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Nikon unveils D300s, D3000 digital SLRs  
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
Nikon has officially unveiled the D300s and D3000 digital SLR cameras. The D300s is a strategic upgrade that adds 720p video capture and a stereo mic input, 7fps burst shooting with the standard EN-EL3e battery, twin (CompactFlash and SD) memory card slots and several feature refinements to the D300 it replaces. The D3000 is a bigger departure from its D40 predecessor, incorporating a 10.04 million image pixel self-cleaning sensor, 11-area AF system, 3fps burst rate, 3-inch (diagonal) rear LCD and a new assist feature for novice photographers called Guide Mode.

An evolved Nikon D300: the new D300s

To create the D300s, Nikon started with a D300 and blended in a short, smart list of improvements. Let's start with what's either unchanged or lightly tweaked:

The D300s incorporates the same 12.21 million image pixel DX-size self-cleaning CMOS sensor, 16-bit EXPEED image processing with 12 or 14 bit A/D conversion, 51-area Multi-CAM 3500DX AF system, 1005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II, 100% coverage viewfinder, extended ISO range of 100-6400, 3-inch (diagonal), 920,000-dot rear LCD, Commander Mode for controlling and triggering flashes in a Nikon iTTL wireless setup, LiveView, HDMI video out, AF calibration adjustment, real-time lateral chromatic aberration correction, Active D-Lighting and compatibility with both the MB-D10 Multi-Power Battery Pack and the WT-4/4A Wireless Transmitter.

Picture quality is expected to be identical. Except for some minor changes, the D300s body and button layout is essentially the same as the D300.

Refreshed: The Nikon D300s. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

The list of what's new or refined includes the following:

720p video recording The basic video capture specifications for the D300s closely mirror other video-capable Nikon digital SLRs, including up to 1280 x 720 pixel (720p), 24fps recording with Motion JPEG encoding, five-minute clip length (20 minutes at lower resolutions), 16 bit/11.025kHz mono audio when using the built-in mic and video files with a .avi extension.

The D300s adds the option of engaging contrast detect AF during video recording, an aperture range that extends to f/16 (the minimum aperture with other video Nikons is f/8), a miniphone jack for connecting an external stereo mic (the camera captures 16 bit/44.100kHz stereo audio via this jack) and both automatic and manual audio level control. Video clip trimming in the D300s is also possible.

The video mode in the D300s is the best-specified in Nikon's lineup, and by adding manual control of sound levels, the D300s also offers a key video mode feature not found in a Canon digital SLR (except through a hack). In every other respect, however, the D300s trails the video capabilities of the 5D Mark II, including resolution, exposure control options, HD clip length, file encoding and sound quality from the built-in mic. Plus, the larger image sensor of the Canon model means it's possible to achieve a shallower depth of field effect for a given field of view.

Still, D300s video capture appears to be capable enough to see greater uptake from budding filmmakers who have previously considered only the 5D Mark II as suitable for their work. And both Canon's and Nikon's digital SLRs are still first generation efforts, with lots of room for improvement in both features and video quality.

Nikon has posted two impressive videos by photographers Ami Vitale and Robert Bösch, showcasing the D300s' video (and still) capture prowess.

Twin card slots The D300s incorporates two card slots - one Type I CompactFlash and one SD/SDHC - with a full complement of write options. Either slot can be designated the primary one, with the secondary slot used for Backup (each photo is written to both cards) or Overflow (when the primary card is full the camera switches to writing to the secondary card). In addition, the D300s can be configured to store NEFs on one and JPEGs on the other, plus photos can be copied between the cards too.

Memories: The twin card slots in the D300s. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

The D300s incorporates support for Eye-Fi's line of SD/SDHC memory/Wi-Fi combo cards. This includes an in-camera menu for starting and stopping uploads, plus a status icon on the rear LCD that shows when the Eye-Fi card is active. Unlike the D90 and D5000, the D300s does not support the faster proprietary data transfer mode of SanDisk's Extreme III 30MB/s Edition and new Extreme SDHC cards (these SanDisk models will revert to using the same data transfer mode as any other compatible SDHC card in this camera).

