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Nikon D3 vs. D300
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Nikon D3

The Nikon D3 with 50mm f/1.4 AF-D. enlarge


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January 2008

The Nikon D3 and D300 are 99% the same camera. The D300 and D3 were announced on the same day and have almost identical firmware and handling. They have almost exactly the same features and image quality for most purposes, so why pay three times as much for the D3?

Most of the D3 is about doing everything just a little bit better and faster. If you earn your living with a camera stuck to your face all day, every day, these little things add up fast and you'll want nothing other than a pair of D3s. If you use it all day for a living, the extra cost is negligible. Most casual shooters will prefer the lighter weight and lower price of the D300. See also Is It Worth It?

The D3 is a professional newsman's tool, not a camera for casual shooters or professional landscape or portrait shooters. (Landscape and portrait pros want the Nikon D3X or Canon 1Ds Mk III.)


The D3 and D300 have the same:

1.) 99% the same operating menus, firmware, features and even instruction manuals. They differ only in the very few features unique to one camera or the other, otherwise, if I saw the manuals or menus from either camera, I couldn't tell you which one it was! Honestly, everything like AF areas and settings, NR, interval timers, picture adjustments, AF fine tuning, ADR,

2.) Colors! They both have the same color palette (look). The colors look great to me; they even seem to warm the warm colors a little further than reality, which is a euphoric distortion I love. Warming warm colors while leaving cools alone is what makes Fuji Velvia 50 the world's standard for nature and landscape photography. Getting this electronically in direct digital capture is awesome, hooray!

3.) Highlight and shadow handling, presuming you turn on Adaptive Dynamic Range (ADR) in MENU > SHOOTING > Active D-Lighting > Normal). Even when overexposed, the image simply gets lighter, not nasty and off-color. Old digital cameras, like the D200 and D40 (my favorite), would get way nasty even 1/3 stop overexposed. Now I can be 2/3 of a stop over, and the image may be a little washed out, but not nasty. I don't overexpose, but trying this lets me exaggerate what happens to wild uncontrolled highlights.

The color and dynamic range settings really do translate among cameras. The photos out of my D300 and D3 simply look better than with previous cameras, and it's obvious to me even in teeny images.

4.) Also, as foretold by the users manuals and confirmed in person, the firmware is 99.5% the same. Everything works the same on the D3 and D300, with small exceptions for one or two features unique to each camera.

5.) The D3 isn't any sharper in JPG at normal ISOs, if you're using premium lenses and know how to use them. If not, the D3 makes it easier to get sharp images under a wider range of conditions and with a wider range of lenses.


D3 advantages over D300      top


The Full-Frame Advantage. Both cameras shoot in DX.

14mm (or wider) ultra-ultra wide angle views. If you've ever compared the actual angle of view of any DX camera with the 12-24mm lens at 12mm (Nikon's widest for DX cameras), you'll see that it really only covers the same angle of view as a 20mm, not even an 18mm, lens on a D3. My world starts at 20mm and gets wider from there. This is why I was petitioning for a 9mm f/2.8 DX lens, but even better, Nikon gave us the D3 with existing 13mm, 14mm and 15mm lenses, as well as the new 14-24mm zoom.


Bigger, better, clearer finder.

Electronic bubble level in finder (but the D300 does have a finder grid).

Less obtrusive AF area highlighting. The AF sensors light up with exactly the right amount of red light in the D3 regardless of lighting conditions, but are dorky black squares in the D300.


Face detection just works. I use the "all sensors" dummy mode (big white rectangle) and my D3 uncannily and automatically nails perfect focus on my subject's nearest eye. My D300 doesn't, and takes longer to figure out which sensor to use.

My D3 is always in focus. I never seem to have to wait to acquire focus. Just like my eyes, it just goes. My D300 sometimes takes a fraction of a second too long in the big white rectangle "dummy" AF selector mode, while my D3 just does it.

Both cameras use the same AF sensors, but the D3 has more processing power to interpret the output from the 51 sensors more quickly, and the D3 has bigger motors to focus the lenses faster.

Both cameras are fast enough for my mostly still subjects if you use only one AF sensor at a time, but that's throwing away most of the advantage of the new AF systems.

Manual Focus

The D3 has a three-segment null indicator ( > o < ) which can indicate perfect, precise, manual focus.

The D300 only has one primitive "OK" focus indicator dot. The D300's single indicator lights over too broad a range, meaning that it cannot indicate manual focus with sufficient precision for manual focus with fast lenses.

Modern AF ground-glass focus screens don't show precise focus with lenses wider then f/2.8; hit the depth-of-field preview with your fast lenses and you won't see any difference until you stop down to f/2.8!

High ISOs

The D3 pounds out sharp and usable ISO 6,400 images, with no excuses, all day and all night.

The D300 has very soft images at ISO 6,400 from all the noise reduction, while the D3 is still sharp and clear.

The D3 also goes to ISO 12,500 and ISO 25,600, which the D300 can't even imagine.

Frame Rate

The D3 hauls at 9 frames per second, and up to 11 FPS in DX mode if you don't mind losing interframe AF and exposure updates.

The D300 runs at 6 FPS, or 8 FPS with the right grip.

Battery Life

The D3 has a bigger battery that gives me 3,000 shots per charge.

The D300 only gives me 1,000 shots per charge. My D200 only went 350 shots on a charge.


The D3 has a much better multi-directional rear thumb selector. Specifically, the D3 has a separate center DO IT button, while on the D300 you have to be more dainty in trying to hit the big single selector in the center.

Sound Recording

The D3 records and plays sound; just hold the MIC button.


The D3 has a second CF card slot, with clever options for using it.

Frame Counter

In addition to the usual "shots remaining" counter, the D3 has an additional "shots made" counter on the top LCD and in the finder. It counts up, and just like a motorized film camera, is always one count above the number of frames shot.

Moron Beep Defaults at OFF

The D3 is a man's camera: it doesn't beep. It has a beeper, but it remains silent unless you activate it in the menus.

The D300 ships with the idiot beep ON. Please turn it off. Not only is it annoying, but it bothers everyone else around you.

These cameras let you know you're in focus with a dot in the lower left of the finder.


D300 unique features (lacking in D3)    top

Selectable viewfinder grid (The D3 makes up for this with an electronic bubble-level, or a $32 fixed E-type focusing screen with grid).

Sensor cleaner. (The bigger D3 sensor downplays the size of specks.)

Standard small EN-EL3e battery and charger, interchangeable with D80 and D200.

Smaller size and weight, and much smaller price!

Built-in flash.

You easily can buy a D300, but as far as I know, only about 10 people on Earth have actually received their D3s.


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