Nikon D3400 Conclusion

Nikon 200-500mm f/2.8E ED VR AF-S at 200mm (300mm equivalent), f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 3200.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

New entry-level DSLRs rarely represent substantial upgrades over their predecessors and the Nikon D3400 is no different in that regard. However, the D3400 is a very capable camera and is well-suited for new photographers, not only because of its user-friendly design and strong performance, but also because it is an excellent value with kits currently selling for under US$500.

Nikon D3400 body is user-friendly but limited

As an entry-level, compact DSLR, the D3400 should be easy to use, yet still offer plenty of control over critical camera settings. The Nikon D3400 strikes the balance quite well, offering a simple user interface and control scheme while still allowing users to comfortably operate the camera in various manual modes.

The Nikon D3400 is compact for a DSLR, weighing in at 13.9 ounces (395 grams) body-only with dimensions of 4.9 x 3.9 x 3.0 inches (124 x 98 x 76 millimeters). It does weigh slightly less than the Nikon D3300 and part of the reason why is because the D3400 doesn’t have the built-in sensor cleaning system that its predecessor did.

A disappointing aspect of the D3400's body, at least for me, is its optical viewfinder, which while bright and moderately large, doesn't offer 100% viewfinder coverage. It's not unusual for a DSLR in this class to offer around 95% viewfinder coverage as the D3400 does (it actually tested at bit higher at closer to 96%), but I found it nonetheless frustrating when a distracting element shows up on the edge of your image that I couldn't see through the viewfinder. On the other hand, that does allow the camera to be smaller and less expensive than one with a 100% viewfinder, and it gives newbies a bit of margin in framing which can be cropped away later if need be. It's worth pointing out that even Live View won't offer you a full 100% coverage, as we tested it to provide about 99% coverage instead. This is a bit unusual, as we often see the LCD offer full frame coverage.

Overall, though, the D3400 has a good entry-level compact DSLR body. It offers user-friendly controls in a relatively compact form factor without making too many sacrifices.

D3400 provides great image quality for an entry-level APS-C DSLR

Image quality is where the Nikon D3400 separates itself from its entry-level DSLR peers. At base ISO (100), the D3400 delivers an excellent 30 x 40 inch print with crisp detail and vibrant colors. At ISO 200 and 400, quality remains excellent as the D3400 can produce a great 24 x 36 print. Increasing ISO to 800 meant decreasing print size to 16 x 20 to get an acceptable print, but that's still good for an APS-C sensor. Even at ISO 3200, a high ISO for the sensor size, you can produce a good 11 x 14 print. In fact, if you are making small prints, such as 4 x 6, you can use the D3400 all the way to its max ISO of 25,600; an impressive feat for this sub-$500 DSLR. Importantly, despite many aspects of the camera being unchanged compared to its predecessor, the D3400 did better than the D3300 in our print quality analysis. It is worth noting that the D3400's native ISO is 100 to 25,600 whereas the D3300 offered ISO 25,600 only in an expanded ISO mode.

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

Regarding other aspects of image quality, the D3400 performs quite well across the board. Average mean saturation is slightly higher than average while mean hue accuracy is slightly lower, but it did a good job with Caucasian skin tones. Resolution was very good, partially due to the D3400's lack of an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). Despite it not having an OLPF, it didn't display as much color moiré as we expected. Images display great detail, although there are some edge-enhancement artifacts around areas of high-contrast.

Overall, image quality performance is very good for the Nikon D3400 considering its class, especially with regard to sharpness and high ISO performance. The camera also exhibits excellent dynamic range, which has long been a staple of Nikon's DSLR line. Compared to the D3300, dynamic range improvements are especially evident at base ISO with the D3400 offering nearly 14 EV of dynamic range versus the D3300's nearly 13 EV. The D3300 already offered good image quality, but the D3400 has made noticeable strides in multiple key areas.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S Nikkor lens at 48mm (72mm equivalent), f/6.3, 1/80s, ISO 125
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User experience is positive despite simplistic autofocus

We found that the Nikon D3400 offers a strong user experience in most regards. Its menu system is quite intuitive, its controls all work well and the camera offers a variety of shooting modes and features to help new photographers capture their best images. Given its entry-level status, it's expected that there will be some compromises to be found with the D3400, but none of them are deal breakers.

Metering and autofocus performance is reliable, but not remarkable

Despite packing somewhat old metering and autofocus systems, the Nikon D3400 proved reliable in the field, although far from spectacular, particularly in the autofocus department. The metering system relies on a 420-pixel RGB sensor but it performed quite well. The D3400's spot metering is linked to the AF point as well, which is nice.

The autofocus system has only 11 AF points and they don't cover a large area of the frame. Further, when an AF point is activated, it illuminates red, but the red is sometimes difficult to see in bright light. The AF system is moderately quick and it's quite accurate, although it is limited by its lack of AF points, especially when using continuous autofocus. The D3400 is not particularly good at tracking moving subjects, although it can handle large, slow-moving subjects okay with its subject tracking AF mode.

AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR Nikkor lens at 22mm (33mm equivalent), f/8.0, 0.6s, ISO 100.
Click for full-size image.

Autofocus is an area of weakness for the D3400 compared to higher-end models, but it is nonetheless good for its class and price point. It would be unfair to expect it to be a true standout considering its price.

