Although professional sports photographers will tell you that fast reflexes and a good eye for the right moment are more important, fast continuous shooting speed seems to have become a required feature of top-end cameras, and here as well the D300 excels. In standard 12-bit processing mode it can shoot at an impressive six frames a second, for up to 30 frames in RAW+JPEG mode, or unlimited in JPEG-only fine mode. With the addition of the EH-5 battery pack providing extra juice this already impressive figure climbs to 8fps, which is fast by any standard, and crucially faster than the 5fps of the Sony A700 or the 6.5fps of the Canon EOS 40D.
It is worth noting though that using the 14-bit processing mode slows the shooting rate down to a more leisurely 2.5 frames a second. Needless to say, in single shot mode the D300 can take photos just as fast as you can press the button, and it can keep it up for a long time. Although Nikon has no official statement on battery life other that to say it has been 'improved', I shot somewhere in the region of 250 photos while testing the camera, and the battery charge meter was still reading four out of five bars when I'd finished. What it saves on batteries the D300 makes up for with its voracious appetite for memory cards. Even in JPEG fine mode, a 1GB CF card in only enough for 92 shots. In RAW+JPEG this drops to just 32 shots in 12-bit mode, or just 26 shots in 14-bit mode, with a 5.5MB JPEG file accompanied by a 14.4MB RAW file.
At the end of the review I inevitably come to picture quality, and the hardest part of the the testing process. With a camera as adaptable as the D300, final image quality is hard to quantify, because so many aspects of the final image production are dependent upon user options. Sharpness, noise reduction, saturation and colour palette are all adjustable. I took most of my test shots in the standard 12-bit mode using mainly default settings, and I found the overall picture quality to be extremely high, with reliably perfect exposure and focusing, and of course the lens performed brilliantly. Shooting in 12-bit RAW mode the colour depth, contrast and exposure latitude was impressive, and even more so in 14-bit mode. I found I was able to pull usable detail and good colour out of what looked at first like terminally blown highlights.
In terms of absolute detail there isn't a massive advantage to 12 megapixels over 10, and in this respect the D300 performs pretty much exactly as well as the Sony A700, and produces just a fraction more detail than the 10MP cameras I've tried. I did find that using the default settings the images it produced were ever so slightly soft, but responded well to a light dusting of Unsharp Mask in Photoshop, which is a way that a lot of photographers like to work. Image noise control was extremely impressive though, with outstanding quality at 800 ISO and usable images even at 1600 and 3200 ISO. There was some loss of saturation and a scattering ov general noise at 6400 ISO, but overall the D300 was enormously impressive.
In the D300, Nikon has a camera that will appeal to a wide range of photographers, from advanced amateurs to professionals looking for a cheaper and slightly lighter alternative to the D3. It has class-leading build quality and ergonomic design, a mind-boggling array of features and options, blistering performance and superb image quality. In terms of what it has to offer the D300 is unquestionably one of the four or five best cameras currently on the market. However it is a very expensive camera, and the competition - in the shape of the Sony A700 - isn't far behind.