Ever since its popular D40 model back in 2006, Nikon has done well to dismantle the idea of a DSLR needing to be a large, cumbersome machine. Of course, since then the company has released many even more compact mirrorless 1-series cameras aimed at a junior audience, although it's maintained its footing in the entry-level DSLR sector with a slew of compact and easy-to-use alternatives for those after something more traditional.
For a number of years, Nikon has chosen to split these into two camps. The D5xxx series has presented an approachable but reasonably powerful solution for those wanting to get going with DSLR photography, but have a little extra growing space as they become more confident, while the D3xxx series has adhered to a no-frills template, one that prioritises small size, light weight and a simple design, all the while maintaining the benefits of an interchangable-lens system.
The D3400 is Nikon's latest contribution to the latter series, and a follow-up to the D3300. Not only has the company managed to shave a little of the D3300's weight off the body for this new iteration, but it's also boosted its battery life and improved a number of features to make it a mightier proposition for the novice user. It's also launched the camera alongside a redesigned kit lens, one that sports a retractable inner barrel and a more streamlined design that eschews the focusing and Vibration Reduction switches we're used to seeing.
But, after so many warmly received models and a raft of fine competitors in both DSLR and mirrorless categories, does the D3400 have enough going for it to make it worth the beginner's attention?
- APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.2MP
- 3.0-inch screen, 921,000 dots
- 1080p video capture
As is the case with every entry-level DSLR, the D3400 has been furnished with an APS-C sized sensor, which is believed to be the same as the one inside the D3300. Its 24.2MP pixel count is very respectable – certainly we wouldn't expect this to be any higher at this level – and this is heightened by the lack of an optical low-pass filter, which should help it to capture better detail than would otherwise be the case.
This works over a reasonably wide sensitivity range of ISO100-25,600, which represents a one-stop expansion over the native ISO12,800 range of its D3300 predecessor. Once again it's paired with Nikon's Expeed 4 processing engine, which, among other things, allows for 5fps burst shooting and Full HD video recording up to an impressive 60p. Nikon's familiar Picture Controls are also on hand, although for those wanting their images and videos processed into more distinct styles immediately, Effects such as Super Vivid, Illustration and Toy Camera are also accessible through the mode dial.
The camera's 11-point AF system features a single cross-type point in the centre of its array, with a maximum sensitivity down to -1EV. You can set the system to focus continuously on a subject, including with Nikon's 3D tracking technology, and the camera can also continue to autofocus in live view and when recording videos. Manual focus is also possible, selectable through the menu and performed with a ring at the very front of the camera's kit lens.
Not that they're not bettered elsewhere, but the specs of both the viewfinder and LCD are in keeping with what we expect at this level. The viewfinder is based on a pentamirror construction and shows approximately 95% of the scene, while the LCD measures 3in in size and has a respectable resolution of 921k dots.
Wi-Fi hasn't been included inside the body, although wireless image transmission is still possible through the SnapBridge feature. First incorporated inside the D500 earlier in the year, this uses always-on Bluetooth Low Energy to deliver images straight to smart devices, either as they are captured or afterwards. It's not possible to control the camera's shooting settings remotely in any way, although this is not too great an omission on such a model.
To help the first-time user understand their camera better, Nikon has once again implemented its Guide mode feature. This provides an alternative to the main menus and helps the user quickly capture specific types of images. There's also the familiar '?' button that can be called upon to explain camera functions.
Nikon though has made a few omissions from the D3300. Gone is the microphone port around the camera's side, which means that you're restricted to the built in monaural microphones, although this is not a critical loss when you consider that it's aimed at beginner users. The flash has become weaker too, its guide number dropping from GN 12m at ISO 100 to just 7m here. Perhaps most importantly, built-in sensor-cleaning technology has also failed to make the cut, which means you have to use a more tedious process that requires you to take a reference photo before processing it with the included Capture NX D software, or raise the mirror and physically clean it with a swab or blower.
The core specs – notably the sensor, AF system and video specs – compare well with the camera's chief rival, the Canon EOS 1300D, although these and others are essentially unchanged from the D3300. Some may lament the lack of built-in Wi-Fi, however, as well as a touchscreen.