Modest Updates: Nikon D3400 Review
4 Conclusion and Samples
The D3400 left a bit to be desired considering that this is supposed to be an updated version of the D3300. With the removal of the in-body sensor cleaning and the external mic port we expected there to be a few more updates to the D3400 and, well, we just didn't get them. The D3400's limitations are made even more apparent when compared to the competition. There are a number of mirrorless options on the market like the Sony a5100 and the Fujifilm X-A3 that offer more AF coverage, better AF subject tracking, additional features and comparable overall image quality.
That being said it's still a very solid performer with a 24MP sensor that still offers some very nice image quality for the money. The JPEGs have pleasing, yet punchy colors with nice detail and the Raws offer a fair amount of latitude with respect to Dynamic Range, especially for an APS-C sensor.
Downtown Seattle, WA looking toward the Space Needle. Edited in ACR to lift shadows and balance the exposure. Photo by Chris Williams
AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G, 55mm, 1/250, F8, ISO 200
Body and Handling
One area where it would have been nice to see a bit of improvement would have been the LCD screen, as the camera features the same 3" LCD screen as its predecessor. With smartphone shooters so used to focusing and capturing images with their touchscreen, it seems like a fairly big omission to leave the screen as is, especially given the fact that many cameras coming to the market (mirrorless and DSLR) now offer a fully articulating LCD screen with touch capability. This would also have helped make the most of the D3400's main new feature: the AF-P kit zoom with its faster, smoother and quieter autofocus in live view.
The D3400 also has the same control layout seen in the D3300 which doesn't offer much scope for the user to grow with the camera since it lacks an additional control dial to allow easy access to frequently used settings like aperture and ISO.
Image quality is really where the D3400 shines. It still has the same 24 MP CMOS APS-C sensor found in the D3300 but the performance is still class leading. The JPEG engine produces punchy, yet pleasing images full of detail and color. The noise reduction can muddle some of the finer detail, but it can be adjusted in the camera's settings. Since the D3400 is capable of Raw capture, exposing to protect the highlights (which ADL will do automatically to within 1-stop) will give you plenty of flexibility in post processing to bring back the shadow detail in your images.
Additionally, there are several in-camera retouch options, much like those seen in the D3300, 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, Fujifilm, Sony and Olympus still have the edge.
Autofocus and Performance
The auto-focus system is reliable for an 11-point phase detection AF system, particularly its center cross-type point, but it's looking a little long in the tooth compared to some mirrorless alternatives. The camera lacks face-detection in viewfinder shooting; couple that with the limited and sparse coverage and there are better options out there for capturing erratically moving subjects like small children. The AF in live-view has improved a great deal over the D3300, especially so in terms of utilizing AF during video capture thanks to the new kit lenses. However, since it's contrast-based, it still hunts and is a good deal slower at locking focus when compared to focusing through the viewfinder.
Although the D3400 has a built in flash, it can be frustrating to use it in 'auto' mode. It tends to fire even when shooting in well lit areas which can be a bit confusing for new and beginning DSLR shooters. It's also a good deal weaker than the one seen in the D3300 with a rating of only 7m at ISO 100.
The camera also has a 5 fps burst rate and several 'auto' modes which are well suited for the camera's target beginner audience. The addition of SnapBridge and Bluetooth LE to the D3400 is definitely a step in the right direction in terms of photo sharing ability, but the lack of built in Wi-Fi is still a bit of an issue, especially since SnapBridge can be a bit cumbersome to use.
The battery life has seen a fairly dramatic increase in the D3400 (due in part we suspect to the decreased flash strength), which is definitely a nice improvement; it now boasts a CIPA rating of 1200 shots.
The D3400 comes equipped with the same Full HD 1080/60p video capability found in the D3300 but it now offers quieter focusing during video capture thanks to the upgraded focusing motors in the kit lenses. The subject tracking AF has improved in live-view, and works fairly well provided that your subject has a high contrast edge and doesn't move too erratically. With that said the AF is still quite a bit slower at acquiring focus in live-view, so that's definitely something to be aware of.
It's also worth noting that there is the risk that the focus will jump off into the distance and ruin your footage, so it's not your best bet for critical video recording. The moire issues found in the video recorded with the D3300 have been largely resolved as well.
The Final Word
SOOC JPEG taken using the flash disabled 'auto' mode. Photo by Chris Williams
AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G, 55mm, 1/250, F8, ISO 125
All in all I think the D3400 is a fun and feature-packed beginner SLR that offers punchy, nice quality JPEGs with fantastic Raw performance for the price. The modest updates seen in the D3400 really don't make it worth making the jump from its predecessor but if you're a new or beginning DSLR user this camera is an excellent option to consider, bearing in mind of course that the camera does have its limitations with respect to its AF system, features and the overall control scheme.
Compared to other cameras on the market the D3400's sensor is still at the top of its class in terms of Raw processing latitude and overall JPEG performance. It has built in Bluetooth LE that works fairly well with the SnapBridge app for transferring images, but it can be a bit cumbersome to use (especially on iOS devices, since the app is relatively new and rough 'round the edges). The D3400's center-point works very reliably, but the 11-point AF system is fairly unsophisticated when compared to the mirrorless competition, and the contrast-based live view AF is largely unsuitable for moving subjects.
Image quality aside, the controls in the D3400 really make it difficult to grow as a photographer with this camera as the control scheme doesn't really lend itself to taking more control over the camera. The bottom line is that for folks that just want a camera that will give them great quality photos, it's a winner. For someone looking for more features, better AF coverage and to develop as a photographer, I might steer them elsewhere.
Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Although the D3400 only received a modest update it still hold its own as one of the better beginner DSLRs on the market. The camera still features a 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor that offers fantastic Raw performance and punchy, yet pleasing JPEGs. The kit lenses have seen an upgrade to their focus motors which makes for much faster focusing times in Live-View and during video capture. The AF system is reliable, but it's very sparse in coverage and has difficulty tracking subjects like small children. More advanced shooters will be disappointed by the control layout, which still doesn't allow for much growth as a photographer. The camera also lacks a touch or articulating screen that would make better use of the D3400's features. That being said the D3400 still performs very well and produces quality photos.
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