Expert Recommendation

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Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $1500
By Fotoguy
Expert (27 Recommendations and 7 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
March 9, 2009 Updated: March 10, 2009
Overview

It would not be inappropriate to call Nikon’s D300 a baby-D3, just without the full-frame sensor. With a newly designed 12.3 million pixel (effective) DX-format CMOS sensor, 14-bit A/D conversion, EXPEED image processing engine, Active D-Lighting contrast control, 150,000 actuations shutter, high-res TFT LCD, Live View, and excellent build quality, it is the perfect camera for the advanced amateur shooter or the pro on a budget, and my “Best-in-Class” pick.

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My Best In Class Pick
Nikon D300 (Body Only)

The D300 is a little gem situated comfortably, both in features and price, between Nikon’s serious amateur DSLRs, the D80 and D90, and the purely professional D3. Being the third release in the D-hundred series, it is a major upgrade over the D200 and the best without question.

Much of the D300’s superior image producing ability comes from adapting technology from the D3 beginning with something new for Nikon: a CMOS sensor. In all previous cameras, Nikon used the venerable CCD, but beginning with the D3, they switched to the more power efficient, less noise producing CMOS sensor. And since less initial noise means less noise reduction required, this results in cleaner, sharper, more finely detailed pictures.

Complementing the new sensor is the EXPEED Image Processing Engine, also, adapted from the D3. This lightning fast computer enables the D300 to be to “ready” almost instantly when turned on, and to maintain frames rates up to 8 images per second with the accessory battery grip (6 without) even in RAW. Plus, it provides a host of useful “in camera” image processing features.

Then there is the high resolution three inch TFT LCD. The same one as on the D3. With 922,000 dots of resolution, it is vastly superior to the conventional 230,000 dot LCDs on most other cameras, and must be seen to be appreciated. Plus, it is more easily viewable in bright daylight which makes it a breeze when using Live View outside.

So, at last, Nikon has succeeded in producing an entry-level professional camera that won’t break the bank with all the necessary features (and some unnecessary ones–when are there not?) to make photography a rewarding experience.

Comparison with Canon EOS 50D (Body Only)

Although equivalent to the D300 in hardware, features, performance and price, the Canon 50D falls short at bettering it in overall image quality even with its 15 MP CMOS sensor. Image noise is the problem. Or, I should say, excessive image noise. With increasing ISOs, images become disproportionately noisier (to the point of being disconcerting) necessitating aggressive noise reduction which unfortunately destroys fine image detail, too, resulting in pictures that are soft.

So, if you routinely need to use ISOs 800 and above, this is not the camera for you.

Pros
  • +
    12.3 MP CMOS self-cleaning sensor
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    14-bit A/D conversion
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    EXPEED image processor
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    Active D-lighting
  • +
    Pentaprism viewfinder
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    150,000 actuation shutter
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    Hi-res (922,000 dot) 3" TFT LCD
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    Live View
Cons
  • -
    So-so Auto White Balance
Nikon D300 (Body Only) is the Best Digital SLR Camera Overall Under $1500
Where to buy
Nikon D300 (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $2999
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Resolution: 12.3MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Nikon D300 (Body Only)
2
Canon EOS 50D (Body Only)
Customer Rating
Price $2999.95 $1249.00
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Sensor Type
CMOS CMOS
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Sensor Size
23.6 x 15.8 mm 22.3 x 14.9 mm
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Effective Sensor Resolution
12.3 megapixels 15.1 megapixels
Anti-Dust Technology Low-pass Filter Vibration Low-pass Filter Vibration
Max Shooting Speed (continuous) 6.1 frames/sec 6.3 frames/sec
Compatible Lenses Nikon F Canon EF-S
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LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 3.0 in.
LCD Screen Resolution 920000 pixels 920000 pixels
Size (W x H x D) 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in. 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in.
Weight (without batteries) 29.1 oz 25.7 oz
Weight (with batteries) 31.9 oz 29.0 oz
2
Canon EOS 50D (Body Only)

Canon has hit the market with the 50D and its amazing 15.1 megapixel (effective) CMOS sensor, and therein lies the rub. The damn sensor is excessively noisy due to its design, and no amount of noise control can totally correct the problem. In many cases, 10 and 12 MP DSLRs produce better images, especially at ISOs 800 and above. With ISOs less than 400, the 50D’s images are no better than its 10 and 12 MP brethren. Other than that, the 50D is a quality built camera with numerous, useful features, but because of the mostly poor image performance, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.

Canon EOS 50D (Body Only) is one of the Best Digital SLR Cameras Overall Under $1500
Where to buy
Canon EOS 50D (Body Only)
  • Best Price: $1249
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Resolution: 15.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com

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