Nikon D3300 at a glance:
- 24.2-million-pixel, APS-C-sized CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 25,600)
- Expeed 4 image-processing engine
- 11-point AF system
- Street price around £499.99 body only or £599 with 18-55mm lens
- See product shots of the Nikon D3300
- See sample images taken with the Nikon D3300
Nikon D3300 – Introduction
It can be hard for enthusiast photographers to get excited about entry-level DSLRs. With slower shooting rates and smaller arrays of AF points, these cameras are often perceived as rather anaemic compared to their ‘gutsier’, more advanced counterparts. As a consequence, they tend to be disregarded as serious tools. But that’s a shame: let’s not forget that the technology we now find in entry-level cameras was, just a few years ago, the preserve of the professional DSLR.
One example of this is the four-year-old Nikon D3S. On its release, professionals fawned over its 24.5-million-pixel sensor, yet sensors of this resolution are now commonplace, even in entry-level models. The latest Nikon D3300 is one such camera.
Although the Nikon D3300 may appear to house the same 24.2-million-pixel sensor as its predecessor, the D3200, there is one very significant difference – this time around, there is no anti-aliasing (low-pass) filter, which should maximise the detail that can be captured. With the right lens, in the right light, and in the hands of the right photographer, it is entirely reasonable to expect images produced by this entry-level DSLR to match those of an apparently more advanced camera. With this in mind, the D3300 suddenly looks a far more attractive proposition – and much more than a camera for new photographers only.
Nikon D3300 – Features
With no anti-aliasing filter in front of the Nikon D3300’s 24.2-million-pixel, DX-format CMOS sensor, we can expect it to preserve the maximum image resolution and sharpness that is afforded to the sensor. While it is the sensor that will, of course, grab many of the headlines, the D3300 has been improved in other ways. The key upgrade is the use of Nikon’s new Expeed 4 image processing engine. It is this engine that, when paired with the sensor, enables a 1EV increase in sensitivity range compared to the D3200. The D3300 can shoot at an impressive extended setting of ISO 25,600. Both JPEG images and 12-bit raw files can be captured, and saved to SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards.
The faster processor also increases the shooting rate of the D3300 to 5fps – one frame faster than both its predecessor and the Canon EOS 100D. This is extremely impressive for an entry-level camera, and is more in line with the shooting rate seen on enthusiast DSLRs just a few years ago.
Other features new to the D3300 include automatic flash modes and an option for fill-in flash. The viewfinder has been improved, and the camera body has seen some tweaks, but more on these later.
For the most part, though, the Nikon D3300 has the same key features as the D3200. For instance, the AF system still comprises 11 points and the metering system has the same 420-pixel RGB sensor. The 3in rear screen again has a 920,000-dot resolution, and the camera requires AF-S lenses to autofocus as it does not have a built-in AF motor.
The big surprise is the absence of built-in Wi-Fi. When Nikon launched the Wi-Fi-enabled D5300, the general assumption was that this functionality would feature in all subsequent Nikon DSLRs. Instead, the D3300 must rely on the WU-1a adapter for a Wi-Fi connection. The logical conclusion is that this is to help keep the cost of the camera down, while still allowing Wi-Fi connectivity if required.
AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/188.8.131.52G VR II kit lens
As stated in Build and handling, Nikon has released a new retractable kit lens to partner the D3300. The AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II lens consists of 11 elements in eight groups, including one aspherical lens element, and has a minimum focus distance of 28cm in AF mode, or 25cm when manually focusing. It has seven rounded aperture blades, and a minimum aperture of f/22-36.
The centre sharpness of the lens is surprisingly good, being on a par with the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens that we use to photograph our resolution chart. At the edges there is some drop-off in sharpness, although it is acceptable and certainly not as bad as many of the kit lenses we have seen in the past. There are some signs of purple fringing in high-contrast edges towards the corners of the image, although it is reduced in JPEG images. It is also easily reduced in raw files.
Despite clearly being built to a price point, the lens also includes Vibration Reduction image stabilisation. Overall, it is a good kit lens for those just starting out.
