The road to nirvana

My journey into Photography, Horology, and Audiophilia

My review of the Nikon D300s

First post: July 31, 2009


Exactly two years from the introduction of Nikon's D300, I am now holding in my hands the rightful replacement, or should I say upgrade? Historically, Nikon has been using the "s" suffix to indicate improvements from a previous model. Think D70/70s, D2H/2Hs, D2x/2xs, and today, we have the D300s.

While it is more appropriate to compare it with the D300 it is replacing, I'm now presenting a perspective from a D90 user who might be looking for an upgrade.

I've taken the specifications of the three models from the Nikon website and it revealed that the D300s is like a cross between a D90 and D300.

I compiled the features  of the D300s, D300 and D90 and came out with this matrix. It is very long that's why it deserves its own page.

At a glance, features that perked my interest

These are the interesting features of the D300s that is somewhat obvious from the marketing materials alone.

  • 7 fps without a battery pack
  • dual card slots, a Type I CF (UDMA compliant) and SD (SDHC compliant)
  • quiet shutter release mode
  • virtual horizon
  • approximately 100% viewfinder

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New or removed menu items from the D300

Playback Menu
Copy image(s) [new]
Shooting Menu
Primary slot selection [new]
Secondary slot function [new]
Movie settings [new]
Custom Setting Menu
d4 Screen tips [new]
d8 Information display [new]
f1 Light switch [new]
Setup Menu
USB [gone]
Copyright information [new]
Virtual horizon [new]
Retouch Menu
NEF (RAW) processing [new]
Resize [new]
Edit movie [new]
Side-by-side comparison [gone]


General features that I like

  • Interval timer shooting: This allows me to specify a starting time, interval, and number of shots. This would be great for time lapse photography.
  • Shooting menu banks: With four storage banks, A, B, C, and D, I can now store different shooting menu settings and have the capability to recall any one of them.
  • Custom settings banks: Similar to the Shooting menu banks, I can store four different custom settings and have them recalled.
  • Dual card support: This is a feature that you won't get even on a D700. It allows full control over the use of the CF and SD card slots.

AF Module

The D300s uses the same Multi-CAM3500DX auto focus engine that the D300 has and is similar to the D700, D3, and D3x Multi-CAM3500FX. To me, this is one of the biggest reason why I should lust for the D300s, as it is a big improvement from the Multi-CAM1000 of the D90.

It offers 51 AF points, and 15 of those are cross-type sensors. There is an option to set it to 11 points should one need a simpler configuration. The dynamic-area AF is configurable to 9, 21, and 51 points. At 3D-tracking more, you have all 51 AF points working for you.

The Multi-CAM1000 in the D90 was used on previous DSLR models such as D200 and D80 that provides 11-point auto focus points one of which is cross type, and has a 3D tracking capability.

AF features that I like:

  • AF-C and AF-S priority selection (a1 and a2): Allows one to release the shutter even if not in focus (Release), release the shutter but give priority to focus than frame rate (Release + Focus, AF-C only), and release shutter only when in focus (Focus).
  • Focus tracking with lock-on (a4): This will allow me to specify how long will the camera wait before adjusting focus when distance to the subject changes. I have a feeling this will work well for shooting sports.

High ISO

I'd like to see how big a difference the D300s High ISO is compared to the D90.

The D90 in my experience, allows me to shoot with convincingly good results at ISO 1600. The photos become visibly noisy at ISO 3200, and annoyingly noisy at ISO 6400 (Hi 1), depending on the scene.

Here's a comparison between the D300s and D90 at ISO 200, 1600, and 3200 with NR On and Off. Shots were taken at one dimly lit corner and each camera's metering is used to zero-in on the exposure. Lens used is the Nikkor AF-S VR Micro 105mm f/2.8 set to f/3.

These are taken in RAW mode, then converted to JPG using each camera's RAW (NEF) processing retouch option.

Click on the thumbnail to see a larger 1024px version.

D300s D90
ISO 1600 NR ON
ISO 3200 NR ON


Noise Reduction

The D90's internal noise reduction at High setting looks like Nikon Capture NX 2's equivalent of Intensity = 20% and Sharpness = 5.

I still don't have the D300s NEF support on my Nikon Capture NX 2 and I have yet to find it on Nikon's support website. Until then, I will not be able to make a comparison with Capture NX 2.

Active D-Lighting

On the D90, the new Active D-Lighting can be set to apply the adjustment as you take the shot. In line with my logic of minimizing alterations to capture photographs, I also turn this off. I felt that I will not always agree with what the camera thinks as we may see the subject differently.

My preference is to apply D-Lighting after the photo has been taken, either in-camera or using Capture NX2.

Dynamic Range

All in all, the three previous features, I suspect will affect the dynamic range of the captured images. This is the primary reason why I don't want so much processing done on the camera. I'll just deal with those later using Nikon Capture NX2.

Picture Control

The D300s offer four standard Picture Controls, and these are Standard, Neutral, Vivid and Monochrome. In contrast to the D90 which adds Portrait and Landscape. This is not a big deal as I can copy the D90 Picture Controls or download from Nikon's website.

Live View

Instead of rotating the dial, the D300s now comes with a dedicated Live View button, ala D90.

The two Live View modes supported are the same Hand-held mode and Tripod mode. In Hand-held mode, the mirror raises and you frame and focus through the LCD monitor. In Tripod mode, you frame and focus via the viewfinder. Then the mirrors is raised so you can check your framing, zoom in and check your focus.

Video Mode aka D-Movie

I went to Hooter's Manila Bay with the goal of capturing one of their "Conga Beat" performances, but alas, their sound system is acting up and I was told that there won't be any performances that day.

On the day that I have to return the D300s, I decided to mount the AF-S VR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G DX and placed the D300s on top of my car's dashboard. I thought that this would be good for documenting road trips.

Here's a boring video while I was travelling somewhere in Makati to a Caltex gasoline station.

D300s sample video from azcruz on Vimeo.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Anderson Tan of Columbia Digital Sales Company for entrusting me with the D300s over this weekend.