Nikon D3400 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly higher than average mean saturation with slightly below average hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs, and click on them for larger images.

Saturation. The Nikon D3400 pumps dark blues quite a bit and most other colors by small to moderate amounts, but slightly undersaturates bright yellow, light green, and cyans. Mean saturation at base ISO is 113.0% or 13% oversaturated, a little higher than average, but as mentioned, much of that is because blues are pushed so much. And saturation levels remain fairly stable as sensitivity climbs, even at the highest ISOs. Overall, we found the D3400's default saturation levels pleasing to the eye. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Nikon D3400's Caucasian skin tones looked just about right when using manual white balance in simulated daylight. A very good job here. Skintones with auto white balance were a bit too flat and yellow. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Nikon D3400 did shift cyan toward blue by quite a bit at base ISO, with smaller shifts in reds, orange and magenta. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 6.27 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy was a little lower than average (lower numbers are better), but still what we'd consider "good," and hue accuracy remained fairly stable across the ISO range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, but overly-warm results with Auto and Incandescent. No exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Manual White Balance
0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. (We'd say unacceptably so, though unfortunately this is common.) The Incandescent setting was also too warm, with a strong yellow/green cast. The Manual setting produced the most accurate results by far, if just a touch cool. The Nikon D3400 required no exposure compensation here, while most cameras require about +0.3 EV for this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

Outdoors, daylight
Excellent results under harsh lighting for its class.

Manual White Balance,
+1.0 EV
Auto White Balance,
Default

Outdoors, the Nikon D3400 performed well, requiring +1.0 EV exposure compensation for our "Sunlit" Portrait shot to keep the face reasonably bright. (The average for this shot is +0.7 EV, so the D3400 required a bit more than average.) We preferred skintones from the Manual white balance setting as they were a little pinker and healthier-looking than Auto. Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera did a very good job of holding onto detail in the highlights and shadows. The Nikon D3400 produced vibrant colors and a very good exposure without any exposure compensation in our Far-field scene (above right). Very few highlights were blown and shadow detail is quite good with relatively low noise. Overall, excellent performance for its class here.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
~2,750 to ~2,800 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW

Our resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns up to about 2,800 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,750 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but lines begin to merge and aliasing artifacts start to interfere with detail at these resolutions. Extinction of the pattern didn't occur until around 3,600 to 3,800 lines. We weren't able to do significantly better with NEF files processed through Adobe Camera Raw. Color moire is however more evident in the ACR converted RAW files, however it's not as high as we'd expect for a camera without an optical low-pass filter. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp, crisp images with great detail, however edge-enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects. Moderate noise suppression visible at base ISO.

Very good definition of
high-contrast elements,
but with evidence of
edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
though detail remains strong in
the darker parts of the model's hair here.

Sharpness. The Nikon D3400 produces images that are crisp and sharp when coupled with a sharp lens as used in the above left crop. Edge enhancement artifacts are however visible on high-contrast subjects such as the halos around the border and text, but default sharpening looks to be a very good compromise between crispness and sharpening artifacts for a consumer model. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows some mild to moderate noise suppression, as the darker and lower-contrast areas of the model's hair show some smudging where individual strands of hair merge. Still, a very good performance here considering the resolution and target market. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

Aliasing. You can see hints of aliasing artifacts in a number of our test shots, however the D3400 seems to do a pretty good job at suppressing moiré for a camera that doesn't have an optical low-pass filter.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D3400 does a great job at capturing lots of fine detail in its JPEGs, but more detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, while at the same time reducing sharpening artifacts. Let's have a look at base ISO:

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 via DNG Converter 9.7 (right) using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (300%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

As is frequently the case, the demosaicing in Adobe Camera Raw and sharpening in Photoshop deliver finer detail than the camera, with fewer sharpening artifacts. Looking closely at the images, ACR extracts some detail that wasn't present in the camera JPEG, especially in the red-leaf swatch where the conversion was able to resolve some of the fine thread pattern, which the camera's JPEG engine tended to blur it away as if noise. The ACR conversion does however show more noise at default noise reduction settings than the camera at its default settings. All-in-all, though, the D3400 did a very good job at reducing noise while maintaining excellent detail in most areas of our target here at base ISO. Still, for maximum detail (and flexibility), using a good RAW converter does yield better results than in-camera JPEGs, as is usually the case.

ISO & Noise Performance
Excellent high ISO performance for its class.