Build and handling
As mentioned, the dimensions of the D3300’s polycarbonate body differ fractionally to those of the D3200 – but it’s a matter of millimetres: the new camera is 1mm thinner, 1mm shallower and 2mm taller. It is 25g lighter, but in real terms it’s all so marginal as to be virtually unnoticeable.
What does make a difference is the new kit lens Nikon has introduced to accompany the D3300. It features a collapsible design similar to that of Nikon’s 1-system lenses. By collapsing the barrel of the lens in on itself, Nikon claims the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II kit lens is 30% smaller and 25% lighter than its predecessor.
So when carrying this camera and lens combination, the reduced weight is something you certainly do notice. As such, the D3300 may also be small enough to be tempt those who would otherwise opt for a compact system camera, especially considering the camera’s high resolution.
Being an entry-level DSLR, buttons and dials are kept to a minimum on the D3300. Nikon has kept to its tried-and-tested arrangement, with the menu and playback buttons to the left of the LCD screen where they can be easily pressed by the thumb of the left hand, and the navigational controls on the right within reach of the thumb of the right hand. It’s a system that works well for quickly navigating the on-screen menus.
There are very few buttons that provide direct access to exposure and shooting settings. On the rear of the camera is one that changes the shooting rate, while on the top-plate next to the shutter button is the control for exposure compensation. On the front left of the camera (as you are using it), there is a function button that by default enables quick access to ISO sensitivity, and just above that is a single button to pop up the flash and change the flash settings.
All the other most commonly used image settings are accessed by pressing the info button on the rear of the camera. This brings up an on-screen quick menu that provides access to features such as raw and JPEG shooting, different metering and AF modes, white balance and image style – in short, everything you might want to change quickly in between shots.
For those who are just starting out with their photography, the rear display also shows graphics that represent the aperture, shutter and sensitivity. The two latter graphics rotate like a dial, helping to relate the settings to those of a more traditional film camera, whereas the aperture graphic actually changes the size of the displayed aperture. This is really useful for quickly communicating to beginners the effect that changing the aperture setting has on the aperture itself.
In addition, the ‘?’ button can be held down when on any of the settings to bring up a brief explanation of what that feature does. It is another useful educational feature for those who are still learning about photography, and it is like having a basic instruction manual built into the camera.
Nikon has again used its Multi-CAM 1000 11-point autofocus system in the D3300, which was seen previously in both the D3100 and D3200. It features quite a small number of points compared to more advanced cameras. Each is spread out from around the centre of the frame, and goes just beyond the imaginary line where the rule of thirds intersections would be.
Generally, the positioning of the AF points is fine and most of the time I found that the subject of my scene was positioned under one of the AF points. On the odd occasions when I wanted my point of focus to be closer to the edge of the frame, it was usually when I was shooting a landscape scene and wished to have more of the foreground in focus. On these occasions the ‘focus and reframe’ technique works well, or I simply focused manually.
One word of warning: the new kit lens is not particularly great if you want to manually focus. The focusing ring is very small and light to the touch, which can make precision difficult. This is obviously lens dependent, and when using other optics there was better provision for manual focusing.
The AF works very well in bright light and, while I wouldn’t say it is the fastest I have ever used, it is snappy enough that most photographers will have no issue with it. In low light there was a noticeable decline in speed, with the AF hunting a little more before finding the correct points of focus.
Overall, I would say that the AF system is about average for this level of camera, and while demanding photographers will require better, the autofocus on the D3300 should satisfy the needs of everyone else.
Image: The matrix evaluative metering strikes a good balance between highlight and shadow detail
While the weather may have been quite dire over the past month or so, it did allow me to test the D3300 in a variety of conditions, and really put its metering to the test. It is a credit to the 420-pixel RGB sensor and the scene detection it employs that I found few instances where the D3300’s evaluative metering system needed correcting. Whether in the bright sunny streets of London or the stormy gloom of the Peak District, the D3300 performed excellently and was quick to adapt as the conditions changed.
