Nikon D3400 Field Test

No major changes, yet still a great entry-level DSLR

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 10/24/2016

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 200mm (300mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 3200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Introduction

Currently available at a street price of about US$500 with the new AF-P 18-55mm kit lens (list price at launch was US$650), the Nikon D3400 represents an excellent value for photographers looking to get their feet wet with an interchangeable lens DSLR. With the D3400, Nikon has mostly stayed with what has worked -- and what didn't -- in its entry-level DSLR offering. In most ways, the D3400 is identical to its predecessor, the D3300. The D3400 interestingly represents a downgrade in a few notable areas compared to the D3300 and brings little new to the table.

Key Features

  • Compact DSLR camera body
  • 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter
  • Native ISO range of 100-25,600
  • 11-point autofocus system
  • 3-inch rear display
  • Full HD video at 60 frames per second
  • Built-in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and SnapBridge compatibility
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Front

Compact DSLR camera body handles well, but it doesn't include a lot of physical controls, touchscreen

The Nikon D3400 looks essentially identical to the D3300, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's a rather unremarkable camera body. Its grip is surprisingly large for what is otherwise a compact camera body and this helps make the D3400 comfortable to hold. It is small by DSLR standards, but not at the cost of comfort. However, there are some consequences associated with the small stature, such as the lack of a top display -- which is typical for the class -- and a single-dial control scheme. I am a huge proponent of twin command dials on cameras. Having quick, reliable access to both shutter speed and aperture, in addition to making other adjustments quickly, is a necessity on a more advanced camera body. As an entry-level model, many users won't be adversely affected by the single command dial, but for those looking to get into fully manual photography -- which is an excellent way to learn more about the camera -- the D3400 won't handle particularly well.

At three inches, the 921k-dot rear LCD is pretty large for the camera body. Unfortunately, it doesn't tilt nor is it a touchscreen display. Touchscreen displays can be very useful, and often prove intuitive, so it's an unfortunate omission. Buttons and controls are well-placed and the directional pad in particular feels nice and responsive. A dedicated ISO button would be very welcome, but overall no major complaints with the layout of the D3400.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Back

The optical viewfinder is bright enough and it is large enough, however, it doesn't offer full frame coverage but rather approximately 95%, but that's also typical for entry-level DSLRs. It's always important to check the edges of the frame and the D3400's viewfinder doesn't show them, so you need to take extra care when composing shots.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Top

The D3400 body weighs 13.9 ounces (395 grams) without battery, and has dimensions of 4.9 x 3.9 x 3.0 inches (124 x 98 x 76 millimeters). Its dimensions are the same as the D3300, but the D3400 weighs 0.6 ounces (15 grams) less. Part of the D3400's diet regimen was the removal of the ultrasonic sensor cleaning system, external microphone jack and accessory terminal. Overall, though, it's a solid camera body, particularly in the context of its entry-level status.

Nikon AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR kit lens is small and capable

The Nikon D3400 can be purchased in two kits, one with the AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR Nikkor lens and the other with that lens plus the AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED Nikkor lens. I tested out the 18-55mm lens and was generally impressed. It's a kit lens that is part of a very affordable bundle, so it isn't going to blow you away with its sharpness, but it is nonetheless pretty good. Its 27-83mm equivalent focal length is versatile, the vibration reduction works well, and its new stepping AF motor is very quiet. It's lightweight, weighing only 7.2 ounces (205 grams) and is quite compact. It is soft in the corners and shows a fair bit of falloff when shooting wide open, but it should prove to be a capable starting lens for D3400 users.

Nikon D3400's 24MP sensor produces high-quality images

The Nikon D3400 includes the same 24.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor that is found in the D3300. However, the native ISO range has changed from 100-12,800 (with 25,600 offered as an expanded setting) to 100-25,600. In any case, the higher end of the ISO range is best avoided so the change in the top end of the native ISO range doesn't matter much in any practical sense considering the sensor is the same.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens at 48mm (72mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/80s, ISO 125
Click for full-size image.

Image quality: Photos are sharp, detailed

To get a good sense of the D3400's image quality, one need look no further than our Nikon D3300 review. The imaging pipeline is unchanged, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because the D3300 (and by extension the D3400) offers users good sharpness across a fairly wide range of ISO sensitivities.

Images are very sharp with lots of detail, thanks in part to the D3400's lack of an optical low-pass filter in front of its 24.2-megapixel sensor. Colors are a bit oversaturated in default JPEG images, but colors are mostly well-represented and pleasing. Dynamic range is good as well and RAW files allow for extensive highlight and shadow recovery.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR AF-S lens at 400mm (600mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 400.
You can see that the matrix metering struggled with the dark loon, but the D3400's RAW images allow for quite a bit of highlight recovery. Click for full-size image.
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
The above image after RAW processing, highlight recovery and editing to taste.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Image quality at high ISOs: D3400 delivers strong results at higher ISOs for an APS-C camera

The Nikon D3400 is good at higher ISOs for an APS-C camera and very good for an entry-level camera. When looking at JPEG files, image quality is decent even at ISO 3200 and usable at smaller sizes at ISO 6400. ISO 12,800 is where I would steer clear of printing the images and ISO 25,600 is totally unusable in my opinion.

