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Nikon D3300 Review
by Jim Keenan -  3/21/2014

When the annual Consumer Electronics Show opened on January 6 in Las Vegas, Nikon watchers could be excused if their attention was focused at the top of the DSLR line: Nikon's flagship D4 had just been superseded by the virtually identical-appearing D4s.

Also announced on January 6 was the D3300, Nikon's entry-level model which at first blush appears virtually identical to the D3200. However, just as with the D4/D4s, the D3300 picks up a sensor that may be different from the D3200 (dimensions are slightly different and more significantly there is no anti-aliasing filter in the D3300) along with an EXPEED 4 processor. The new camera also gains an additional ISO step at the high end of the spectrum, a 1080/60p (or 50p) video capability and an additional frame per second on the continuous shooting rate.

Apart from the aforementioned changes, the D3300 comes in almost an ounce lighter than the older camera with slightly different dimensions: 4.9 x 3.9 x 3 inches versus 5 x 3.8 x 3.1 inches for the D3200. Both cameras share APS-C sized sensors at 24.2 megapixels of resolution--the sensor produces a 1.5x crop factor in 35mm equivalents. That resolution allows for some fairly aggressive cropping while still retaining excellent image quality: here's an original shot at 20 x 13.3 inches and 300 dots per inch along with an 18 x 12 inch crop at 240 dots per inch. Both images will make excellent prints that are virtually indistinguishable.

Fully compatible with Nikon AF-S/AF-I lenses and teleconverters, the D3300 accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media in a single card slot. The camera is available in red, black, or gray bodies in kit form, paired with a newly designed and more compact AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II zoom lens. Here's a look at both ends of the focal length of the kit lens.

MSRP is $650 with at least one reputable Internet vendor discounting it all the way down to $647 as this is written. Nikon includes a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and charger, A/V cable, rubber eyecup, camera strap, body cap, printed user's manual and View NX2 software with each camera. An optional WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter can take advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity for instant uploading of images and videos to a smart device for easy sharing through social networks. Users can also remotely control the D3300 using their smart device as a remote "Live View" monitor.

Build And Design

Externally, the D3300 appears a virtual twin to the D3200, with some slight contour changes to the body and a minor relocation of a couple buttons on the rear of the camera. The overall design is what you expect from a modern DSLR, which is to say a rounded rectangular form with a prominent handgrip and protruding pentaprism/built-in flash housing situated atop the body. Body construction is of composite materials with a metal lens mount and Nikon has managed to shave nearly 1 ounce of body weight compared to the D3200, apparently through the inclusion of carbon fiber. The camera is manufactured in Thailand and materials, fit and finish appear commensurate with the price point.

Ergonomics and Controls
The D3300 positions itself toward the smaller end of the DSLR size spectrum and folks with large hands may find it a bit small in use. With my average size hands, the little finger of my right hand has nowhere to go except curl under the camera body when handholding; my right index finger falls naturally onto the shutter button between the first and middle joints, requiring a conscious repositioning to merge the fingertip with the shutter button. There is ample room between the handgrip and lens barrel/base of the camera for handholding with the kit lens; I also shot the camera with Nikon 105 mm macro, 70-200, 50 and 10.5 mm fisheye lenses handheld with no problems. With the kit lens onboard the D3300 is a light and pleasant walking around setup (along with shorter lenses such as the 50 and the 10.5); longer and heavier lenses like the 105 and 70-200 tend to produce a somewhat nose heavy combination owing to the camera body's light weight.

Controls on the D3300 will be easily recognizable to any Nikon user and particularly someone used to the D3200. The upper right of the camera body features the mode dial; movie-record, information, and aperture/exposure compensation buttons along with the combination power on/off and shutter button.

The camera back includes the 3 inch monitor with replay, menu, enlarge, help and information buttons arrayed vertically to its left. To the monitor's right are a live view button, multi selector, release mode and delete buttons, also arrayed vertically. The upper right rear of the body houses the command dial and AE-L/AF-L button; a diopter adjustment control sits adjacent to the viewfinder. Flash deployment and function buttons are located just below the flash housing on the upper left side of the camera body, adjacent the lens mount.

