Nikon D300s – A worthy upgrade?

Earlier this week, Nikon announced the latest camera in the DX lineup — the Nikon D300s. While the specifications may have changed, the sensor hasn’t. So… what exactly does this new and improved camera bring to the table?

Nikon D300s
Nikon D300s

Nikon D300s Announcement

Announced July 30, 2009 the Nikon D300s is touted by Nikon USA as “combining professional-level performance with agility and enhanced D-Movie capabilities to deliver a new benchmark for creative versatility.” This is directly out of the first paragraph of the Nikon Press Release. The press release also states that this new body is supposed to hit dealers later this month for a price of $1799.95. You can already pre-order it from Amazon for this advertised price, though they claim it won’t ship until September 13th. I’m guessing these will go fast so if you want yours when it comes out, you’re best to pre-order it now!

Difference between the D300s and the D300

So. What’s all the fuss about? The Nikon D300 was a venerable camera with a loyal following. Is there really anything added to the D300s that makes it that much better? This answer depends on how you use your camera. To start with, lets summarize what has been improved as far as features go.

D-Movie HD Video
Nikon added 24 fps, 720p HD Video – including a stereo microphone jack. However, it is important to note that the built-in microphone is only mono. Thus, if stereo is important to you, you’ll be forced to carry an additional microphone.

Dual Memory Card Slots (SD and CF)
Now here’s a feature whose time has come! It is now possible to use a combination of SD and CF cards. I’ve theorized that eventually, all Nikon dSLR cameras will move toward the small SD cards and that there will be an intermediate step where there is a dual-card series of camera. Here we are! Also, the dual card slots are configurable to either use one card as a primary and one as secondary (the primary is full, start filling the secondary) or to store different image types on each card (JPG on one, RAW on the other or, with the new video capabilities, one card for video and one for still images). Regardless, this effectively doubles the storage capacity!

Continuous 7fps Shooting
The new D300s adds an additional frame per second to the D300 shooting speed. Does this make a huge difference? That depends entirely on your shooting style and subject matter.

Up to 950 Shots per Battery Charge
This is good news for those of us who like to load up a camera, a couple lenses and head out for a day of shooting. Not that the battery life is exactly bad on my D200, but more captures per charge is always beneficial. Especially when it is using the same batteries as the D300 and D200. Those extra batteries are still a good investment that can be carried forward to an upgraded body. It also makes it possible to use the D300 or D200 as a backup body to a D300s without having to have two battery systems.

So the D300s is better?

I’m hesitant to speak to this point since I haven’t tried out one. There are clearly a few nice features, but frankly, video does nothing to excite me. I still can’t figure out why people insist on having video recording on their dSLR. If you’re willing to spend the $2000+ for a camera and lens combination, doesn’t it make sense to purchase a dedicated video camera? After seeing the video output from the Nikon D90, I surely wasn’t impressed by the quality and I have a hard time believing that a dedicated camcorder wouldn’t do a better job.

Nikon D300s Rear
Nikon D300s Rear

And there are other implications to adding the video. As one can see from the above photo, there is now a speaker in the bottom right corner of the back side of the camera. Looking closely, you will notice that the rear thumb grip is now smaller. Ugh… One of the things I really liked about my D200 was the large, spacious grip for my large hands. Guess that’s going away. Also notice that the memory card door is no longer operated by a lever. Instead, it’s a slide / press contraption similar to the D50 that was phased out so long ago. Nikon is also using this system on the D700, and I haven’t heard too much grumbling, but it just doesn’t feel as sturdy to me in general.

Which One Would I Buy?

Personally, I don’t think video belongs on a dSLR. Therefore, I’m not going to blindly jump on the D300s bandwagon. What’s more, I rarely shoot action which means the additional 1 fps really isn’t going to help me much. Currently, Amazon has the Nikon D300 for $1629 which is about $150 cheaper than the the D300s.

So the question for me comes down to whether the added memory card slot and the increased battery life area really worth $150. If so, go for the D300s. Otherwise, I really don’t think you’re going to miss much by sticking with the D300.