Mastering the Nikon D300 By Darrell Young

I didn't really need a Nikon D300. I already had a perfectly  wonderful Nikon D2x with only about 15,000 actuations on it, plus a great Nikon D80 with about 12,000 actuations. But, when a friend upgraded to a Nikon D700 and decided to sell his two D300's with only about 7,000 actuations on one of them, I bought the latter. I already knew the operations of the D2x pretty thoroughly so I figured I'd breeze right through the D300 set up. In a way, I did, but there were a few distinct differences.

As luck would have it, a new book from Rocky Nook fortuitously appeared just in the nick of time. Darrell Young's Mastering the Nikon D300 is a 219 page  paperback that takes the pain out of setting up your new Nikon in a friendly and informative manner, that, to quote the  book blurb, "…makes the reader feel as if a friend dropped in to  share his experience and knowledge while explaining the hows and whys  in simple terminology." I have to agree with the blurb. That's exactly the way it reads. I just wish that the engineers who write Nikon's camera manuals would write for photographers instead of other engineers, and try produce a readable camera manual.

And speaking of camera manuals, how about a manual that would remain open on my desktop when I put it down? Such a simple request. The manual that comes with a Nikon (and just about everyone else's cameras as well) is bound tighter than a virgin in a volcano and barely stays open with a brick simutaneously placed on each opposing page.

While Rocky Nook's books won't quite stay open by themselves, they  have come a bit closer toward that goal, having only to anchor down  one side of the dual pages while you handle the camera. (How they managed that I'll never quite understand.) It always pleases me to open one of Rocky Nook's books and see the line "printed on acid-free paper" somewhere around the introduction or  table-of-contents pages.  It gives me a feeling that the book is an  investment for continued use and enjoyment rather than an expendable pile of paper that will fade and crack and become birdcage liner. My wife and  I both retain most of our books. The shelves in our house  overflow with volumes that, like true friends, remain long after their initial  introductions have past. Colleagues often come to me to when they seek outdated reference volumes that still contain just the information that they need to  know. I have a feeling that this volume will attain that status in a  few years, but right now it will prove invaluable to the new owner of  a Nikon D300.

Darrell Young (that's Digital Darrell if you hang around  www.Nikonians.org) presents you with not only the what when setting  up your D300, but also the why and how behind the information. He  does it in nine well-organized chapters, beginning with

  • Chapter 1,  Using the Nikon D300, in which he gives us the background on the Nikon  D100, D200, and finally the third generation—the camera that  interests us—the D300. 
  • Chapter 2 – Exposure Metering, Exposure Modes, and Histogram  gives us the background on both the photographic techniques involved  and the way the camera delivers, and at the same time tells us what  we can expect from the system that drives the D300.
  • Chapter 3 – Multi-CAM 3500DX Autofocus explains how the focus  works in the Nikon D300 and the various ways it can be configured to  work for the photographer.
  • Chapter 4 – White Balance begins with the explanation of what  white balance really is and how it effects photograpic images and  then continues with the ways to control white balance in everyday  shooting.
  • Chapter 5 – Shooting Menu Banks explains the variety of ways  that the camera can be customized to perform exactly what the  photographer wants under a variety of conditions.
  • Chapter 6 – Custom Setting Banks gives us the ability to program  the camera to respond in different ways by simply switching from one  of five preprogrammed banks to another. This makes it easy to have  settings stored and ready to access for a number of potentially  changing shooting environments.
  • Chapter 7 – Playback Menu allows you to control the way(s) that  images can be previewed, hidden, deleted, rotated, shown as a slide  show, or sent to a printer.
  • Chapter 8 – Setup Menu, Retouch Menu, and My Menu covers how the  look and the feel of the camera can be controlled.  Formatting the  compact flash card, setting LCD brightness, controlling the loudness  of the camera "beep" and the time and language your computer uses as  well as other functions are controlled by the setup menu.  The amount  of in-camera retouching can be controlled via menu choices as well.   Finally, menus that need to be changed often can be grouped in a  readilly available spot in the My Menu category.
  • Chapter 9 – Nikon Creative Lighting System, the last chapter,  while not directly D300 controls oriented, is rather about what the  D300 can do when it is teamed up with additonal accessories such as  the Nikon SB-600 and SB-800 speedlights and the SU-800 Wireless  Speedlight Commander Unit.

Tips and tricks are not given a chapter all to themselves but are  spread nicely throughout the volume when appropriate. One of the real  advantages of  Darrell Young's approach to writing is that as he  discusses each characteristic of the menus and settings he gives you  the relevant pages in the Nikon manual itself. This way, you can  check Nikon's version against Darrell's explanations. When you do  this I think you will find Darrell Young's version as the better of  the two.

Since I had previously set up my Nikon D2x and it uses a similar menu  system I thought I would have minimal changes to implement; however,  Darrell Young's explanations and tips caused me to rethink a few of  my settings. The improvement in my image exposures proves this out.

For me, the bonus in the book was the chaper on Nikon's Creative  Lighting System. I had a Nikon SB-800 flash unit, but on the advice  of another photographer friend of mine, I purchased two more to make  up a rather complete system of SB-800s.

My usual shooting is with available light or around continuous  lighting situations such as is found in film and television work. The  only real flash work I have needed to do is with on-camera flash or  an off-camera hand-held unit attached via a remote cord. In the case  of the continuous lighting—"hot light" as it is sometimes called, the only real adjustments that I've needed to make were with the color  balance of the light and proper exposure.

With the new wireless set up and the three Nikon SB-800 flash units,  I first checked out Nikon's manuals that accompanied the SB-800 flash  units and found that they were apparently written by the same people  that did Nikon camera manuals.  That meant that they were quite close  to being incomprehensible, as usual.  It's a case of, way more information  than you need, spread over too many different sections of the manual.

Back to Darrell Young's chapter on the Nikon Creative Lighting System  and I found clear, concise, and precise set up instructions to get  the SB-800s into the configurations that I wanted.  So off I went to  my wife's work studio to set up some test shots with a few figure  manequins, some drapes, and a wig or two that are all items in her  vast repository of art items.  It's going to take a little work to  get this all figured out, but it's too cold to go outside and I have  time and a good mentor in Mastering the Nikon D300.

Rocky Nook and Darrell Young ("Digital Darrell") have produced a well- written and helpful book for the new owner of a Nikon D300.  I find  that I have several dozens of paper tags attached to pages that I  want to be able to find easily again.  It's a reference that will go  in the bag with the camera (I forgot to tell you they physical size  is such that it will fit down the back slot of any medium or larger  camera bag).  In paperback, and 219 pages, and at 6" x 9" in size  it's bigger than the manuals that come with the camera or flash, but  not the full 8.5" x 11" or larger that comes with the usual full-size  book.

If you have a new Nikon D300 and are pondering over the accompanying  manuals you need Darrell Young's Mastering the Nikon D300.

Mastering the Nikon D300 by Darrell Young, Rocky Nook Press, ISBN:  978-1-933952-34-5, US $39.95 CAN $39.95.