Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Nikon D3300 DSLR (The "Best Value" Camera?)

The D3300 is Nikon's latest entry-level DSLR camera, replacing the not-very-old D3200. Some may think of this as a "beginners camera" but it is in fact capable of "professional" image quality.

Nikon D3300 with Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G DX Micro lens.
While the D3300 and the D3200 seem identical, they are, in fact, more dissimilar than what one might guess. Upon close inspection the two cameras are shaped just a little different, with the D3300 coming out a tad smaller. Somehow Nikon knocked off a noticeable amount of weight with the D3300--over two-and-a-half ounces! While the two cameras boast the same number of megapixels, they have two completely different sensors. With the D3300 Nikon dumped the anti-aliasing filter, meaning the camera is capable of slightly sharper images. Nikon included their Expeed 4 processor in the D3300, boosting the camera's speed a bit, increasing the camera's battery life, improving the video capabilities, and increasing the maximum ISO by one stop. Even more, the D3300 creates better looking JPEGs at high ISO. The user interface is slightly better on the D3300 than the D3200.

To put this simply, the Nikon D3300 is a better camera than the D3200.

The Camera
Light Rays - Stallion Springs, California
The Nikon D3300 is a wonderful little DSLR that creates high quality, high resolution images. It has a 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor (Nikon calls it "DX") that is one of the better sensors out there. The D3300 seems to outperform its APS-C size, producing results closer to what one would expect from a full-frame camera.

The camera is small (one of the smallest DSLRs available) and light weight (as best as I can tell, it is the second lightest DSLR ever). This is not the bulky, heavy DSLR you are used to. Instead you find a camera that is good for travel and that you won't mind having with you all day.

Nikon designed the D3300 for beginners, with emphasis on auto-features in the design. This does not mean that more experienced photographers who want lots of control cannot effectively use this camera. Two quick points with this are 1) some of the auto-features are actually more handy than I would have thought and 2) while digging through menus to make some changes is annoying, it doesn't take long to get used to it and become fast at it.
Purple Thistle Blossom Macro - Stallion Springs, California
The camera is capable of saving in RAW format and JPEG format (or both at the same time). Because time is important to me, I prefer to use JPEGs whenever I can. RAW slows me down, but sometimes it is necessary. Something that Nikon does very well is create great-looking in-camera JPEGs, and this camera is no exception.

Image quality is fantastic on the D3300. The sensor outperforms any of the cheap zooms that are typically used with this camera. To get the most out of the sensor you'll want to get a good prime lens. Pair the D3300 with a good lens and it is difficult to beat the image quality. For the price, it is impossible to beat the image quality.

Nikon did not include an anti-aliasing filter on this camera. The filter, which is found on most digital cameras, blurs the image slightly in order to prevent moire pattern distortion. Because this camera doesn't have the filter it creates sharper images. How much sharper? Not much. Unless you are pixel-peeping or making poster-sized enlargements you will not notice. Is moire a problem? So far I have not found any in my photographs. Even though the impact seems insignificant, I think it is positive that the anti-aliasing filter is gone.
Bull Elk - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 3200.
ISO on the D3300 is exceptional. There are no noticeable differences (without a very close side-by-side study of 100% crops) between ISO 100 and ISO 400. The first increase in digital noise comes at ISO 800, but it is only a small increase. There is another increase in noise at ISO 1600, but, again, it isn't a big jump. With JPEGs, there is a slight increase in noise at ISO 3200, but there is also a slight loss in sharpness. This is because of the noise reduction that the camera applies (with RAW, you can control the amount of noise reduction in post-processing, choosing either less noise or more sharpness). I found images from ISO 100 through ISO 3200 to all be quite usable, even for "serious" work. ISO 6400 is usable if captured in RAW (the camera makes the JPEGs just a bit too soft for me) and played around with in post-processing. It is best to avoid the available ISOs above 6400.

