Nikon D300s Real World “Hands On” report– It’s all about the “s” these days with Nikon. D3s, D300s..and soon, maybe a D700s! Yessssss, the Nikon D300s is sort of an improvement over the “kind of old news” D300. Since the camera has been out for a while, and since it is not really a huge jump from the D300, this “real world write-up” will go over the new features as well as have some comparisons thrown in from the Canon 7D and even a Leica M9. In other words, it will not be one of my 6000 word reviews (it actually comes in at 3000 words). No, this one should be short and sweet as long as I do not start rambling on about rangefinders vs DSLR’s! So do not really consider this a review as it is just a collection of my words and images on how I feel about this camera.
But before I write about what I think of this camera, let me list the new improvements with the “s”…
- The new D300s can now record HD video at 720 P resolution. No, it is not 1080P like the Canon 7d, but it’s nice to have it included. Max video length is a super long 5 minutes in HD mode. Ha ha.
- We gained a frame per second! The D300 did 6 FPS, the D300s is even faster at 7FPS. I show an example of this in my youtube video below. It’s fast as most would ever need. Think about it, 7 frames every second. Wow, My Leica does what, 2 FPS?
- Quiet shutter mode! Yes, this is an improvement and is much quieter (to my ears) than the D3s quiet mode. I like this mode and it even feels better when shooting in this mode. Soft and silky. (see demo in video)
- Dual card slots. This is great! You can have a CF card and an SD card in at the same time. You can set one up as a backup just in case one card craps out.
- New dedicated Live View button on the back, and yes the camera is a little bit heavier. How much does this new technology weigh? Just a few ounces.
Nikon D300s – 18-200 VRII at 200mm – F5.6
Thanks to B&H Photo, I was able to test out this camera for a full 30 days. I also had the Canon 7D with me during that time so it was tough to get out an find interesting photos with each camera. I was also shooting my M9 and various lenses so I was out every day searching for good light (I found NONE) and good photos (they were scarce) but none of that is the fault of this camera of course. No, the D300s is actually a fine DSLR. I used to own the D300 a couple of years back and I enjoyed it with Zeiss ZF primes like the 25 F2.8 and 100F2. Man, those were gorgeous lenses and I highly recommend them for Nikon shooters. I sold my old D300 when I went back to the Leica M8 (for the third time) and I must say that as much as I complain about DSLR’s, it was nice to have one around for those moments where I wanted to shoot with a Telephoto. The 18-200 Zoom that came packaged with the D300s was great and helped me get some cool shots like the one above that I took early one morning at the lake. Man, it was cold!
Yea, having a long zoom again was fun for a while but I soon realized that I rarely use long focal lengths so my time with that lens was limited to a few shots here and a few shots there. Still, that 18-200 VRII is leagues better than the POS lens Canon packs in with the 7D kit.
THE D300s FEATURE LIST
The D300s is chock full of features. Here is the listing direct from the B&H PHOTO web site:
12.3 Megapixel DX-format CMOS Image Sensor
Delivers stunning high resolution, low-noise images with striking detail and tonal gradation.
Nikon EXPEED Image Processing
Drives breathtakingly rich image fidelity, low noise and fast image processing.
HD Video Recording
Capture cinematic 24fps, 720p HD movie clips, enhanced by NIKKOR interchangeable lens quality and versatility – featuring stereo mic input and AF operation.
Continuous Shooting up to 7 fps
High speed shooting and fast response – essential to versatile performance in a wide variety of shooting disciplines.
Every 920,000 dot monitor is factory-calibrated to assure accurate color for critical still image review and Live View or D-Movie shooting.
One-button Live View
Handheld and Tripod Live View modes, activated with one button, for challenging studio and remote shooting conditions.
Low Noise ISO Sensitivity from 200 to 3200
Additional expanded ISO settings of Lo-1 (ISO 100 equivalent) and Hi-1 (ISO 6400 equivalent) extend versatility to match shooting requirements.
