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Nikon D300S versus Nikon D3

The Nikon D300S and the Nikon D3 are two digital cameras that were announced, respectively, in July 2009 and August 2007. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on an APS-C (D300S) and a full frame (D3) sensor. The D300S has a resolution of 12.2 megapixel, whereas the D3 provides 12.1 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison: Nikon D300S vs Nikon D3

An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Nikon D300S and the Nikon D3 is provided in the side-by-side display below. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are presented. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter. If you prefer, you can also use the toggle button to switch to a comparison in percentage terms (in this case, the camera on the left side – the D300S – represents the basis for the calculations across all the size and weight measures).

Snapsort Nikon D300S vs Nikon D3
Compare D300S versus D3 top
Compare D300S and D3 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D3 is considerably larger (49 percent) than the Nikon D300S. Moreover, the D3 is substantially heavier (39 percent) than the D300S. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. A larger imaging sensor (as in the D3) will tend to go along with bigger and heavier lenses, while more compact options are available for the smaller-sensor camera (D300S). You can find a comprehensive overview of suitable optics in the Nikon Lens Catalog.

Concerning battery life, the D300S gets 950 shots out of its EN-EL3e battery, while the D3 can take 4300 images on a single charge of its EN-EL4a power pack.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(yes/no)
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Nikon D300S» 5.8 in 4.5 in 3.2 in 33.1 oz 950 Y Jul 2009 1,799- i
Nikon D3« 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.5 in 45.9 oz 4300 Y Aug 2007 4,999- i
Canon 7D« » 5.8 in 4.4 in 2.9 in 30.3 oz 800 Y Sep 2009 1,699- i
Canon 1D Mark III« » 6.1 in 6.2 in 3.1 in 40.7 oz 2200 Y Feb 2007 4,499- i
Nikon D500« » 5.8 in 4.5 in 3.2 in 30.3 oz 1240 Y Jan 2016 1,999 i i
Nikon D4« » 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.6 in 47.3 oz 2600 Y Jan 2012 5,999- i
Nikon D7000« » 5.2 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 27.5 oz 1050 Y Sep 2010 1,499- i
Nikon D3S« » 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.5 in 43.7 oz 4200 Y Oct 2009 5,199- i
Nikon D700« » 5.8 in 4.8 in 3.0 in 37.9 oz 1000 Y Jul 2008 2,999- i
Nikon D90« » 5.2 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 24.8 oz 850 n Aug 2008 1,299- i
Nikon D300« » 5.8 in 4.5 in 2.9 in 32.6 oz 1000 Y Aug 2007 1,799- i
Nikon D2Xs« » 6.2 in 5.9 in 3.4 in 44.2 oz 3800 Y Jun 2006 4,699- i
Nikon D200« » 5.8 in 4.4 in 2.9 in 32.5 oz 400 Y Nov 2005 1,699- i
Nikon D2X« » 6.2 in 5.9 in 3.4 in 44.2 oz 3800 Y Sep 2004 4,999- i

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D300S was launched at a markedly lower price (by 64 percent) than the D3, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

 

Sensor comparison: Nikon D300S vs Nikon D3

The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Nikon D300S features an APS-C sensor and the Nikon D3 a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the D3 is 131 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.5 and 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Nikon D300S and Nikon D3 sensor measures

Despite having a smaller sensor, the Nikon D300S offers a higher resolution of 12.2 megapixel, compared with 12.1 MP of the Nikon D3. This megapixel advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 5.53μm versus 8.43μm for the D3). However, it should be noted that the D300S is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year and 11 months) than the D3, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that partly offset its pixel-size disadvantage.

D300S versus D3 MP

For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the D3 offers substantially better image quality than the D300S (overall score 11 points higher). The advantage is based on 1 bits higher color depth, and 1.5 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Nikon D300S» APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.512.278770
Nikon D3« Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832-23.512.2229081
Canon 7D« » APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.011.785466
Canon 1D Mark III« » APS-H 10.1 3888 2592-22.711.7107871
Nikon D500« » APS-C 20.7 5568 37124K/30p24.014.0132483
Nikon D4« » Full Frame 16.2 4928 32801080/30p24.713.1296589
Nikon D7000« » APS-C 16.1 4928 326410800/24p23.513.9116780
Nikon D3S« » Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832720/24p23.512.0325382
Nikon D700« » Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832-23.512.2230380
Nikon D90« » APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.597773
Nikon D300« » APS-C 12.2 4288 2848-22.112.067967
Nikon D2Xs« » APS-C 12.2 4288 2848-22.210.948959
Nikon D200« » APS-C 10.0 3872 2592-22.311.558364
Nikon D2X« » APS-C 12.2 4288 2848-22.110.947659

Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. The D300S indeed provides movie recording capabilities, while the D3 does not. The highest resolution format that the D300S can use is 720/24p.