Nikon D3400 JPEG Noise Comparison
100% crops from center of JPEG images, default High ISO Noise Reduction (click for full-size images).
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
Base ISO Full Scene
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens at 70mm (105mm equivalent), f/9, 1/40s, ISO 100
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 100
ISO 200
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 400
ISO 800
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 6400
ISO 12,800
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 25,600

RAW images look quite good up through ISO 3200 and although noise in shadow areas is getting quite high by this point, the camera still captures good colors and maintains fairly high contrast. ISO 6400 images have a lot of noise, but you could process them into something usable. As is the case with JPEG files, ISO 12,800 and ISO 25,600 do not look very good at all and are very noisy (in the case of JPEG files they were incredibly soft).

Overall, the Nikon D3400's performance at high ISOs is not only impressive for an APS-C camera, but particularly great considering its price point. For an entry-level camera to deliver image quality results that can stand up against cameras costing much more is quite the feat.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 380mm (570mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 3200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Dynamic range: Solid dynamic range for an APS-C sensor

Dynamic range has long been a relative strength of Nikon's DSLR cameras and the D3400 is no exception. It cannot deliver the results of some of its higher-end DX siblings, but it is nonetheless a camera that offers impressive dynamic range, particularly at lower ISO settings. Provided you're shooting at the lower end of the ISO range, the image files offer plenty of freedom for making exposure adjustments and recovering highlights and shadows in RAW images. Speaking of RAW files, the D3400 produces compressed 12-bit NEF RAW files.

Nikon D3400 user experience: metering and AF performance

The Nikon D3400 offers a mostly good user experience due to its reliable metering performance and adequate autofocus system. It offers consistently good performance and a wide variety of shooting modes, lending itself nicely to use by beginners and more advanced amateurs alike.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens at 24mm (36mm equivalent), f/9.0, 1/6s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Despite lacking touchscreen capabilities, rear display proved useful in the field

I already touched on the single command dial design of the D3400, which is a disappointment, but otherwise it performs as needed for users looking to take more control of their camera. You're of course free to use the camera's fully automatic shooting mode, which works perfectly well, but it's important that users not be handicapped when wanting to take more control of their photography

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR lens at 22mm (33mm equivalent), f/8.0, 0.6s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image.

By default, the Nikon D3400 shows a wide variety of shooting settings on the rear display, which basically acts as a more fanciful top display by showing your shutter speed, aperture (complete with a graphic that visually represents the physical aperture of the lens), shooting mode and more.

Metering performance is generally good

Equipped with a 3D Color Matrix Metering II 420-pixel RGB sensor, the Nikon D3400 is surprisingly good at exposure metering considering its relatively old metering sensor. It has long been surpassed in the technology department by more expensive DX cameras in Nikon's lineup, but it nonetheless delivers consistently good results. I didn't have any major issues with either exposure or white balance metering when using the D3400.

When using the matrix metering mode, the effective metering range is 0 to 20 EV. There's also center-weighted and spot metering, with spot metering being centered on the selected autofocus point and offering an effective working range of 2 to 20 EV. Having spot metering linked to the autofocus point is excellent. If you need exposure compensation, the camera offers up to +/-5.0 EV of it and has a dedicated button on the top of the camera for enabling compensation.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 200mm (300mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 400.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Autofocus is quick in ideal conditions, slow otherwise. 11-point AF system is somewhat limited.

As I mentioned, the autofocus system is pretty simple. It is the same Multi-CAM 1000 TTL phase-detection autofocus system found in the D3300 and it has a total of 11 AF points with only the center point being a cross-type sensor. 11 points is enough for a wide array of scenarios, but it lacks the precision and consistency of more advanced AF systems. In addition to being less precise, particularly when dealing with small or moving subjects, it is a bit slow. In good light, the D3400 focuses quickly enough, but it struggles noticeably in low light. This is perhaps unsurprising given its rated effective working range of -1 to 19 EV.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 480mm (720mm equivalent), f/7.1, 1/800s, ISO 800.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

You can rely on fully automatic autofocus across the entire AF frame or just the center, but I preferred using a user-selected single AF point, which you can move around the frame with the directional pad on the back of the camera. The selected point lights up in the viewfinder, although it is displayed as a rather small red dot, so it can sometimes be hard to see when viewing a bright scene. If there's any advantage to an 11-point AF system, it may be that you can cycle through the AF points pretty quickly. Nonetheless, the lack of AF points can be problematic when trying to focus in on a precise area of the frame.

Continuous autofocus is available via AF-F mode (full-time autofocus) and it works okay, although the camera has a tendency to hunt in less than ideal conditions. Unfortunately, less than ideal is basically any scene that isn't bright and high-contrast. There's a subject tracking mode that works okay for large, slow-moving subjects but struggles with situations such as photographing birds. If you want to use the D3400 to grab some snaps of your kids playing sports or something like that, it'll be okay, but if you want to use it as a dedicated action camera or sports shooter, you might find yourself a bit disappointed.

Overall, autofocus is an area of weakness in this camera, just as it was with its predecessor, though that's typical for the class. That ought not to come as a surprise considering that Nikon didn't upgrade the AF system with this new release.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 500mm (750mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Performance is good for JPEG shooting, but RAW buffer depth is shallow

The long-in-the-tooth EXPEED 4 processor-based image pipeline found in the D3300 is again utilized for the D3400. What this means is that JPEG shooters can find something to like with the Nikon D3400 but RAW shooters may be wondering where their buffer has gone.

In either case, shooting RAW or JPEG, the D3400 shoots at up to 5 frames per second. It's a respectable continuous shooting speed. When shooting RAW, the buffer depth is problematic at less than ten frames and the buffer dips down to around five frames when shooting RAW + JPEG with the SanDisk Extreme 30MB/s UHS-I SDHC card I used. So you get about a second or two of continuous shooting before the camera's buffer fills up; that's not great, but typical for its class. The situation is less dire when shooting only JPEG files, as the buffer depth eclipses 50 frames in my tests.

Editor's Note: In our lab Performance tests, the Nikon D3400 managed 12 RAW and 6 RAW + JPEG frames before slowing down with a faster SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I SDHC card rated for 90MB/s writes and 95MB/s reads. So be sure to get the fastest UHS-I card you can afford if you want to maximize buffer depth when shooting RAW files.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 220mm (330mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 200, +1/3 EV.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

Interestingly, an area where the D3400 improves upon its predecessor is battery life. Using the same EN-EL14a lithium-ion battery, the D3400 is rated for 1,200 shots per charge versus the 700-shot charge capability of the D3300.

The D3400's built-in flash has lost some power compared to its predecessor, which is one reason battery life is better. Its guide number is 7 meters at ISO 100 versus the 12-meter guide number of the D3300.

Shooting modes: All your standard modes plus some fun special effects filters

In addition to the Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Speed Priority (S) and Manual (M) shooting modes, the D3400 also includes fully automatic shooting and a variety of scene and special effects modes. When using A and S shooting modes, the D3400's single command dial controls aperture and shutter speed respectively. When shooting in the fully manual mode, you need to hold a button down on the top of the camera while rotating the dial to adjust aperture, otherwise the command dial changes shutter speed.

On the mode dial itself, you can access Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close-up and Night Portrait scene modes. The Special Effects mode offers 10 different effects: Night Vision, Super Vivid, Pop, Photo Illustration, Toy Camera, Miniature, Selective Color, Silhouette, High Key and Low Key. These modes and effects work fine, although some of the effects look very bad, in my opinion. Special effects are a matter of taste, so for users who enjoy them, the D3400 offers a good variety.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR lens at 40mm (60mm equivalent), f/8.0, 1/15s, ISO 560.
Special Effect: Miniature. Click for full-size image.

Bluetooth Low Energy: Nikon SnapBridge compatibility comes to the D3400, with limitations

Nikon D3400 Review -- Product Image

The Nikon D3400 is equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy -- one of the camera's few additions relative to the D3300 -- and is SnapBridge-compatible, but there's a large caveat. Unlike the D500 which also has built-in Wi-Fi, the D3400 cannot be remotely controlled via SnapBridge, only taking advantage of BLE's persistent low-energy connection to transfer files and info.

The Nikon SnapBridge app is available for Android and iOS devices and is easy to set up and use. Once connected, you can set the D3400 to automatically transfer resized 2-megapixel JPEG images to your mobile device as they are taken, where they can be shared or uploaded to Nikon Image Space, the company's free online image sharing and storage service. 

Other SnapBridge features supported include the ability to selectively transfer images, synchronize the camera's clock to your smart device, and provide the camera with the current GPS coordinates for geo-tagging images. But because the D3400 doesn't have Wi-Fi for greater bandwidth, remote control as well as transfer of full-resolution images, RAW files or movie files is not supported.

Once paired, automatic image transfers worked albeit slowly during my limited testing, but without remote control SnapBridge feels like a hampered wireless capability.