Fast, Accurate 51-point Autofocus
Features 4 Dynamic AF modes including 3D Focus Tracking for precise autofocus and razor sharp images.
1,005 Pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II
Nikon’s unique RGB metering evaluates color information to determine exposures with remarkable accuracy.
Scene Recognition System
Referencing an onboard image database and teamed with RGB metering, SRS enables even more sophisticated determination of exposures and auto white balance, along with faster, more accurate autofocus.
Dual Memory Card Slots (CF and SD/SDHC)
Assign card functions from a variety of storage options, optimizing available memory and file handling.
Dynamic Integrated Dust Reduction System
Ultrasonic process combats the accumulation of dust in front of the image sensor, safeguarding image quality.
Select from 4 preset image capture preferences (Standard, Neutral, Vivid, and Monochrome, plus 9 user customizable settings) controlling Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation, and Hue.
Optimizes shadow and highlight detail in real time. Selectable values and 5-frame ADL bracketing offer complete control.
In-camera Image Editing
Exclusive in-camera image editing, featuring Edit Movie, D-lighting, Image Overlay, Monochrome, NEF (RAW) processing and more.
Rugged and Durable
The strength and precision of magnesium-alloy construction with advanced dust and moisture countermeasures is teamed with a shutter mechanism tested to 150,000 cycles for real-world reliability.
100% Viewfinder Accuracy
Offers a perfect representation of everything in the frame.
Virtual Horizon Graphic Level Indicator
Demonstrates an active graphics-based representation of the horizon through the viewfinder or using Live View.
Excellent Battery Performance
Up to 950 shots per EN-EL3e battery charge or as many as 2,950 shots with the optional MB-D10 Battery Grip and optional EN-EL4a battery.
Yep, this DSLR has everything but a way t o edit your images in the camera! No wait! It DOES have that feature!
A RANGEFINDER GUY SHOOTS WITH THE NIKON D300S. WHAT DO I THINK OF THE CAMERA?
The first few days were tough with this camera AND the Canon 7D. I have been used to shooting with a rangefinder camera with the Leica M8, M8.2 and M9. Going back to a DSLR was sort of weird. First, it was bigger and bulkier than I was used to. The 18-200 Zoom lens is long compared to those tiny Leica lenses and I did not feel comfortable taking it out with me everywhere. I always felt like people were staring and wondering why I had a camera on me. That could have been all in my mind though due to me being so used to my little M. I used to shoot with DSLR’s all of the time but got tired of the bulk and the huge lenses. Let’s face it, many of the great Nikon lenses are HUGE! The 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200VR are all beasts.
As time went on I started to realize that the D300s was not that heavy with a small prime and I ended up taking it out more and more. I still preferred my M9 of course but the D300s proved to be a very capable camera.
Below is a list of my thoughts and feelings on the D300s during my times with it. No boring technical stuff, no charts or graphs, just my real feelings on the camera.
The speed of the camera is great. It’s auto focus is fast, and usually spot on. I did not use it’s crazy cool 51 point AF but stuck with the center point as I always do. I find that when I do this, my shots are always in focus and when I try to use the fancy AF it never seems to get the subject in focus. But seriously, the D300s is blazing fast, but it is not as fast or accurate as the Nikon D3s. It did seem quicker and more responsive to me than the Canon 7D which hunted more in low light. The 18-200 was very quick to focus and I had quite a bit of fun with it. The lens/camera combo was great and Nikon did a great job with the kit lens choice. You can buy the Nikon 18-200 separately of course and it makes for a really nice walk around lens. But I did find at 18mm it vignetted a bit.
Nikon D300s – 18-200 VRII – 200mm (300 Equiv) at ISO 200
Here is a youtube video I made to show you how fast 7FPS really is. I also show a demo of the new Quiet shutter mode. This is only 1 minute long.