 

Feature comparison: Nikon D300S vs Nikon D3

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The D300S and the D3 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Nikon D300S and Nikon D3 along with similar information for a selection of comparators. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
  Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Nikon D300S»optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 8000 7.0 Y n
Nikon D3«optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 8000 11.0 n n
Canon 7D« »optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 8000 8.0 Y n
Canon 1D Mark III« »optical Y 3.0 230 fixed n 8000 10.0 n n
Nikon D500« »optical Y 3.2 2359 tilting Y 8000 10.0 n n
Nikon D4« »optical Y 3.2 921 fixed n 8000 11.0 n n
Nikon D7000« »optical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n
Nikon D3S« »optical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 8000 11.0 n n
Nikon D700« »optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 8000 8.0 Y n
Nikon D90« »optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 4000 4.5 Y n
Nikon D300« »optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n
Nikon D2Xs« »optical Y 2.5 230 fixed n 8000 5.0 n n
Nikon D200« »optical Y 2.5 230 fixed n 8000 5.0 Y n
Nikon D2X« »optical Y 2.5 235 fixed n 8000 5.0 n n

Both the D300S and the D3 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D3 was replaced by the Nikon D4, while the D300S was followed by the Nikon D500.

Review summary: Nikon D300S vs Nikon D3

So what conclusions can be drawn? Is there a clear favorite between the Nikon D300S and the Nikon D3? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.


Advantages of the Nikon D300S:

  • Broader imaging potential: Can record not only still images but also 720/24p movies.
  • More compact: Is smaller (147x115mm vs 160x157mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 362g or 28 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (64 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Is somewhat more recent (announced 1 year and 11 months after the D3).


Arguments in favor of the Nikon D3:

  • Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (11 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (1.5 stops ISO advantage).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (11 vs 7 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (4300 versus 950) out of a single battery charge.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2007).

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the D300S comes out slightly ahead of the D3 (6 : 5 points). However, the relative importance of the various individual camera aspects will vary according to personal preferences and needs, so that you might like to apply corresponding weights to the particular features before making a decision on a new camera.

D300S 06:05 D3

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the handling experience and imaging performance when actually working with the D300S or the D3. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable. This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The table below summarizes the assessments of some of the best known camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, photographyblog). You can find the full text of the reviews by clicking on the site logo in the table header.

Review scores
  Camera cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Nikon D300S»HiRec82/1004/55/54.5/5 Jul 2009 1,799- i
Nikon D3«-HiRec5/5rev4.5/5 Aug 2007 4,999- i
Canon 7D« »HiRec84/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2009 1,699- i
Canon 1D Mark III« »---rev- Feb 2007 4,499- i
Nikon D500« »HiRec91/1004.5/55/55/5 Jan 2016 1,999 i i
Nikon D4« »--4.5/5-4.5/5 Jan 2012 5,999- i
Nikon D7000« »-80/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,499- i
Nikon D3S« »-89/1004.5/55/55/5 Oct 2009 5,199- i
Nikon D700« »89/100HiRec4.5/55/54.5/5 Jul 2008 2,999- i
Nikon D90« »HiRecHiRec4/55/54.5/5 Aug 2008 1,299- i
Nikon D300« »HiRecHiRec5/5rev4.5/5 Aug 2007 1,799- i
Nikon D2Xs« »---rev- Jun 2006 4,699- i
Nikon D200« »HiRecHiRecrev5/5- Nov 2005 1,699- i
Nikon D2X« »-HiRec-rev- Sep 2004 4,999- i

Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings are only valid when refering to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just make your choice using the following search menu. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If the camera you are interested in is not available, please contact me, and I will try to add information on that model to the database.

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