There were times where I would adjust the exposure compensation a little, but generally this was to help me preserve or extract more detail in either highlights or shadow areas when dealing with a high-contrast scene. Overall, the metering system seems to strike a good balance between the two, although it does tend to take highlights to the point of blowing out and not beyond, which in very high-contrast scenes can leave shadow areas looking a little dark. Switching the Active D-Lighting on helps to combat this by giving shadow areas a lift to produce more print-ready images.
For those trickier situations, or when precise metering is needed, centreweighted gives 75% weight to an 8mm circle in the centre of frame, while the spot option meters from around 2.5% of the frame based on the focus point.
Image: Even when editing JPEG images, there is a reasonable amount of detail that can be recovered from shadow areas
The D3300’s dynamic range of 12.98EV at ISO 100 is good for a camera at this level, particularly given its high resolution. Even when editing JPEGs, I was able to reveal more detail in shadow areas than I was expecting, although as usual there is very little in terms of extra highlight detail that can be rescued.
Raw files are impressive, and it is possible to increase the exposure of darker areas by around 2EV, although you have to be very careful not to introduce too much noise, but there is plenty of detail in highlights to produce lovely looking skies. Once again, the dynamic range is very impressive and comparable to cameras in a much higher price bracket.
White balance and colour
Image: In standard colour mode, the Nikon D3300 produces good colours
Any Nikon user will be familiar with the colours produced by the D3300. On the whole, the auto white balance (AWB) setting works well, and can be relied upon for most types of scene. However, it is worth switching to daylight or shade when shooting in woodland, as AWB can neutralise colours a little too much.
Of the various colour settings, the vivid mode works particularly well on the green spectrum. On an overcast day it did well to lift dull green grass, and it really brought out deep purple and amber colours in some landscape images. To get the best from the setting, my preference is to turn down the contrast just a notch to add a touch more realism without losing much colour.
In its standard setting the colours look natural and perfectly suitable for printing, or to act as a good starting point for more advanced colour editing.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Image: There is more noise in shadow ares than I would expect from an image taken at ISO 720
In good light, with images taken between ISO 100 and 400, noise is of no real concern. However, at ISO 400 there are some traces of luminance noise that start to erode a little of the detail in JPEGs. Hints of colour noise also start to become visible in shadow areas at this sensitivity. This is a little lower than you might expect, and I am surprised to see such noise at settings below ISO 800.
By ISO 800, with noise reduction turned off in-camera, there is a faint hint of colour noise even in midtones. Turning noise reduction on helps to reduce it, but also impacts on the image detail. In shadow areas, the familiar magenta and green pixels are readily seen. In good light, noise isn’t too much of an issue even at ISO 800, but the chances are, if you have selected ISO 800, you don’t have good lighting conditions.
By the maximum ISO 12,800, luminance noise fills the frame and almost all the fine detail you would expect to see from a 24.2-million-pixel sensor is lost. The extended ISO 25,600 setting is worse still, with even colour noise difficult to control.
Image: A lot of detail can be captured at low sensitivity settings, but you have to watch for aliasing in very fine mesh textures, such as on this building site
Obviously, the situation is a little better if you are shooting raw files, and the colour noise is relatively straightforward to remove altogether if using the colour noise reduction sliders in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. However, care must be taken when using the luminance noise reduction, as it does need to be applied at fairly low sensitivities, with care taken not to reduce detail too much.
Regarding detail resolution, the D3300 is very good and the filter-free 24.2-million-pixel sensor is able to resolve an impressive 32 between ISO 100 and 400. Even at ISO 800, around 28 is still reached on the chart when shooting JPEGs; it is only at ISO 6400 that the resolution suddenly drops to around 28. At the highest ISO 24,600 setting, the D3300 is capable of resolving up to 24, which is around what we would expect from a 12-million-pixel camera. While still very impressive, there is obviously a significant amount of chroma and luminance noise.
When editing raw files it is possible to just squeeze a little more sharpness out of the images, but the resolution remains the same as in the JPEGs – the raw files can just be processed to look a little clearer.