BODY AND ERGONOMICS:
I strongly prefer Nikon SLR bodies to Canon. Always have and probably always will. If I had to have a DSLR it would be a Nikon. I love the manual buttons and dials on the outside of the camera. I hate having to dig through menus to make a change, or press buttons to activate a setting. Nikon makes the best DSLR bodies, PERIOD!!! Ok, do you get the fact that I like Nikon bodies? Ha ha. The camera feels great in my hand, especially with a small and light 50mm 1.8 attached. That lens may be cheap and made of plastic, but it’s not to shabby on a DX camera.
The Image Quality of the D300s is very good and I was not even using really good lenses. Yea, the 18-200 is a great zoom but its not one of the legends like the BRILLIANT 14-24, 24-70 or 85 1.4. Still, even with the 50 and 18-200 I was getting great results. The 50 1.8 did better on the D300s than it did on the D3s. On full frame, that lens is sort of a dog. On the 1.5X Crop D300s however it is a very good and rather cheap lens (did I say that already?). I could easily recommend it for a crop sensor DX Nikon and at about $120 it’s a steal and is also fast with its 1.8 aperture. I have no complaints on the D300s. I like its color output which has always been different than Canon. I think Nikon is better for landscapes and wildlife, and Canon for portraits unless you are taking a snap of a cat. Ha ha…Here is one at ISO 640 with the 50 1.8.
The 18-200 VR maxed out to 200mm
The 50 1.8 at F4
18-200 at 200
The IQ from the D300s was just as I remembered it from the D300. They are exactly the same. As a matter of fact, I kept thinking I was shooting an old D300! The D300s is really the same camera with a few new enhancements so no need to upgrade for image quality.
The high ISO of the D300s seems the same as it did on the D300, which is very good. Here are some crops. Up to ISO 3200 is usable with 6400 being a little “smeared”.
SOME QUICK COMPARISONS:
I was out with the D300s and the Leica M9 one day and I shot this house with both cameras. I was curious to see how the D300s, which uses the same sensor as the Leica X1 would hold up against the M9. These are both straight RAW conversions using Adobe Camera Raw 5.6. The Nikon rendered the house a bit warmer but due to its 12MP sensor vs the M9’s 18 you can see the Leica pull ahead in detail. That is a given.One camera is 12MP (D300s) and one is 18MP (M9).
The M9 has more resolution but I have to say that the D300s did well in this comparison with its cheap $120 lens. The M9 had a $3000 lens on it so this is not really a fair comparison. Consider this one of my “just for fun” comparisons. That means, no e-mailing me and telling me this was not a “fair” comparison! I had those two cameras on me, so why not, right?
Many are wondering about the D300s vs the Canon 7D. Well, I posted some comparisons in the past week HERE. For that test I was using the kit zooms of all cameras and the Canon 7D pack in zoom, the 28-135 sucks. I’m sorry if you own it but I do not think I have ever seen a worse lens for $500. Its soft at the wide end, soft at the mid end and a little sharp at the long end, but its color and contrast stink. If you buy a Canon 7D (which is another GREAT DSLR) do not buy the kit with that lens! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. If you already did buy a 7D kit, try a new lens and your camera will magically improve. 🙂
SO, IS THE D300s WORTH THE UPGRADE OVER A D300? D300s or 7D?
Not really. If you have a D300 already and if you do not want to shoot HD video then I would not mess with the D300s. Even if you do want to shoot HD video, I wouldn’t mess with the D300s. Other DSLR’s are better at HD video, and to be 100% honest, I even prefer the little Olympus E-P2 to the D300s for HD video mainly due to the ease of use. It is what I used to shoot the D300s video with for this review. I did shoot some video with the d300s but it was awkward and I did not care for it.
