Body and Handling

Being that this is an entry level DSLR it's not that surprising that the body mostly comprises a composite plastic material. There is a slight difference in weight between the D3400 and its predecessor, but the differences are going to be hard to decipher. The bottom line is that this camera is light, extremely light. This makes shooting it for long periods of time actually fairly enjoyable.

The various shooting modes are located on the mode dial. There's also an exposure compensation button (that also toggles the rear control dial to change aperture) The camera features a 3" LCD screen and a very easy to use control layout on the back of the camera. As you can see there are no dedicated ISO or aperture controls.

Nikon decided to go with a very simple control design that will be well suited for first time DSLR shooters. We found the location of the controls made choosing settings on the fly fairly easy and manageable. Switching to the 'full auto' modes is made simple with the use of the well labeled mode dial. If you're a more advanced shooter the omission of a dedicated button to adjust the ISO or a second dial to control the aperture made shooting the camera in 'manual' mode a bit frustrating.

For first time DSLR users this isn't going to be a huge problem since they are more likely to be using a number of the 'Auto' settings, but if they're looking to purchase this camera as a stepping stone to grow more as a photographer, they may be a bit problematic and may become a growing point of frustration over time.

The D3400 offers the same optical viewfinder found in the D3300 with 95% coverage and 0.85x magnification which makes composing shots fairly simple, although these figures mean the viewfinder itself is a bit on the small side. The camera also offers Live-View via the 3" LCD screen but it's important to note the screen doesn't offer touch control and since it's fixed, it can make shooting in tough lighting conditions a bit challenging.

The camera does come equipped with a built in flash, but it is really quite sensitive and seemed to fire in 'auto' mode even when it wasn't needed. If you're a first time DSLR user this might be a point of confusion if the flash decides to fire when you're in fairly well lit conditions. Switching to the 'no flash' mode on the control dial seemed to be the best option when shooting in well lit areas. The flash is also a good deal weaker in the D3400 compared to its predecessor. The flash is rated at 7m at an ISO 100 as opposed to the 12m seen in the D3300.

Autofocus

The D3400 offers the same 11-point phase detection autofocus system with one cross-type point that was found in the D3300. The focusing acquisition speed is fairly quick, though it does slow down a bit in live-view. The AF 'dots' in the viewfinder are fairly difficult to see; it would have been nice if the AF points were illuminated by boxes when focus is acquired. The small illuminated dots made it difficult at times to shoot with 100% degree of confidence that your shots were actually in focus.

That being said selecting the AF points using the four-way controller and choosing the AF modes with the press of a button make using the AF very easy, especially if you are new to shooting a DSLR. The auto focus acquisition speed is pretty quick in good light with the kit lens, slowing down a bit in darker conditions, but never becoming unreasonably slow.

Live-View AF

The auto-focus motor in the new 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 VR kit lens has seen an upgrade from the previous version. It now offers faster and smoother focusing in live-view and while shooting video where the focusing acquisition speed is a good deal faster thanks to the upgraded kit-lens. It is worth noting, though, that focusing in live-view is still quite a bit slower than focusing through the viewfinder and the AF can also be prone to hunting while attempting to acquire focus.

All-out focus failures were rare, though in less-than-ideal light, using the focus points toward the center turned in more consistently sharp photos in live-view.

The one large downside to the D3400 is the lack of a touch screen. Some of its mirrorless competitors offer touch-to-focus capability, face detection, 20x as many focus points, greater focusing area, and faster focusing in live view will likely provide for a much smoother transition from something like an iPhone to a more advanced shooting platform.

Image Quality

The D3400 offers some very punchy, yet pleasing JPEGs right out of the box. The sharpening, even if you engage the optional 'fine' setting, is fairly reserved, but the detail that's possible with the 24MP sensor is really quite nice.

This is a straight out-of-camera JPEG and, as you can see, the colors are punchy, yet pleasing with nice detail throughout. This was shot in the flash disabled 'auto' mode. Photo by Chris Williams

Nikkor AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G, 34mm, 1/250, F8, ISO 100

One really nice feature that was found on the D3300 and now the D3400 is Active D-Lighting, or ADL. It's a JPEG-only feature that works to retain shadow and protect highlight details, within 1-stop, that are often lost when strong lighting creates big differences between bright and dark areas of an image.