Noise Reduction = On (Default)
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400 ISO 12,800 ISO 25,600

Noise levels are quite low at ISOs 100 through 400 with excellent detail, though some very fine detail is lost to noise reduction even at base ISO. ISO 800 shows a very fine noise "grain" but detail is quite good, and chroma noise well-controlled. At ISO 1,600 noise levels increase with a touch more blurring in fine details and more visible grain, but detail is still pretty good and chroma noise remains low. Of course, ISO 3200 has higher luma noise but it's still fine-grained, detail is good and chroma noise is low. ISO 6400 shows much stronger luma noise and blurring, but there's some fine detail left, and chroma noise is remarkably low. Only at ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 does chroma noise become an issue with some minor purple and yellow blotchiness in darker areas, though it's still fairly well-controlled. Luma noise and blurring are quite strong at the top two ISOs, however the D3400 manages to hold on to nice color and contrast, allowing these ISOs to still be useful for small prints.

Overall, excellent noise performance for a 24-megapixel APS-C model, especially for an entry-level model. See our Print Quality analysis section below for recommended print sizes at each ISO.

A note about focus for this shot: We used to shoot this image at f/4, however depth of field became so shallow with larger, high-resolution sensors that it was difficult to keep important areas of this shot in focus, so we have since started shooting at f/8, the best compromise between depth of field and sharpness.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
Very good detail in both highlights and shadows, resulting in excellent dynamic range. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness though autofocus can struggle in low light.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
The Nikon D3400 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above well, though it did require higher than average exposure compensation. While contrast is a little high, shadow and highlight detail are both very good. The +1.0 EV exposure did the best job here, producing a fairly bright face without blowing out too many highlights in the white areas. Despite the bright appearance, there are relatively few clipped highlights in the mannequins's shirt. Some shadows are pretty dark, but contain good detail. Be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)


Face Detection
Off
Aperture-priority
0 EV
Auto mode
(Portrait)
0 EV
Live View
with Face-priority AF
0 EV

Here, we can see the effect of the Nikon D3400's full Auto mode as well as face detection AF enabled in Live View mode. As you can see from the shots above, full Auto mode deployed the flash, used a wider aperture (f/5) and produced a better exposed image than Aperture-priority with no exposure compensation. However be aware that because of the limited number and coverage of focus points when using the viewfinder (this is true for most DSLRs), the D3400's chosen focus point isn't optimal, as the mannequin's face is slightly out of focus. And in multiple trials, the camera often focused on the closer flowers. In Live View mode using Aperture-priority at f/8, Face-priority AF mode improved the exposure versus Aperture-priority with the optical viewfinder, selecting a slower shutter speed of 1/30s versus 1/60s to brighten the image (since the other two exposure variables of aperture and ISO were fixed). And the D3400 focused on the face since Live View mode uses contrast-detection AF which has much better coverage than the 11-point phase-detection AF employed when using the optical viewfinder.


Outdoor Portrait Active D-Lighting
+1.0 EV

Nikon's Active D-Lighting
The shots above show the results with Active D-Lighting Off and On with +1.0 EV exposure compensation. (Like other entry-level Nikon models, the D3400 only has these two settings, while Nikon's more advanced models let you choose from a range of strengths of the effect.) This is different than the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly leaves raw file data strictly as it comes from the sensor.) Mouse-over the links to see the difference, and click on the links to load the corresponding full-resolution image.

As you can see from the images and histograms above, enabling Active D-Lighting resulted in much better highlight retention (less clipping) as well as slightly boosted shadows and midtones, however some highlights were still blown. The effect of Active D-Lighting will vary quite a bit with the subject and lighting: The camera decides what needs adjusting, and by how much, so the effect can vary quite a bit.

Far-field Active D-Lighting Example

Above is another example of Nikon's Active D-Lighting at work, this time with our Far-field shot in bright daylight. Again, mouse-over the links to see the difference, and click on the links to load the full resolution images.


Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we're comparing the Nikon D3400 sensor's dynamic range to its predecessor's, the D3300, as well as to the Sony A6000's. (DxOMark has not tested the Canon T6 nor the Pentax KS-2 as of this writing, and the A6000 is selling for about the same price as D3400 at the time of writing.)

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the D3400's dynamic range is significantly higher than the D3300's at base ISO (13.85 EV vs 12.76 EV), and it remains higher throughout the ISO range, though the advantage is minimal at high ISOs. This is a pleasant surprise implying the D3400's sensor has likely been tweaked since the D3300.

The D3400's dynamic range is also better than the Sony A6000's which peaked at 13.14 EV at base ISO, with the Sony only catching up at surpassing the D3400 above ISO 6400.

Bottom line: Excellent dynamic range from the D3400 with a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Nikon D3400 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.


