Nikon D3300 £399

14th Feb 2014 | 17:44

Nikon D3300

Nikon's entry-level DSLR loses its anti-aliasing filter for more detail than ever before

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

A fantastic entry-level camera with superb detail reproduction and a decent kit-lens to boot.

Like:

High pixel count; No optical low-pass filter; Excellent Guide Mode; Easy to use

Dislike:

Fixed LCD; Screen not touch-sensitive; Few direct controls

Overview

Ratings in depth
Design 4Features 4Performance 4,5Usability
value

Manufacturers generally update their entry-level cameras with greater frequency with those at the top of the line, since they're keen to capture that lucrative first-time buyer. Although these cameras are far cheaper than the professional ones at the top of the range, by snagging a customer at this stage in the buying cycle you're often guaranteed long-time loyalty in terms of buying accessories such as lenses, and eventually, a more advanced body.

Whenever I'm asked for an entry-level DSLR recommendation, those at the bottom of Nikon's range always spring to mind. The Nikon D3200, which I reviewed back in 2012 was an excellent performer and its easy handling made it the ideal choice for beginners.

The D3300 looks set to be another good choice for beginners. It offers the same 24.2 million-pixel count as the D3200, but omits the optical low-pass filter over the sensor and should therefore capture sharper, more detailed images.

Removing the anti-aliasing filter is something we've seen mainly on professional and enthusiast level cameras until now. Removing it increases the chance of moiré patterning appearing on some images – usually when you photograph something with repeating or close patterns. Enthusiasts and pros don't usually have a problem with removing such patterning in post-processing, but it's interesting that Nikon should choose this design for an entry-level model, or, customers who are less likely to use image-editing software to perform such tasks.

Nikon claims that a high pixel count, such as found on the D3300, almost eliminates the risk of such patterning occurring, so it will be interesting to see if we can find any examples of it in images straight from the camera.

Nikon D3300

Along with the sensor redesign, Nikon has also improved the user interface as well as the Guide Mode, to give it more functionality and make it a little cleaner in appearance.

Like the Nikon D5300, the D3300 has the manufacturer's latest generation processing engine: EXPEED 4. This allows the new camera to shoot continuously at a maximum rate of 5fps up to 100 fine quality JPEGs.

In addition, the native sensitivity range runs from ISO 100 to 12,800 and there's an expansion setting that takes it to the equivalent of ISO 25,600. Provided that noise is controlled to Nikon's usual standard, this should mean that the D3300 performs better in low light than its predecessor, making it more versatile.

Nikon D3300

The EXPEED 4 processing engine is also responsible for allowing the D3300 to record Full HD movie footage at framerates up to 50p/60p and with continuous autofocus. Helpfully, there's a microphone port as well as a built-in stereo mic for better sound recording during movie shooting.

Like the D5300, the D3200 has a Special Effects mode that allows a collection of styles to be applied to JPEG images and video. Nikon has boosted the list of effects to 13 and it now includes Pop, which increases colour saturation, Toy Camera, which creates a retro effect, and Easy Panorama. These effects can be previewed in real time on the LCD screen.

The D3300 has a dedicated 420-pixel RGB sensor to gather exposure, white balance and focus information to inform the Automatic Scene Recognition system. Meanwhile, there's an 11-point AF system, which has a central cross-type AF point for extra sensitivity.

Finally, although the D3300 uses the same battery as the D3200, we are told that the new processing engine allows the camera to be more efficient in its power consumption, and the battery is claimed to last for around 700 shots – we'll be keen to put that claim to the test during our review.

Build quality and handling

The D3300 is the second DSLR from Nikon to use a monocoque construction. That means it's made from one piece of material, making it both lighter and stronger than the D3200.

Nikon has also reduced slightly the size of the camera when compared to the D3200, but placing the two side by side doesn't reveal too dramatic a difference. The grip is still deep and comfortable to hold, with the textured surface making it feel particularly secure in the hand.

Nikon D3300

What does make a significant difference however is the new 18-55mm kit lens, which is now collapsible. While by no means small in comparison to compact system camera lenses, when collapsed the lens is quite a bit shorter than its predecessor, making it easier to fit into a bag when not in use.

