As I’ve remarked elsewhere, I’m not a big fan of video recording as a feature on digital SLRs, but it seems that the industry and the buying public disagree with me, because more and more DSLRs are coming along featuring video recording modes. Nikon was the first manufacturer to offer video on a DSLR, with its successful D90 launched around this time last year.
The video mode on the D300s will come as a bit of a disappointment for anyone hoping for something to rival the full HD video recording of the Panasonic GH1 or the Canon EOS 5D MkII, both of which have aspirations towards serious film making, or even the Pentax K-7, which can shoot 4GB video clips at 1536 x 1024 and 30fps . Like the D90, the D300s is limited to 1280 x 720 resolution at 24 frames per second, with clip duration limited to five minutes at maximum resolution, or 20 minutes at VGA resolution. Unlike the D90 the D300s does have autofocus in video mode, although only a fairly basic centre zone contrast detection system which is quite slow, especially when attempting to refocus on a moving subject while filming. The camera has a built-in mono microphone which is actually quite directional, but it can record a stereo soundtrack with an optional external stereo microphone which plugs into a socket under the rubber hatch on the left of the body.
The camera does have some built-in movie editing ability. Cuts can be made during playback by selecting start and end points, and the camera can be connected to a HD TV for video playback via its HDMI Mini connector.
Along with the video mode, the D300s of course has live monitor view, which can also be used in still shooting. This uses the main autofocus system, which is still Nikon’s much praised Multi-CAM 3500DX 51-point sensor, common to all its top-end models. In live view mode, focusing requires a double mirror-flip. It flips up once to focus, and then again to take the picture, which is slow and noisy. The mirror action is quite smooth, and even the double-flip doesn’t appear to cause any problems with vibration on long exposure shots.
Fortunately when used as a normal digital SLR, looking through the viewfinder and shooting still images, the D300s is pretty much indistinguishable from its illustrious predecessor. The comfortable handling, superb viewfinder and lightning-fast autofocus are all familiar and welcome. The D300 was an instant classic, and arguably one of the best APS-C digital SLRs ever made. The D300s retains or surpasses all of that camera’s features and capabilities, and when used for its primary purpose – stills photography – it is a delight to use. It’s unfortunate that the video mode is so limited, but if you just think of it as a bonus feature on an already superb stills camera then it makes a lot more sense.