Hours of Idleness-A Photographer's Journey in St. Louis

Nikon D300- Steal this camera!!

Posted in photography, Uncategorized by Jason Gray on March 9, 2010

***2013 and 2014 update at end of post***

Or just buy it… For several years, the Nikon D300 has been the most cost effective way for a Nikon digital photographer to transition into many of the features of a professional-use camera. Since its inception in the summer of 2007, the Nikon D300 has had some of its incredible feature set, like its 12.3mp CMOS sensor, re-appropriated into other less expensive models (D90, D5000; ok, actually they’ve modified the sensor slightly), and it has even been replaced with a slight upgrade, in the D300s. However, this camera still remains an excellent choice for the photographer looking to either build a business or for a capable back-up model, and with the inevitable fall in its used price, due to the introduction of newer models, it looks to be an increasingly better value.

More pics and comparisons after the jump.

FRONT.

It beats the Nikon D90 and D5000 in:

1. Body build and weather sealing (ie. Magnesium Alloy vs. Hardened Plastic, Yes vs. No)
2. 14-bit NEF vs. 12-bit NEF RAW
3. Top Shutter Speed (1/8000 vs. 1/4000)
4. Compact Flash Cards vs. SDHC
5. Better AF Detection (51 points vs. 11)
6. 100% Viewfinder vs. not
7. Much larger buffer rate (99 vs 22)
8. Ability to use older manual focus lenses with metering (also D5000 requires G lenses, or else focusing is all manual)
9. Balances larger, heavier, pro lenses much better
10. More of the controls are on the surface of the camera rather than hidden in sub-menus
11. Shutter life (150, 000 clicks vs. 100,000 in D90, maybe less in D5000)

Nikon D90 and D5000 beat it in:
1. Slightly better sensor performance (a lot has been made about the subtle improvements made to the original sensor in the later bodies. However, it should be noted that most of the online tests that you read are conducted in jpeg; this defaults the D300’s sensor to 12-bit, same as the best capable in the D90 and D5000, in this case, the newer sensors edge it out. Shooting the camera in 14-bit NEF improves its low-light performance especially in controlling shadow noise, which is what most of the tests measure. In other words, the tests generally short-change the capability of the D300’s sensor in favor of the newer models)
2. Improved Live View
3. Video Mode
4. D5000 has a positionable LCD Screen

BACK.

I have been shooting the D300 since the spring of 2008, and it has proved a more than capable body for all of the types of photography that I typically do (ie. weddings/events, portraiture, street photography, etc.).  It is true that, in the first decade of DSLR technology’s prominence, camera bodies have had a traditionally short lifespan, in terms of their keeping up with technological trends, and that because of this, what was once a $5,000 camera body several years ago, now is priced under $500.  However, in terms of still photography, the widespread breakthroughs that issued your practically, brand-new cameras to the dustbins of antiquity, has begun to ebb.  For instance, I shot all of these pics of the D300 with my old Nikon D50, and that camera is light years behind the D300.  Most of the big moves in the tech race right now have to do with adopting better in camera video capabilities than they do sensor performance, anyway.  So, expect to be using your D300 for years to come; I know I will!

LEFT SIDE.

RIGHT SIDE.

FLASH.

And that’s just the surface. If you’ve been contemplating buying one, the best time is when the used prices go down by about a third of the original MSRP (my experience anyway; you are more likely to get a camera still at the peak of its performance, without biting the bullet too much on cost).  As you can tell, product photography isn’t my favorite, ha ha; consider these for informational purposes only.

I modified the Nikon strap that came with the camera by sewing a piece of fabric over the side with the camera logo.  I just felt that having the Nikon brand so visible made the camera conspicuous to would be thieves; also, I thought that the original strap looked a bit tacky…

All photos Nikon D50 with Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G lens.

***2013 Update***
Three years after I wrote this post, I am still using this camera as my primary model (5 years after its introduction!). This is due to a number of factors, one being that Nikon has yet to introduce a true replacement and another being that it is still perfectly capable. I love the value that this level of camera provides, however, if I were buying gear to get started in photography this year, I might skew my decision-making a bit.

