Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Camera Review: Nikon D3300 DSLR

1956 Chevy Bel Air At Cameron's Dairy
The D3300 is Nikon's latest so-called entry level DSLR. It's considered a "beginner's camera" but in reality it is not. The D3300 is a very capable photographic tool.

Nikon D3300 & Nikkor 40mm f/2.8 lens
I reviewed this camera once already (over on my "other" blog), but I wanted to review it again, this time from the perspective of an urban exploration photographer. With each photography genre the equipment needs are different. How does the D3300 perform for urban exploring?

The Nikon D3300 is a wonderful little DSLR that creates high quality, high resolution images. It has a 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor (Nikon calls it "DX") that is one of the better sensors made. The D3300 seems to outperform its APS-C size, producing results closer to what one would expect from a full-frame camera.

The camera is small (one of the smallest DSLRs available) and lightweight (as best as I can tell, it is the second lightest DSLR ever). This is not the bulky, heavy DSLR that you're used to. Instead you find a camera that you don't mind carrying with you all day.
The Old Boron Housing - Boron, California
Nikon designed the D3300 for beginners, with emphasis on auto-features. This does not mean that more experienced photographers who want lots of control cannot effectively use this camera, it just means that they'll be more frustrated with the overall experience.

The camera is cable of saving in RAW format or JPEG format (or both). The in-camera JPEGs are very nice, which is what you'd expect from a Nikon DSLR.

Image quality is nothing short of fantastic. The sensor outperforms all of the cheap zooms that are typically used on "entry level" DSLRs. To get the most out of the camera you'll want to get a good prime lens. Pair the D3300 with a great lens and it is very difficult to beat the image quality, and impossible to beat it for the price.
The Lost Chair - Mojave, California
Nikon did not include an anti-aliasing filter on this camera. The filter, which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion and is found on most digital cameras, is happily not found, which means that images are slightly sharper. The downside is that occasionally you'll find moire pattern distortion in one of your images.

High ISO performance on the D3300 is amazing. The increases in noise are very small as you elevate the ISO (both with RAW and JPEGs). ISO 3200 is quite usable even for "serious" work, and ISO 6400 is usable with RAW format and cleaned up in post-processing.

Auto-ISO works great and is a surprisingly useful feature. I personally have the parameters set to ISO 100-3200, with the minimum shutter speed set to 1/125. The camera will keep the ISO as low as possible, and will only increase it should the shutter speed drop below 1/125. My only complaint is that to disable auto-ISO you have to dig through menus.
Shower Curtains - Mojave, California
The D3300 has an 11-point auto-focus system. This may not seem particularly robust, but Nikon gets a lot out of it. Up until a few years ago, most digital cameras had 11-points or fewer. Anyway, I've found the auto-focus system on this camera to be very adequate. I do wish that focus-peeking had been included.

There are four auto-focus modes available: single point, dynamic area, auto area and 3D tracking. You also choose between single, continuous and automatic modes. Everything works as advertised, but changing these settings requires jumping through menus.

Auto-white-balance works perfect in normal lighting conditions, but unusual or mixed lighting can throw it off sometimes. Most of the time the camera gets it right.
Alien - Mojave, California
Start up time on the D3300 is almost instantaneous. Focus is quick as long as the lens is also quick. The camera can capture up to five frames-per-second, which is more than enough for most photographers. JPEGS are written to the card almost as fast as the images are captured, while RAW seems to take a couple of seconds.

The built-in light meter is accurate. I think, if anything, it tends to underexpose by 1/3 of a stop, which is easily fixed with exposure compensation.

Dynamic range on the D3300 is quite good and is very similar to other more expensive models with APS-C sized sensors. It's right up there with some older full-frame cameras, as well. You can find cameras with better dynamic range, but you'll also spend quite a bit more money.
Room 7 - Rosamond, California
This camera produces colors that are accurate and natural. For JPEGs there are six (customizable) options: standard, vivid, neutral, monochrome, portrait and landscape. Switching these takes a few button presses.

The viewfinder on the D3300 is bright and provides 95% coverage. It is a pentamirror (not a pentaprism), but it is sufficient for its purposes. LEDs light up to show the auto-focus points and all necessary exposure information is provided.

The camera has Active D-Lighting, which is a trick the camera uses to prevent clipped highlights. Auto-Distortion Correction automatically corrects lens distortion from Nikkor lenses. Both of these features work quite well.
Fruit Cup - Tehachapi, California
Live View, which raises the mirror and shows a live image directly from the sensor, is slow. If you need to capture a photograph from an unusual angle, or if you need the mirror raised for a long exposure, this is a helpful feature. Otherwise it will slow you down and drain your battery.

The 3" LCD screen on the back of the camera is bright and colorful. In bright light situations glare can be a problem, but no more than on other cameras. The screen doesn't tilt or swivel and it doesn't respond to touch. It's a regular screen, but it works well.

The battery seems to last forever. Nikon claims that you can capture 700 exposures on one fully-charged battery. A couple of times I exceeded 500 exposures on one charge and the battery was not fully exhausted.
Old Dormitories - Boron, California
You can capture 1080p 60 frames-per-second HD video with the D3300. Auto-focus doesn't work particularly well (which is typical of DSLRs) so be prepared to manually focus. Audio is mono, but there is an external microphone jack.

What's missing on the D3300? The LCD screen doesn't swivel. The camera is not weather sealed. There is no built-in auto-focus motor (for auto-focus, the camera requires lenses with built-in motors). There is only one memory card slot. There are no programmable buttons (such as "U1" and "U2"). The camera does not bracket. There's no depth-of-field preview. No WiFi or GPS.

Now that we've gone through all of that, here are my thoughts on the Nikon D3300 as a urban exploration photography tool. First, the camera does not bracket, so for those who like HDR it's going to be just a bit more difficult to do so. Second, the high-ISO capabilities of the camera make it an excellent choice for low-light situation. Next, the camera is not weather sealed, which could potentially be a problem in dusty locations. Finally, the camera is lightweight and somewhat small, which makes it a good choice for urban exploration.
Shelvador - Rosamond, California
The D3300 with an 18-55mm kit lens has an MSRP of $650, but can be found for under $500 if you shop around. I paid $375 for my "body-only" D3300.

This camera is an incredible value! It has a lot going for it, but it is also missing a number of things that some might consider important. Several frequently adjusted features are buried in menus. It is certainly not perfect, but it does deliver excellent image quality for a reasonable price.

If you are on a tight budget and you can put up with the D3300's shortcomings, you will not find a better camera for the cost. If you have more money to spend and you desire some of the missing features, you may want to consider a different camera model.


  1. thank you so much for this great review. It covers everything that I needed to know before I bought it.

    1. Glad that it was helpful. Thanks for letting me know!

  2. Appreciate the writeup, just bought one of these for taking low-light pics in deactivated/abandoned chemical processing plants. Looks like this should be a lot better than the point-and-shoot cameras Ive been using.

  3. Australia Immigration Consultants Bangalore | Social Media Marketing Company San Francisco

    Keep writing more.The contents are really cohesive and makes sense.
    I really appreciate.
    Thank You.