Generally, the D3300 performs about as well as the Nikon D5300, and even the D7100 in terms of resolution, although it does seem to produce more noise at lower sensitivities.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 lens set to f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
Viewfinder, live view and video
One of the changes made to the D3300 is a slightly higher-specification viewfinder compared to its predecessor. Although the viewfinder in the new camera still offers the same 95% coverage as the older DSLR, it has been improved to produce a 0.85x magnification image, compared to the 0.78x image of the D3200.
Although I didn’t have a D3200 at hand to make a direct comparison, the viewfinder of the D3300 does seem to be a little larger than usual, although it still doesn’t come anywhere close to the size of looking through the viewfinder of a 35mm full-frame camera.
Overall, the viewfinder is bright and clear, and I found I could just about manually focus, although it was useful having the focus indicator lighting up in the viewfinder when the AF system judged I had focused correctly.
Although the 921,000-dot screen of the D3300 is the same as that on the D3200, it does represent a significant jump leap forward for D3100 users, as that camera only has a 230,000-dot display. The screen is bright and clear with a good level of contrast, and I was able to view images outside in relatively bright sunshine.
For an entry-level DSLR, the D3300 has a decent range of options for videographers. Movie footage is saved as .MOV files using H.264 MPEG-4 compression. Not only can 1920×1080-pixel progressive footage be captured at up to 60fps, but HDMI out for playback and a 3.5mm microphone jack are also included. An external microphone should prove useful as the built-in mic only records in mono, although it is possible to adjust the gain on the audio capture to make sure that sound doesn’t peak.
Naturally, the Nikon D3300 will be compared to the Canon EOS 1200D, particularly by those who are looking for their first DSLR. Of the two cameras, the Nikon D3300 should resolve more detail with its higher-resolution, 24.2-million-pixel sensor with no anti-aliasing filter, compared to the 18-million-pixel sensor of the EOS 1200D. We will find out the exact differences when we test the EOS 1200D in a forthcoming issue.
Although it may have a lower 16.28-million-pixel resolution, the Pentax K-50 is another interesting option. At around the same price as the Nikon D3300, it does have the very useful addition of a fully weather-sealed and dust-sealed body, and a shooting rate of 6fps.
Our Nikon D3300 verdict
With fierce competition from CSCs, entry-level DSLRs have to offer a lot at a very competitive price. The Nikon D3300 has a fairly straightforward set of features when you look at its metering and AF systems, 95% viewfinder and no built-in Wi-Fi, but it also has a significant selling point in its 24.2-million-pixel sensor. Without an inhibiting low-pass filter, the D3300 is capable of resolving an unparalleled amount of detail for any camera at this level and price.
The sensor also provides a good dynamic range, although it is let down a little by noise levels at ISO 800. While it can be reduced in raw images, the level of luminance and colour noise is around 1EV worse than we would have perhaps hoped for. For entry-level photographers, this may be acceptable, and it should be remembered that with such a high resolution on offer, noise can be reduced by simply downsampling the image, which will naturally happen if a print is made at A4 size or smaller.
For those wanting a high-resolution camera at an excellent price, the Nikon D3300 should be seen as a contender, but for best results it should be used at between ISO 100 and 400, and in fairly good lighting conditions.
Nikon D3300 – Key features
This option is tucked away in the camera’s menu and uses the EV dial in the camera’s viewfinder as a rangefinder when manually focusing. The display highlights which direction the lens needs to be turned to focus, and shows when it judges that the AF point being used achieves focus.
There is no mirror lock-up shooting; it is only possible when cleaning the sensor. This is not uncommon for an entry-level DSLR, but it should be noted for those wanting to delve into macro shooting.
As well as optional Wi-Fi connectivity, the Nikon GP-1 module can be attached to the socket at the side of the camera so that GPS data can be added to images.
Another new addition to Nikon’s entry-level DSLR is easy panorama, which allows a panoramic image to be created by simply moving the camera from right to left while taking images. The camera then stitches these shots together.
Besides easy panorama, there are a number of other effects, including high-key, low-key, toy camera, miniature and selective colour shooting modes. In these modes there is little control available over any exposure, shooting or image settings.