On the new end of things (in this price point), Nikon offers a very competent DX model in the D7100 and a very capable FX model in the D600; mind you, both cameras carry over a lot from Nikon’s consumer line, unlike the D300/D700/etc. At $1200 and $2000, respectively, they occupy far ends of the spectrum that the D300 sat in when new ($1700). That said, when I purchased my new D300 in 2008, the used market offered few good alternatives. The D200 was still selling at 80% of its new price, the D80 had shown too many reliability problems, and the used D2X cost more than the D300 new. I could have purchased from the Generation 1 models (and did with the D50), but using one of those models as my main body would have given me a competitive set-back to other photographers (especially as I was shooting mostly weddings at the time).

Currently though, the used market offers many great, cheap alternatives to that which is selling new, and despite what you may think about megapixels, any DSLRs offering about 12MP or more are usually very capable cameras. For wedding photographers especially, these older models can be attractive options. After all, most wedding photographers print only up to about 8″ x 12″, and the nature of the business means that you are really hard on your camera bodies (tons of shutter triggering, possible rain exposure, and external bumps and bangs). Given this, buying used, at a fraction of the price for a new body, allows you to replace your camera every few years.

So what’s available in 2013? In the 12MP category: my D300 averages only about $500-600 now; the D90 averages $400-500; the D300s is $700-800. In the 10MP category (a bit of a stretch, but still very usable cameras): the D2X averages $500-600; the D200 is only about $300-400; I wouldn’t recommend it, but the D80 is $200-300.

And this might be the best part, while my D300 has depreciated from $1700 to $500-600 in about 5 years, my used D50 has decreased only from $225 to $130-150. The used model actually kept more of its value, saving me even more money! Now, what lens could I have bought for that $1200 that I lost on the new D300???

A note on updating from the D300 in 2014:

Let’s say that you already own the Nikon D300, like me, and that you are looking to buy something new to replace it. We have been waiting for the D400 for ages now, and some believe that it will never come. I believe that it is on the horizon for 2014, but who will use it? I see D300 users as being in four camps; 1. Wildlife and sports shooters who appreciate the crop factor and shutter/AF speed, 2. Camera body show-offs who wanted something slightly ahead of most of their peers in 2007 (probably, most of these have already moved on to the D800/D800E), 3. Photographers who use their cameras for lots of different purposes, who benefit from its pro-level features, but value price/performance differential (people like me), 4. Photographers who bought the D300 used because it was the best investment versus return in 2010-2012.

A potential D400 is likely to be something along the following- 24 to 36 megapixels, no anti-aliasing filter, magnesium alloy support with significant weather sealing, native ISO from 200-12800 (expandable from 100->100,000), frame rate of 8-12 fps, 51-point AF module from D4s, EXPEED 4 image processor, dual CF/SD card slots, HD Video with live AF, msrp of $1700-2500, etc. So who of the 4 mentioned above wants this?

I definitely think that Groups 1 and 2 (if they already haven’t moved up the ladder) will eat this D400 up. The wildlife and sports shooters are going to be ecstatic that their believed D300 now comes with improved resolution, speed and low-light function. Group 4 is likely to wait for the price to come down, or will snatch up a D7100 when its price drops at the D400 introduction (a lot of D7100 owners were D300 owners who couldn’t wait years for the D400). So that leaves me and other Group 3 peeps, and our decision is a quandary. See, I rarely print above 12×18 in., and when I have, it has been no larger than 24×36 in., which my D300 does capably. Therefore, I do not particularly need the extra resolution (especially given that it causes the domino upgrade effect of extra back-up drives, better OS, possibly updated lenses, better client delivery systems, etc.). What I really need that the D300 lacks is a slightly improved AF, such as in the D4, and/or improved low light function. That’s about it really. If Nikon had released the D400 on time, it probably would have been a 16-24 megapixel camera, and 16mp would have been perfect for me. Who knows though, maybe Nikon will make the decision easy and end the Dxx DX line. In which case, maybe my next camera will be with another manufacturer…

***2016 Update***

A successor to the D300/D300s was finally announced this year, and amusingly, many of my 2014 predications came true.  The D500 is certainly one hell of a camera.

So… you may be wondering whether I decided to upgrade?  Find out here.

 

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11 Responses

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  1. Jirud said, on November 14, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Nikon D300 – I’m totally happy with this camera. You can make as much and simply gorgeous pictures. Relatively easy to use, very good instruction manual, and you can take snapshots of any kind with it. The Live View function is awesome. Very satisfied and highly recommend.

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