Good performance for its class, although RAW buffer is shallow

With its entry-level DSLR status, the Nikon D3400 offers good overall performance. It has very fast startup times, slightly faster than average shutter lag and good autofocus times. However, live view autofocus was generally slow, with an important exception. The Nikon D3400 comes with a new AF-P kit lens which is designed to offer faster autofocus in live view and when recording video and our testing results backed up the claim of improved performance relative to its AF-S predecessor. In fact, the AF-P kit lens was about twice as fast when focusing in live view compared to its predecessor.

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

Similarly positive is the Nikon D3400's continuous shooting performance. It is an entry-level camera, so its performance should be considered in that context. With a fast memory card, which was a SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s UHS-I 8GB SDHC card in our tests, the D3400 slightly exceeded Nikon's specification of 5 frames per second continuous shooting speeds, managing to shoot at 5.1fps. When shooting JPEG images, the D3400 could capture up to 100 frames and clear the buffer in one second. When shooting RAW images, the buffer was much smaller at only 12 frames, but speed was still around 5.1fps and the camera cleared its buffer in three seconds. If you want to capture both RAW and JPEG images, the buffer will shrink to a half a dozen frames and clear in four seconds. Although buffer depth when shooting RAW files is still not generous, it is improved over the D3300 which managed only 7 RAW files and 5 RAW+JPEG files with the same card.

Battery life is an area of great strength for the D3400, especially for a compact DSLR. The camera is rated to capture up to 1,200 shots using its proprietary EN-EL14a lithium-ion battery. This is a 500-shot improvement over its predecessor, the D3300. With that said, some of this improvement is due to the D3400 having a weaker built-in flash. Nonetheless, it offers outstanding battery life for a compact DSLR.

Overall performance is quite impressive with the Nikon D3400. Its RAW buffer depth may not be deep, but it maintains decent shooting speeds and the buffer clears quite quickly with a fast SD card.

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

Video performance is only decent, but the new AF-P kit lens improves AF performance

The D3400 shares its video specs with the D3300, which is to say that the Nikon D3400 doesn't offer a lot in the video department. In fact, compared to its predecessor, the D3400 is more limited as it lacks an external mic input. The D3400 can record Full HD (1920 x 1080) video at up to 60 frames per second. There is no 4K UHD or high-speed video recording options on the camera. Overall video quality is decent, although it isn't anything to write home about. Relying on a contrast-detect autofocus system means that the D3400 has slow autofocus performance when recording video and tends to hunt and jitter as the camera sometimes keeps trying to refocus even after focus is initially acquired. With that said, video AF performance, like live view AF, is much better when using the new AF-P kit lens than with the AF-S lenses we tested with the D3400.

Nikon D3400 SnapBridge functionality is limited

The Nikon D3400 is equipped with Bluetooth Low Energy -- one of the camera's few additions relative to the D3300 -- and is SnapBridge-compatible, however functionality and performance are quite limited. Because the D3400 doesn't have built-in Wi-Fi, remote control via the SnapBridge app isn't supported, and only downsized 2-megapixel images can be transferred rather slowly to your mobile device because of the limited bandwidth.

Nikon D3400 offers great image quality and is a very good entry-level DSLR

AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR Nikkor lens at 55mm (82mm equivalent), f/8.0, 1/60s, ISO 100, -1/3 exposure compensation.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

The Nikon D3400 doesn't represent a particularly impressive upgrade from its predecessor, the D3300, but it is still an excellent value at current prices, a strong overall performer and a great entry-point for budding photographers looking to acquire their first DSLR. With the new AF-P kit lens, the D3400 proved to be a capable camera in multiple ways, from stills to video, and can capture impressive images across a wide range of situations.

Available at the time of publishing for under US$500 with its AF-P 18-55mm VR kit lens, the Nikon D3400 represents the best the image quality you can get for under $500, earning it an easy Dave's Pick. In fact, we've voted the Nikon D3400 the Best Entry-level DSLR for 2016.


Pros & Cons

  • Compact DSLR camera body
  • Great image quality for its class
  • Sharp, punchy JPEG images
  • Improved dynamic range over its predecessor
  • Excellent high ISO performance for APS-C
  • New AF-P 18-55mm kit lens has faster, quieter and smoother AF operation
  • Quick startup
  • Low shutter lag
  • Relatively fast single-shot autofocus
  • 5fps burst mode with deep JPEG buffers
  • Improved RAW buffer depths with a fast card (though still not generous)
  • User-friendly controls and menus
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Built-in Bluetooth LE for SnapBridge support (but see related Con)
  • Excellent print quality
  • Value for money at current street prices
  • Some features dropped from D3300 (ultrasonic sensor cleaning, headphone jack, accessory port, Easy Panorama, etc.)
  • Weaker flash than predecessor
  • New kit lens has mixed optical performance with high chromatic aberration and geometric distortion at wide angle
  • Viewfinder is not 100% (typical for the class, though)
  • 11-point AF system isn't good at tracking moving subjects
  • No AE bracketing support
  • Live View continuous AF still isn't very good, although new AF-P kit lens is an improvement over AF-S version
  • Underwhelming video performance
  • SnapBridge features and performance are limited because of lack of Wi-Fi

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