As for the Canon 7d, I feel it is the better camera technically and Canon has even improved the build and feel of it over previous Canon bodies. The 7D feels solid instead of cheap (like the 5D) and while the sensor is not as sharp or clean as I would like, it is a capable DSLR and I was limited to shooting with the kit lens and Canons 50 1.8, which was not so good. Here is one cool shot from the 7D and 50 1.8…
If I had a D300s and 7D in front of me, each with a 50 prime I would probably take the Canon. Why? Simply because they have some amazing fast primes. The 24L, 50L, 85L..all stellar lenses. They are even better on a 5D/5DII but they would be WAY better than the 7D kit zoom. I feel the 7D has better IQ capability over the D300s, it has more megapixels (which is not always a good thing), better AWB, and the color is more geared towards people/portraits with the Canon. On the other hand, we also have the fabulous Zeiss glass for Nikon and Canon. So a Nikon D300s with a Zeiss 25, 50 and 100 would be sweet for someone looking for a top quality DX DSLR with glass that can grow with them to full frame in the future. Hmmm, maybe I WOULD take the Nikon after all.
For those of you who are searching for a mid range DSLR and trying to decide between these two, I say go for the Nikon if you want to shoot nature, sports or do photojournalism work. If you want to shoot people, fashion, action or create a full blown movie then buy the Canon. It’s jam packed with features and the latest technology. With a good lens it would rock, no doubt. Plus the 7D body is greatly improved over previous Canon digitals. I will have a post soon with a small write up on the 7D with some sample images. But either way, D300s, 7D..both are great higher end DX DSLR’s.
With that I will end this somehwat short write up on the Nikon D300s. The bottom line is that it’s still a D300 so if you have one already keep it and wait for the next big improvement. I had fun with the Nikon though my shooting with it was more limited than I would have liked due to bad weather. Yea, it is weather sealed but I am not! Nasty negative 10 degree wind chill cold and wind is not my cup of tea. So if you are a Nikon fan, and have something like a D40, D70 or D90 then a D300s is a worthwhile upgrade. I found no flaws with it. But truth be told, if I were buying a DSLR it would probably be a D700 and some Zeiss primes. 🙂
BUY THE D300s AT B&H PHOTO – BODY ONLY – $1,499
PROS and CONS of the D300s
- Great build, weather sealed, and fast!
- Body/Ergonomics are the best out of any DSLR IMO.
- Great LCD.
- High ISO performance is very good up to 3200.
- Keeps the quality of the D300 with some added new features.
- Quiet mode is great, and is how I would shoot the D300 90% of the time.
- If bought as a kit, the 18-200 lens is a great all around lens.
- Not worth the upgrade from a D300.
- Movie mode is average. Needs work/better integration.
- Still 12 MP.
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love to read ” low noise “…..
I stumbled on yoursite during a late night search and found this disussion interesting. I use a d300s and use a 400 6.8 Telyt and its big brother 560 6.8. I have difficulty getting sharp focus with the factory screen-there’s no “snap” to the screen when images come to focus. My interests are wildlife – birds mostly. Any sugestions beyond the Katzeye?
You mentioned 18-200 mm Zoom lens on this review. I bought one on May 2007. During that time it was so popular. Most of the vendor can sell it within minutes after they posted in stock.
After 4 yrs 9 months and more than 9000 shots, the lens is quite creepy. There is a lot of side play between outer barrel and middle barrel. The lens extended to the far end by itself when it’s point down(too heavy on D50).
A co-worker from NJ division came to Phoenix, he saw some notes I had on the table(about f-stop and shutter speed). We started to talk about photography. He is a Nikon shooter and has a D7000. He gave me a lot of information he collected over the years(6 GB). He showed me the assembly drawing about 18-200 mm zoom lens (14 pages pdf file). I was amazed how complicated this lens is. The parts list has 11 pages.
I send an email to B&H (where I bought it from) whether it will be cover by warranty. They send me Nikon support phone number. After I contacted them, I got a case number and address (in CA) to send in my lens. They received it last Friday. I got a Nikon Service Acknowledgement/Estimate email yesterday morning. The following is the status. CAT (B2-Moderate repair: Major parts replaced.)