When you want to use the camera (with this kit lens attached), you'll first need to press a button on the lens barrel to expand it back into normal proportions. This does mean that start-up time from packed away is a little slower than other cameras, but you can of course leave it extended if you need a quicker start.

Nikon D3300

Like the D3200, the D3300 has a three-inch LCD screen with 921,000 dots. This is a fixed unit and Nikon is still resisting the urge to join the touchscreen revolution, which is a little disappointing given how many of the camera's controls are changed via the screen itself.

That brings us to the user interface. The D3300 has a pleasingly modern appearance, with the high resolution giving the display beautifully rounded edges and displaying the interface's colours well. When shooting, the camera displays three circles which represent shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity (ISO). These displays change as you alter settings using the scrolling dials, most obvious being the aperture circle which closes and opens to represent the opening and closing of the aperture blades.

A dial on the back of the camera is used for altering the aperture or shutter speed, depending on the mode you're shooting in. When in fully manual mode and needing to control both, you'll need to hold down the exposure compensation button while scrolling the dial to switch between the two parameters.

Nikon D3300

There isn't a huge number of buttons on the D3300, which is to be expected of an entry-level camera. On the top plate you'll find a mode dial for switching between exposure modes, such as fully automatic, aperture priority and the newly incorporated Effects mode. Also on the top plate you'll find the exposure compensation button (for use in automatic and semi-automatic modes) and an info button, which helpfully turns off the rear display, preventing it from being a distraction while using the viewfinder.

A sort of quick menu is accessed on the D3300 by pressing a button labelled 'i' on the back of the camera. After you've pressed this, use the directional keys to pick a setting you want to change – such as white balance – and then press OK to bring up the different options available to you. Unfortunately, this menu isn't customisable, so if there's something on this menu you rarely use, you're stuck with it.

There is also a function button near the lens mount. By default holding this down will allow you to quickly change the ISO, but you can change this to control JPEG quality, white balance or Active D-Lighting. ISO seems like a sensible choice since it's something you'll probably need to change the most often out of the options available.

Nikon D3300

Changing the AF point is very simple. All you'll need to do is press the directional arrow keys to move around to the point you need. As the central AF point is cross-type, it is more sensitive than the others, so you may find it beneficial to focus and recompose in certain situations, or, if you're just aiming for speed.

The viewfinder is optical and offers a 95% field of view. While it is bright and clear, not being 100% does mean that there is a chance of something appearing in the final image that you didn't notice in composition. With such a large resolution though, cropping out any of those mistakes shouldn't lead to a reduction in quality.

Performance

We were big fans of both the D3200 and the D3100, so we had pretty high hopes that the D3300 would continue this impressive line-up. Nikon entry-level cameras offer a lot for the cash, and the D3300 is no different in that respect.

The big difference between this camera and its predecessor is the removal of the anti-aliasing filter, which has been done to improve detail resolution. As expected, the D3300 has excellent resolving power, zooming in to images to 100% reveals that very fine details can be seen. Happily, we've not come across any examples of moiré patterning when shooting stills, suggesting Nikon's claim that a high pixel count presents less of a problem for AA filter-less cameras is accurate.

Our labs data indicates that the camera performs better than its predecessors in our resolution test – you can see a full set of charts on the next page.

Nikon D3300

With such a high pixel count (24 million pixels), there comes the increased chance of noise appearing in images. The D3300, like the D3200, handles low light, high sensitivity situations very well. Noise only really starts to become particularly apparent when shooting at ISO 3200 above, and even then it's acceptable, or certainly preferable to a blurred or missed shot.

Examining images at 100% reveals that detail is kept well, while our lab charts indicate that the D3300 favours detail reproduction over noise reduction, something which is borne out in real world shots, but not to the extent that shots become unacceptably noisy. Again you can read in-depth analysis from our labs testing on the next pages.

Image smoothing is something that can be seen right the way through the sensitivity run, but at the lower end of the spectrum it's not particularly noticeable, only when examining images very closely at 100% does it become apparent. When printing at normal sizes, such as A4, or sharing online, it doesn't present a problem.

One of the benefits of having a large pixel count is the ability to crop images and still retain a decent resolution, but this is something to bear in mind if you've been shooting at a high sensitivity and want to crop an image. Any image smoothing or noise may become more apparent the more you crop the image.

