Nikon D3300 review
23.5x15.6mm 24.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (27-82.5mm equivalent), 663g
The Nikon D3300 is the company's latest entry-level digital SLR. Such cameras are a great option for people who care more about image quality than having all the latest features. If you can live without Wi-Fi and an articulated screen and don't need the most sophisticated autofocus system, you can spend the difference on a lens upgrade and take much better pictures as a result.
Price, rating and specs based on the 18-55mm VR II kit
However, these entry-level SLRs must still provide enough features to get by with and a sensor that delivers the goods. Previous models haven't always passed these tests. The Canon EOS 1200D left us a little disappointed with its relatively high noise levels, so the D3300 has a golden opportunity to chalk up a clear victory.
It's off to a good start with a redesigned kit lens that collapses down to a relatively slender 68mm when not in use. That still amounts to 133mm from viewfinder to lens cap when in transit – better than the EOS 1200D's 145mm or the Nikon D3200 at 155mm but hardly a game changer. Together, the camera and kit lens have lost just over 100g compared to the D3200, and now weigh a combined 663g. These are welcome changes but you'll still need a bag rather than a pocket to transport it.
Otherwise, the D3200 and D3300 are tricky to tell apart, both on paper and in the flesh. The plastic body is smoother and shinier, and a choice of black, grey or red colours will tickle some people's fancy. The navigation pad is a little lower than before, giving slightly more room for the right thumb to rest on the back of the camera. The drive mode and delete buttons have shuffled around to make room, but that's about it for cosmetic changes. We've got no complaints regarding ergonomics, though. It fits snugly in two hands and all the buttons are easy to reach. The viewfinder is a little larger than the Canon EOS 1200D's, too.
There aren't a huge number of buttons and dials, though. As with its predecessors, the D3300 keeps labelled, single-function buttons to a minimum, instead relying on the quick-access and main menus for operation. There's some sense to this, as less experienced users may be put off by lots of cryptically labelled buttons, and prefer more informative on-screen labels. However, we're not convinced that they will learn much from a thumbnail showing a night cityscape for ISO 800 and a piano recital for ISO 1600. The scarcity of single-function buttons makes it impossible to adjust various settings while using the viewfinder. Meanwhile, calibrating the manual white balance and toggling the Auto ISO feature on and off are ridiculously convoluted, with the controls buried three layers deep in the sprawling main menu. Another annoying quirk is that the self-timer function switches itself off after each shot.
It's frustrating because these issues could easily be avoided with minor firmware changes, and yet they persist through numerous generations. Ultimately, though, the D3300 is a pleasant enough camera to use, particularly for those who mostly stick to automatic settings. It's easy to move the autofocus point via the navigation pad, and exposure-related settings are close to hand via the command dial and exposure compensation button. Guide Mode attempts to demystify various photographic techniques via a mixture of scene presets and practical tips, but the two sit awkwardly alongside each other. We recommend starting in Program mode and learning features as you feel the need.
Nikon D3300 Performance and video mode
Cameras' processors don't usually get much attention, but an upgrade to Nikon's latest Expeed 4 chip really pays off here. Continuous shooting is up from 4fps to 5fps, putting it significantly ahead of the EOS 1200D's 3fps. Whereas the D3200 slowed to 1.6fps after 20 JPEGs, the D3300 continued at 3.3fps. There was far less of a toll on performance when we enabled Auto Distortion Control to correct for lens distortion. Raw performance showed big gains, too, slowing to a still-usable 1.7fps after an initial burst of six frames at 5fps.
With a faster processor on board, it's a pleasant surprise to find that battery life has increased from 540 to 700 shots. We also found autofocus from the 11-point autofocus sensor and kit lens to be reliably fast, taking around 0.3 seconds from pressing the shutter button to capturing a frame.
The faster processor also means that 1080p videos are now captured at frame rates from 24fps all the way up to 60fps. There isn't a huge benefit to shooting at frame rates faster than 30fps as online hosting services and optical disc formats don't support them. Still, it's great to be able to slow footage down in editing software for slow-motion effects. The downside is that the maximum clip length for 50fps and 60fps is just 10 minutes. It's best to stick to the 24, 25 and 30fps frame rates in most instances, where clips run for 20 minutes.
Video picture quality is among the best we've seen. Colours exhibited the same flattering tones as in JPEGs. Details were sharper and noise levels were lower than from the EOS 1200D, and not far off the high standards of the Panasonic Lumix G range. Unlike the 1200D, there's an option for full-time autofocus while recording. It's not the most responsive video autofocus system and enabling it peppers the soundtrack with whirring noises from the lens motor, but it's good enough for casual use. A 3.5mm microphone input lets you bypass the internal mono microphone for a more strategically placed stereo mic.
Nikon D3300 Photo quality
The D3200 was the first Nikon SLR to use a 24-megapixel sensor. Now nearly all of them do, but while the D3300's resolution hasn't changed, this sensor marks a significant upgrade. It's the same one that's found in the D5300 and D7100, and noise levels were appreciably lower than from the D3200. This sensor also omits an optical low-pass filter in a bid to boost detail levels, but the difference is extremely subtle. Still, it's great to find the best sensor currently available for this type of camera in an entry-level model.
Noise levels in JPEGs at ISO 12800 are significantly lower than from the D3200 or Canon EOS 1200D
This shot at ISO 6400 tells a similar story
Shooting RAW and processing images in Lightroom brings further benefits to noise levels
It's also worth shooting RAW to make the most of details, although the 24-megapixel JPEGs aren't exactly lacking in this department
There's no sign of aliasing artefacts on these diagonal lines, despite the lack of an optical low-pass filter
Otherwise, there's little to report regarding image quality. Nikon SLRs' ability to capture flattering colours in JPEGs is already well documented in our reviews, and in-camera removal of lens distortions and chromatic aberrations helps photos look their best straight out of the camera. The kit lens could be better, with soft focus towards the edges of frames and a slight lack of contrast to fine details across the frame, but it's good enough to get first-time SLR owners up and running. If and when they're ready to upgrade, it's reassuring that this sensor can make the most of much higher quality glass.
Crisp details and lifelike colours: most of our test shots were hard to fault
Comparing the same shot taken with the kit lens and a 35mm prime reveals how much more the sensor has to give with a good lens in front of it
Nikon D3300 - is it for you?
It's probably pretty obvious by now that we prefer this camera to its main rival, the Canon EOS 1200D. It comes top for photo quality, video quality, performance, viewfinder size and battery life, which makes us willing to overlook – if not quite forgive – the more infuriating aspects of its controls.
These aren't the only two contenders, though. The Pentax K-50 punches far above its weight with its enthusiast-level controls and massive viewfinder, and it's now available for around £450. Then there's the SLR-like Sony A58 and various superb compact system cameras (CSCs) such as the Sony NEX-5T. The D3300 comes close to joining these cameras among our Best Buys. A simple firmware update to address its annoying operational habits would tip the balance.