Auto-ISO works great and is a surprisingly useful feature. On my camera, I set the parameters to ISO100-3200, with the minimum shutter speed set at 1/125. The camera will keep the ISO as low as possible, and will only increase it when the shutter speed would drop below 1/125. My only problem with Auto-ISO is that you have to dig through menus to turn it off. Thankfully, the need to turn it off has only come up a couple of times.

The D3300 has an eleven-point auto-focus system. I prefer something a little more robust, but I really can't complain at the results. Nikon has done an excellent job of getting the most out of it. I had no problems using this camera to capture moving objects, including young kids playing sports. A feature that is not included that should have been is focus-peeking.
A Football Dream - Stallion Springs, California
There are four auto-focus modes available: single-point, dynamic-area, auto-area, and 3D-tracking. You also choose between auto-focus-single, Auto-focus-continuous and auto-focus-automatic. Everything works well, but when you want to change the settings you have to jump through menus to make it happen.

Auto-white-balance works as one would expect: perfect in normal lighting conditions, and hit-and-miss in unusual or mixed lighting. Most of the time it is spot on.

The camera is quite fast. Start up time is almost instantaneous. Focus is quick as long as the lens is also quick. The camera can capture up to five frames-per-second, which is more than enough for most people. JPEGs are written to the card almost as fast as they're captured, while RAW seems to take a couple of seconds.
Building Clouds Over Cummings Mountain - Stallion Springs, California
The light meter on the D3300 is accurate. I think, if anything, it tends to underexpose by 1/3 stop, which is no big deal because exposure compensation is simple.

Dynamic range on the D3300 is quite good. You might think that so many light-sensing "pixels" on an APS-C sized sensor would negatively effect this, but you'd be wrong. The dynamic range on this camera is similar to several more expensive APS-C models with lower pixel counts, and it is even up there with many older full-frame DSLRs and even a couple medium-format cameras. Are there cameras with a better dynamic range? Absolutely, but those cameras are often expensive.

Colors on the D3300 are accurate and natural. For JPEGs there are six options (all of which are customizable): standard, vivid, neutral, monochrome, portrait and landscape. Switching these takes a few button presses.
A September Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
The viewfinder on the D3300 is bright and provides 95% coverage. It is a pentamirror (as opposed to a pentaprism), but it is plenty sufficient for its purpose. LEDs light up to show the auto-focus points and all necessary exposure information is provided.

There is a pop-up flash built into the camera. I used it as a fill-flash a couple of times, and it worked as one would expect it to work. If you plan to use a flash regularly, you might want to consider a good external flash.

There are two features that I think should always be enabled: Active D-Lighting and Auto Distortion Correction. Active D-Lighting is basically a trick that the camera uses to prevent clipped highlights. It works pretty well, assuming that you have a good exposure to begin with. Auto Distortion Correction automatically corrects lens distortion from Nikkor lenses. It makes strait lines strait, and does a good job of it.
Country Panorama - Stallion Springs, California
The D3300 has a panoramic mode that works well. It captures a series of images as you "sweep" the camera and then stitches them together to create a long photograph. I couldn't find any artifacts or weird lines to indicate where the images were stitched.

Live View, which raises the mirror and shows a live image directly from the sensor, is slow. If you need to capture a photograph from an unusual angle this feature can be beneficial, otherwise it should be avoided. Another reason to use Live View is for long exposures. Because the mirror is raised, you don't have to worry about the tiny movement from the mirror causing slight blurring.

The 3" LCD screen on the back of the camera is bright and colorful. It's a pretty good screen overall. In bright-light situations glare can be a problem, but no more than on other cameras.
Train In The Desert - Mojave, California
The battery lasts forever. I captured over 300 images on the first charge, and the battery indicator still hadn't budged. Nikon claims that you can capture 700 images with a fully charged battery.

You can capture 1080p 60 frames-per-second HD video with the D3300. Auto-focus in video mode never works well on DSLRs, so be prepared to manually focus. Audio is mono, but there is a stereo jack if you have a microphone.

