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New year, new tools Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lincoln's Makenzie Blythe jumps for a bucket in the second quarter of the Cardinals' 72-19 win over Cleveland Tuesday night. For the first three or four minutes, the Warriors hung with Lincoln. But the Cardinals finished the first quarter ahead 23-10, and never looked back in the non-conference game.

OK, this post is mostly about my new toy tool: today, I bought a new Nikon D300. One of my D200's is at the shop getting cleaned up for sale. (Want to buy one? Email me!)

Of course the folks at Nikon have been working to improve the camera since I bought the D200 two years ago, and I expected to be impressed. But putting it to the test tonight ... well, I'm impressed. Really impressed.

(right) D200 at ISO3200, 1/400, F/2.8, 200mm

First, for reference, here is a shot from tonight's game between the Lady Cards and Cleveland. This is a 100% crop of the file as it came out of the camera. Without lights, 1/400 at ISO3200 (actually called "HI1.0" on the D200) is as fast as you can shoot at Lincoln. Most of the basketball shots you've seen on my blog from Lincoln's home games were shot at that setting.

Compare that to what the D300 can do at ISO3200 (below, same exposure).

Then, the D300 can go up to its own "HI1.0," equivalent to ISO6400. Below is an image from the D3
00 at ISO6400, 1/640, f/3.2. Certainly more grain than at ISO3200, but less than the D200, and at twice the shutter speed. So I'm happy on that account. And with 12-megapixel images (compared to 10-MP on the D200), the new camera's images will get compressed more before viewing, which tends to reduce the apparent grain.

And then there's the matter of focusing. Two years ago the D200 seemed pretty impressive with 11 focus points. The D300 blows that away with 51 points to choose from. The points are smaller (therefore more precise), and allegedly the AF software is better too.

One night of shooting isn't much of a test, but the focusing seemed much improved to me, which was my biggest reason for upgrading.

There are a few other benefits with the new camera, like a bigger LCD screen, brighter display through the eyepiece, and an optional "live view" mode that will put the live image onto the LCD like most P&S cameras. I haven't tried it yet, but that will be useful for shooting in awkward situations like right on the floor or perhaps overhead, to give me a better idea of what I'm aiming at.

The D300 can also shoot more frames per second than the D200. That feature, like the higher resolution, is both good and bad—on the one hand the motor drive is more likely to capture the ideal moment. On the other hand, that will mean more, larger files to manage/store on my computer, and fewer pictures on my CF cards. The unprocessed JPEGs are about 6-7 MB.

Now I just have to read the manual to figure out how to use all these new features ... and put up with the D200 as the #2 camera for another year or so.