When ADL or Active D-Lighting is engaged the camera's metering system will pick a perfectly nice exposure in almost any situation. If a light-source is particularly bright the camera will slightly reduce the expose to protect the highlights, then will boost shadows and midtones to give a well balanced image.

The D3400 produces some very nice JPEGs. The Active D-lighting metering worked very well in this dimly lit shot. This image was taken by Carey Rose with the new Nikkor AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G lens.

18mm, F3.5, 1/1250, ISO 1400

If you're shooting Raw the D3400's dynamic range will allow you to recover shadows in most cases. This fact alone makes it an excellent camera for new or beginner photographers. And, although the processing aspect of Active D-Lighting only affects the JPEGs, the adjusted metering to protect most highlight detail, is still a benefit for Raw shooters.

Camera JPEG with Active D-Lighting activated.

AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G, 55mm, 1/400, F10, ISO 100

Photos by Chris Williams

This is the same file in Raw edited in LR to lift shadows and adjust the brightness to demonstrate dynamic range.

AF-P 18-55mm F3.5-5.6G, 55mm, 1/400, F10, ISO 100

Since the camera is capable of Raw capture, exposing to protect the highlights will give you much more flexibility in post processing to bring back the shadow detail in your images. The D3400's 24MP sensor has some very impressive dynamic range that offers a great deal of latitude in terms of post processing.

As you can see in this example the D3400's JPEG engine is fairly aggressive when it comes to noise reduction. This is a camera JPEG taken using 'auto' mode and standard noise reduction settings. Photo by Carey Rose

AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm F1.8G mm, 35mm, 1/125 sec, F1.8, ISO 3200

It is worth noting that, by default, Nikon's JPEG engine tends to muddle a bit more of the fine detail in the process than we'd ideally like, something that becomes more obvious around ISO 3200. Toning down the camera's noise reduction settings will yield sharper, albeit noisier, images when shooting at higher ISOs.

SnapBridge

Although the the D3400 doesn't have Wi-Fi one fairly big difference between it and its predecessor is the addition of the always-connected SnapBridge system. The D3400's version of SnapBridge is a Bluetooth LE-based and is primarily used for sharing images to your smartphone. After downloading the App it takes a few minutes to sync the camera's Bluetooth up with your phone's, following the steps and pressing 'OK' several times on both the camera and phone.

SnapBridge is designed to automatically transfer every image as you shoot it (unless you're shooting Raw only). Alternatively you can select which images to transfer, either from the camera or from the smartphone. You can also sync time and location data from your phone, if you wish. However, unlike the D500, you can't use the app to shoot remotely.

Through the App you can browse the images on the camera's memory card. The previews can be generated in different sizes and you can scroll through and make your image transfer selections directly through your phone. However, if you have a number of files on your memory card it will take some time for the previews to load in the App. We found it was quicker and easier to select the images on the camera, then press the 'i' button to select them for transfer.

However, the only way to transfer full resolution images it to select them from the smartphone. And, when we did manually transfer these full resolution images, we'd regularly get the message that 'To reduce the time required, download will begin when there is more bandwidth available,' despite the camera being the only thing demanding Bluetooth bandwidth from the phone.

File transfer times will vary, depending upon the file sizes and the quantity of the JPEGs you are transferring, but we found the 2MP files transferred pretty quickly.

Video

The D3400 offers the same Full HD 1080/60p video spec seen in the D3300, which had some very nice quality video with lots of detail and smooth frame rate. The moire issues that were found in the D3300 have largely been minimized in the D3400, this is particularly evident in our video stills comparison widget.

The auto-focus issues seen during video recording in the D3300 have been largely resolved as the AF speed has increased a great deal, though it is still slower in live-view than through the viewfinder. Provided that your subject has a high contrast edge and doesn't move too erratically, subject tracking with full-time AF works fairly well. It's worth noting, though, 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. One fairly significant improvement made to the video sound quality in the D3400 is thanks to the upgraded AF motor in the kit lens, which is now a great deal quieter and smoother. The video clip below was shot in 1080/60p.