Image Quality and Features
The D3300 relies on the 24 megapixel APS-C sensor used by its D7100 and D5300 siblings. Like those cameras it lacks an optical low pass filter, a component of the camera's sensor that's designed to slightly blur fine detail in an effort to reduce the risk of moiré. The effect of removing the OLPF, in theory, is to allow the sensor to capture slightly more fine detail.
In reality we found that the difference in sharpness between this sensor with and without an OLPF is very hard to see in the real world, and it depends on using the best lenses at their sweetest apertures. Kit lenses like the 18-140mm F3.5-5.6 VR we used with the D5300 and the D3300's bundled 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 VR II are rarely sharp enough to yield any extra sharpness that the removal of the OLPF provides. Since many D3300 users will be perfectly happy to keep shooting with the kit lens, we think there's no real advantage or consequence of the camera's sensor design.
JPEG image quality
Did we mention that the D3300 has a 24 megapixel APS-C sensor? It has a 24 megapixel sensor. JPEG image quality from all of those pixels is very good, and lines up with everything we've seen from other Nikon bodies with the same sensor. All images below were captured with the 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 VR II kit lens.
|ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/1000sec||100% crop|
|ISO 450, f/4.0, 1/40sec||100% crop|
|ISO 3200, f/4.0, 1/60sec||100% crop|
|ISO 25600, f/5.0, 1/100sec||100% crop|
Nikon's JPEG engine tends to take a more aggressive approach to noise reduction and muddles a bit more fine detail in the process than we'd ideally like, something that becomes more obvious around ISO 3200. Keep in mind though that the above are pixel-level details from very large images. Downsizing for printing or viewing at web-friendly-sizes will have a sharpening effect. Toning down the camera's noise reduction settings will also yield sharper images, and for the very best results the D3300's Raw files provide lots of latitude for post processing.
A major advantage in shooting Raw is the ability to recover tone and detail from parts of an image that the camera's JPEG engine hasn't revealed. The example below shows how far you can take the D3300's 12-bit Raw files in Adobe Camera Raw. The left image was converted in ACR 8.3 at default exposure settings, and the example on the right reflects increases in exposure and shadows. No noise reduction was applied in ACR to either image.
|ACR defaults with NR turned off||ACR defaults with +0.30 exposure and +100 shadows|
|100% crop||100% crop|
We've taken the example above further than is sensible, for illustrative purposes. Consistent with Nikon's other 24 megapixel DSLRs, at base ISO the D3300 provides a wealth of information for processing later in Raw. There's a fair amount of noise in the shadow regions of the image on the right, but the level of detail recovered is impressive.
Raw files for download
- ISO 100 real-world shot (19.4 MB)
- ISO 400 real-world shot (20.4 MB)
- ISO 12800 real-world shot (24.7 MB)
- ISO 25600 real-world shot (28.2 MB)
The D3300's built-in flash unit is rated to 12 meters at ISO 100. This camera is two steps below the DSLRs in Nikon's lineup which allow wireless triggering of off-camera flash with the built-in unit. It's not a feature that many D3300 owners would be disappointed to find missing, since it requires the purchase of additional, external flashguns.
|With a little soft window light to the subject's left, the D3300 gives a nice even exposure with the built-in flash on auto. Red-eye correction and slow sync options are also available for the on-board flash.|
As an entry-level model, the D3300 offers a number of features designed to help users get the effects they want right in the camera without having to take images into post-processing software. Nikon hasn't introduced anything groundbreaking in this generation, but we've taken a look at a couple of features that D3300 may find appealing.
Under the umbrella of 'Effects' on the mode dial is an 'Easy Panorama' mode. Selecting it will initiate a prompt to switch to Live View. From there, users can select from a 'Normal' (4800 x 1080) or 'Wide' panorama (9600 x 1080), set focus mode and JPEG compression (no Raw file is saved). Exposure compensation is also available. The 'Normal' panorama captured close to 180 degrees of a view, while 'Wide' approaches a full 360 degrees.
Pressing the shutter button once starts the panorama. From there the user can pan up, down, left or right, as prompted by arrows on screen. Once you've started panning, a progress bar appears at the top of the image. Focus and exposure are locked from the start of the panorama. The D3300 user manual suggests about 15 seconds for a 'Normal' panorama and 30 seconds for 'Wide.' Once the camera has successfully recorded the image, it presents the option to 'replay' it and pan across the final photo.
|A truck moving through the bottom center of the frame is the only noticeable error in this otherwise very good panorama.|
|Less successful results were had when attempting a panorama at sunset over the Puget Sound.|
Real-world results varied. In the even lighting of a sunny day and photographing the city skyline, the camera performed beautifully. Stitching errors were rare and when they were present, quite subtle and only visible at 100%. Photographing a sunset over the Puget Sound, the camera started out strong but struggled with the middle bit of sky, distant land and water. The user manual warns that such subjects 'that are a solid color or contain simple repeating patterns' like sea or sky can cause the panorama to fail. This is disappointing, especially since the skyline results were so good.
The D3300 provides options for in-camera image editing, to both Raw and JPEG images. All of the options are available in the Retouch menu. Some are more art-filter-like in nature, and other options are more utilitarian. When applying Retouch options to images recorded in NEF+JPEG mode, the Raw file will be used. In all cases, the original file is preserved and a copy with the desired changes is saved to the SD card.
D-Lighting is available in the Retouch menu and it comes in three strengths - low, medium and high. It's designed to brighten a backlit subject while maintaining a nice tone curve for the brighter background. This is distinct from Active D-Lighting (discussed in more detail on the next page), which analyzes the scene before you shoot and can apply an exposure correction as well as tonal adjustments to achieve a more significant effect. In the example below you can see that the camera's Active D-Lighting setting didn't take the exposure as far as even a Low application of Retouch D-Lighting.
Active D-Lighting Off
Active D-Lighting On
Retouch D-Lighting Low
Retouch D-Lighting Mid
Retouch D-Lighting High
Applying D-Lighting in Retouch at the middle and highest settings does reveal more noise in shadow areas, but none of the settings take the image too far into grainy territory. Results may vary for JPEG-only shooting, as the in-camera Retouch used information from Raw files for the sample above.