Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

Camera Reviews | Nikon  |  18 Comments | All Tech & Gadget Reviews

Nikon doesn’t make it easy for consumers to decide which of their cameras to buy. The company produces many different models of SLRs with overlapping feature sets. And the model numbers doesn’t have a logical progression to them. What camera novice would guess that the Nikon D200 would be a more advanced camera than the D60 but less advanced than the lower-numbered D3?

To help sort through the options we took a close look at the three most popular Nikon SLR camera models on the market today: the D80, D90 and D300. Which one is best for you? Read on . . .

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300
nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300
nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

Camera Body Build & Design

There’s something about the Nikon D80 and D90 cameras that just feels right. Both cameras are the same size—5.2 inches high, 4.1 inches wide, 3 inches deep (132 x 103 x 77 mm)—though they are proportioned a little differently and the D80 is 1.3 ounces (35 g) lighter. The ergonomics of both are great, especially on the D90. If you were to pick up and handle either a D80 or D90 you would conclude that the build quality was very solid . . .

. . . until you compared it to the D300.

The Nikon D300 feels exactly like a professional camera should. While the D80 and D90 are made from polycarbonate and D300 is forged from a rugged magnesium alloy. Crucially, the D300 includes enhanced weather protection. And the difference is more than skin deep: The D300 is made from superior parts giving it a shutter life expectancy that’s 50% longer than that of the D80/90.

In short: the Nikon D80 and D90 are well built cameras. The D300 is built even better.

Compared the D80 and D90, the D300 is a half inch (14mm) wider and taller but slightly more narrow. The D300 also weighs almost 8 ounces (more than 200 grams) than the D90.

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300 nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300


Nikon took their very good D80 camera and added several new features to create the D90. Arguably, the most significant of these is a higher resolution processor (the D90 shoots at 12.3 megapixels versus the D80′s 10.2), a live view mode, a significantly brighter (and slightly larger) screen, a dust cleaning sensor, and the ability to shoot video. There are no features the D80 has that the D90 doesn’t.

Nikon D300 is even more feature-rich. The D300 has in-camera vignette control, 9-frame bracketing, a built-in intervalometer and a PC Sync port for external lighting—none of those are found on the D90. Compared to the D90, the D300 also has a more sophisticated metering sensor, an auto focus system that functions on 51 points (versus 11 on the D90), RAW files recordable with 14-bits of tonal detail (the D90′s is 12-bit), 6 frames per second of continuous shooting (4.5 fps on the D90) and 100% coverage on the viewfinder (compared to 96% on the D90). These upgrades are likely to be important to you if you are a professional. They are not likely important to an amateur.

The major feature the D90 has that the D300 doesn’t is the ability to shoot in video. Though the D90 can not auto focus in video mode and the video quality produced by the D90, while certainly watchable, is not particularly impressive to us. The D90 shoots video at a choppy 24 frames-per-second compared to the 30 fps most portable video cameras shoot at. Check out this sample video:

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

A summary of some of the most important feature differences between the Nikon D80, D90 and D300:

