- 5fps burst shooting
- SnapBridge connectivity
- 1200 shot battery life
The camera's metering system can be alternated between multi, centre-weighted and spot options, and on its default multi setting it behaves with a pleasing predictability. We were pleased to see it didn't tend to overexpose when faced with a predominantly dark subject, although, as is the case with many DSLRs, it does appear to lean slightly towards underexposure when faced with brighter areas. Still, with a dedicated exposure compensation button on the top plate that works in conjunction with the rear command dial, any intervention here is fast and straightforward.
The camera's Auto White Balance performance is similarly very good, with just a handful of slips during the course of this review. It did better than expected under artificial lighting, with just a little warmth taken away from some scenes, although performance under the traditionally difficult mixed natural/artificial conditions remained commendable.
With a fast memory card in place and the camera set to its 5fps burst mode, the D3400 manages anywhere between 13 and 28 JPEGs captured at their finest setting before it begins to slowdown. Set to capture Raw images this decreases to eight frames and raw and JPEGs captured simultaneously reduces this to six. The D3400 is unlikely to be anyone's first choice for action photography and so this performance is likely to be deemed adequate, although those wanting to capture prolonged bursts may find it tricky to do so when shooting raw files.
The camera's viewfinder doesn't throw any particularly surprises, with a pleasingly clear, colour-accurate and reasonably bright rendition of the scene. The LCD screen beneath it is fixed in place and not sensitive to touch, but these are not features we should expect as standard on an entry-level DSLR (even if a handful of rivals do offer one or the other, or both). The key thing is that it can reproduce the scene faithfully and show details clearly, and with 921k dots it does a good job to do both in balanced conditions and indoors. One thing that may cause concern is that the screen appears to be positioned far back behind its protective panel, something that easily causes reflections and compromises visibility in brighter conditions.
Wireless image transfer takes place over the camera's Bluetooth-running SnapBridge system, for which you need Nikon's dedicated app of the same name. This has not been well received since it introduction earlier in the year, and it was not possible to establish a connection when paired with an iPhone 6 for the duration of this test, despite both devices recognising each other.
The Vibration Reduction system inside the AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens is activated through the menu system rather than a switch on its barrel as is traditionally the case, although there appeared to be no difference in its performance next to other VR lenses with the same claims of effectiveness. The system has a clear effect on the stability of the viewfinder image (which helps with composition) and analysing images afterwards showed to have a positive effect on sharpness at lower shutter speeds.
It doesn't come as too great a surprise that the camera doesn't quite stretch to recording 4K video, offering Full HD instead, although good results are possible. Manual control over exposure may be enabled and while a little rolling shutter is visible in certain scenes, this is only really an issue if you pan the camera at speed. The kit lens appears to focus smoothly and very quietly (if a little slowly) while recording, although results appear somewhat weaker at the wide end than at the 55mm setting, so an alternative lens may be called for for wider compositions.
One feature that deserves high praise is the 1200-shot battery life. Having initially charged it fully, the camera maintained a full three bars after two days of being tested. Battery life is an issue for many compact system cameras, whose small batteries often have to power both LCD screen and electronic viewfinders, although the D3400's battery is far juicier than most other DSLR batteries too (certainly in this class). This places the D3400 at a huge advantage over other models.
Nikon has also included in-camera Raw processing among the D3400's features, a feature offered in previous D3xxx models but typically confined to more advanced cameras elsewhere. This allows for quick editing and multiple versions of the same image to be created without recourse to a computer, and you can view changes as you make them before committing. Whether or not the intended audience will use this is another matter, but it's a genuinely useful feature that's pleasing to see on board.
One small annoyance is that Nikon has maintained the same 'this option is not available at the current settings or in the camera's current state' error message from previous models. This is particularly unhelpful when faced with unselectable options as it doesn't explain exactly why they cannot be chosen, and it may cause the first-time user to have to check their manual more often than should be necessary.
- No low-pass filter
- Picture Control image effects
With no low-pass filter in front of its sensor, it's possible to record a very good level of detail in images, particularly if you use a high-quality prime lens, a macro optic or one of Nikon's pro-oriented zooms. One thing that lets down image quality is the standard of the 18-55mm VR kit lens, particularly at the wideangle and telephoto extremes. Partner the D3400 with some good lenses though, and you achieve images with excellent levels of detail - like the shot below.
At wider apertures images are somewhat soft, particularly in corners and at the edges of the frame, although when used in an intermediate focal length it's possible get some very good sharpness in the centre of the frame. As with many similar kit lenses, lateral chromatic aberration and curvilinear distortion can be visible in Raw files, although both are successfully and automatically dealt with in JPEGs.
One thing those processing images will appreciate is the camera's healthy dynamic range. I found images underexposed by up to around 3-3.5EV stops could still be rectified (depending on ISO) without noise becoming an issue – at least not one that can't be dealt with by way of careful noise reduction. Just take a look at the shots above.
The camera's slight tendency towards underexposure when dealing with bright areas also means that more highlight detail is retained than would otherwise be the case, although these areas can be tamed in post-production too. Against high-contrast edges it's also easy to spot purple fringing, and this remains in JPEGs, so this is one area of attention for raw post-production.
In the kinds of conditions in which high ISOs would be called upon, images captured up until around 800 range are still well coloured and troubled to no great degree by noise, although it becomes harder to process this out from images captured after this point. It's a shame there is no control over high-ISO noise reduction past on and off, as some may prefer to adjust this in finer increments. Fortunately, the effective VR system inside the kit lens means you shouldn't immediately need to call upon higher options as light levels fall.
Nikon's Picture Control options provide a sensible array of color options, and it's great to see the Flat option that first came along in the much more advanced D810. This can be used when recording videos, as a means of providing a better starting point for grading. Otherwise, the Standard mode is suitable for everyday shooting, neither saturating colors unnaturally nor leaving them lacklustre. The Vivid mode is a lovely choice for flowers and foliage, and gives colours just the right pep, although all can be adjusted fairly comprehensively with regards to contrast, saturation, brightness and so on.