Metering

In the majority of everyday shooting conditions, the D3300's general-purpose metering does a good job of producing accurate exposures. I did find, however, that the camera can get confused if you're shooting something with very high contrast – for instance a bright sign in otherwise dark conditions. It's not particularly surprising, and switching to spot metering or dialling in some exposure compensation helps to reduce this. If you shoot in raw, you've also got the option to alter the exposure in post-production, with raw format files containing plenty of detail for you to work with.

Automatic white balance is similarly impressive, managing to produce accurate colours even while shooting indoors. The only time I had to change from the automatic setting was when shooting a row of red outdoor lights, when the camera got a little confused and produced a slightly colder colour than I would have liked. Otherwise, shooting under normal household artificial lights produces images which are very close to accurate, hardly erring towards warm tones at all, which is excellent to see in a beginner camera.

Autofocus

Autofocusing speeds are pretty high, especially in daylight or well-lit conditions. It's rare for the kit lens to hunt around to acquire focus, and rarer still for it to present a false confirmation of focus. Speeds do drop a little in lower light conditions, but it's only when it gets very dark that the lens struggles to focus at all. It's worth bearing in mind, though, that focusing speeds drop significantly when using Live View, so it's only really recommended you use that if you're shooting something stationery, or you're shooting from an awkward angle and can't compose using the viewfinder.

The new kit lens is a decent performer to get you started with. Its focal length range is good for a variety of general situations, while it is capable of producing sharp images.

By shooting at a mid-range aperture of around f/8 we can assess the sharpness of the lens across the frame, and in this respect, the lens puts in a good performance. A good suggestion for a next lens would be a 50mm f/1.8, which would be handy in lower light conditions, and for shooting portraits.

I was very impressed by the D3300's battery performance. After a day of shooting, checking images and then scrolling through saved images, the battery life indicator hadn't even dropped a single bar. Nikon's claim of around 700 shots per charge seems about accurate and makes it an excellent camera for holidays, family outings and other times where you don't want to worry about conserving the battery life.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Nikon D3300, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Nikon D3300 is capable of resolving up to around 32 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Nikon D3300

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Nikon D3300

ISO 100, Score: 32. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 200, Score: 30. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 400, Score: 30. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 800, Score: 28. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 1600, Score: 26. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 3200, Score: 26. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 6400, Score: 20. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 12800, Score: 18. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 25600, Score: 16. Click here to see full resolution image.

Raw

Nikon D3300

ISO 100, Score: 32. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 200, Score: 32. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 400, Score: 30. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 800, Score: 30. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 1600, Score: 26. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 3200, Score: 26. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 6400, Score: 24. Click here to see full resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 12800, Score: 22. Click here to see full resolution image.

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Nikon D3300 with the...

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Nikon D3300

Taking the graph at face value makes it appear as if the D3300 is the worst performer here. While it is true that other cameras in this test, including the camera's predecessor, have a better signal to noise ratio, this is an indication that the camera is favouring detail resolution over noise suppression. This means that while images may be noisier in some conditions, you'll have better detail reproduction.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Nikon D3300

It's a similar story here, with the Nikon D3300 putting in the worst performance on the graph. You can tweak noise reduction in post-production when shooting in raw format, which may be of benefit if you find that the JPEGs are too noisy for your liking.

JPEG dynamic range

Nikon D3300

As we would probably expect, the D3300 performs pretty similarly to the D3200 for dynamic range. It puts in a good, consistent, performance across the sensitivity range, beating the Canon EOS 100D at the lower end of the scale, before dropping below it from ISO 1600 and above.

Raw dynamic range

Nikon D3300

In terms of raw format files (after conversion to TIFF), the D3300 puts in a reasonably similar performance to the other cameras in the test here. It is fairly closely matched to the Fuji X-A1, while it is almost identical to the Canon EOS 100D at the very bottom end of the sensitivity run, dipping below it from ISO 800 and above.

Sample images

Nikon D3300

Click here to see the full resolution image

At normal printing and web sizes, this image, shot at ISO 1600, appears fine, but if you zoom in to 100%, you can see a fair amount of color noise int he sky. The D3300 seems to prioritize keeping detail over noise reduction, so this is to be expected in certain situations.

