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Lifewire / Jonno Hill
Above-average dynamic range
Very good value
Autofocus could be improved
Limited video features
Fixed LCD screen
The Nikon D3400 is a perfectly suited beginner DSLR, with a compact body and an approachable price point.
The Nikon D3400 is a decidedly entry-level DSLR, and it does a really fantastic job at being one. For what you pay, you get a perfectly functional camera, a great platform to learn on, and a very approachable device built to walk you through some of the more complicated parts of professional photography. Not to mention, this is a very manageable size for a DSLR.
This, of course, doesn’t mean the D3400 isn’t without flaws. Compared to its professional counterparts (which in fairness cost upwards of five times what this camera costs), there are a lot of features that didn’t make the cut. The D3400 isn’t leading the broader world of digital photography on image quality either. This sensor performs better than expected given the price, but Nikon is performing any miracles here.
Read on to take a look at all the strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully make a more educated decision about your purchase.
The D3400 might not be an expensive camera, but Nikon didn’t skimp too much on build quality anywhere too noticeable. All the materials used felt every bit as premium as one of Nikon’s more expensive offerings. Coupled with the small size, the D3400 left a great impression when we first started handling it and taking photos.
The front of the device contains a familiar set of features, like a built-in flash, microphone, function (Fn) button, lens release, and an infrared receiver. The top of the camera contains a movie record button, power switch, shutter, info, exposure, and AE-L AF-L buttons. Additionally, you’ll find the accessory shoe, and command and mode dials for controlling functionality during shooting.
There is a lot less to talk about here than on other cameras simply because Nikon chose such a stripped-down feature set.
The rear of the device contains Zoom in/out, Menu, Info (i), Live View (Lv), Playback, Trash, and Shooting mode buttons. You will also find the (unfortunately) fixed LCD, and a Multi-selector dial. Finally, the sides of the camera contain the memory slot cover on the right, the USB and HDMI connectors on the left, and the battery compartment and tripod threading on the bottom.
All of this is essentially table stakes for a DSLR and not particularly surprising. There is a lot less to talk about here than on other cameras simply because Nikon chose such a stripped-down feature set. This is probably a good thing for beginners, however, as there’s less to break and less to learn your way around.
Beginning to use the D3400 is about as simple as it gets. Charge the battery using the included wall charger, insert a memory card, attach a lens, and then turn the camera on. After a few quick prompts to set the language and time, you will be ready to start taking pictures right away.
If you’re not super familiar with DSLRs, this might be a good time to open up the manual and learn some of the basic features common to all cameras. Things like the difference between AUTO, A, S, and M camera modes, for example. Additionally, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with how to control the shutter, ISO sensitivity, and aperture, as these comprise the essential elements that determine how much light your camera will take in when taking a photo.
Luckily, the D3400 has plenty up its sleeve for teaching beginners through the Guide mode, which you can select on the mode dial on the top of the camera. When selecting this mode, pressing the menu button presents just 4 options instead of the myriad of normal camera options available. Shoot, View/Delete, Retouch, and Set Up are the only choices.
Luckily the D3400 has plenty up its sleeve for teaching beginners, and they do this through the “GUIDE” mode, which you can select on the mode dial on the top of the camera.
Choosing Shoot lets the user choose between “Easy operation” and “Advanced operation”. Easy operation gives options such as distant subjects, close-ups, moving subjects, landscapes, night portraits, auto, and more. Each of these modes gives a brief description of the shooting scenario they would work best for, but stop short of actually teaching the user why or how these things work.
Advanced Operation gets a little more prescriptive with the shooting scenarios, including options such as soften backgrounds, show water flowing, freeze motion, and the incredibly specific “capture reds in sunsets.”
These modes are nice in that they at least explain what they are doing to achieve the intended effect. For example, the Soften Backgrounds mode instructs the user that it is choosing aperture-priority mode, and to set the f-number lower for a more blurred background, and to use a lens over 80mm for best results. It may not be a photography course, but we like the effort to teach a little bit about how to capture different types of shots.
The D3400 produces decent image quality out of the box thanks to a practical set of features that are particularly helpful for beginners. The aggressive noise reduction means that you don’t have to deal with too much noise, albeit at the expense of detail at higher ISO sensitivities. Active D-Lighting helps protect detail in highlights and shadows when capturing high-contrast scenes. The 24-megapixel sensor means you have enough information to touch up photos in post.
The D3400 produces decent image quality out of the box, thanks to a practical set of features that are particularly helpful for beginners.
We tested the D3400 using two lenses included in one of the kits available for purchase—the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED. These aren’t the sharpest, prettiest lenses you can find, but they do strike a good balance between focal length coverage and price. This makes them a good choice for beginners looking to start out with a full kit and get experience with different focal lengths as they gain a better understanding of shooting under different circumstances.
Buyers wanting to squeeze more performance from the D3400 will want to explore one of the many Nikon DX lens options available. You can get a lot more performance from this sensor if you want to invest, so don’t be too concerned about having room to grow.
There isn’t a great depth of video options available, but for the price, the D3400 does still provide very serviceable 1080p/ 60fps footage. It’s not a professional video recording solution, so you won’t get any stellar in-body image stabilization, audio inputs, headphone monitoring, or 4K recording, to no one’s surprise.
We will say this though—the D3400 will easily go toe-to-toe with a lot of dedicated camcorders. You may miss out on some of the creature comforts that come with one, but the overall footage is in many cases superior.
The D3400 is compatible with SnapBridge, Nikon’s mobile app that enables the transferring of images from the camera to a smartphone wirelessly. For a camera released in 2016, and one on the very bottom of the budget spectrum, we were pleasantly surprised. There are plenty of more expensive cameras that have omitted features like this.
The D3400 will easily go toe-to-toe with a lot of dedicated camcorders.
For a full-blown DSLR, this is about as little as anyone should reasonably expect to pay. Nikon’s advertised price is $400, and you probably won’t have trouble finding it for considerably less. Even with the two-lens kit that we tested, the kit didn’t crack $500. That’s a really great deal for a full, ready-to-go photography kit that will cover a broad range of scenarios.
Canon makes plenty of great cameras, but at this specific price tier, Nikon maintains an advantage with the D3400. The closest rival from team Canon is the EOS 2000D (Rebel T7), and on paper, it shares a lot in common with the D3400. Both cameras have a 24-megapixel sensor and an otherwise similar feature set, but the D3400 pulls ahead in sensor performance, delivering more dynamic range and sharper images.
A category winner for entry-level DSLRs.
The Nikon D3400 manages to exceed the expectations we had for its price category, all while providing a great platform for beginners to learn and grow on. We think shoppers new to photography and budget-conscious buyers will be very pleased with the performance they get out of this camera.
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