D300, First Week

First Monarch (by StarbuckGuy)

I’ve just had my first week of Nikon D300 photography and so far I like it! I haven’t begun to explore all its features yet, but I’ve had a chance to shoot with it using both manual and auto lenses. So far there haven’t been too many surprises — the D300’s feel is very similar to the D200 I traded for it.

Heft it’s got. Fortunately now that I’m three months past my bypass operation, the heft no longer bothers me. For awhile I could only carry the lightest gear but lately I’ve been bearing up well under heavier loads. Not that I want to get ridiculous about it. The D300 body and up to three not-too-massive lenses is all I’d ever want to carry while walking.

Image quality is lovely. The main reason I upgraded was for the improved sensor in the D300 and I’ve not been disappointed. Images are still highly usable at ISO1600.  This allows me during most of my shooting to use the D300’s auto-iso feature, letting the camera bump up the ISO between 200 and 1600 depending on the amount of available light while I simply concentrate on composition and framing.

But as with all the digital cameras I’ve used, getting good images on bright, contrasty days is tricky. Sensor performance is still more like slide film than C-41 film. Highlights can easily be blown while detail disappears in the shadows. Like most photographers, I’m willing to live with this limitation. There are ways around it of course. Shooting in RAW allows more detail to be extracted while photo editing. HDR (High Dynamic Range) composite exposures can be sandwiched together either from a single image, or from several taken at bracketed exposures. For best results this requires a tripod. I’m not against tripods — I simply don’t use them. Not often anyway. I don’t like carrying the extra weight and an awkward piece of gear.

One aspect of the D300 I hadn’t anticipated is the very large size of its .NEF files (Nikon’s RAW format). They’re huge. Worse, my favourite image browser, Irfanview, chokes on them. I like shooting RAW but have confined most of this week’s shooting to .JPG so I can use my established workflow for now. JPEG quality is very good and by using the D300’s Active D-lighting set to Low, I preserve more shadow detail and have fewer clipped highlights. If I shoot RAW, or elect to shoot RAW+JPG, I’ll need to invest in a larger CF card. Sheesh, and not long ago I thought my 4GB card was a BIG one.

I own a lot of good, older Nikon lenses but I don’t have any fancy modern glass. Not yet anyway. I’m highly pleased to see that, like my D200 before it, the D300 plays well with my older manual-focus AIS Nikkors. The images I’ve taken with them have been very sharp (when I get the focus right). Metering works well with these lenses.

I own two AF primes: a Nikkor AF 24/2.8D and Nikkor AF 50/1.8D. Both are fast focusing and beautifully sharp on the D300. My Tamron AF 28-75/2.8 XR Di makes a good carryaround lens,  and my cheap, but decent AF 70-300G zoom focuses faster than I expected.

The biggest problem I had was trying to figure out how to use LiveView. I read the manual and kept trying to figure it out, but I couldn’t get the view to appear on my LCD screen. I may be a little slow, but in part I blame the manual. It says something to the effect of “now lock up the mirror”. Yes, but how? The photo shows pressing the shutter release. I’d push, halfway, and nothing would happen. It took the better part of an hour and much looking through shooting options that didn’t apply before I finally, in desperation, pushed the shutter button all the way down. Bingo! I can’t say it was intuitively obvious — I’ve never seen LiveView demonstrated. This section of the manual could use a little rewriting.

My biggest challenge all week was finding good times to get out to shoot. It wasn’t my schedule that was the culprit — it was nature’s schedule. We’ve had at least two weeks of highly unsettled weather with frequent rains and thunderstorms both day and night. The rainy periods have been so random it’s been hard to know when to venture forth. Fortunately I only got caught in the rain once. The D300 itself is weather sealed, but my clothing isn’t.

Although I have much yet to learn about this camera, the D300 is all I’d hoped it would be. If only digital could do B&W as well as film, I could see myself switching exclusively to digital, as many other photographers have already done. I can get good B&W’s if the lighting is just right, but B&W film still looks better overall and I find it more consistent. Nonetheless, I’ll conclude with the best B&W shot I took with the D300 this week: a female swan and her cygnet.

Mama & Child (by StarbuckGuy)

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