Hands-on review: CES 2014: Nikon D3300

Overview, build and handling

Whenever I’m asked to recommend an entry-level SLR the Nikon D3100 and Nikon D3200 are always at the forefront of my mind. They have the great Guide Mode to help novices get to grips with their new hobby, and their image quality is very good.

On the basis of what we know about the new Nikon D3300, it looks set to be another good choice for novices. It offers the same 24.2-million pixel count as 2012’s D3200, but lacks the optical low-pass filter over the sensor and should therefore capture sharper, more detailed images.

Nikon has also improved on the D3200’s Guide Mode for the D3300, offering greater functionality and making it a little cleaner in appearance.

Like the Nikon D5300, the D3300 has the manufacturer’s latest generation processing engine: EXPEED 4. This allows the new camera to shoot continuously at a maximum rate of 5fps for up to 100 Fine quality JPEGs.

Nikon D3300

In addition, the native sensitivity range runs from ISO 100 to 12,800 and there’s an expansion setting that takes it to the equivalent of ISO 25,600. Provided that noise is controlled to Nikon’s usual standard, this should mean that the D3300 performs better in low light than its predecessor, making it more versatile.

The EXPEED 4 processing engine is also responsible for allowing the D3300 to record Full HD movie footage at framerates up to 50p/60p and with continuous autofocus. Helpfully, there’s a microphone port as well as a built-in stereo mic for better sound recording during movie shooting.

Like the D3200, the D3300 has a Special Effects mode that allows a collection of styles to be applied to JPEG images and videos. Nikon has boosted the list of effects to 13 and it now includes Pop, which increases colour saturation, Toy Camera, which creates a retro effect, and Easy Panorama. These effects can be previewed in real time on the LCD screen.

Nikon D3300

The D3300 has a dedicated 420-pixel RGB sensor to gather exposure, white balance and focus information to inform the Automatic Scene Recognition system. Meanwhile, there’s an 11-point AF system, which has a central cross-type AF point for extra sensitivity.

Finally, although the D3300 uses the same battery as the D3200 we are told that the new processing engine allows the camera to be more efficient in its power consumption, and the battery is claimed to last for around 700 images.

Build and handling

The D3300 is the second SLR from Nikon to use a monocoque construction. This means it is made from one piece of material, making it lighter and stronger than the D3200.

Nikon has also taken the opportunity to make the D3300 slightly smaller than the D3200, but the difference is by no means dramatic. The grip is still deep and comfortable to use and the camera feels secure in your hand.

The new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that comes with the D3300, however, is significantly different to its predecessor as it can be collapsed down while the camera is not in use, reducing the overall volume.

Pressing a button on the lens barrel while rotating the zoom ring expands the lens back to regular proportions, so it can function as normal, and when you’ve finished shooting you can just press the button again and rotate the ring in the opposite direction to collapse the lens back down.

Nikon D3300

Like the D3200, the D3300 has a three-inch LCD screen with 921,000 dots. This is a fixed unit and it’s not touch-sensitive, which is a little disappointing given the D3300’s dependency on screen-based settings adjustments.

I’ve only been able to use the D3300 indoors so far, but the screen gives a nice clear view and doesn’t appear to suffer excessively from reflections. We’ll have to wait for a full production sample to come in for testing before we can assess its performance in bright sunlight.

Being an SLR, the D3300 has an optical viewfinder. This covers approximately 95% of the image frame and gives a reasonably bright, clear view.

As before, Guide Mode is reached via the appropriate option on the mode dial on the top of the camera. This dial is also used to access the Effects modes and other exposure modes including shutter priority, aperture priority and manual along with a selection of scene modes.

As well as helping users set up their camera and make settings adjustments to suit the shooting conditions, the Guide Mode now has options to help with editing images in-camera. The cleaner interface is an improvement on the D3200’s.

Performance and early verdict

I haven’t been able to shoot any images with the D3300 yet as we weren’t allowed to put an SD card in the sample we used at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, so I can’t say for certain how good the image quality is – or not. However, 24Mp sensors aren’t new to Nikon and the manufacturer’s recent SLRs record an impressive level of detail.

Our tests have found that Nikon’s matrix metering system and automatic white balance system can generally be relied upon to deliver good results in a range of conditions. However, we won’t be taking this for granted and will subject the D3300 to thorough testing when we get a full production sample.

Nikon D3300

One issue that we’ve had before with Nikon’s SLRs, however, is that the colour of the LCD screen doesn’t always match that of the final image. This has been a particular issue in overcast or shaded conditions when images look cooler on the camera’s screen than they actually are. This can trick the photographer into adjusting the white balance to compensate and accidentally make images warmer than they should be.

As the D3300 is an entry-level camera you can’t expect the image frame to be completely covered by AF points, but 11 is a respectable number and the key areas are covered. In the relatively low light of the Las Vegas Convention Centre the D3300 managed to focus quickly on all the subjects we pointed it at with the kit lens mounted. It looks very promising, but we’ll test it with a range of lenses as soon as possible.

Early verdict

An SLR with a system that can actually teach you how to use the camera is an enticing option for novice photographers, especially when this is coupled with a sensor that has class-leading pixel-count and excellent pedigree.

While the D3300 looks like a good solid proposition, it’s a little disappointing that Nikon hasn’t added a few more features such as a touchscreen and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to give it greater appeal in comparison with the array of compact system cameras vying for a novice photographer’s attention. Those photographers who want to control the D3300 remotely via a smartphone or transfer images wirelessly will have to invest in Nikon’s Wu-1a mobile adapter.

Our time with an early sample of the D3300 indicates that it is slick and responsive. Given its heritage we also anticipate that it will prove a good performer, but will test it fully in the near future to find out for certain.