|Nikon Capture NX software
Pictures can be stored in various formats. Besides JPEG, 12 and 14 bit RAW (Nikon call it NEF) and TIFF. The latter can be deleted as storage format as far as I am concerned. It has no apparent advantage now that RAW can easily be processed with programs like Lightroom, Aperture and Nikon Capture NX. And since we're talking about Nikon Capture NX; finally (!) Nikon decided to (temporarily) deliver decent free software with this camera. The software is excellent and you can also make adjustments in RAW locally. I suspect and hope that most users will work in NEF. If you like you can simultaneously shoot a JPEG besides the NEF format. You also have the choice in NEF for a 12 bit or 14 bit format, compressed or not. I think you get the picture; the choices are numerous and you might even feel overwhelmed. The 14 bit format offers more nuances but does deliver larger files and what's worse; it slows down the camera. You can only shoot with 2.5 fps when shooting in 14 bit NEF. And that is far from being enough for action photography. But it's different for the landscape and portrait photographer of course. They want to capture the finest nuances so they will love to shoot in 14 bit NEF.
Nikon D300 Light metering
Nikon's light metering has been lonely at the top of the ladder for years now. The 3D color matrix that they use since the F5 lets the Nikon D300 correctly and nicely balanced expose a picture even in difficult light circumstances. If you combine it with iTTL flash, nothing will beat Nikon on this field. The D300 however seems to suffer from a continuous underexposure due to the image sensor that is 20% less sensitive than Nikon claim according to the ISO standard. But then, I prefer an underexposed picture to an overexposed one. And even more so because Nikon are in control as far as noise is concerned.
Nikon D300 Noise
Nikon was always behind Canon as far as noise is concerned. The D200 let us down a bit on that field. But with the D300 SLR camera Nikon straightened things out. The Nikon D300 finds itself at the same level as the Canon EOS 40D. Only when using ISO 1600 some noise is visible and even then it does not disturb the pictures. Even ISO 3200 is still useful but ISO 6400 should only be used in emergencies. From ISO 1600 you will find some colour deviation in the noise. And it increases when sensitivity increases. You can see it clearly in the diagrams of our DIWA Labs technical tests.
Nikon D300 Dynamic range
The dynamic range is quite consistent and fine. At ISO 1600 the range sags a little and it becomes somewhat limited. You don't have much room then to play so it means that you have to pick your choices well and expose well. In my opinion the Canon EOS 40D does a better job here. Other than that, there are only minor differences between these two cameras and I'd say the Nikon D300 is slightly ahead. It proves that Nikon made an impressive final sprint.
|Nikon D300 Colour rendering
The colours are perfectly rendered and are consistent for the entire range. Of course you have the possibility of fine-tuning the pictures. You can do that inside the camera before making the pictures but if you work in NEF you can do it afterwards and play extensively with the reproduction. The settings for colour rendering and sharpening are called 'Picture Control' in the Nikon D300; the so-called Picture styles from Canon. It is a very easy way to fine-tune the pictures to your own preferences.
Nikon D300 White balance
Nikon has achieved delivering a superb white balance. The auto balance performs excellent in incandescent light as well. And if the light circumstances require a manual setting of the white balance, it's a piece of cake to adjust it. Set the WB button to Pre, press the button down long enough and capture a white sheet or a grey card and you're ready. The Nikon D300 will then set the white balance to manual. And this is the way it should be. You can set five white balances yourself. Very handy when you are working on a few locations with consistent light. The menu shows a preview of the setting. Moreover all settings for the white balance can be fine-tuned.
Nikon D300 Active D-Lighting
In order to overcome high contrast differences you can use Active D-Lighting with the D300 D-SLR. It brightens the shadow areas in the pictures to lessen the contrast. Unlike the D40 and D80 you don't have to do this afterwards. I should warn you to be careful with it because before you know it the picture is adjusted when contrast isn't high at all. And you'd find more noise in the shade areas than you'd like.
Nikon 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens
During testing I used a 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens. A beautifully built lens but also rather heavy, mainly up front which makes the camera a bit unsteady. The lens is also suitable for the FX format and I think it will be more at its place there. Combined with the D300 it will offer you 21-36mm. The lens is pretty sensitive across the whole range. The auto correction in the D300 takes away chromatic aberration, a common occurrence on a wide angle lens. The convex front lens makes the lens somewhat more sensitive for lens flare and you also have to protect it well from being damaged. The lens hood does not protect it too much, certainly not when shooting in the 14mm mode.