Nikon D3300 Review: A Lot Of Camera, For Not A Lot Of Money

This may not be the most glamorous or feature-filled camera on the market, but it produces great images, at a great price, and with a minimum of fuss. The rest is up to you.

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Superficially it may appear that the D3300 doesn’t differ a great deal from its predecessor, the D3200. However, looks can often be deceiving, so let’s take a peek at what’s new.

Image Quality

Like its predecessor, the D3300 offers an amazing 24.2 megapixels for a great price, yet this sensor has now been overhauled by removing the anti-aliasing filter in order to improve image sharpness.

As is well known, the primary drawback of doing away with the anti-aliasing filter is an increased risk of exposing oneself to the dreaded moiré effect when photographing fine, repeated patterns. For this reason, prior to the release of the D3300, removal of anti-aliasing filters was largely something seen only on pro and pro-sumer level cameras: clearly beginner photographers are less likely to have either the desire or the requisite skills to faff around with retouching these artifacts in the post-processing stage.

Nonetheless, remove it they have, and the resulting photos are indeed much sharper for it – viewed at 100%, images shot on the D3300 exhibit impressive clarity of detail.

Furthermore, according to the manufacturer, the risk of moiré patterning decreases significantly as the pixel-count rises, and this camera certainly isn’t lacking on that front either, so, theoretically, sharpness is increased while moiré should pretty much be a thing of the past for D3300 users. Win/win.

Naturally, by gaining greater sharpness you also increase the likelihood of amplifying visible noise, yet the D3300 delivers excellent quality, noise-free images even in relatively low light.

When shooting RAW, it’s only at around ISO 800 that even the slightest amount of noise becomes noticeable (and this only when zoomed in to 100%) and photos of a fully acceptable quality are possible up to and beyond ISO 1600 (depending on the particular lighting conditions).

Likewise, the D3300’s dynamic range stands its ground against most competitors (of any price point) when shooting at a fairly regular ISO, and it’s only when pushing the ISO to higher levels (ISO 1600 and beyond) that performance begins to lag on this front.

This brings us to the second significant difference between the D3300 the D3200, as ISO now ranges from 100 to 12,800, giving the D3300 a full stop of advantage over the older model when it comes to low-light shooting (there is also the possibility to expand this to an equivalent of ISO 25,600).

Physical Attributes

While the D3300 runs on the same battery as its predecessor, Nikon claims that performance has been significantly improved due to the new Expeed 4 processing Engine: the battery will power a good 700 shots before it needs changing, almost 1/3 more than with the D3200.

The camera body is constructed from a single piece of sturdy plastic, with metal elements only where necessary – helping to keep weight down whilst maintaining durability. In fact weight has been kept so low that this is apparently the lightest Nikon DSLR (or, indeed, SLR) produced in Nikon’s entire history.

The overall design is visually similiar to, but marginally smaller than, that of the D3200 and features a comfortable ergonomic, textured grip.

Furthermore, the included 18-55mm kit lens is of excellent quality and is fully collapsible, making it a really great accompaniment to the newly slimmed down body.

The lens retracts and expands at the press of a button, allowing for it to be discreetly stowed away for storage in a small bag when not in use. For those preferring to be pre-armed for quick-draw shooting, the lens can also be left in the extended position if desired.

Interface

The D3300’s UI is simple, modern and easy on the eye. Additionally it offers a Guide Mode to help beginners navigate their way through their first steps with the camera.

As DSLRs go, the D3300 is already one of the most simple and intuitive to use – and therefore new users will no doubt get to grips with the basic controls in no time – however it’s still nice that such a feature is included. Especially for anyone finding themselves in doubt whilst out ‘in the field’, and far from the manual.

Aside from the above, the real give-away that this is an entry-level, amateur camera – as suited to shooting family-snapshots as it is to more advanced uses – is the inclusion of a Special Effects mode that permits the user to apply several image processing filters to their photos, such as colour-saturation, a retro-tinged effect called Toy Camera, and a panoramic mode. I guess by adding this feature Nikon hopes to tap into a market raised on Instagram and its associated filters, but if that was their plan they really should have included Wi-Fi too.

Indeed, if you’re accustomed to uploading photos straight from your phone you might find yourself pining for built-in Wi-Fi, as the D3300 omits this now fairly standard feature. Although fear not, the problem is easily rectifiable – at extra cost, obviously – by means of Nikon’s WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter.

Another sign that this camera is not really targeted at the pro market is that it comes with a built-in flash. Presumably the thinking is that professional photographers will anyway want a more serious, heavy-duty flashgun and will therefore buy an external strobe rather than use the weaker built-in one, so manufacturers tend to leave them off pro models. But that’s ok, we’re not proud, and these little built-in flashes can be really handy, especially when used to fill-in a scene that is primarily lit by ambient light.

Drawbacks

As we’ve already seen, then, the D3300 offers an awful lot, for not very much. Obviously there must be a limit to Nikon’s generosity though, so let’s now turn our attention to what you don’t get.

