Nikon D3300 Field Test II
Wowed by the kit lens and AF, less so the limited controls
by Rob Taylor Case | 04/30/2014
As would be expected from a camera in this price range and size, the control layout can be a little limiting. Since the target demographic isn't generally expected to use quite a number of features, they've been omitted; those needing them can upgrade to the D5300 or the D7100.
IS-NO. Let's get the first omission out of the way: There is no dedicated ISO control. I know I mentioned this previously, but it really did feel to me like a standout missing feature while shooting. I still don't trust a camera to auto-ISO, which may be a hangover from the bad old days of sensor noise appearing the second you crested the ISO 200 hill. You can access it via the quick menu, but that's far too slow for my liking, so I set the Function button to adjust ISO.
For an actual real ISO button, to the D7100 you must go. If you're not loyal to Nikon, and in a budget DSLR you're probably not, you can seek greener pastures in Canon land: both the T5 and SL1 offer dedicated ISO control. Pentax's excellent K-50 not only gives you your ISO button, but also weather sealing and a host of other great features. If you intend to use the D3300 as a 'set-it-and-forget-it' camera though, the lack of a dedicated ISO button is really a non-issue.
While the D3300 lacks a dedicated ISO button, high ISO performance is very good.
Nikon 35mm f/1.8, f/1.8, 1/1600, ISO 6400
RAW processed with ViewNX 2
On the other hand, the menu allows you to set not only maximum acceptable ISO for noise reasons, but also adds the handy minimum acceptable shutter speed option too, with an Auto option that takes the lens' current focal length into account to help avoid the effects of camera shake. Nice. So in theory you can dial in your working parameters ahead of time, and then not have to think about it while shooting. Since high ISO performance is actually pretty good, especially for an APS-C camera, this made the lack of dedicated ISO button an easier pill to swallow.
Despite lacking a dedicated ISO button, Nikon came through with some decent ISO options and settings in the menu.
Bracketing for some, but not for all. There is no auto-bracketing. I don't really care about white balance bracketing since I shoot in RAW, but the lack of exposure bracketing is slightly disappointing. I usually use it for HDR, and combined with a 24MP sensor that lacks the detail-robbing low-pass filter it could be a glorious camera for landscapes and composite backgrounds. On the other hand, the impressive dynamic range of this sensor (as I'll show later) may make this use case a little less vital. (Note: The D3300 has a two-shot "HDR Painting" scene mode, however as you may expect from the name, the results are rather impressionistic.)
Sometimes, even in these digital days, exposure bracketing is still useful for really nailing exposure in a tricky lighting scenario. Alas, it's not to be. For bracketing, you'll need the D5300, or an entry-level ILC from Canon, Pentax, Sony, Panasonic or Olympus.
Exposure bracketing would've been nice for shots like this.
Nikon 35mm f/1.8, f/1.8, 1/3200s, ISO 100
RAW processed with ViewNX 2
Release mode. Check! What the D3300 does have, however, is a dedicated release mode button. With the continuous shooting speed boosted to a respectable 5fps, this button earns its spot on the back. There's now a distinct possibility of someone needing to switch on the fly between single shot (to save card space), continuous (to capture the moment) and even one of the lesser-used options like self-timer (customizable via the shooting menu), remote release (for use with an optional IR remote), or quiet-shutter (which isn't all that much quieter, but is a little more subtle). These are significant advantages in the low-end DSLR arena.
I found the sleeping polar bear photo to be a particularly effective illustration for single frame release mode.
Focusing. As can be expected on Nikons, autofocusing is fairly rapid. It's actually quite impressive on a cheap body with only one cross-type AF point and ten linear AF points. The camera focuses quickly and accurately in a variety of lighting scenarios, and the AF-assist light is quite bright and helpful. That dedicated AF-assist light also differentiates it from the Canon SL1, which relies on flickering the flash to provide the AF system sufficient illumination.
I've tried it in both Auto-area AF (the default) and Single-point AF (my preferred) and each seem to be robust. Obviously single point AF set to the central (cross-type) point is going to provide the combined fastest and most accurate focus lock with lower room for error in most situations, but I was fairly impressed with how reliably the camera knew what I wanted with the area-AF. If you're shooting a single-plane subject, Auto-area AF may be more rapid and precise as it takes in data across more focus points.
AF is crazy fast in full sun, and still surprisingly rapid in a dim indoor room. I was able to keep up with a one-year-old's expression changes indoors at ISO 25,600 and a four-year-old running outside at ISO 200.
This would have been the time to test the 3D tracking AF to see if it does what it says on the tin, but the thought was lost in the heat of the moment and I don't have a convenient dog to go back in and test with! However, it doesn't seem like I really needed it, even as I moved the camera to track the erratic motion of the subject.