Depending on the shooting mode, the info button on the camera back can provide access to camera settings such as image quality and size, white balance, flash, ISO, focus mode, autofocus area mode, metering mode, flash compensation, and exposure compensation. The full range of options is available in the manual or semiautomatic modes, but limited in fully automatic or scene modes.

Menus and Modes
Menus in the D3300 are simple and short, in keeping with the camera's entry-level DSLR status: a two-page playback menu, two-page shooting menu, four page setup menu, three page retouch menu and three-page recent settings menu. Some menu items may not be available depending on shooting mode.

The retouch menu is fairly expansive and offers a number of tools for image manipulation, such as D-lighting, redeye correction, RAW processing, resizing, quick retouch, distortion control and movie editing. Here's a look at a backlit shot of a meerkat along with the same shot after "quick retouch" applied in camera.

The View NX2 software provided with the camera also contains a browser, movie editor, RAW converter, D-lighting and image adjustments including exposure compensation, white balance, picture control, sharpness, contrast, brightness, highlight protection, shadow protection, color booster, a crop tool, straighten tool, auto redeye, axial color aberration and auto lateral color aberration.

Shooting modes are what you would expect from an entry-level DSLR, combining fully automatic "point and shoot" type options including scenes and a guide mode along with more traditional manual and semiautomatic settings.

Display/Viewfinder
The 3-inch monitor is fixed, has a 921,000 dot composition, is adjustable for 11 settings of brightness and offers a 160 degree viewing angle. As is typical with most camera monitors, outdoor use in bright conditions could be difficult for image capture/composition or review. Frame coverage is not specified but appears to be approximately 100%.

The viewfinder offers .85x magnification and 95% frame coverage--the latter figure meaning that there will be some materials/subjects slipping onto the edges of the frame that are not apparent through the viewfinder. There is a diopter adjustment to accommodate varying levels of eyesight and overall the viewfinder was pleasant to use in both bright in dim conditions.

Shooting Performance

The D3300 starts promptly and capturing an initial shot was simply a matter of flipping on the power switch, acquiring focus and pressing the shutter. Single shots could be taken as quickly as you can re-acquire focus and shoot. There is a continuous high-speed shooting rate of up to 5 frames per second which produced 13 or 14 JPEG fine images before the shooting rate dropped off; RAW files are limited to 6 or 7 images. Write times for the JPEG images took about 10.5 seconds to completely clear the buffer using a 600x SDHC card; the RAW images took about 6 seconds. Write times using a 400x SDHC card were within a half second or so of the faster card for the JPEGs, but took an extra 1.5 seconds for the RAW files. Finally, I shot the camera with a class 10 SDHC (30 MBs) card--the camera managed 12 JPEGs before shooting slowed and the write time was 12 seconds; RAW write time was 9 seconds for 6 images.

The D3300 "easy panorama" option in the "effects" mode is just that - a panorama mode that offers a high probability of success when even handholding in the absence of a tripod.

The Multi CAM 1000 11 point autofocus system in the D3300 made its first appearance in the D200 around September, 2009--but don't let that date fool you. The D200 was a fairly high performance prosumer camera for its time and the Multi CAM 1000 is still a very capable AF system. The D3300 acquired focus promptly in good conditions and it took fairly dark conditions to get the system to slow up a bit--the camera has a focus assist lamp with a range of about 10 feet. Photographing surfers on short boards is a fairly fast-paced operation, particularly when the subject does cutbacks or other quick maneuvers on a wave. Tracking the rider and board with continuous autofocus is a good test for any system and I mounted the D3300 on my 400/2.8 lens and headed for the beach as we got a couple days of larger surf along with decent weather. Here's a couple shots pulled out of sequences using the D3300/400 combination--and yes, the guy is wearing a Go Pro camera on a headband.