For a start, access to the deeper recesses of the D3300’s operating system is somewhat hindered by a lack of handy buttons or knobs. Then there’s the fact that there’s no depth-of-field preview button. Nor is there a slot for a second SD card. Battery charge is displayed by means of a three-bar icon, rather than as a percentage (bringing back memories of early Nokia phones!). And, finally, there’s no auto exposure-bracketing (but it’s hardly a huge chore to do this manually anyway).

Most user-interaction with the D3300 takes place via a standard 3-inch LCD screen.

Needless to say that at this price point the screen is of the fixed, non-articulated and non-touch-sensitive variety. The display can be switched off when shooting via the optical viewfinder, which is bright and easy to use. Sadly the viewfinder displays only 95% of image area, so be aware that some pesky elements you thought you’d excluded from the frame may be revealed to have snuck back in there once you come to check the full-size file on a computer later (though this is of course way preferable to the opposite scenario, whereby elements you thought you’d included are in fact awkwardly chopped off at the edges).

Performance

The D3300’s 11-point autofocus system performs very well in brightly-lit environments, with an expected, and totally acceptable, drop in performance in lower-light situations. In fact there’s none of that frustrating, jerky, back-and-forth lost-focus action until you really deprive the lens of almost all light whatsoever.

Do not expect such an impressive performance when shooting with Live View however, as here focus-speed is significantly compromised.

The D3300 also allows for superb quality slo-mo video shooting, with full HD recording at frame rates of up to 60 per second. An external microphone port is included, should the on-board mic not meet your needs.

Continuous shooting mode permits a burst rate of 5fps and aperture and shutter speeds are adjusted by means of a dial on the back of the camera. Shutter speeds range from 1/4000 of a second through to 30 seconds.

Metering is centre-weighted, or you can make use of any of the 11 autofocus points when spot-metering.

We found the D3300’s meter to be accurate and reliable (when used by someone who knows what they’re doing, it goes without saying), and the D3300’s automatic white balance setting is equally trustworthy: providing impressively neutral tones even when shooting under artificial lighting. Indeed, colour reproduction is highly impressive overall, and images shot on the D3300 look great fresh out of the camera, even before they’ve undergone any tweaking. So, to summarise:

The Good

What’s that you say? 24.2 megapixels and no anti-aliasing filter? Great noise-free low-light performance? For how much money? Nikon could have released the D3300 only in a leopard-print finish and I’d still be sold on it.

Also, I think that Nikon’s decision not include Wi-Fi or add a touch-sensitive screen to this camera was actually an intelligent one. The D3300 is a stripped-down and reliable photographic tool capable of producing top quality images at a surprisingly low price.

The addition of extras such as Wi-Fi to the D3300 would only have pushed up the cost of what is currently one of the most accessible – both in terms of price and regarding ease of use – tools for learning the basics of creative DSLR photography.

The Bad

Would you call me a snob if I said that Nikon probably could have skipped the cheap Special Effects mode?

I suppose some small and particularly sheltered children might have fun with it. For about 5 minutes. Whatever.

Perhaps more seriously, it should be said that this is not a camera for those photographers who like to get too heavily into personalising and tweaking their set-up, as clearly one way Nikon has managed to keep the price down is by doing away with all the short-cut dials and buttons that make access to this kind of information so straightforward on their top of the range models. Instead, anyone wanting to customise the D3300 would find themselves descending deep into an uncharted labyrinth of menus and submenus.

Don’t get me wrong, you can customise the D3300 all you want, it’s just accessing the controls that’s a pain. But then again, this camera is all about the straightforward shooting of high-quality images, so why would you even need to?

The Ugly

No leopard-print, but in addition to the standard black finish the D3300 also comes in red!

Final Thoughts

Although there are more similarities between the D3300 and its predecessor than there are differences, those details that have changed between one model and the next are highly significant: the D3300 is lighter and smaller; its burst rate improved from 4 to 5fps; maximum ISO is now 12,800 instead of the 6,400 offered by the D3200; and, most importantly, Nikon have removed the anti-aliasing filter, leading to sharper images.

With these points in mind, think very carefully before opting to go with the older (and cheaper) model, as no matter how great a deal the D3200 may have been back in its day, it has now been rendered well and truly obsolete by its younger sibling.

The D3300 offers image quality comparable to (if not even better than) that normally produced by cameras costing many thousands of pounds.

Whatever drawbacks the D3300 may have (and really, it doesn’t have very many), you will struggle to find another DSLR deal as great as this one.

Lets put it this way, there are generally two kinds of photographers: those interested in the photographic process and all its paraphernalia (big cameras, very long lenses…beige-coloured waistcoats with lots of pockets), and those who just want to take good photographs. As the D3300 forgoes a lot of the extra functions that are now frequently offered even with entry-level DSLRs, this camera is clearly a tool for the latter kind of photographer.

You may think that you need more than the D3300 can offer, but you really don’t. For old-timers or film fans out there, I kind of see the D3300 as a modern-day version of Pentax’s K1000: that sturdy and dependable workhorse of the analog-age, favoured by school photography departments the world over for many decades of the last century (and indeed beyond) for its utility as a learning device. Like the K1000, this may not be the most glamorous or feature-filled camera on the market, but it produces great images, at a great price, and with a minimum of fuss. The rest is up to you.

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