The 12-megapixel D300S could be seen as a 'maintenance release' for Nikon's pro-specified D300. The main addition is a high-definition movie mode, although other enhancements have also been made. The continuous shooting speed, for example, has risen to 7 or 8 frames per second with the optional battery pack. The D300S is no bargain, though, at around £1,350 for the body alone.
Hewn from rock?
If you do lay out what is a sizeable wad of cash, you'll get a digital SLR that feels like it's been hewn from granite. When you're not taking pictures, you could use it to bang in tent pegs or beat back grizzly bears. The continuous shooting speed is only a couple of frames per second off the fastest that money can buy, and you've got recourse to Nikon's vast array of professional lenses and accessories. If you're serious about photography, the D300S can go with you all the way.
The HD movie mode was overdue, mind, considering that the much cheaper D90 has had it for ages, and it's on the new D5000 too. If you're used to a consumer-targeted digital camera or camcorder, you'll find the need to focus before shooting something of a faff (there's no autofocus during filming), but professional film makers won't mind the D300S' more laborious approach at all.
Video quality is excellent. Films might only be shot at a 1,280x720-pixel resolution, rather than a 'Full HD', 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, but it's still a huge leap up from standard-definition movies. You can record stereo sound, too, although you'll need an external mic.
The D300S' picture quality is excellent too. Colours are saturated, but still look natural. The camera's high-ISO performance is fantastic, and Nikon's 3D Color Matrix II metering copes with most situations perfectly, although a few of our test shots did come out looking rather pale.
This model gets dual CompactFlash and SD card slots too. This feature isn't provided just in case you've only got one type of memory card or the other. It also lets you shoot simultaneous back-ups on one of the cards, or save JPEGs on one and raw files on the other. It's one of the features that separates pro cameras from amateur models. Another is a shutter mechanism that's been tested to withstand 150,000 cycles.
The price isn't necessarily an issue when you compare it to the next model up, the full-frame D700, which costs about £400 more. But you can get the D90, sporting the same sensor and movie mode as the D300S, for about £550 less, and that includes Nikon's rather good 18-105mm VR kit lens. The D90 isn't as rugged as the D300S, and can't match its frame rate, but it's not going to fall to pieces in your hands and its picture quality is just as good.
The other issue is that this is Nikon's only pro camera with an APS-C sensor. There's got to be one because of all those professionals who've invested heavily in pre-full-frame Nikon gear over the years, but, if you're just starting out in professional photography, the full-frame models are a much better choice. The D300S is bang-up-to-date, but the DX format, at least as far as professionals are concerned, has maybe had its day.
The Nikon D300S is a great choice for professionals who've got numerous Nikkor DX lenses and don't plan on going full-frame any time soon. It could even make a handy second camera for a full-frame system, thanks to its fast frame rate and 1.5x focal factor (it makes your telephotos go further). But it's not cheap, and the DX format is hardly future-proof.
Edited by Charles Kloet