Nikon D3400: A Top Rated DSLR for New Photographers [Review]
The Nikon D3400 is consistently rated as one of the very best DSLRs for new photographers. DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras use a system of mirrors to direct light from the lens to an optical viewfinder. With the viewfinder, you can see the subject without the camera using any power. And when it’s time to snap a photo, the first mirror behind the lens flips back, exposing the image sensor.
Successor to the immensely popular D3300, the D3400 builds on all of its strengths as an entry level DSLR. The price is well in line with what a new user is willing to spend. And the base specifications (megapixels, sensor size, battery life, etc) are average to excellent across the board. The D3400 also provides plenty of features to help a beginner grow into an intermediate photographer. Let’s take a closer look at what this camera has to offer.
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Table of Contents
- Technical Specifications
- Build Quality
- Image Quality
- What additional features does the Nikon D3400 have?
- How does the Nikon D3400 compare to the Canon EOS Rebel T6?
- How does the Nikon D3300 compare to the Nikon D3400?
- Who is the Nikon D3400 for?
- Sample Images
- Price: Currently out of stock with kit lens
- Kit Lens: AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens. AF-P refers to the Pulse Autofocus motor used by the lens. DX refers to the sensor size of the cameras that use this lens. And VR is short for Vibration Reduction. This lens has hardware to improve image stability and reduce motion blur.
- Sensor: 24.2 MP DX-Format Sensor (sized 23.5 x 15.6 mm)
- Number of Autofocus Points: 11 Phase detection points. Phase detection uses paired autofocus sensors that analyze light received from the subject. If the light is different between the pairs, the camera knows the focus is off and adjusts.
- Built-In Flash: Yes, with a 7.0 m (23.0 ft) range at ISO 100. The camera also has a hot shoe attachment for an external flash unit.
- Continuous Shooting: 5 frames per second
- ISO Range: 100 to 25,600
- Video Recording Capability: Full HD 1920×1080 (60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps), HD 1280×720 (60, 50 fps), and SD 640×424 (30, 25 fps) formatted in MPEG-4/H.264/MOV
- Image Format: JPEG and RAW. JPEG images are the format used when a photo is meant to be displayed on a device like a computer or phone. JPEG is a compressed image format. They take up less hard drive space, but some image quality is lost. RAW files are the original image files created by the camera. They take up more space, but contain all of the information collected by the camera. They can only be displayed on a device with RAW imaging software, but they are ideal for photo editing.
- Wireless Connectivity: Yes, using a Bluetooth connection and Nikon’s SnapBridge app. Snapbridge allows for wireless photo transfers to compatible smart devices, but not control of the camera. The WU-1a Wireless Adapter is required in order to use a smart device as a remote control.
- Supported Memory Cards: SD, SDHC, SDXC, UHS-I
- Battery Life (CIPA Rating): 1200 images per charge
- Weight: 395 g (0.87 lb / 13.93 oz)
- Dimensions: 124 x 98 x 76 mm (4.88 x 3.86 x 2.99 in)
Except for the lens mount and a few other key areas, the Nikon D3400 is constructed entirely out of plastic. Modern polycarbonate bodies are resistant to scratching and falls, but not as much as an aluminum or magnesium one. The handgrip is slightly textured to feel like leather and give the hand a firmer hold. The 921,000 pixel LCD screen on the back is fixed and does not articulate from the body. The design is a very iconic DSLR one. Slight modifications are occasionally made with other models. But Canon and Nikon have not deviated from this style in all of their mainstream cameras. For a DSLR, the D3400 is lightweight and an excellent camera to carry on a day shoot.
Nikon’s DX-format sensors all fall in the APS-C category. APS-C is only a single step below full frame (35 mm) sensors in size. Having a large sensor is useful because it means you’re able to collect more light. Photographers upgrading from a compact point-and-shoot camera will immediately be able to tell the difference.
