Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- 24 megapixel APS-C sensor is one of the best in its class
- Light, well-balanced body
- Detailed, smooth 1080/60p HD video
- Customizable Fn button allows for direct access to ISO or white balance
- Rear command dial makes shooting in P, A and S modes easy
- Raw files offer ample room for corrections including tone curve adjustments
- Excellent battery life - CIPA rated 700 shots
Conclusion - Cons
- Rear command dial can't be used with 'info' menu change settings more quickly
- Useful settings like Auto ISO on/off and Active D-Lighting buried in camera menu
- Can't change aperture while live view is engaged
- Auto mode continues to use very slow shutter speeds with flash turned off
- Movie mode poorly thought-out and integrated
- Slow auto focus in live view
- Some misfires with in-camera panorama
Plain and simple, the Nikon D3300 aims to be a beginner's DSLR and hits that mark successfully. It functions well in point-and-shoot mode (provided you don't mind shooting with flash) and has most of the right controls for those who want to test the waters in Aperture or Shutter priority mode and move beyond the basics.
However, those who aren't very beginners may find themselves frustrated with the same performance quirks that frustrated us in the Nikon D5300, such as the inability to use the command dial in the quick menu, or that the 'Auto' ISO option requires a trip to the menu. And there are a couple of potentially important features missing from the D3300 that are available in the step-up model, like built-in Wi-Fi and a flip-out LCD. These aren't important to every user, and as far as basic core features go the D3300 will likely please its target audience, especially very beginners.
Among other entry-level DSLRs, the Nikon D3300 offers a few strong features that the competition don't, including the highest resolution in its class, 1080/60p video and 700 shot battery life. Those three features alone make a strong case for this camera. Also consider its good 95% coverage optical viewfinder (though as usual Pentax is way ahead here with the K-500's 100% OVF), reliable 11-point AF system and speedy 5 fps burst rate and the D3300 packs quite a lot into its demure entry-level form.
Though the D3300 puts up a strong feature set against its peers, the entry-level DSLR isn't the only sheriff in town anymore. Entry-level APS-C mirrorless cameras have been drifting down in price and have been bulking up in terms of features. For less than the D3300's MSRP, the Fujifilm X-A1 offers a tilting LCD, built-in Wi-Fi and twin control dials. Samsung's NX2000 has a fluid touch screen and Wi-Fi with an impressive suite of connectivity features. The Sony a3000 - complaints about its build quality aside - also offers a high resolution 20MP sensor and a built-in electronic viewfinder, all for under $400. Each of these cameras is smaller too, which is a major criteria we hear from camera shoppers again and again. If budget and size are a priority, mirrorless has the D3300 beat, and in many cases includes features that Nikon reserves for its upper-entry-level model.
The D3300 feels well-balanced and comfortable to use. Its plastic build feels slightly cheap, but it's a sturdy camera that didn't complain as I lugged it along countless bus trips and stuffed it in a less-than-ideally-padded backpack throughout the course of this review. For a DSLR it's light and compact, just small enough to go in a larger purse without displacing too many other items, but it certainly fits best in a dedicated camera bag or carried over the shoulder by its strap.
The command dial performs its tasks almost instantly, and in combination with the Fn button puts a nice level of control at your fingertips. Helpful as it may be, the quick 'info' menu can only be navigated with directional button presses and not the command wheel, making it somewhat tedious to use. Overall though, the camera feels responsive, and setting aside gripes with quick menu navigation, feels like it has the right level of access to settings for a beginner.
The D3300 produces good quality JPEGs, with good if not class-leading high-ISO performance. The camera's Raw files hold up well for post processing, and low ISO Raw images provide a good deal of latitude for adjusting shadow tones without a huge noise penalty. Video quality is good too, though anyone looking to take manual control over settings may find themselves perplexed and frustrated by the camera's behavior in this respect.
There are a few nice in-camera processing features available. In-camera retouch options abound, including the ability to straighten, adjust tone curves and add filter effects to images post-capture, and the nice part is that when there's Raw image data to work with from a Raw+JPEG capture, the camera will use it. However, when it comes to in-camera extras like art filters and panorama modes, Sony and Olympus have the lead. Sony's in-camera panorama feature is more reliable than the D3300's, and Olympus cameras have been offering filter effects for (what feels like) ages. While the D3300 can offer live previews of art effects, it's much slower to focus in live view and becomes frustrating quickly.
Auto focus is reliable and on par with the class in terms of speed, so the odds that you'll get the shot you want in the first place are good. This camera obviously lacks the sophisticated tracking abilities of its bigger siblings but this should give it an edge over its mirrorless peers. Even so, anyone looking to the DSLR category specifically for better tracking capabilities may need to look higher up the chain, but the D3300's auto focus does as well as we expected.
What the D3300 can be relied upon to deliver is very good images without much fuss. Some in-camera tools for creativity and processing are provided, but the D3300's real strength is high quality, high resolution images that will more than satisfy a beginner.
The final word
There's not much new and exciting about the D3300, and that's not a bad thing necessarily - we've become accustomed to Nikon providing good, iterative updates to their basic models. The D3300 doesn't push the category forward but that's not really its job. Its job is to provide a beginning photographer with enough tools to take good photos. It provides that, and goes just enough beyond the very basics to continue to satisfy that photographer as her or she learns and grows.
Is the D3300 the perfect photographic tool for every beginner? Probably not. Those who know they will want to learn quickly and take more control over settings might want to look to a model with two command dials like the Pentax K-50 or Fujifilm X-A1. For something lighter and more agile with a wider array of in-camera creative features, a Sony a3000 or Olympus E-PM2 is worth considering. But if it's a DSLR-shaped thing that you need, the D3300's high resolution, battery life, video specification and overall performance are very hard to find fault with.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
A beginner specifically looking for a DSLR experience who may want to eventually take a little control over shooting settings.
Not so good for
Those looking for lots of easily accessible, reliable in-camera effects modes and features, Wi-Fi, fast focusing in live view, and those who want to regularly take control over more camera settings.
The Nikon D3300 is an entry-level DSLR with an impressive spec list, including a 24 megapixel sensor and 1080/60p HD video recording. It provides the right level of controls for a beginner, offers a number of in-camera retouch options, and boasts excellent battery life.
- Fujifilm X-M1 Review
- Consumer SLR Camera Roundup 2013
- Nikon D5300 Review
- Canon EOS Rebel SL1 (100D) Review