Nikon D3300

Click here to see the full resolution image

The camera's automatic white balance setting copes extremely well, even under artificial lighting conditions, which is nice to see.

Nikon D3300 sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

Tones directly from the camera are natural, which is useful for pleasing portraits.

Nikon D3300

Click here to see the full resolution image

You can still get pleasing shallow depth of field effects using the kit lens, even though it only stops down to f/3.5.

Nikon D3300 image

Click here to see the full resolution image

The 18-55mm lens offers flexible focal length options, making it ideal for shooting a number of different situations. This was shot at the maximum telephoto end of the optic.

Nikon D3300

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colour reproduction is excellent, even when shooting subjects which may ordinarily confuse other cameras, such as neon lighting.

Nikon D3300 image

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours are bright and punchy directly from the camera.

Nikon D3300

Click here to see the full resolution image

In this scene, all-purpose metering was a little thrown by the mixed lighting conditions, so I needed to dial in +1 exposure to produce a more balanced image.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Nikon D3300

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Nikon D3300

ISO 100. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 1600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 3200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 6400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 12800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 25600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Raw

Nikon D3300

ISO 100. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 1600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 3200. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 6400. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 12800. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Nikon D3300

ISO 25600. Click here to see full-resolution image.

Verdict

Nikon continues to impress in this segment of the market. While the entry-level area may not seem like the most lucrative, hooking somebody in at the beginning of a buying career is key to long-term sales, so it's no surprise that companies such as Nikon pull out all the stops here.

You get a lot of seriously good kit for your money. For starters, there's the 24 million-pixel sensor which, with its AA filter-less design, is capable of producing more detail than the previous version of the camera, and gives beginner users who are short on lenses the double benefit of being able to crop into the scene for extra reach if needed.

The new 18-55mm kit lens collapses down to give you extra room in your bag, and while it still doesn't make the camera small compared to the likes of compact system cameras, it's an appreciated small touch which could make a big enough difference to sway you towards this model if size is a factor.

Updating the user interface to give it a crisp and clean look is also a smart move – most of the other manufacturers have stuck with the same UI for some time now, and some are starting to look a little dated. The Guide Mode continues to be something which makes this camera appealing to novice users as well, not having to dig out the manual or search online for help is especially useful when you're out shooting with the camera and get a little stuck.

It's a bit of a shame that this camera doesn't have inbuilt Wi-Fi connectivity, as this would probably have been even more enticing to beginner users who are used to sharing their shots instantly from smartphones. There's also no touch or articulating screen, which is perhaps to be expected at this price point, but does make some of the entry-level compact system cameras which do offer this functionality all the more appealing.

Nikon is of course constantly waging a war with its greatest enemy, Canon. By comparison to the D3300 though, Canon's latest introduction into this segment, the EOS 1200D, seems a little lacklustre.

Although of course Nikon would like you to spend additional money on extra lenses for your camera, the fact that you can crop and still retain a decent image size is a bonus for those that don't have the readies to fork out for extra optics.

That said, this camera is more expensive than the newly announced Canon 1200D, and, although it arguably offers more value for money in terms of the features included, that's not necessarily something that the cash-strapped will be thinking about. Hopefully the price will drop in the next few months to keep up with those kinds of customers.

We liked

Once again, Nikon has produced an excellent entry-level camera which novices should be able to pick up and use without too much problem. The Guide Mode is great for helping you out along the way should you need it, making it a camera you can really grow with as your skills and knowledge progress.

We disliked

It's a shame not to see Wi-Fi incorporated on this camera, as it's so squarely aimed at the novice who would likely be used to quickly sharing an image via their smartphone. Wi-Fi and NFC is starting to become so standard that it almost seems like an omission rather than a bonus nice to have feature.

Final verdict

The entry level market is likely to continue to be hotly contested, but Nikon shows no sign of losing its grip on this very important market.

With its high resolution it satisfies those who crave megapixels without skimping on image quality. Despite initial reservations about removing an anti-aliasing filter on a camera aimed at novices, I've been unable to find any evidence of moiré patterning in stills shooting, so overall it seems like a good choice, leading to very fine detailed images.

An excellent buy for those who want to purchase their first DSLR.

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