Last weekend I had a chance to test the new Nikon D300 DSLR that got released a couple of weeks ago against my D80. After doing a lot of testing with the camera I came to the conclusion that the D300 is a huge upgrade from D80 in many (good) ways.
- High ISO pictures on D300 look amazing! I never shoot above ISO 400 on my D80 because anything above requires post-processing with noise-reduction software such as Neat Image. I tried some shots with ISO 800 and 1600 and the results were stunning both in terms of noise and quality of the picture. Typically higher ISO results in noise and softness of objects. Images from D300 were very sharp and the noise was almost non-existent. I will post some image samples later for you to see.
- D300 has “live view” mode – feature that allows you to shoot pictures by looking at the LCD screen (like in point and shoot cameras) instead of the viewfinder. The best thing about live view is the ability to focus on a distant object by zooming in (in tripod mode). This is very useful when you shoot something with a tripod and you are not sure if the focus is right or not.
- The LCD screen on D300 is bigger and has more resolution – ~922,000 pixels, giving a 640×480 resolution. D80 LCD looks like crap compared to this with its 320×240 resolution!
- 20% more pixels (10.74% increase in horizontal resolution and 9.88% increase in vertical*) – D300 is 12 megapixels compared to D80’s 10 megapixel CCD. Small difference, but is noticeable if you are printing large photographs.
- D300 has 51 focus points! Compared to 11 focus areas on D80 and D200, this is a crazy upgrade. Some people think it’s an overkill, but I really liked it. Now I can focus on what I need without having to move the camera to match what I need to focus on. The focusing configuration will probably confuse many D80 owners as there are many new features on the camera as well as in camera configuration. I did not mess with the focusing settings that much, but I did enable the 51 area 3D focusing and it seems to work quite well. It loses objects when there is a similar contrast between the foreground and the background, but it is expected and I still love this feature. When you have a baby that constantly moves, being able to focus on its face without having to re-adjust the shutter is simply awesome!
- D300 is very solid. Yes, compared to D80, it has a much better build quality and weather sealing. You will also notice that turning the camera on and off is a little harder now and pressing the buttons on the camera leaves a different feeling. This camera is supposed to last longer and can tolerate higher and lower temperatures than D80.
- Viewfinder on D300 now shows 100% of the picture! This means that you can shoot with confidence – what you see in the viewfinder is what you are going to get.
- Both D300 and D80 use the same batteries, which means that you will be able to re-use your existing batteries and charger. I have two EN-EL3e batteries (one came with D80 and one was purchased later) and they will work perfectly on D300.
- Camera flash works much better on D300 compared to D80. For some reason, my indoor pictures with flash on D80 were always under-exposed and produced pictures with wrong color. The flash on D300 produces very good pictures with the right colors.
- D300 has a built-in sensor cleaner – a great feature! For those who have more than one lens this feature will be a big plus. It is not very pleasant when your pictures get dark spots because of sensor dirt. I had to clean mine at least 10-15 times before and it is a surgical procedure that requires patience and very good handling. I read many horror stories when people killed their DSLRs by improperly cleaning the sensor. Also, D300 has better protection against dust (D80 has none).
- Nikon D300 is twice faster than D80 – 6 FPS versus 3. I don’t really care about this feature that much as it’s useful only for action and sports photographers. I shoot fast when I don’t want to miss a moment, especially when my son does something interesting.
- D300 has a much more advanced menu. The camera configuration is quite complex and is a big jump from D80. It allows saving custom settings (4 slots, up to 16 combinations) and perform many more functions. Now each major function has its own sub-menu, whereas everything in D80 screen is stacked up in the same menu.
- Same 1.5x crop factor – this means you can use your existing DX lenses without having to worry about replacing them with FX format lenses (like you would with D3).
- Finally the ISO now shows up inside the viewfinder! It was painful to change ISO back and forth from the D80 viewfinder to the top screen.
- D300 requires compact flash cards and your SD cards for D80 won’t do any good. You will have to spend extra cash to get good CF cards such as SanDisk Extreme III/IV series.
- D80 has a built-in infrared port which allows using a cheap ML-L3 wireless remote for shooting on a tripod. D300 does not have infrared and you have to buy an expensive external infrared remote that mounts on top of the camera. Other remotes are wired and need to be hooked up to the camera on the side. This is very inconvenient for those that are used to the ML-L3.
- The MB-D10 grip for D300 allows up to two batteries, but the first one has to go inside the camera, which means that when both batteries run out you have to remove the grip to get to the battery inside the body. This is very inconvenient compared to the MB-D80 battery grip for D80 where both batteries sit inside the grip. For those who worry about speed though, you can use an expensive pro battery or 8 AA batteries** and get up to 8 frames per second using the MB-D10 on D300. I don’t shoot sports and really don’t care about FPS, so this doesn’t matter for me at all.
Overall, the D300 is a superb product. It is not revolutionary as the D3 is, but considering the picture quality and low noise in high iso – it’s pretty close. I highly recommend this camera for anybody who is thinking about upgrading from older Nikon cameras or buying it as a first DSLR.
I did a full test of ISO performance on both D300 and D80. Such a big difference!
* Thanks to pcspecialist @ nikonians.org for pointing this out.
** Thanks to Luke for pointing this out.