Status code Serial No Description CAT Problem Charges
02/06/2012 2159 2732046 Service Repair Rank B2 B2 • FOCUS
• LENS CREEPS.
How would you tweak D300s to give good output for portrait images?
It has great output for portrait images, nikon colours are ever so slightly different then canon, and your raw converter will matter more then what brand you use.
I’m currently selling my Nikon FM3A and the three primes I got for it, since I decided to go digital. I really like the feel, ruggedness and looks of the Pentax K-7 and have read your review. Still, everybody I ask in stores tries to convince me to go for the Nikon D90, which doesn’t seem the least bit attractive to me. But the 16-85 seems interesting, since that’s the exact range in a zoom I’d need. The folks in the stores, though, all claim the D300s were so much better image quality wise than the K7, especially above ISO800.
Could you give me your two cents’ worth of advice to help me make my decision easier, or refer me to an answer you’ve given before on that topic? I’d really appreciate.
Came across your site via Google. I quite like your writing and reviews. I recently purchase a Leica X1. Do you have any comments on how the X1 compares to D300s in image quality?
Thanks for your excellent reviews! You are my #1 source for everything Leica.
Anyway, about the 7D review, when is it coming?
This is a camera I am specifically am interested in and am dying to see your in depth look at it!
Hey Josh, for MF I would recommend the Kats Eye. You can MF with the included screen, but the Kats Eye is better.
Your reviews are terrific. I would be interested in your thoughts on manual focusing with a Nikon DSLR. Would you use the matt focus screen that comes with the camera, or would you replace it with a Kats Eye focus screen for more accuracy?
Thanks Steve, looking forward to your future reviews and any comparison on D 700 / Zeiss combination and Leicas.
Akram, the D300s can be tweaked for fairly natural output. The M9 color is different than other digitals I have shot with. Not necessarily better, just different. For me, the Nikon D300 always gave me punchier results than Canon. Leica is in the middle with its own kind of color and look, and is what I prefer.
Steve, are colours on the M 9 much more natural than that of the Nikon with the 50 1.8 ?
Great review thanks.
I like the D300s, but would prefer the D700. I can’t wait to see what Nikon comes out with in regards to the D700 model. I would prefer FF over DX. I like the high-end Canon, but prefer to shoot Nikon for everything, including portraits. The 85mm 1.4 is a GREAT portrait lens. I also like the D700 low ISO capabilities. I think only wildlife photographers will like the D300s.
I tested this with the $900 kit lens and this was more of a hands on report. This is not a “cheap” lens. The 50 1.8 is cheap but I have no complaints with it on the d300s.
I was trying this out as a kit as that is how it is sold.
i usually Like your ‘real word’ review, but this one is a no sense since you use a 100€ lens. IT would be more interesting to evaluate what the camera can do by using better lens, spcially if you want to compare the D300s sensor with the M9 who use only 1st class lens…
Have you ever tried a ferrari with 1st price tyre ?
my 2 pennies
Thanks. Hey, I would love to try that Pentax. Maybe soon.
Who uses flash? 😛
Great review – I like seeing your DSLR reviews as well as your RF reviews, gives a nice opinion mix. Wouldn’t mind hearing your opinions on my new toy, my Pentax K-x, but can’t see you reviewing a consumer level camera like this.
I mentioned how great the AF was, and the specs show the detail of the AF. Even with DSLR’s I use center point focus only as I find using 51 points often has the camera focusing on something besides the subject. Also, as stated, this was more of an article on the new features of the D300s, not a full blown D300s review. We all know how good the AF is on this camera already. The D300 is getting kind of old these days. Still a good DSLR.
Thanks for reading.
I know you’re a manual rangefinder shooter, but you left out any mention of the excellent AF and flash capabilities of the D300s. Hope it warms up for you soon!