What is missing? The LCD screen doesn't swivel. The camera is not weather sealed. There is no built-in auto-focus motor (you must use motorized lenses for auto-focus to work). There is only one memory card slot. There are no programmable buttons (such as "U1" and "U2"). The camera does not bracket, nor does it do HDR. No depth-of-field preview. No WiFi or GPS. If those things are important to you, this may not be the camera for you. For me, they're (mostly) unnecessary extras.

I paid $375 for my brand-new Nikon D3300 (body only). The camera normally comes with an 18-55mm kit lens. I didn't want the lens, so I didn't buy it that way. With the kit lens the camera has an MSRP of $650, but can be found for $550 if you shop around.

Rays Over The Valley - Stallion Springs, California
The D3300 is an incredible value, there is no doubt about it. This camera has a ton going for it, but it is also missing a number of features that some may consider important. For me, the only things that I wish were included that were not are a couple of programmable buttons and focus-peeking. There are some commonly used things that are buried deep in the menus, and the steps to adjust those are too long for my preferences. Focus-peeking is helpful for precise manual focusing.

But, for the price, it is easy to overlook this camera's shortcomings. Besides, it doesn't take long to get used to (and get quick at) making adjustments through the menus.

Who should consider buying the Nikon D3300? Anyone who wants a high-quality, low-cost digital camera. Because of its small size and weight it would make a great travel camera. It is simple enough for beginners, yet produces high image quality to satisfy advanced users.

Post Script
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
I can hear it now, "How did you get the D3300 for $375?" And, "Nikon doesn't sell the D3300 as a 'body only' camera. So what gives?"

It is true that the Nikon doesn't offer the D3300 as a "body only" option in America. I found a camera store that sells non-American (instead they're from Japan) D3300s without the normally included kit lens. It came brand-new and in the box.

The store had the body-only D3300 on sale. On top of that I had a coupon. Between the sale and the coupon I saved quite a bit, bringing the total (including shipping and tax) to $375.

The risk to this is that Nikon doesn't warranty the camera (Nikon only provides a warranty to American models in America). The camera store provides their own one-year warranty. Hopefully I'll never have to find out if that warranty is worth anything or not. For $375, the risk isn't huge. I wouldn't do this with a $3,750 camera.

In the end I was able to get the D3300 camera body plus a great prime lens for about the same MSRP price as the D3300 with the kit lens. That's actually quite amazing.


  1. Hi Admin,
    I like your Blog and way of your writing. It is very nice and informative.
    Thanks for the great information.
    Nikon D3300

  2. Hi! I was wondering, if I purchase this camera, if I want to upload a photo to be printed on, perhaps a shower curtain or duvet cover, I know I need it to be 6000px by 6000px. Would this camera be able to offer that? Also if I want to print it and frame, what is the largest I could print? 8x10? Larger? Thank you!

    1. I've never tried printing on curtains, Amber, but I have made some nice 20" x 30" prints with images captured on this camera. I hope this helps!

  3. I appreciate your first hand experience with the D3300 and assessment of features and performance. The photographs really highlight how the camera works to produce images in a variety of situations.

    I've been shooting for a long time and recently abandoned the bigger and heavier cameras since I'm not shooting assignments anymore. I've been looking for something small and light to take along on my Vespa scooter and have focused on the D3300 with the 18-55 VR and 55-200 VR lenses.

    Thanks again for sharing you work.

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

  4. I appreciate your first hand experience with the D3300 and assessment of features and performance. The photographs really highlight how the camera works to produce images in a variety of situations.

    I've been shooting for a long time and recently abandoned the bigger and heavier cameras since I'm not shooting assignments anymore. I've been looking for something small and light to take along on my Vespa scooter and have focused on the D3300 with the 18-55 VR and 55-200 VR lenses.

    Thanks again for sharing you work.

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

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  6. Wow! I am really impressed by the way you detailed out everything. It is really going to help me a lot. Thanks for sharing a wonderful post.

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