The camera did quite well on everything I pointed at with the exception of hummingbirds in flight. Hummers are a tough capture even with the 51 point AF systems in my D300S and D3S, and I never managed to get a really sharp shot in flight with the D3300--although the birds seemed unusually skittish during my attempts. Suffice it to say if you're trying to focus on anything other than a thumb-sized bird darting from here to there, the D3300 is up to the task.

Just as with the D3200, the D3300 has a flash guide number of 39 feet at 100 ISO which translates into a wide-angle flash range of about 11 feet with the kit lens, dropping to 6 or 7 feet at telephoto. The camera could take 4 or 5 consecutive flash pictures about every two seconds as the flash recycled, with recycle times beginning to lengthen after that point. Around 8 or 9 consecutive shots the recycle time increase dramatically--in fact, I would be willing to bet the camera shut down the flash for thermal concerns as the flash was hot to the touch. Nikon has built thermal protection into their Speedlights for some time now to prevent overzealous flash usage from damaging the tube and the D3300 acts similarly. So, memo to wedding photographers: get a Speedlight for your D3300.

The D3300 gets a more powerful EN-EL 14a battery with a 700 shot life compared to 540 for the D3200; D3200 owners will be delighted to know the new battery will fit your camera also. The 700 shot figure is based on a CIPA standard that involves 50% flash usage--with limited flash usage Nikon claims the D3300 can get up to 2000 shots per battery.

Lens Performance
The AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II zoom lens supplied with D3300 kits features a new, more compact design when stowed for traveling, stealing a page from the Nikon 1 10-30 mm zoom lens playbook: the lens barrel must be extended to shooting position by pressing a button and rotating the zoom collar. Here's a closer look at the button in question.

But if you forget the camera will remind you...

While the new kit lens is a departure from the existing 18-55 VR in design, it retains some good points of the older lens, particularly a minimum focus distance of about 11 inches across the entire focal range. This minimum focus distance is from the subject to the sensor plane in the camera, not from the subject the front of the lens, so the D3300 has a fairly good close up capability without even resorting to a dedicated macro lens. I just happen to have a Nikon VR 105mm macro in my bag so here's a couple shots of my wife's turquoise squash blossom necklace - the rounded portion of the necklace is about 2 inches across.

Back to the kit lens, there's a little bit of softness in the corners and edges at wide-angle, but otherwise the lens is fairly consistent across the frame. At telephoto the corners and edges are a little bit better than at wide-angle, with the rest of the frame staying consistent. There is some barrel distortion at wide-angle and just the faintest hint of pincushion at telephoto; the D3300 has an auto distortion setting that is enabled by default and makes short work of the distortions in the camera. Chromic aberration (purple fringing) was largely absent throughout the lens focal range - the new kit lens is a pretty decent performer as kit lenses go.

Overall construction of the lens is composite materials for both the lens barrel and mount; there are 11 elements in 8 groups. The lens is made in Thailand.

Video Quality
Video quality in the D3300 is quite good, just as it was in the D3200 - and the D3300 adds a more versatile full HD setting with a 60p frame rate in the NTSC format; a 50p frame rate comes onboard for shooting in the PAL format. There is continuous autofocus available in video capture - make sure you have "AF-F" set as your autofocus choice for live view - but in a post-Canon 70D video world anything less than a stellar continuous autofocus performance becomes merely average. The D3300 continuous AF is not bad, but there is a delay in acquiring focus when subject distances change, sometimes accompanied by hunting, a performance not unlike the great majority of video capable DSLRs. The camera is susceptible to recording both autofocus and stabilization noises when using the built in microphone but is equipped with a stereo jack for an external microphone. The built-in microphone may have it sound levels adjusted automatically, manually, or disabled altogether.

With a CMOS sensor the possibility of rolling shutter effect exists with exaggeratedly fast pans, but just as with the D3200 the D3300 minimizes this effect. The camera may shut down due to thermal considerations before either the 4GB maximum file size or maximum recording times are reached.

Image Quality
With a lot of pixels packed onto its APS-C sensor but lacking an anti-aliasing filter in the image capture pipeline, I was curious to see the D3300 end product. I increased sharpening in the camera to a setting of 8 (out of 9) and added an additional notch of contrast. It might slot into the entry level end of the Nikon DSLR lineup, but I was very impressed with the images coming out of this camera, particularly when paired with some pro-quality Nikon glass. Here are two more surf shots with the 400 mm lens - the first is a JPEG fine image and the second a RAW file converted to a JPEG.

Next, a pair from the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park with the 70-200/2.8 VRII; both images are as produced in camera with no additional sharpening applied in post processing.

I'm very seldom completely happy with JPEGs as they come out of the camera, even with additional sharpening and contrast dialed in, but the D3300 gave me a whole bunch of JPEGs that didn't need any additional working.

As is typical with Nikon, the D3300 offers a palette of picture control shooting options: here are standard, vivid, landscape, portrait, neutral and monochrome versions.

STANDARD                                                                 VIVID

LANDSCAPE                                                          PORTRAIT

NEUTRAL                                                              B&W

Auto white balance was used for the majority of images captured for this review but the squash blossom shots use the incandescent white balance setting when auto seemed to shoot just a bit warm. There are also flash, fluorescent, direct sunlight, cloudy, shade and a preset manual option available.

Matrix metering is the default setting for the D3300 and was used for most images in this review. There are center weighted and spot metering options available. Matrix performed well on average scenes or scenes without a great deal of contrast, but the D3300 could lose some highlights in high contrast situations shooting in the P, A or S modes. You can enable an RGB histogram in the review menu to display with each shot, making fine tuning exposure in the manual mode a fairly simple proposition - M is my setting of choice for the constant high contrast situations presented in surf photography.

The D3300 comes with noise reduction enabled as a default setting and was used for the ISO comparison shots. 100, 200 and 400 are virtually indistinguishable under 100% pixel peeping, and after that there is a gradual but slight increase in graininess as sensitivities advanced through the 800, 1600, 3200 and 6400 levels. Looking at all these sensitivities in anything less than 100% enlargements and they all appear quite clean. The jump from 6400 to 12800 has proportionally largest increase in grain to this point, accompanied by just the faintest beginning of fading colors. 12800 to 25600 shows the greatest deterioration, with increased grain and the beginning of some color blotching - the problems with 25600 are apparent at less than 100% enlargements as well. Overall, the D3300 does quite well up to and including 6400 ISO, even under very close scrutiny.

ISO 100                                                                        ISO 200

ISO 400                                                                        ISO 800

ISO 1600                                                                        ISO 3200

ISO 6400                                                                        ISO 12800

ISO 25600

Additional Sample Images


Conclusion

Nikon's refreshing the entry level end of its DSLR line may not coax a lot of current D3200 owners to trade up, but it won't be because the D3300 isn't a fine little camera. On its face the changes are modest: a later generation processor, different sensor with the same resolution and lacking an anti-aliasing filter, one step increases in ISO sensitivity and continuous shooting rate along with a 60p/50p full HD video capability to complement the more standard video modes. Perhaps not enough of an upgrade to coax entry-level Nikon owners to switch, but for someone looking for their first DSLR the D3300 is a worthy consideration.

Good still and video image quality in a fairly light and compact platform (at least with the kit lens), good ISO performance, a relatively speedy 5 fps continuous shooting rate and a capable autofocus system give the camera a decent performance potential for folks who are willing to go beyond just setting the mode dial to full auto and tripping the shutter.

Wi-Fi connectivity is optional, not built-in. As good as the video image quality is, the continuous autofocus performance is but average. A steady diet of shots using the built-in flash will result in extended flash recycle times due to shut down.

All in all, the D3300 comes up with many more positives than negatives--it's a good little camera whether trading up or jumping in for the first time.

Pros:

 Cons: