So I got a Nikon D90 almost exactly a year ago – it was my first DSLR, and I was in love – I’ve totally had a blast with it. But there were a few things it didn’t have that I really wanted – I was getting into HDR (high dynamic range) photography, and I was limited to 3 exposures, a maximum of 2 stops apart. And I wanted to shoot timelapse without having to be tethered to a laptop (which had to be powered too), which the D90 couldn’t do without the umbilical.
I really coveted my friend’s D300 with its higher frame rate and intervalometer as well. If only there were a camera that combined the best of both worlds….then Nikon announced the D300S – adding 720p24 HD video, Live View, intervalometer, up to 9 shots in a bracket….I was sold.
I got it while I was out of town, and then read about the new Canon 7D….
A few thoughts on my background with DSLRs:
First off, I’ve been loving my D90, but wanted a few more features, specifically the higher frame rates, wider bracketing, and intervalometer.
So far, good discoveries:
-7 frame per second shooting – yowza that’s fast!
-awesome images – my 18-105 is still not fixed, so I’ve been shooting with my 35mm f2.0 prime and my 70-300 zoom – but still way fun
-better/more granular physical controls – just like the D700, I get separate left hand knob buttons for Quality, White Balance and ISO settings. The shutter mode wheel has a lock release so it never gets bumped, and the Function button defaults to the bracketing setting – I can get to it instantly. These and other improvement/refinements over the D90
-bracketing – just been shooting, haven’t been HDRing yet – many many test series to merge
-7fps is GREAT for shooting surfers with the long lens – can really catch the action
-9 shot bracketing should give some awesome HDR – and without moving the camera!
-dual memory slots – I can use CF or SD or the SDHC cards I already had for the D90 – I had two 4GB cards, I just bought another 8GB fast one. Reportedly, the 8GB CF cards from my Red will work in this, too. Can use as rollover over split – RAW to one, JPEGs to the other – until I get native support in OS X for the RAW NEFs, I may do this.
bummers so far:
-my MB-D80 grip is not compatible – doesn’t fit. With the MB-D10 grip ($260), I can get 8 instead of 7fps. But in order to get 8fps, I need the $120 EN-EL4A battery – ugh! At least Pearstone offers an $80 battery. Argh – $350-$400 for an extra 1fps and ability to hold sideways? Probably not worth it, but I already ordered it…UPDATE – it gets even uglier than that – OK, so for $1800 you get 7fps. Want 8fps? Buy the following:
MB-D10 grip – $260 (which is a solidly built piece of kit – includes shutter release, primary/secondary dials, AF button, and a secondary joystick/button)
EN-EL4a battery – $120 (Pearstone makes an $80 compatible battery)
but wait, that battery doesn’t fit in the grip, you need the $30 BL-3 adaptor that fits onto the end of the battery and locks it into the MB-D10
But wait, you can’t charge that battery without the $130 MH-21 quick charger for that style battery (Pearstone makes a non quick charger for $35, I ordered that one on the “Enough is enough!” basis)
So for that extra 1fps (and ability to conveniently hold sideways), you’re spending $260+$120+$30+$130=$540. For 1 extra fps. If you go the Pearstone route, you can save $135 and only spend $405 for that extra bit of oomph.
-bracketing – I can do up to 9 bracketed shots, expanding my dynamic range by 8 stops, and can shoot them all in just over 1 second – awesome! But wait – I HAVE to shot 9 shots to get that – instead of 3 shots 2 stops apart, the maximum stop spread is 1 stop – so to get the same dynamic range coverage as the D90 did, I have to take 5 shots instead of 3. But at least they can be shot in the same amount of time. I don’t quite get the logic of this – there are times I’d just like 3 shots with +/- 3 or more stops per shot…
-IR remote – the IR remote from my D90 doesn’t work on the D300S – it doesn’t even have the mode for it! So I have to look into different hands free remote triggering – crucial for long lens shot stability. I can still do timer, but not the same…
-My GP-1 GPS geotagger? Compatible! My cable? Not – gotta buy a $50 cable that didn’t come with the GP-1 – lame! But at least it is a MUCH more secure mount than on the D90 – the GPS port got broken a ways back, had to send it in to fix it.
-for some reason, the 16GB CF card from my Red doesn’t want to work. Bummer! That would be a helluva lotta shots (the 8GB reportedly do)
the RAW .NEF files from the D300S are not recognized by any software other than the Nikon software – this is typical of new cameras, takes Apple a month or two to add support usually, often rolled in with an OS point release.
