived value gap (the D200 vs the 30D all over again).

Still, competition is good, they say (as a dyed-in-the-wool socialist I don’t know I agree!) so both Nikon and Canon will have to raise their respective bars next time round, no matter what.

I’ll say right now that if the D300 is as good as the press release suggests, I’ll be very pleased for the people that buy it. Even though I don’t see any value in the camera for me, I don’t begrudge other people access to a camera that does the job properly.



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