My Old D2x Versus my New D300
Regular readers here probably know I sold my trusty Nikon D2x and bought a D300 when they first came out late last year. There are a lot of D2x and D2Xs on the used market right now. Since a used D2x and a new D300 currently sell for more or less the same price, you may be wondering which is a better buy. Both the D2x (as well as the D2Xs) and the D300 produce the exact same size image and have effectively the same resolution. The truth is, both are great cameras, but they are not the same.
The D2x is built like a tank and is slightly bigger and heavier. Shooters who handhold will appreciate the built-in vertical grip, although you can add the MB-D10 grip to a D300 for a somewhat comparable feel. Throughput on the D2x is incredible. Set it for continuous servo and hold down the shutter release and it feels like you are firing a machine gun not a camera. Speed can be improved further when needed by means of the available 2x high speed crop mode, although this does lower the resolution. It is nonetheless remarkable how good a 6.8 megapixel image can be. Battery life on the D2x is somewhat better, but this is primarily because the batteries are bigger. So too is the battery charger by the way so it's nice to have a smaller one to carry around now. Battery life on the D300 is still excellent.
The most obvious thing one notices when first seeing the D300 is the huge LCD screen — it covers nearly the entire back of the camera. The size is exaggerated further since the back (and the whole camera) is slightly smaller than the D2x, making the LCD seem even bigger. It is truly a joy to be able to view images I've just shot on a screen that big but it can become addictive too. The D300 supports higher ISO speeds with lower noise that the D2x. The auto-focus system takes a bit of getting used to, but my feeling at this point is that the CAM-3500 is slightly better than the CAM-2000 module used in the D2x and D2Xs. Yes, there are now 51 focus points instead of only 11 but I've never been one to be wowed simple numbers.
Speaking of numbers, the D300 supports 14-bit raw captures as I've looked at in depth previously. For most images, there is little difference between 14 and 12-bit, although there are marginal improvements to be had in certain situations. 14-bit files are of course bigger, but with compact flash sizes getting bigger all the time that's less of a concern than it once was. What will be a concern for some is the fact that the camera slows down to only 2.5 fps when shooting 14-bit raw. That won't affect landscape shooters much, but wildlife and sports shooters will see that as a major limitation. If you compare jpeg capture speeds so as to remove buffer size issues from the equation though, the D300 can hit 8 fps with the MB-D10 attached while you have to drop down to crop mode on the D2x to get 8 fps.
I'm a bit more comfortable with the control layout of the D2x than the D300, although the differences are minimal. Since the LCD on the D300 is so big, the buttons along the left are that much closer to the edge of the body and my thumb doesn't hit them quite as easily as on the D2x. Adding an L-bracket though solved that and I'm a big fan of L-brackets anyway.
Nikon considers both cameras to be "pro" models, although the D2x is more clearly in that space. Think of the D300 to be a small pro body and the D2x a big one perhaps. The D300 is of course essentially an upgrade to the D200 which Nikon described still using the word "professional," but more obliquely.
Bottom line is that at least some wildlife and sports shooters may opt for the D2x or D2Xs, but for my needs the D300 is the winner. I mostly appreciate its smaller size and weight for long hikes. I'm still not yet sure if 14-bit raw is all that necessary, but it does provide a bit more insurance for demanding situations. So too does the improved performance at higher ISO speeds. When shooting at the edge of light, I'll take all I can get.