Nikon D3400 review: A fantastic budget DSLR

Digital SLR is a relatively mature technology, so finding something new and exciting to put into entry-level models isn’t easy. It’s debatable whether Nikon has risen to this challenge with the D3400. In appearance there’s very little to tell the D3400 apart from the Nikon D3300; it even has the same physical measurements, although it has shed 15g of weight.

There’s a new kit lens with a stepping motor for smoother focussing during video capture, plus Bluetooth for wireless transfers. Battery life is up from 700 to 1,200 shots, which an impressive achievement considering it’s the same battery as before. This could be because the updated sensor is more energy-efficient, but it might just be because the flash range has dropped from 12m to 7m. That’s more than a third down on the power of the D3300’s flash.

Nikon has also done away with the D3300’s microphone socket, and there’s no longer an ultrasonic cleaning function that shakes dust from the sensor. I doubt many people will miss the microphone socket, as without a headphone socket to monitor the results it isn’t a whole lot of use. Keen videographers are better off using a separate audio recorder and syncing the video and audio files in editing software. The lack of ultrasonic cleaning is more worrying but it’s not something I can test objectively. If you only ever use the kit lens you’ll have no need to remove it, so the sensor should never get dusty.

Nikon D3400 review: Wireless and performance

The Nikon D3300 lacked Wi-Fi for wireless transfers to smartphones and tablets, which is a shame as it’s likely to be quite a popular feature for consumers to the click-and-share convenience of a smartphone. As such, it’s good to see wireless transfers included on the D3400. There’s no Wi-Fi, though; it’s all handled via Bluetooth.

Bluetooth consumes less power than Wi-Fi and this allows the camera to maintain a permanent connection and transfer all photos (or 2-megapixel copies) rather than simply transferring on demand. There’s also an option to continue with transfers while the camera is switched off. There’s no wireless remote control function, though.

Nikon D3400 back

The wireless facility worked well in my tests – at least at the start – with photos appearing on my Android phone shortly after capture. The SnapBridge app was also able to use the phone’s GPS radio to geotag photos, both on the transferred copies and the originals still in the camera. Various Wi-Fi cameras offer this function but it’s not normally this effortless.

However, after successfully transferring 200 photos, both camera and app ceased all communication and it took a lot of poking around both devices’ settings to get them talking again. User reviews on the iTunes and Google Play stores suggest such experiences are quite common. I also found that selecting the Send While Off option caused the camera’s battery to run down when not in use.

Other aspects of the D3400’s design and performance are in line with the D3300, but that’s no bad thing. It was consistently fast to focus when using the viewfinder and managed a shot every 0.4 seconds in normal use.

Continuous shooting lived up to the claimed 5fps speed and lasted 21 JPEGs or nine RAW exposures before slowing to the speed of the card. Autofocus in live view mode was impressively fast, too, but there was a two-second delay before the camera was ready to take another shot. Live view is unavailable in continuous drive mode.

Nikon D3400 review: Controls

The physical controls are relatively simple for an SLR but you do get dedicated buttons for exposure compensation and drive mode, plus a customisable Fn button that accesses ISO sensitivity by default, while pressing the “i” button provides quick access to 12 commonly used settings.

There are a few annoying quirks common to previous Nikon SLRs, including how its Auto ISO mode is only available via a submenu, and how the self-timer resets after each exposure. The new kit lens has no switches on its barrel either, so selecting manual focus requires a trip to the menu as well.

Subject tracking autofocus is available but with just 11 autofocus points in fixed locations, it isn’t terribly effective. Pricier SLRs with more autofocus points let you focus precisely on your subject’s eyes, for example, whereas with this camera you may have to line up the subject’s eye with an autofocus point, half press the shutter button and then reframe the composition to your liking before taking a shot. This isn’t too arduous but a potential reason you might consider paying more.

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Nikon D3400 review: Video and photo quality

The D3300’s video mode was mostly excellent but autofocus was a little clunky and the soundtrack was spoiled by robotic whirrs from the autofocus motor. The D3400 is much better, with decisive adjustments that were barely audible in the soundtrack.

It doesn’t focus continuously during capture, and instead only updates focus when the shutter button is half-pressed. That may lead to subjects drifting out of focus, but I like being able to keep focus fixed and only update it on demand.

Video autofocus wasn’t perfect in my tests, with a tendency to overshoot slightly and then correct itself. The Canon EOS 750D is a better option for video capture but the D3400 easily outperforms the EOS 1300D in this respect. As with previous Nikon SLRs, details were crisp and colours exhibited the same flattering tones as the camera’s JPEG photo output.

Photo quality is a significant step up from the Canon EOS 1300D, too. Its 24-megapixel sensor captured sharper details than the Canon’s 18-megapixel sensor and it also exhibited much less noise at ISO 3200 and above. The D3400 showed a small but welcome improvement in noise levels compared to the D3300, evident both in JPEGs and unprocessed RAW files. Colour rendition was up to Nikon’s usual high standards, and the kit lens did a respectable job of delivering sharp focus across the frame at various focal lengths.

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