Nikon D3400 video: Full HD quality is good, but no 4K video

To record video, you need to put the camera into Live View mode, and you press the dedicated record button on the top of the camera to start and stop recordings. Video specs are pretty much unchanged from the D3300, although as I mentioned earlier, the external mic input has been removed, which will surely be a disappointment to some especially since the built-in mic remains monaural.

The D3400's video resolution tops out at 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) and framerate is capped at 60fps (progressive). It's become increasingly common for cameras to include to 4K video recording capabilities, but the D3400 sticks with Full HD, which is a little surprising these days. The lack of high-speed video recording is also a bit disappointing, though at least 60p is available.

Nikon D3400 1080p Video Sample, 1920 x 1080, 60p, ISO 178
Download Original (94.2 MB .MOV File)

Overall video quality is pretty good, but audio is mono and the quality is not great. Live View AF has improved with the new AF-P 18-55mm kit lens but continuous autofocus performance still isn't very good, which given the camera's contrast-detect-only autofocus in Live View mode, is not really a surprise. Although the new AF-P kit lens offers quieter, smoother and somewhat faster autofocus than its AF-S counterpart thanks to its new stepping AF motor, autofocus still regularly hunts and comes in and out even when the subject begins in focus.

While the D3400 is capable of recording video, it would be a mistake to consider it a multimedia device. It technically is, but it is not ideal for recording video. I do appreciate the location of the movie record button on the top of the camera and the ease with which you can capture decent video files, but the D3400's video capabilities remain somewhat limited.

Nikon D3400 1080p Handheld Panning Video Sample, 1920 x 1080, 60p, ISO 635
Download Original (116 MB .MOV File)

Like the D3300, the D3400 offers Full HD 1920 x 1080 at 60p, 30p or 24p (50p and 25p in PAL mode). It also shoots HD 1280 x 720 at 60p or 50p, but drops the D3300's 640 x 424 standard-def mode. Videos are recorded using H.264/MPEG-4 compression with linear PCM audio, saved in a MOV container.

The only other movie settings available are High and Normal quality, microphone sensitivity (including Auto and Off settings), and you can enable wind noise reduction, all unchanged from on the D3300. ISO and shutter speed are normally automatic regardless of the current exposure mode or ISO setting, though like the D3300, there is a dedicated Manual Movie Settings mode which lets you set ISO and shutter speed in addition to the aperture (which needs to be selected before entering Live View mode).

Nikon D3400 1080p High ISO Video Sample, 1920 x 1080, 60p, ISO 3592
Download Original (123 MB .MOV File)

In High quality mode, Full HD clips are still limited to only 10 minutes at 60p , or 20 minutes at 30p and 24p. Switching to Normal quality gets you up to 20 mins at 60p, and 29:59 mins at lower framerates or resolution. Note that internal temperature may reduce maximum recording times, as is true for many cameras.

Nikon D3400 Live View AF
Old AF-S 18-55mm vs new AF-P 18-55mm lens

Single-servo (AF-S) or Full-time (AF-F) continuous autofocus are available while recording movies, as is manual focus. You can magnify the preview up to 8.3x to check focus before recording starts, but not during recording, and focus peaking is not supported. When using autofocus, Face-priority, Wide-area, Normal-area and Subject-tracking AF options are available. Nothing has changed here from the D3300, however as mentioned the new AF-P kit lens does offer quieter, smoother and faster autofocus during movie recording, though it's not silent and can still hunt.

Nikon D3400 Field Test Summary

The Nikon D3400 is an excellent entry-level camera, offering great image quality and value for its class.

What I like:

  • Comfortable, compact DSLR camera body
  • Impressive image quality from APS-C (DX) sensor
  • Reliable single-shot autofocus (although occasionally slow)
  • New kit lens has faster, quieter and smoother AF operation
  • Represents a great value for beginners

What I dislike:

  • Viewfinder doesn't offer full coverage of the frame (typical for class)
  • Rear display doesn't tilt or include touchscreen functionality
  • Video specs are underwhelming
  • Is barely an upgrade to the D3300 and is in some ways a downgrade
Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens at 55mm (82mm equivalent), f/8.0, 1/60s, ISO 100, -1/3 EV.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

The Nikon D3400 is a camera that is a good option for beginners who want to buy their first Nikon DSLR as it combines really good image quality with reliable performance. It is basically a D3300 with slightly fewer features and a new badging, plus BLE. Fortunately, it is building upon a pretty solid foundation.

It won't win any awards for speed or sophistication, but it isn't meant to. The D3400 is designed to be accessible to beginners but powerful enough to grow in functionality alongside its users. Although slightly hampered by its compact body in terms of available controls, the D3400 is capable of keeping up with you as you work on your craft. Ultimately, the Nikon D3400 is a capable entry-level DSLR at a good price point.

Nikon D3400 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens at 340mm (510mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 3200.
Click for full-size image.

 



Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate