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