With the right lenses, you’ll be able to create a much more narrow depth of field than you can with a fixed lens and tiny sensor. Depth of field is how much of a given scene is in sharp focus. Depth of field control is essential, especially for portraits and close up macro photos. Extra light for the sensor is also useful when the lighting becomes challenging. In low light, noise quickly becomes an issue for small sensors because the collection area is just too small. So going as large as you can on the sensor is necessary for optimum image quality.
24.2 megapixels is an average megapixel count in today’s market. But that’s not a strike against the Nikon D3400. Most digital cameras actually have far more megapixels than the average photographer needs. Unless you plan on creating large prints or posters, even 12 megapixels is enough for sharing online. 24.2 megapixels gives you a comfortable amount of space to crop your photographs as well.
What additional features does the Nikon D3400 have?
The Nikon D3400 has some excellent tools to help new users get started immediately. It comes with eight preset scene modes in the Mode Dial on top of the camera. These presets are perfect for quickly setting the camera up for the desired result.
Auto mode allows the camera to choose the right shutter speed, ISO, and aperture for proper exposure. Auto (Flash Off) is the same thing, only with no flash. Portrait creates a narrow depth of field on the subject with a blurred background. Landscape does the opposite; it’s meant for creating a wide depth of field to capture everything in sharp focus. Child is used to accent skin tones and bright colors slightly. Sports focuses on high shutter speed to freeze action and fast movement. Close Up optimizes the settings for subjects a foot away or less. And Night Portrait works the same as Portrait, only using the flash while correcting for a dark background.
The Mode dial also has a Guide function. When selected, you have the option of choosing Shoot, View/Delete, or Set Up. Shoot is the most relevant option; and when selected, gives you the choice of Easy or Advanced Operation. Easy operation has many of the same descriptions as the scene modes, plus a few more like Night Landscape. Advanced operation is probably the more useful of the two, as it describes the effect you want to create, rather than the subject. You have options like “Freeze motion (vehicles),” or “Soften background.” But both Easy and Advanced Operation are great tools to have when uncertain of the proper settings.
Pressing the LV button on the back of the D3400 engages Live View mode. Live view allows the user to look at the LCD screen instead of through the optical viewfinder. It’s an excellent tool for those times when placing the camera up to your eye is impractical. Interestingly, the Nikon D3400 switches to Contrast Detection when using Live View mode. Instead of using the phase detection AF points, the camera evaluates the image recorded by the sensor for optimum contrast. However, using Live View mode does slow down the D3400’s autofocus. This is because contrast detection systems have to pan in-and-out briefly to find maximum image contrast. If autofocus speed is important, then stick to shooting with the viewfinder.
The D3400 does not have a low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter. There are advantages and disadvantages to anti-aliasing filters. The advantage is that in certain situations, photographs can show complex interference patterns called moiré. This occurs when the complexity of the pattern is greater than the resolution of the camera sensor. The result is a slight blurring and bleeding over of the pattern.
Low-pass filters used to be seen as a premium feature in a digital camera as it helps reduce or eliminate moiré. The downside is that because the filter sits entirely over the sensor, it reduces the overall sensor resolution slightly. Because moiré is only an issue in certain situations, removing the filter has become more common. For fashion photographers, moiré can be a regular problem due to hair and clothing textures. But depending on what they prefer to shoot, other photographers may not have need for a low-pass filter.
How does the Nikon D3400 compare to the Canon EOS Rebel T6?
Being geared towards new DSLR users, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 is one of the best cameras to compare to the Nikon D3400. The price, at $399.00, is very close to that of the D3400. Canon and Nikon also tie in being the most popular DSLR camera brands in the world. While both cameras are excellent purchases for the new DSLR photographer, there are also some differences to consider.
Advantages of the Nikon D3400
Sensor Resolution: The D3400 has a 24 megapixel sensor, compared to 18 MP with the T6. That’s fully 33% more resolution.
Low-light sensitivity: The D3400 has a max ISO of 25,600. Maximum ISO values are best avoided, as the increased sensitivity creates a lot of pixelated noise in photos. But the T6 only has a maximum ISO of 6400, which is rather poor for low light settings. The T6 does have a digital boost option to simulate ISO 12,800. The camera uses software to create an image that mimics the actual ISO 12,800 setting. Unfortunately, digital boosts are even worse than using maximum sensor resolution. With native ISO up to 25,600, the D3400 has superior low light performance, no boosting required.
Autofocus Points: The D3400 has 11 AF points, while the T6 only has 9 AF points.
Battery Life: At 1200 images per charge, the D3400 has more than twice the stamina of the Canon T6 (500 images per charge).
Weight: At 395 g, the D3400 is much lighter than the T6, which weighs in at 485 g.
Advantages of the Canon EOS Rebel T6
Full Wireless Connectivity: The D3400 is more limited, as it can only wirelessly transfer images taken via SnapBridge. The T6 can use Canon Connect to not only transfer images, but remotely control the camera as well.
Auto Exposure (AE) Bracketing: The T6 has AE Bracketing. When engaged, AE bracketing takes three images. The first image taken will have normal exposure. The second will have the image exposure adjusted to be brighter. And the third will be darker than the baseline exposure. AE Bracketing is a great tool if you’re uncertain where optimal exposure lies and you want to take an image quickly. AE Bracketing can also be used in HDR (high dynamic range) photography.
The differences are striking and clear. The Canon T6 delivers a better wireless experience and has AE Bracketing, an intriguing feature unique to the camera. But overall, the Nikon D3400 has a much better base as a camera. The resolution, light sensitivity, battery life, and weight are all much better than that of the Canon T6.
How does the Nikon D3300 compare to the Nikon D3400?
There are a few important upgrades in the D3400 worth considering. While both cameras come with a variety of autofocus settings, Autofocus: Center is unique to the D3400. Sometimes Autofocus: Continuous can’t properly track your subject due to multiple moving targets in the frame. Autofocus: Center allows the D3400 to focus only using the central AF point. This lets you autofocus on a particular subject so long as you shift the camera with their movement.
The D3400 is also slightly lighter than the D3300 (395 g vs 410 g). But it has a much better battery life. At 1200 images per charge, the D3400 has nearly twice the battery life of the also impressive D3300, which shoots 700 images per charge. The Bluetooth Snapbridge option of the D3400 is a slight improvement over the D3300, which has no built-in wireless connectivity.
Interestingly, the D3400 did not keep the self cleaning sensor system of the D3300. Every time the D3300 powers off, ultrasonic vibrations dislodge any dust that may have collected on the sensor. While it should rarely be an issue, it’s a good idea to keep a cleaning kit handy with the D3400.
The Nikon D3300 has a stereo microphone port, which is very useful when shooting video. Having a microphone port makes it easier to connect high-quality microphones for better sound quality. The D3400 has a built-in microphone, but it’s only mono, not stereo.
The D3300 also has an auto-panorama mode that was not given to the D3400.
Who is the Nikon D3400 for?
The design, features, and price of the D3400 are meant to give beginners a smooth entry into the DSLR world. Intermediate and professional photographers will find it a bit too simplistic. New users will find the D3400 can do a great job shooting most styles of photography. This is because the lens selection is just as important as the body. Users who love macro photography should have a macro lens. Wildlife lovers should have a telephoto zoom lens. And so forth. But the D3400 does not have speciality features that would make it excel in any particular style either. It’s a fine generalist camera for the beginner. However, the lack of a stereo microphone port makes it less than ideal for videography.
This camera promises and does indeed deliver an excellent photography experience for the new DSLR user. It has all of the options a new user would want. The Scene and Guide modes help the new user quickly shoot good photos right out of the box. The base statistics of the camera (resolution, battery life, brand, etc) are all worthy of building a lens collection around. And such a reasonable price leaves extra money to put towards those lenses.
It is slightly disappointing that such an otherwise excellent camera does not have a modern wireless experience. Adding remote camera control to the D3400 should not have been difficult. But it’s still a minor flaw compared to the excellent collection of features the Nikon D3400 offers. This camera is worthy of being rated highly for first-time DSLR owners.Buy on Amazon