To make room for the SD/SDHC slot in the D300s, the CompactFlash slot when on a diet. While the D300 supports both the thicker Type II and thinner Type I CompactFlash, the D300s supports only the Type I variant of this memory card type. In practice, this means that Microdrive-type cards won't fit, but practically every other CompactFlash model will.

Also among the memory card related differences: the card door release switch of the D300 has given way to a slide-to-unlock door mechanism, similar to the D700. We like the way the D700's card door works, so this change in the D300s is a small but welcome one.

Faster shooting When the D300s is powered by the standard EN-EL3e Rechargeable Li-ion Battery, the maximum frame rate is now 7fps, up from 6fps with the same power source in the D300. When the MB-D10 is attached and an EN-EL4/4a Rechargeable Li-ion Battery is inserted, the maximum frame rate for the D300 and D300s is the same, at 8fps. Also as before, the frame rate slows to 2.5fps when the camera is set to shoot 14-bit NEFs.

Burst depth numbers are similar to the D300 too, at least when the D300s is set to JPEG or 12-bit NEF. Nikon specifies the new model at 44 full-resolution JPEG Fine or 18 Lossless Compressed 12-bit NEFs, which is almost identical to the D300's 43 and 18, respectively. With the D300s set to record Lossless Compressed 14-bit NEFs, burst depth is 30 frames, whereas the D300 is spec'd to capture 21 on the same file format setting. It remains to be seen whether this specification change translates into a real-world bump in the number of 14-bit NEF frames that can be captured in succession.

Better autofocus Speed and accuracy of the AF system is said to be better, though it's not clear whether the promised improvement comes from a refined AF algorithm, a refined Scene Recognition System algorithm (a press release describes it as "newly-accelerated"), faster AF calculation speed or something else. The Multi-CAM 3500DX AF sensor in the D300s carries over from the D300, as do the various single and multiple area AF options.

Virtual Horizon overlay The D300s joins the ranks of Nikon digital SLRs to offer a graphic roll indicator, which shows if the camera is level, tilted left or tilted right. As per other Nikons with this feature, it doesn't also show pitch (up/down).

Active D-Lighting Bracketing Either two or five Active D-Lighting settings - Low, Normal, High, Extra High and Off - can be applied in a bracketing sequence. If two is chosen, one of the two is always Off.

Dedicated LiveView button, slightly revised button layout The D300s sports a dedicated LiveView button on the back. An Info button, also new and also on the back, gives quick access to options such as Picture Control and Noise Reduction (in addition to displaying information about the way the camera is currently configured). The multicontroller design now matches that found on the D3, D3X and D700 and is a noticeable improvement over the multicontroller on the D300.

Forward Looking: The D300s features a slightly revised control layout that includes new LiveView and Info buttons. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

Quiet Shutter Mode When enabled, Quiet Shutter Mode separates the shutter action from the resetting of the mirror. The shutter opens when the shutter button is fully depressed, but the mirror holds in its upright position until the shutter button is released. This means you can delay the mirror return part of the exposure sound until you've turned away or otherwise muffled the camera body.

Quiet Shutter Mode is switched on by selecting "Q" on the Release Mode dial on the top of the camera.

Wider-coverage flash At 16mm, the D300s' built-in flash coverage is wider than that of the D300, which is designed for lenses down to 18mm.

Smaller HDMI port The D300 has a Type A HDMI port, while the D300s is outfitted with a smaller Type C port.

Port Side: Nikon D300s connection ports. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

The D300s is slated to ship in late August 2009 at an expected street price of US$1799.95 in the U.S.

Nikon D3000

Nikon's smallest digital SLR sees a substantial makeover as it morphs from D40 to D3000. The new entry-level model is comprised of a 10.04 million image pixel self-cleaning CCD sensor, EXPEED image processing with Picture Control menu, 11-area AF system, 95% coverage viewfinder, 3fps burst rate, 3-inch (diagonal), 230,000-dot rear LCD, date imprint function, Retouch Menu and a new assist feature for novice photographers called Guide Mode.

Little Guy: The Nikon D3000. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

The D3000, in a kit with the AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens, is scheduled to ship in late August 2009 at an expected street price of US$599.95 in the U.S.

Revision History
August 3, 2009: Added links to Ami Vitale and Robert Bösch videos.
August 9, 2009: Updated information about D300s non-support for SanDisk's proprietary data transfer mode.
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