Feature Nikon 80D Nikon 90D Nikon 300D
  Price (body only)   US$1000, but only $900 with kit (!) US$900 US$1,500
  Effective megapixels   10.2 12.3 12.3
  ISO range   100 – 1600 (3200 expanded) 200 – 3200 (100-6400 expanded) 200 – 3200 (6400 expanded)
  Screen   2.5-inch, 95% frame coverage, 230,000 pixels 3-inch, 97% frame coverage, 920,000 pixels 3-inch, 100% frame coverage, 920,000 pixels
  Weight (with battery)   668 g (23.5 oz) 703 g (24.8 oz) 925 g (32.6 oz)
  Image sensor /
  CCD (not self cleaning) /
Standard Nikon
CMOS (self cleaning) /
CMOS (self cleaning) /
  Optional GPS   No Yes (with GP-1 unit) Yes (with GP-1 unit)
  Video capability   No Yes (at 24 fps) No
  Auto focus points   11 points 11 51
  Continuous shooting   3 frames per second 4.5 fps 6 fps (8fps with MB-D10 grip)
  Live view   No Yes Yes
  Memory card type   SD SD CompactFlash (types I and II)
Feature Nikon 80D Nikon 90D Nikon 300D
  Body /
Weather protection
  Polycarbonate /
Okay quality
Polycarbonate /
Magnesium alloy /
  Start up time /
Shutter lag
  .18 sec /
80 ms
.15 sec /
65 ms
.13 sec /
45 ms
  Shutter durability   100,000 exposures 100,000 150,000
  On-camera editing options   D-Lighting
Red-eye correction
Filter effects
Colour balance
Small picture
Image overlay
Redeye correction
Filter effects
Colour balance
Small picture
Image overlay
RAW processing
Distortion control
Quick retouch
Redeye correction
Filter effects
Colour balance
Small picture
Image overlay
  HDMI output   No Yes Yes
  Lateral chromatic aberration & peripheral illumination correction   No Yes Yes
  Battery Life   approx. 600 images (without a flash) approx. 850 approx. 1,000
Feature Nikon 80D Nikon 90D Nikon 300D

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300 nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

Picture Quality

The Nikon D90 and D300 both have upgraded image processors compared to the D80. So we expected both to have similar photo quality to each other and both to be superior to the D80.

In actual fact, the D90 and D80 take virtually identical photographs. At higher ISOs the D90 produces very slightly less noisy photos. That’s the only difference.

There is some difference in image quality between the D90 and D300. At lower and mid ISOs the D90 produces a higher contrast image, the D300 captures a bit more detail and sharpness on a per-pixel basis. Some people like the contrasty results of the D90 but Spot Cool Stuff greatly prefers the D300 for one simple reason: Contrast can very easily be added in the post-processing, image details can not be.

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300 nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

At higher ISOs, the images from the D90 are maybe slightly less noisy than those from the D300.

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300 nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

Add it all up and there’s some difference in the quality of the images produced by the D80, D90 and D300. But not much. Certainly, the difference in image quality is tiny compared to the differences in build quality, feature sets and price.

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300 nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

nikon 2 digital camera reviews  Nikon D80 vs D90 vs D300

Conclusion & Recomendations

First things first: We see no reason to buy a Nikon D80. None. The only advantage to the D80 is that it weighs slightly less than the D90. At the moment, the D80 isn’t even less significantly less expensive than the D90. And it would have to be much less expensive—$400~$500 less expensive—for us to even consider the D80. If you are looking for a small, light, inexpensive SLR camera then you’d be much better off with the excellent Olympus Evolt E420. (Read our review of it here.)

Between the D90 and D300 our recommendation is . . .

The Nikon D300.

Yes, the D300 is about 50% more expensive than the D90. Consider that the D300′s shutter will last 50% longer, that the D300′s considerably more rugged and weatherized body will last more than 50% longer and that the D300 has a more professional feature set and can shoot more photos between battery recharges. Add together those benefits and it seems clear to us that the D300 is worth the extra investment. This is particularly true if you are looking for a camera that you expect to be using many years from now.

Some people are drawn to the D90 by its video capabilities. We would discourage you from being one of them. Yes, it is cool to be able to shoot video on an SLR. But the 24 fps video quality is less-than-outstanding; the D90 does not auto focus in video mode. If you want to shoot video you’d be much better off selecting an SLR based on its ability to take still photos and then pairing your camera with a $200 Flip Mino HD (read our review). The Mino shoots HD-quality video at 30 fps, better than the D90. And the Mino is highly pocketable—you can bring it with you in circumstances when having an SLR camera is not practical.

There is one group for whom we would recommend the Nikon D90: those with a very tight camera budget for whom the extra investment in a D300 would result in buying a lower quality lens. If you are in this category, you’ll get better photographs selecting the D90 and then putting the $500 you would have spent on a D300 to use buying a higher quality lens.

For more on that, read our review of the best Nikon lenses.



