Despite the growing popularity of interchangeable-lens compacts, Nikon continues to offer compelling entry-level DSLRs. Its latest, the D3300, succeeds the D3200 we tested in our August 2012 issue. The pixel count of this new $647 (street, with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6G Nikkor VR II lens) APS-C-sensor camera holds at 24.2MP and the metering and AF systems stay the same as the D3200. But bursts have increased to 5 frames per second, the buffer can hold more JPEGs before filling, and the top ISO reaches 1 stop higher, to ISO 25,600.
In the Test Lab
Nikon used a new sensor in the D3300, and we saw it hit higher levels of noise than the D3200 at all sensitivities over ISO 100, earning it an Excellent rating in overall image quality from ISO 100 through 400 (the D3200 reached ISO 800).
This could reflect the difference in hardware, but it may also be due to changes in the latest version of Nikon’s View NX software that ships with the camera, which we use to convert RAW files to TIFFs in our tests. DxOMark.com, which tests unprocessed RAW image files, rates the D3300’s higher ISO performance above the D3200’s.
In our resolution test, the D3300 essentially matched the D3200, with 2725 lines per picture height at ISO 100 versus the D3200’s 2710 lines. At ISO 400 the D3300 served up 2540 lines—still well over the 2500 lines that is the cutoff for Excellent in this test. By ISO 1600 it dropped below that mark, with 2440 lines, but it held its resolving power up to ISO 6400, with 2420 lines. Thereafter, resolution dropped more sharply, ending up at 2240 lines at ISO 25,600.
That’s still impressive for an entry-level DSLR, though. To compare, Canon’s 18MP EOS Rebel T5i ($850, street, with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 Canon EF IS STM lens) resolved 2500 lines at its best and 2100 lines at ISO 6400; it produced 1860 lines at ISO 25,600.
The Canon T5i wins, though, when comparing noise. In our noise test, the D3300 garnered a Low or better rating up to ISO 400, after which the noise increased rapidly. While the T5i achieved a Low or better rating up to ISO 800, and didn’t reach Unacceptable noise levels until ISO 12,800, the D3300 landed in Unacceptable range by ISO 3200.
This may have more to do with Nikon’s defaults for automatic noise reduction in RAW conversion than the actual RAW sensor output. But we regard the manufacturer’s default as its standard for the camera and always use the provided software’s defaults for our tests. That said, one would expect more noise here, since the Nikon has significantly more pixels packed into nearly the same APSC- sized sensor area.
When shopping for cameras in this market segment, you have to think about how much resolution you really need. If you crop often and severely, the D3300’s extra pixels make a lot of sense. If you don’t usually crop much, then you might get more out of the Canon.
In autofocus, the D3300’s results were very similar to its predecessor’s. At the brightest light level in our test, the D3300 focused in less than a half-second and remained under 0.6 sec down to the brightness of a typical living room. At EV 0, the level of an average nighttime scene, the D3300 still focused in less than a second. At EV –1, the lowest light for which the camera’s AF is rated effective, the speed became more erratic but averaged out to 1.16 sec. Canon’s T5i was able to focus faster in bright and medium light, but in dim lighting the two cameras tied. Since the D3300 is aimed at amateurs, we think its AF results are plenty good for the kind of use it’ll likely see.
With an average Delta E of 6.4, the D3300 easily earned an Excellent rating in color accuracy, a test that most current DSLRs ace.
In the Field
Though the D3300 is a bit smaller than the D3200, the overall feel and button layout is very similar. The camera still feels quite stable in the hand. There’s only one command wheel, so you must hold down the exposure-compensation button when in manual. Nikon clearly assumes that most D3300 owners will use full auto or one of the priority shooting modes. While this may well be true, we still prefer a camera that has two command dials, especially when you can assign exposure comp to one of them when in a priority mode.
Movie recording got an upgrade to 1920x1080p at 60 frames per second, from the D3200’s 30 fps. We expect that non-pros will be plenty happy with the footage from the D3300, which showed lots of detail and no more artifacts than one would expect from an inexpensive DSLR.
Burst speed now meets our criterion of at least 5 fps for amateur sports shooting. With JPEGs, you can get upwards of 100 shots before the buffer fills, likely the result of D3300’s newer Expeed 4 processor; with RAW you get 11 shots per burst. That’s down from the D3200’s 18, but by no means shabby for a camera of this class.
If Nikon did one thing wrong, it was omitting built-in Wi-Fi (same with the Canon T5i). You can add its optional WU-1a wireless mobile adapter ($60, street) to transfer images straight to your smartphone and control the D3300 from the phone. The new camera costs about $50 less than the D3200 did when we tested it, taking some monetary bite out of the equation.
The Bottom Line
Nikon’s D3300 doesn’t change too much compared with the D3200—and that’s mostly a good thing. It captures tons of detail in still images, serves up extremely accurate colors, and has enough power to get great shots of any family’s high-school sports star.
Plus, Nikon put out a relatively inexpensive 35mm f/2.8G lens at the same time as the D3300. This rounds out a series of inexpensive primes that Nikon has offered in recent years. It also signals a true commitment to amateur shooters and bolsters an already extensive array of glass and accessories that few ILC makers can match.
If you’re torn between Nikon and Canon and not invested in either system yet, you’ll have to decide whether Canon’s twisting, tilting LCD trumps the D3300’s fixed one, and whether Nikon’s choice of more noise for more pixels makes a difference to you. From where we sit, it’s a tossup.
IMAGING: 24.2MP effective, DX format APS-C-sized CMOS sensor captures images at 6000×4000 pixels with 12 bits/color in RAW mode.
STORAGE: SD, SDHC, SDXC. Stores JPEG, NEF RA W, RA W + JPEG.
VIDEO: Up to 1920x1080p60 H.264/MPEG-4; built-in mono mic, stereo minijack mic input; continuous AF; maximum clip length 10 min. at 1080p60 and high quality, 20 min. at 1080p30 and high quality.
BURST RATE: Full-sized JPEGs (Fine mode): 5 fps up to 100 shots; RAW(12-bit): 5 fps up to 11 shots when using a UHS-I memory card
AF SYSTEM: TTL phase detection with 11 illuminated focus points (one cross-type point in center); single-shot, continuous, 3D focus tracking; tested sensitivity down to EV–1 (at ISO 100, f/1.4).
LIVE VIEW: Full-time contrast detection or single-shot phase-detection AF with mirror interrupting view momentarily; face detection and subject tracking available.
SHUTTER SPEEDS: 1/4000 to 30 sec (1/3-EV increments); shutter life not rated.
METERING: TTL metering using 420-pixel RGB sensor; Matrix (evaluative), centerweighted, and spot (approx. 2.5% of finder at center) metering; range, 0–20 EV(at ISO 100).
ISO RANGE: ISO 100–12,800 (in 1-EV increments), expandable to ISO 25,600.
FLASH: Built-in pop-up flash; GN 39 (feet, ISO 100); flash sync to 1/200 sec.
VIEWFINDER: Fixed eye-level pentamirror. LCD: Fixed 3-in. TFT with approx. 921,000-dot resolution; 11-step brightness adjustment
OUTPUT: Hi-Speed USB 2.0, mini-HDMI video, composite video
BATTERY: Rechargeable EN-EL14a Li-ion, CIPA rating 700 shots
SIZE/WEIGHT: 4.9×3.9×3.0 in., 1.0 lb with card and battery
STREET PRICE: $647, with AF-S DX Nikkor 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6G VR II lens.
FOR INFO: www.nikonusa.com