The Nikon D300. Outed at the St Kilda Festival…

and why I can never use my much loved compact camera again, damn . . ..

When an opportunity to test a camera like the D300 comes along you have to take it. When you have that chance and it happens to fall on the day of the St Kilda Festival well the odds are off the charts. All of the photo’s in this article were taken during an afternoon at the St Kilda Festival..

The D300 today was provided by CrashPICS with a Sigma 70-200 zoom lens fitted, extra battery fitted allowing faster burst modes and a 16GB memory card. The body of the D300 is heavy duty and feels really solid with its Magnesium alloy weather-sealed shell. The optional MB-D10 battery pack, big lens and the full kit loaded the camera does become a little heavy, but it’s all worth it. The camera body alone is 825grams, loaded up your close to 2kg of technology.

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The D-300, 12.3-mega pixel – with a monster 23.6 x 15.8mm CCD chip – was officially replace by the D-300S in December 2009, this does also mean the D-300 can be found cheap second hand at the moment. Bargains can be found for as little a $1200 Au$. This won’t last as the numbers sold initially aren’t ever as high as cheaper cameras. The camera was set to max resolution 4288 x 2848, producing jpeg files of around 8meg a shot.

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Beach Volleyball shot in burst mode.

With the full burst mode available the D300 can shoot 8 frames per second. The major selling point though is the use of Nikon’s F-mount lenses. With literally years worth of lens development invested in the F-mount standard makes a wealth of great slabs of glass available. The camera even has the ability to drive old manual focus lenses with the auto focus controller. Also a huge selling point for the camera is the large 3inch LCD display on the back of the camera.

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No tripod was used during the day, this is all free hand baby. The weight of the camera actually help here I think. Especially the Monster bike shots in burst mode. Next time out a tripod for the zoom and static shots will be an essential part of the kit.

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Although 5 hours of shooting may sound like a lot of time to test a camera, it’s not – hell it doesn’t even produce moving pictures or sound, some may say. The surface was barely scratched, manuals need to be studied and manual settings perfected before you could say you really know this camera. At the very surface of the camera the manual control is obvious, this is the sort of camera that will teach you, force you to learn about the foundation lessons of photography. It will demand it of you. The payback is worth it though. After more time with this camera it will yield improvements in picture quality. I’m not sure if that’s a great thing to say but you its not something you see much using compact cameras, point, click, there’s your photo, that’s about as good as it with a compacts generally.

Just to be clear let’s just pretend this article is written from the perspective of a person who has mainly used compact camera’s and phone camera’s nothing fancy but has dabbled and snapped a few interesting shots here and there. Nothing fancy. It was difficult to cull the photos down for this article. There was about 30 usable photos out of an initial 350 – taken over 5 hours, this was then whittled down to the photo’s presented in this article.

Street shots 200mm zoom from upon high

The Vineyard, shot using 200mm zoom.

When you first start snapping off pics with the Sigma zoom lens and Nikon body you are actually learning to use them together, predictably the zoom was the first trick out of the bag. The street photo’s were shot out of a second story window above Acland Street with most of the subjects being over 30meters up the street. At this point in time the crowd was still building but there was already an interesting collection of characters to test the zoom on. The beauty of the 200mm zoom lens is that it gives you an amount of anonymity, the shots are natural and unencumbered.

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With full zoom and no tripod steadying the shots was a challenge, even the tiniest shake gets amplified through the zoom, breath out and squeeze the trigger. The colors produced in the street shots are really impressive, the photos have a real pop to them you just don’t get in compact cameras.

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The photos themselves have been trimmed down from there original 4k by 2k res to what you see here but they have been left unprocessed otherwise.. This is the raw photo converted to jp and trimmed. No Photoshop effects or cleaning has been done.

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The Vineyard is always a hive of activity and this rings true especially at the festival, with an extended outdoor area and constant stream of people traffic past. The Vineyards reputation stayed in-tact for another year, it was pumping with the doof doof.

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Side of a truck

The two Vineyard shots were taken two stories up on the other side of Acland Street. The 200mm zoom was able to close in nicely and once you find a comfortable leaning spot some good shots happen. I like the Police Women in the first shot, she wasn’t see again and I did look.The second shot proves that the Nikon doesn’t care how ridiculous the point of focus is the Nikon will pull it into focus, do its job.

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The early morning clouds had begun to clear by 1pm, the Nikon loves lots of bright light. Even at full zoom the shots where clicking over at super high speed, plenty of light available.

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The JetPilot photo was taken with 120mm zoom- mid – zoom, it was initially test pattern, something nice and static to check the settings, the results are a little surprising, with a lot more pop than it should have for a painting on the side of a truck. It actually looked a little washed out in real life but the contrast shows up really nicely here and its surprisingly sharp.

Outdoor action shots – the girls of beach volley ball

Beach Volleyball, its on…

During the outdoor action shots the Nikon was in single shot mode, holding the snap button down only ever yielded one shot. The initial shot speed is so fast that even in this mode action shots are more than possible. There were a couple of times shots delayed when I shifted the focal point, once I sat down and supported the camera properly this improved.