NIKON D300: BODY ONLY | CAMERA & KIT (2 lenses, case + more) | BEST MANUAL | CHEAT SHEET

Buy local in . . .
  THE UK: D80 | D90 | D300
  GERMANY: D80 | D90 | D300
  FRANCE: D80 | D90 | D300
  JAPAN: D80 | D90 | D300

Related Spot Cool Stuff posts:
  The Best Nikon Lenses
  The Canon 40D and 50D Compared
  Megapixels To Photo Print Size Ratio
  The Best Camera Backpacks



  1. David Leung says:

    April 21st, 2010at 11:06 am(#)

    The author who compared the image quality of the D90 vs D300 images is certainly bias. Sorry to say he needs his eyes examined. The D90 is definitely less noisy at ISO 6400, yet the author says differently. Comparing the price and weight differences, I went with the D90. When I have to carry two D90(one with 70-200 f/2.8 AFS VR, and the other with the 300mm F/4 AFS) the lighter D90 is the way to go.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Jack B says:

    March 7th, 2010at 9:58 am(#)

    This is a really great article. I would emphasize the importance of how a camera feels over any individual feature. I personally prefer the larger and weightier D300 (I shoot with a D200 which is essentially the same weight/size).

    One other note: now that the D300s has come out, second hand D300 cameras are easier to come by and are close in price to a new D90 making the comparison even more valid.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Phatman says:

    October 10th, 2009at 3:44 pm(#)

    The D300 is better in every way simple as. It’s just a question of price that’s all.

    [Reply to this comment]

  4. Gary Montagner says:

    September 29th, 2009at 10:40 am(#)

    Thank you for the great review.
    I really enjoyed reading through it all.

    Please keep it up.
    Cheers, Gary

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Rainer Lehmann says:

    August 20th, 2009at 11:40 pm(#)

    I do not agree on your image quality comparisons. The D90 came out a year later and has higher color depth, higher dynamic range and much better low light ISO sensitivity than the D300, so the overall image quality is better, and noise performance over 800 ISO quite a bit better. I have a friend who has a D90 and we shot the same pictures in low light (I have a D300) at 1600 and 3200 ISO. The D90 is simply better there. You don’t see it always on clear objects (like yours). I even found the D300 noisier in light to heavy shadows at ISO 400 than my D200 or D70. I couldn’t believe this and repeated trial pictures over and over again !! But the D300 always was less clean in the shadows, even at ISO 200.

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Craig M. says:

    June 12th, 2009at 5:20 pm(#)

    Your article was very interesting. But I would like to point out, that since digital cameras continue to evolve and improve, one may be hard pressed not to “move up” to the next best camera available. Nikon and Canon seem to crank out new cameras about every 18 months. So I seriously doubt that a professional, owning a D300 will keep it longer than a few years at most — because they’ll want the next, latest great thing. Pit the Nikon D300 against the Nikon D700. No contest. And the price is justified in the same way you justified it between the D90 and the D300. This is where I disagree. I feel, (as Ken Rockwell, correctly points out in his comparisons), that the D90 is a standout for the performance and value. More important is a good lens. For the savings, you could get a D90 and an excellent lens which will do more for your pictures than a D300 and a lesser quality lens. It all comes down to price/performance value. As for me, I considered the D80, D200, D300 and finally the D90 when it came out. I made the plunge. I coupled the D90 with the Nikon 18-200mm lens. I consider myself a prosumer/photo enthusiast. The pictures I have taken and amazed even ME. The layout is superior on the D90 and the noise reduction — very visible in pictures — is superior in the D90. With a great len(s), the video can yield some great results — provided you know the limits of this first generation video capability. All in all, I find it nearly impossible to beat the price/performance threshold. Oh, and, I purchased a Delkin skin for my D90, which, for a mere $35 came a long way in giving me protection against the elements as well as bump and scratch protection. I trimmed a little bit off the bottom of the Delkin skin so that the D90 would accept a battery grip. I may, in time purchase a 10-24 or 12-24mm Nikon lens, as wide angles are great. But for now, I can’t imagine a better combination than the D90 and 18-200mm lens. I spent less money on those two items than what the D300 alone would cost. I see no useful benefit of 51 focal points and additional weatherizing or magnesium body. The polycarbonate body on the D90 is rugged enough and the Delkin skin gives me additional. Hey, for just slightly more than the D300 body, I even managed to get a Nikon Speedlight SB-600 Flash unit. Dollar for dollar, and considering price/performance, I honestly feel the D90 is a better way to go for most individuals. (With all due respect, It is worth reading Ken Rockwell’s comparison reviews on these cameras, too). A nice job on the reviews. Keep up the fine work.

