As I've remarked before, I get to see and use a lot of digital cameras in the course of my job, from the cheapest budget compacts to the very best professional DSLRs. As a life-long camera nerd I couldn't be happier with this arrangement, but there is a drawback. The cameras that I review are loaned to me by the manufacturers; I keep them for a few weeks, and then I have to give them back. The problem with this is that sometimes I find a camera that's so good I really want to keep it. That Editor's Choice award isn't given lightly; I only award it to cameras that I would very much like to own. The Nikon D300 is just such a camera. It's going to be a sad day when I have to give this one back, because at a shade under £2,000 with the 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom lens there's no way I'm going to be able to afford to buy one for myself.
The D300 is the third-generation product of Nikon's successful semi-pro series which started off with the D100 back in early 2002. The D100 was a very long-lived model, and wasn't superseded until the launch of the D200 in late 2005. The 10.2-megapixel D200 is still available, costing around £800 body-only, or around £1,650 with the same 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom lens seen in this review. The D300 joins it in Nikon's range, providing a short step before the giddy heights of the 12.8-megapixel full-frame D3 professional camera, costing around £3,400 body-only. The D300 was launched at the same time as the D3 in August last year, and shares many of that camera's features, however it has a 12.3-megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor, which as far as I know is the same Sony sensor as found in the Sony Alpha A700. The D300 is currently priced at around £1,100 body-only, around £1,275 with the 18-70mm AF-S D kit lens, or £1,950 with the gorgeous 17-55mm f/2.8 zoom lens seen here.
The most obvious comparison is with Canon's semi-pro offering, the 10.1-megapixel EOS 40D. The D300 beats it by a couple of megapixels, but then the Canon is significantly less expensive, costing around £700 body-only or £950 with an EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM kit lens. Perhaps a more realistic comparison is with the aforementioned Sony Alpha A700. The two cameras have very similar specifications, but the A700 is currently selling at around £930 body-only, or £1,450 with the excellent Carl Zeiss T* 16-80mm F/3.5-4.5 lens. Another competitor in the same market is the forthcoming 14-megapixel Pentax K20D. Pentax has yet to be announce a price for the K20D, but the almost-identical Samsung GX20 is launching in March priced at just £699 with a kit lens.