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The sun was beating down on the beach and the cool breeze was instilling a false sense of cool. Nothing was cooler than the volley ball girls though. The full photo’s have incredible detail in the background crowd, shocked looks and sly glances all clear as day. Keeping the focus steady takes a little practice. With 51point auto focus I found you very usable for quick shots with no time for auto focus it was fast as long as you knew how it picked the focal point.

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Nikon D300 in action…

There was a large crowd at the beach volleyball, making it difficult to get a good angle. This has always been one of the most popular events of the show and this year was no different. These girls are serious about their volley ball too, they were fast and athletic, no ball was to far no stretch too much. The crowd owd and awd like an Australian open.

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The medium zoom seemed to work well in this outdoor situation. Boats out past 50meter were still very visible and the Nikon handled the reflections and sea well even when zooming right out to see the detail of the people on the boats.

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Also while down the beach some photo’s – none included in this article – of the Lord Mayor on the main stage were taken. Initially the stage seemed to have a lot of shadows and might have been a challenge, the photos were in fact clean and detailed with a clear detail especially when zooming in. The D300 is well known for performing well in low light situations but its also very impressive at mixed light situations the D300 uses Active D-Lighting to bring detail out in darker areas, it seems to work well.

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Burst mode – monster madness

Monster Air up close, D300 in burst…

Over at the Monster Bikes display burst mode was engaged. Allowing 8 shots a second even at the highest detail, it was essential for capturing the maddest bike tricks. For each pass over the jump about a dozen shots were taken as I swung the camera to follow the bike off the jump and through the air. I nearly clunked a few people with the camera but no animals were hurt in the taking of these shots.

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For each shot there were a dozen un-useble shots, back wheel chopped off, head missing, the usual stuff. The thing is if you tried to do these shots in single shot mode you wouldn’t get one good shot, all up about 10 shots out of 70 were usable.

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These Monster crazy dudes took their name seriously, flying easily 10 or 15 meters in the air off a vertical ramp. The landing zone was on top of a truck, in flight they were only covering 20 or 30 meters. So while they had a very restricted space to work with they managed to execute some outstanding tricks. Back flips, superman the big moves were all there and doubly impressive to do it all in such a small space.

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The small piece of tarmac the riders used was fenced off by a 6foot temporary wire fence. This meant no shots on the ground from up close, not an issue since the acrobatic action was well up in the air but the crowd around the fence were all potential obstacles, highlighting the fact that getting a good vantage point early is critical.

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Which way what???

There were three riders using the jump in sequence, with the timing close enough that often when finishing one pass with the camera the next rider was already in the air the camera had to be moved quick.

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Burst mode is definitely more fun than you should be able to have with a pro camera. Holding the button down and going machine gun style was somehow satisfying. Catching the riders as they came off the ramp and flew took practice, making sure you have the camera ready in the right spot to hold the button down as they hit the ramp and go skyward. Tracking them through the sky was also no easy feet but holding the button did change things. No need for absolute timing just try to follow a steady and well timed path. Using the burst mode properly is definitely an art form but also a very powerful tool. No matter the brand of camera you may choose make sure it’s burst mode is up to standard.

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There were some difficulties with the burst mode, often the focus would shift as you swung past some of the flags or banners around the jump zone, but as long as you stayed up with the movement and stayed at steady speed the burst mode was pretty flawless.

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The girls of monster – up close and beautiful

Cute blonde Monster Babe…

There were many very cute monster babes around the show. The crowd made it difficult to get an opportunity for a group shot but a couple of the girls flashed us a smile. The Nikon even with the zoom loves up close shots. Again the clouds had cleared by this point and it turned out to be a very bright day, the Nikon responds well to lots of light, basically it will eat all the light you can give it.

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So with the Girls of Monster sitting on the back of the Monster Ute, a good raised platform a few shots were clicked off. When taking these kinds of photos you realize how much people pop their heads in a shot. Walkthroughs argghhhhh.

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By this point of the day the crowds had built up so that the hill of the esplanade was covered with people watch the Monster riders get air, it looked like the crowd was still building for six o’clock and the start of the big bands on the main stage. 5 hours in the sun was enough and it was time for a cold beer. Getting back to the RSL on Acland street was a sea of people, all seeming walking in the opposite direction.

To say the D300 will wreck you for other cameras is an understatement, it will and has. The image quality out of the box is spectacular, if image quality is at all important this is the level camera you should shoot for. Over time the camera will become more familiar, even just the button count on the camera is extreme. To be honest most compact and 3/4 body camera don’t have enough buttons for my liking, this can make their interface a little clumsy. This isn’t an issue with the D300 or any decent D-SLR camera.

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Cute Biker Monster Babe…

Over the whole 5 hours of shooting only half the battery was used, a long day of shooting should be more than possible with the second battery pack. The second battery can also be switched out for spare AA battery holder that lets you use AA as a backup power source.

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Basically the only question left is do you start saving for the Canon 650D or the Nikon and the answer to that will be different for everyone, if you have lots of Canon equipment available to you get a Canon body, same for Nikon. So just buy one, the quality will quickly stomp out any doubts about it. Do it just so you wont have to live with the knowledge that there is something this good out there and your stuck with average picture quality.

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Thanks out to St Kilda for putting on another great festival, a great day was had by all.

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Pictures by Buddha’s Brother on CrashPICS equipment, cheers Crash.

Buddha’s Brother out.…