-7fps is great, but when they say “sustained” there is an asterisk – at RAW, 7fps is good for 12 consecutive shots, then the frame rate plummets. This even with 30MB/sec capable memory cards. Doodling around, dropping to JPEG instead of RAW,
RAW: 12 consecutive shots
TIFF – 13 – one more, but it takes a LONG time to write those to card from the buffer! Longer than RAW, so your “recharge” time to be ready to go again is longer – not worth it for 1 more frame in the burst unless it is a one time event
Large JPEG Fine – still 13, but they write down to card faster (much smaller files)
Large JPEG Normal – 13 frames
Large JPEG Basic – 13
Medium TIFF – 14 frames (one more, but again, notably long write-to-card times)
Medium JPEG Fine – 15 shots
Medium JPEG Normal – 15 shots
Medium JPEG Basic – 15 shots
Small TIFF – 19 shots
Small JPEG Fine – 21 shots
Small JPEG Normal – 21 shots
Small JPEG Basic – 21 shots
My takeaway? You might as well shoot RAW for flexibility in post unless you REALLY want a longer contiguous run AND don’t care if the images are barely bigger than 1080p (small is 2144×1424). Then again, you can fit over 10,000 JPEG Basic shots on one 8GB SDHC card.
So then there is the new Canon 7D I read about, after I’m back from a week at Burning Man. Hmm! I got my $1000 D90 right before the $3500 5D MkII came out (I was very OK with that price differential), but now here’s the 7D. Here’s how some of the specs compare:
D300S – 12MP
7D – 18MP
winner – 7D
Sensor size – both are APS-C sized – tie
D300S tops out at 3200 with artificial boost to 6400,
7D goes to 12800 (but I presume that is with boost as well)
winner – 7D
D300S – 720p24, M-JPEG
7D – 1080p24/25/30 (and the right 23.976 and 29.97 actually!) H.264
winner (by specs) – 7D is higher res, better codec, and more frame rate choices – clear winner by a long shot. As for rolling shutter? Both have it, but I can’t compare’em.
from what I’m reading online, it seems the D300S has more granular controls over more features – it mimics the D700’s setup, a $3500 camera – very nice. On the other hand, if you like Canon’s way of doing things, you might prefer to stick with that. I’d tilt it towards Nikon, but a Canon afficianado could reasonably argue they’d prefer that layout.
D300S – 51
7D – 19, but crossover
winner – D300S, but not by as much as it would seem
max frame rate:
D300S: 7 by default, spend $400-$540 more for 8fps in a heavier body setup
7D – 8fps out of the box
winner – 7D by weight and $100 cheaper, to tie it in fps you have to buy $400-$540 MORE worth of stuff, making it $500 to $640 more expensive as well as notably heavier (but with a full sized sideways grip).
D300S – $1800
7D – $1700
Winner – 7D clearly
D300S: SDHC and CF
winner – D300S – not only can it take different kinds of media, both can be live and you can choose how it behaves – backup. overflow, or RAW on primary, JPEGs on secondary – very nice!
On the basis of price, megapixels, max fps and video mode, I’d feel kinda punked to have just bought the D300S.
There are a lot of ties in other areas – both have 920,000 pixel 3 inch LCDs, both have Live View, their dimensions are almost exactly the same, weight is about the same (the 7D is about 4-5% lighter), both have 100% coverage viewfinders, etc. – both are damn fine machines.
But looking a little further, why again did I buy it? Oh yeah – bracketing and intervalometer – Canon 7D appears to be limited to 3 shots bracketing, and I can find no mention of intervalometer for the 7D- EDIT – oops, wrong, it has one, mentioned here. EDIT – last night I played with the intervalometer on the D300S, REALLY nice – you can set when it starts (even at say, shortly before dawn), how often it shoots (this is really the delay between shots, NOT how often it shoots – long night exposures, for instance, will take a long time), how many shots when it shoots (perfect for bracketing!), and how many sets of shots (for instance, 300 sets of 9 bracketed shots would make 2700 frames to make 12.5 secs of 24p HDR timelapse) – very nice!
So if you want a nice DSLR and want to shoot some video, I lean towards the Canon gear – the 7D is a helluva deal! If, like me, you are into HDR, then the D300S starts looking better again. The video capability? Honestly, I rarely used it on my D90 – I even forgot to try it when shooting fireworks at the Santa Monica Pier the other night (and those on my skimpy tripod as well!).
Already have Nikon or Canon accessories? Unless either video or HDR is really important to you, stick with the brand you’ve already invested in – both cameras look really nice.
In short, I’m OK with my purchase – I already had a couple thousand dollars in Nikon compatible glass and accessories anyway. If I were an aspiring filmmaker, however, I’d be looking at the 7D as an AWESOME practice tool to get used to shooting in a cinematographic style, getting used to the ISO/f-stop/exposure compromise dance, and working with different focal length lenses – an artist must be prolific and iterative in order to grow, and here’s a great way to do it. If I were buying new and had no other accessories, or familiarity with the camera controls? I’d get the 7D in a heartbeat, UNLESS I were gonzo about HDR and couldn’t live with the 3 shot bracketing limitation.
If this seems slanted to the D300S – hey, I bought one and am more familiar with it – whaddaya expect? : )
PS – one other tidbit – the D300S can autofocus (when in tripod mode) for video, a definite plus and improvement! I’ll play and write about this more.