Nikon’s D300; 12.3Mp, Live View, Picture Control & More Page 2

Light And Color Control
To test out the newest features on the D300 I spent a few weeks shooting it under various lighting conditions and settings. I was impressed with what Nikon calls Scene Recognition System, a somewhat cryptic name that makes Matrix metering a even more accurate pattern choice than in the past. In one setup shot I deliberately chose a high-contrast scene that in the past would call for spot +1 metering, that is, reading the bright highlight and using +1 exposure compensation to ensure that neither the shadows go too deep nor the highlight too gray. I shot one exposure by carefully metering with the spot +1 option and then set it on Matrix and shot without locking or making any changes. The Matrix option nailed the exposure without intrusion on my part.

Another intriguing control is the new "Active" D-Lighting. I had used this item in the Nikon Retouch menu in the past, which opened up shadow areas in a contrasty scene. This was an après-exposure change done right in the camera. Now you can play with the tonal curve before exposure, given you recognize the lighting condition that might have given you trouble in the past. There are three Active options--low, medium, and high--and knowing which one to choose will be a matter of experience. This is a clever in camera control that wrestles with the high-contrast bugaboo suffered by all digital sensors, and does give you a leg up on controlling high-contrast scenes. It worked particularly well on bright winter days and helped, but did not totally eliminate contrast problems. This is something you have to play with to get a feel for, as degree of contrast will determine how well it solves the problem. And you do have to stay in Matrix pattern for it to work.

Live View - Tripod Mode
Dim Lighting
The Tripod mode and ability to increase magnification for critical manual focus is probably the greatest benefit LiveView offers. This shot of tree lichen was made at the longest focal length of the lens (70mm, a 105mm 35mm format equivalent). The low light of the day helped the LiveView functionality. Perhaps we'll see dark viewing cloths make a comeback.
Dim light can sometimes cause overexposure, which on the whole is no big problem when the scene lacks excessive contrast, but can also make for more adjustments than you might want to make later. Some photographers even use --1 exposure compensation under these conditions. Not so with the D300, which seemed to capture the lighting mood of the scene. This shot was made on an overcast morning hike.

The fill flash, while not being more powerful than most, certainly plays well with the Scene Recognition setup. My usual fill procedure is to lock exposure on the brighter background area and then use fill for the foreground, controlling flash output through either flash exposure compensation or narrowing aperture in Aperture-Priority mode, or both. While I followed this setup for control, I found that working in Matrix and Program, of all things, worked quite well to yield a balance between brighter background and illuminated foreground--quite impressive.

In all, the exposure and focusing system in this camera is quite uncanny. In the past makers have always hinted at total exposure control, and that their evaluative, matrix, or whatever system delivered the goods in all types of lighting conditions. Exposure should never be taken for granted, and there are numerous lighting conditions that can trip us all up, but I have to say that the D300 gets pretty close to figuring out many of the lighting scenarios that would have caused many more problems in the past.

Active D-Lighting
Now available prior to exposure rather than a Nikon Retouch menu item, Active D-Lighting comes in normal, high, and low flavors, which takes some play to be able to intuit what level should be applied to various scene contrasts. To test it I shot this house and garage in the late afternoon light, taking a spot reading I used manual Exposure mode from the brighter light and added +1 exposure. I took one shot without and one shot with Active D-Lighting set to high. While repro might mute the differences, it opened the shadow areas nicely without suppressing the highlight, and without the posterization you sometimes get with too heavy a hand on the Shadow/Highlight control in Photoshop.

This is a camera that you can program to deliver just the color (and contrast, etc.) you want for every subject and scene. Like most cameras you can choose some presets that reflect the opinion of the maker as to what constitutes Vivid, Standard, etc. And like other cameras you can insert your take on things by going into the Menu and creating nuances of sharpness, saturation, brightness, contrast, and even hue variations for the presets. But the D300 takes it all a bit further. In the Shooting Menu choose "Manage Picture Control," then "Save/Edit." You can then play with all the parameters as you will, which of course will be subject to testing to ensure it's where you want it to be. Then you can actually rename the setup as "Wintertime" or "Fall Foliage" or "Portraits" or whatever. Note that the default naming is an appended number to whatever Picture Control preset you choose, but you can override, say, "Vivid-02" with more recognizable and usable appellations with the alphanumeric keypad and toggle control. This is a bit time-consuming, but once set up it should serve you well. Note that you can also do this with Monochrome/Filter combinations.