  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see D3400LL001003.JPG
2s, f2.8
Click to see D3400LL001007.JPG
30s, f2.8
Click to see D3400LL001007XNR.JPG
30s, f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see D3400LL032003.JPG
1/15s, f2.8
Click to see D3400LL032007.JPG
1s, f2.8
Click to see D3400LL032007XNR.JPG
1s, f2.8
ISO
25600
Click to see D3400LL256003.JPG
1/125s, f2.8
Click to see D3400LL256007.JPG
1/6s, f2.8
Click to see D3400LL256007XNR.JPG
1/6s, f2.8

Low Light
The Nikon D3400 performed well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) even with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). Of course, noise is higher at ISO 3200 but it's not objectionable and very fine-grained. As expected, the maximum ISO of 25,600 is however quite noisy with noticeably less detail, and is probably best avoided except for small prints or web images.

We didn't notice any issues with hot pixels, banding (pattern noise) or heat blooming.

Color balance is good with the Auto white balance setting at one foot-candle, just slightly cool, though there's the shift towards magenta or purple at lower light levels that we often see from Nikons, with a very strong shift at the top ISO.

LL AF: The camera's phase-detection autofocus system was able to focus on our standard low-contrast AF target down to -0.5 EV (~0.18 foot-candle), and on our new high-contrast AF target down to -2.6 EV (~0.04 foot-candle) unassisted. That's not bad for its class, as its AF sensitivity is rated by Nikon down to -1.0 EV. The Nikon D3400 is able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled, as long as the target is in range and has sufficient contrast. In Live View mode, the camera's contrast-detect autofocus was able to focus on our low-contrast target down to -2.3 EV, and on our high-contrast target down to -2.7 EV, which is quite good.

Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D3400 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
An excellent 30 x 40 inch print at base ISO; a nice 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 1600, and a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.

ISO 100 delivers excellent 30 x 40 inch prints and higher -- as large you need until you run out of resolution. Colors are vibrant, fine detail is sharp and crisp, and the image has a nice three-dimensional pop to it.

ISO 200 images are terrific at 24 x 36 inches, with very nice detail and wonderful color reproduction. The 30 x 40 inch prints here are certainly more than adequate for wall-display purposes as well.

ISO 400 prints also pass our good grade at 24 x 36 inches with nice detail and very little in the way of noise present. For your most critical applications, a reduction to 20 x 30 inches will further tighten up the fine detail and provide more crisp overall imagery.

ISO 800 produces 20 x 30 inch prints that almost pass our good grade, and are certainly fine for less critical applications. The 16 x 20 inch prints here tighten up nicely with good colors throughout, sharp detail and not much in the way of noise, other than a minor amount present in flatter areas of our target. There is a typical mild softening in the red channel and some detail lost in our tricky red-leaf swatch, but otherwise a nice overall print for this ISO. 

ISO 1600 images really shine at 13 x 19 inches, with nice colors and good overall detail. A lot of subtle detail is now lost in our red-leaf fabric swatch, though, but this is common for most APS-C cameras by this ISO and higher. Noise is well-controlled here, with only a minor grain-effect in a few flatter areas, but overall a very nice print.

ISO 3200 yields a solid 11 x 14 inch print. There is a trace of noise apparent in the flatter areas of our Still Life target, but it's mild enough to allow this otherwise quality print to warrant our good seal. Colors are also still quite vibrant for this sensitivity.

ISO 6400 tends to be the turning point for quality across most APS-C cameras, but the D3400 produces one of the nicer 8 x 10's at this ISO that we've yet seen in this class and price range. If you like to print 8 x 10's but still need the higher shutter speeds in low light that ISO 6400 can provide, you're in solid hands with this camera.

ISO 12,800 delivers a nice 5 x 7 for such a lofty ISO and price range. Full color reproduction is present, good fine detail, and not much noise to speak of at this print size.

ISO 25,600 delivers a very nice 4 x 6 for this ISO! Colors are just a bit subdued compared to lower ISOs, but still a nice print.

The Nikon D3400 certainly delivers in the print quality department, and when you consider its sub-$500 street price, it jockeys to be the best all-around print camera as ISO rises for that price point. Starting with a large 30 x 40 inch print at base ISO, providing a solid 13 x 19 at ISO 1600, and still delivering a usable print all the way up to ISO 25,600, we'd say this is a very worthy camera for image quality at this price. Topping the already good D3300 for print sizes at a few ISOs, the D3400 furthers what we loved about its predecessor. Indeed, you are in good hands for printing with the Nikon D3400.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer. (See our Canon PRO-1000 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D3400 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D3400 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!



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