Nikon D3400

Nikon’s starter D-SLR adds wire­less shar­ing, but it’s not with­out com­pro­mise, says Ben An­drews

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With Nikon con­tin­u­ally ex­pand­ing its D-SLR line-up, bring­ing a new en­try-level model to the mar­ket is harder now than ever. If it’s packed with features then sales of the mid-range cam­eras are threat­ened, but stand still and you risk being out-gunned by the com­pe­ti­tion.

A quick glance at the D3400’s spec sheet reveals Nikon has opted to play it safe and change very lit­tle from the pop­u­lar D3300. It shares the same 24.2MP sen­sor res­o­lu­tion, and as with its pre­de­ces­sor, Nikon has con­tin­ued to omit an op­ti­cal low pass fil­ter in the quest for max­i­mum im­age sharp­ness. The sen­sor’s sen­si­tiv­ity range is also ul­ti­mately un­changed, with an ISO range of 100-25,600, al­though where the D3300 kept its top­most sen­si­tiv­ity as an ex­panded set­ting, the new model in­cludes it in the stan­dard range. Given the D3300 has also do­nated its Expeed 4 im­age pro­ces­sor to the D3400, it’s no sur­prise that both cam­eras boast an iden­ti­cal 5fps max­i­mum burst rate and Full HD video record­ing at 60fps. The D3400’s aut­o­fo­cus mod­ule con­tin­ues the re­cy­cling theme, being the same 11-point Multi-CAM 1000 sen­sor with a sin­gle cross-type point in the cen­tre.

It’s dis­ap­point­ing that the D3400 car­ries over all of the D3300’s core specs, but given Canon’s ri­val 1300D al­ready trailed the D3300 on sen­sor res­o­lu­tion, burst rate and AF points, it’s small won­der that Nikon hasn’t made the D3400 a game-changer.

The only area where it needed im­prove­ment to match the com­pe­ti­tion was in its wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity, so pre­dictably the D3400 now sports built-in wire­less im­age shar­ing. This isn’t achieved us­ing typ­i­cal Wi-Fi, but rather via Nikon’s new SnapBridge tech, first show­cased in the D500. By us­ing Blue­tooth LE (Low En­ergy) tech­nol­ogy to con­nect the cam­era to a smart de­vice, the D3400 avoids Wi-Fi bug­bears of fid­dly pair­ing pro­ce­dures and dropped con­nec­tions.

It’s con­ve­nient for trans­fer­ring im­ages for easy so­cial me­dia shar­ing, but it’s not per­fect: im­ages aren’t off-loaded at full res­o­lu­tion, and you can’t use SnapBridge for re­mote cam­era con­trol or sup­ple­ment it with Nikon’s WU-1A Wi-Fi adapter, al­though the cam­era is com­pat­i­ble with the ML-L3 in­frared re­mote.

The D3400’s other head­line im­prove­ment over its pre­de­ces­sor is bat­tery life, which has been boosted to an im­pres­sive 1200 shots. That’s a big in­crease from the D3300’s 700-shot rat­ing, and no mean feat con­sid­er­ing the D3400 is still fu­elled by the same EN-EL14a lithium ion power pack as used in the D3300. Nikon is claim­ing the im­prove­ment is down to power ef­fi­ciency tweaks, but that may not be the whole story. CIPA bat­tery life test­ing in­volves tak­ing a per­cent­age of shots us­ing

the pop-up flash, which has been down­graded from a Guide Num­ber of 12 in the D3300 to a less pow­er­ful GN8 in the new cam­era.

Build and han­dling

En­try-level D-SLRs used to feel a bit cheap and plas­ticy, de­spite the fact that they used to be con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive than to­day’s en­trylevel mod­els. Thank­fully, the D3400’s build qual­ity is ev­ery bit as im­pres­sive as that of the D5500 (which is the next model up in Nikon’s line-up) and to be hon­est, you’d be hard pressed to tell the qual­ity of its plas­tics and rub­ber in­serts apart from even pricier Nikons.

Ob­vi­ously the D3400 has to do with­out a mag­ne­sium al­loy in­ter­nal frame, but it feels solid enough, and the all-plas­tic body helps to keep its weight down to just 445g, mak­ing it some 15g lighter than its pre­de­ces­sor.

How­ever, just as the new cam­era’s in­creased bat­tery per­for­mance may not be with­out its draw­backs, the

same could be true of this weight sav­ing. Nikon hasn’t in­cluded any au­to­matic sen­sor clean­ing in the D3400, be­cause it be­lieves that novice users won’t change lenses as fre­quently as pho­tog­ra­phers who own more glass. While there may be some truth in this, it could also be ar­gued that pho­tog­ra­phers new to D-SLRs may not be con­fi­dent with man­ual sen­sor clean­ing, so they might sorely miss au­to­matic dust re­moval.

Ex­ter­nal changes be­tween the D3300 and D3400 are non-ex­is­tent, since both cam­eras use the same case de­sign, and there­fore mea­sure an iden­ti­cal 124 x 98 x 75.5mm. It’s a pity that Nikon didn’t re­shape the D3400 to be more like the D5500, with a deeper re­cess be­tween the hand grip and the lens mount, since users with larger hands may find the D3400’s grip to be some­what small to get a firm grip on.

Oth­er­wise, there’s lit­tle here to com­plain about er­gonom­i­cally, with key con­trols such as the ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion but­ton, video record but­ton and sin­gle con­trol dial fall­ing within easy reach.

Nikon’s con­tin­ued re­fusal to add in a ded­i­cated ISO but­ton is still frus­trat­ing, be­cause while the cus­tomis­able Func­tion but­ton is con­fig­ured by de­fault to ad­just sen­si­tiv­ity, its po­si­tion di­rectly be­neath the flash re­lease means that it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore you pop the flash up by mis­take.

The D5500 suf­fers from the same is­sue, but where its touch­screen can com­pen­sate for its phys­i­cal con­trol short­com­ings, the D3400 makes do with the same 3-inch, 921k-dot screen as the D3300. Aside from its lack of touch sen­si­tiv­ity, the dis­play nails the ba­sics with good clar­ity, colour ac­cu­racy and view­ing an­gles.

Last but by no means least is the new AF-P 18-55mm VR kit lens. This shares the same re­tractable mech­a­nism as the AF-S 18-55mm VR II lens that was in­cluded with the D3300, but it sports a much-im­proved man­ual fo­cus ring that op­er­ates sur­pris­ingly smoothly for a bud­get kit lens. Nikon raised a few eye­brows by re­mov­ing VR and fo­cus switches from the lens bar­rel, but go­ing in and

chang­ing th­ese set­tings us­ing the cam­era menus is no real hard­ship.

Per­for­mance

An im­me­di­ate and very pleas­ant sur­prise when shoot­ing with the D3400 is its aut­o­fo­cus per­for­mance. While the aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem is noth­ing new, its pair­ing with the new AF-P kit lens (see box­out, page 105) is a very suc­cess­ful one: AF per­for­mance is im­pres­sively rapid, even in low light and when us­ing Live View.

The lens’s new step­ping motor isn’t com­pletely silent, but it’s cer­tainly quiet and smooth, al­though fo­cus tran­si­tions in video still lag slightly. It’d also be nice if the 11 AF points cov­ered more of the im­age frame, al­though their place­ment is ad­e­quate for the ma­jor­ity of sub­jects.

Im­age qual­ity has been a strong point of Nikon’s en­try-level D-SLRs since the D3200 upped the ante with its 24MP sen­sor. The D3400 fol­lows suit with con­vinc­ing dy­namic range backed up by ac­cu­rate ma­trix me­ter­ing. Colour re­pro­duc­tion is vi­brant yet faith­ful, and in ev­ery­day shoot­ing, de­tail is well re­solved. How­ever, shoot­ing our res­o­lu­tion chart re­vealed a no­tice­able drop in clar­ity at low ISOs com­pared with the D3300 and D5500, al­though things level out above ISO1600. In fair­ness to the D3400, it still re­solves de­tail well, just not to the ex­cep­tional stan­dard of its pre­de­ces­sor.

The D3400 re­gains some ground with its in­clu­sion of SnapBridge. This still re­quires pair­ing with your smart de­vice, but the Blue­tooth con­nec­tion is eas­ier to es­tab­lish than Wi-Fi, and once paired, it main­tains a re­li­able con­nec­tion. Im­ages au­to­mat­i­cally ap­pear in the SnapBridge app around 12 sec­onds after you fire the shut­ter, and al­though they’re down­sized to 2MP, this is good enough for so­cial me­dia shar­ing, which is what the tech­nol­ogy is de­signed for.

This pretty much sums up the D3400 in gen­eral: it’s good enough for its tar­get mar­ket. Users of the older D3300 or even the D3200 are un­likely to find the D3400 a tempt­ing up­grade, but those look­ing for their first en­try point into the Nikon sys­tem, and its huge range of lenses, will find the D3400 a ca­pa­ble per­former. It’s just a pity it fails to con­vinc­ingly outdo its pre­de­ces­sor.

Guide Mode This mode gives you a sim­pler in­ter­face with tips ex­plain­ing shoot­ing, play­back, re­touch­ing and set-up op­tions. Re­tractable lens Press­ing this but­ton en­ables the D3400’s kit lens to com­press down to just 63mm long when not in use. 1200-shot bat­tery life Nikon has im­proved the D3300’s al­ready ad­e­quate 700-shot rat­ing to make the D3400 ideal for longer ex­cur­sions. AF -P aut­o­fo­cus The D3400’s AF-P kit lens in­cor­po­rates a step­ping motor for faster, qui­eter and more pre­cise aut­o­fo­cus than pre­vi­ous AF-S kit lenses. Sen­sor clean­ing Al­though it’s present in the D3300, Nikon has stripped out au­to­matic sen­sor clean­ing from the D3400, in­creas­ing the risk of dust build­ing up.

ABOVE: The D3400’s vi­brant colour re­pro­duc­tion gives im­ages in­stant punch, and its white bal­ance is very re­li­able, too

TOP: VR has helped to keep this ISO1600 shot sharp de­spite the 1/30 sec shut­ter speed. Noise is also im­pres­sively low

Al­though the D3400 lags slightly be­hind its pre­de­ces­sors when it comes to dy­namic range at low ISOs, in re­al­world shoot­ing it copes well with high-con­trast scenes like this

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