    [Reply to this comment]

  7. mattatouille says:

    June 11th, 2009at 7:18 pm(#)

    I think D300 is only a good investment if you really need the extra shooting speed. I would much rather get a D90 and spend the difference on a lens, either wide-zoom for landscape, a high-quality sigma midrange F2.8 or longer telephoto. I think shutter durability might be a little exaggerated..I think in general Nikon is very conservative with this figure. Plus if you’re going to be shooting more than 100,000 actuations, you’re probably in the enthusiast-semipro range anyways. People like that will appreciate the D90′s diminuitive package to couple with a D700/. If you’re going to spend for a D300, I say its way better to just bump up to D700 since you’ll get a camera that can last you many more years with the FX sensor (as in usefulness). I see DX having a timeframe of no longer than 5 years at this point.

    [Reply to this comment]

  8. John SMith says:

    May 27th, 2009at 7:35 pm(#)

    When I bought my D80 midyear in enlgand it was £450 with 18-55 kit lens while the D90 was £800-900 with 18-105vr.

    Basically the D80 was similarly priced in jessops to a D40 or D60.

    The advice should be(If you allready have a decent digital body), if you bought a 70-200vr f2.8 for £1500 vs the £1000 for a D300 youd have a far better investment.

    The D300 will be worth 2/3 to 1/2 that in 2 years while the lens may devalue in 5 years but will probably be relevant for 10 years. Ie buy lenses till you have good ones then buy a better body.

    [Reply to this comment]

  9. Drew says:

    May 21st, 2009at 9:43 am(#)

    Thanks for the review. I was especially interested in the part where you mentioned that the D300′s AF was superior to the D90′s. In my experience, in real world shooting indoors with fast moving subjects i.e. my kids, using AF 11pts, there isn’t much difference in the AF between the 2 cameras.

    The D300′s “3D” 51pts mode seems to me to work in areas where there is enough contrast between the subject and the background e.g. a bird in flight, however, it really doesnt work that great in the situations in which I shoot.

    [Reply to this comment]

  10. Krista says:

    May 12th, 2009at 7:36 pm(#)

    This was a great review…I already have the D90, but never knew if it was the right purchase for my needs. I don’t use the video option, and I really don’t need it. But I also don’t shoot many fast moving objects so the capabilities of the D90 have been perfect for my portrait endeavors. I found the D90 at an electronics franchise that was having a going out of business close-out sale….so I got a great deal on it. Now, with all the money I have saved, I can afford to invest in better lenses than the 18-135mm that came with it….and external flashes. Little by little of course, but the opportunity is more there than if I were to purchase the D300. I also remember holding the D300 when choosing which camera I wanted, and it seemed like a large awkward brick to me….but the fact that I am a dainty, light weighted, young woman might have had something to do with that! I love my D90…I would recommend it to anyone I see…

    [Reply to this comment]

  11. Sue says:

    May 10th, 2009at 11:09 pm(#)

    That’s a killer article you have there. One thing that I was curious about, I read that the D90 is the D80′s replacement at but is it still worth mentioning in such an up to date review? Is the cost difference substantial enough to actually warrant it being included in the comparison rather than another brand’s DSLR?

    Maybe it was for people who might be upgrading. Thanks for the post.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Spot Cool Tech Stuff Reply:

    Hi Sue,

    When we started researching this review there was a large price difference between the D80 and D90. Sometimes you can get excellent deals on an older version of a camera. Eg., for most photographers we recommend the older Canon 40D over the newer 50D . . .

    . . . but that’s not what we found with the Nikon D80. In fact, if you already have a D80 we’d suggest upgrading to a D90 or (even better) a D300.

    [Reply to this comment]

  12. Toby Fairchild says:

    April 19th, 2009at 2:53 pm(#)

    Very informative and well put together comparison. Many thanks. I found the info (and much more) that I was looking for. I was mainly concerned with the image sensor comparison between the D90 and the D300. I own a D80 and love it. No complaints except not the best sensor if u do alot of low light or ambient light photography. High ISO’s are noisy. Fortunately, most of the time I can use strobes. Starting to get calls for wedding work…need a better sensor for high ISO shooting and want the D90 (great price) as my next logical camera body (and yes price is a major factor). The comparison chart you put together is excellent and helped me make a confident decision on how to move forward. Again many thanks!
    Toby Fairchild
    Editor in Chief
    MusicPro Magazine

    [Reply to this comment]

  13. Raul says:

    April 17th, 2009at 4:57 am(#)

    Pretty fair review. However, you advertise a very low quality video camera to be a good replacement for this. I really believe that the video feature of the D90 is a very important factor in choosing D90. To get such image quality you need the Canon 5D MK2 (highly expensive, even than D700) or at least 10,000 $ to get the cheapest video camera that has ability to use lenses that may shoot like this.

    Regardless of the video feature, I totally agree with you, and it seems that D300 still is a higher class. I don’t think that Nikon wants their products to cannibalize. I would really love to get a D300″X” or something that has video and the robust body, the af fine adjustment and the af system of the D300, however… it’s not gonna happen until the end of this year.

    This is why I think that a D90 is fairly good for year 2009.
    To capture most events, a nice trip and everything in between, for HQ web videos.. this is it, D90 does just the job that should do.

    [Reply to this comment]

  14. Paul D Moore says:

    April 8th, 2009at 1:56 pm(#)

    Interesting comparision between the D90 & D300, but not quite complete. The D300 is heavier and more cumbersome to hold. Some of the buttons/switches are badly placed on the D300. The D90 is easier to use overall. The focusing on the D300 is superior by far, particulary for fast moving subjects; ie: sports, bird in flight.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Spot Cool Tech Stuff Reply:


    Thanks for your thoughts.

    We did mention the ways the 300D was heavier and larger. Some buttons are more conveniently placed on the D300, others on the D90. In general, we’d say that the D90 makes it easy to do things that novice photographers are more likely to do (like the change the auto-shooting modes) while the D300 makes it easier to do things more common to an advanced photographer (like change the ISO).

    Your observation that the D300 has the more superior auto focus is really interesting; it also matches exactly with our experience. The reason for this almost certainly is that the D300 has a 51-point AF system, while the D90 has only 11-points.

    [Reply to this comment]

  15. mech says:

    April 8th, 2009at 1:36 pm(#)

    Very nice review and comparison. This really help consumers to decide which camera they should go for. I have voted your blog.

    Remember to vote for me at blogger choice award.

    [Reply to this comment]

  16. Craigor says:

    April 1st, 2009at 3:35 pm(#)

    I love your camera comparison reviews. Could I request you do more of them? Thanks as always.

    [Reply to this comment]

Leave a Response

CommentLuv badge

SPOTCOOLSTUFF Tech reviews digital cameras, iPod accessories, cutting edge cars, home audio equipment and a whole host of gadgets with a WOW! factor. Because technology can be wonderful! Sign up for our latest tech posts by email . . .

    Creative D100 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
    Cool-looking. Highly portable. And, for the moment, 44% off!

Cost: $44.99 Time left:
Buy Now
Offer Closed!


Hot CategoriesMore Cool StuffShop Tech
Photo & VideoiPod AccessoriesTravelCell Phones
Personal RobotsPortable MediaMediaDigital Cameras
ComputersSpeakersDesignAudio & Video