Nikon's entry-level DSLRs have never been revolutionary, but since the introduction of the D40 back in 2006, they've generally been lightweight, competent performers. The recently-announced D3300 continues this trend, shaving some size and weight off of the D3200, adding a number of minor tweaks throughout the camera, and including a brand-new kit lens.
We spent some hands-on time with the latest Nikon DSLR at CES 2014 to get an idea of whether the numerous small improvements really shine through when using the camera in the real world.
Nikon puts its low-end DSLR on a diet plan, with mixed results.
When Nikon first told us about the D3300, the product reps focused primarily on the size and weight savings over the D3200. When you actually pick up the camera, however, it doesn't feel all that different from its predecessor.
All told, the D3300 shaves about a tenth of an inch off, all the way around, and lightens the body by about an ounce. That's not enough to drastically alter how you'll use the camera, as we were already talking about a camera that weighs in at just one pound. Where Nikon has made significant gains is with the kit lens, which is substantially smaller.
The new kit lens also provides slightly enhanced performance. You now get four stops of vibration reduction, according to Nikon, though we can't make any proclamations about overall image quality just yet. Otherwise the D3300 is similar to previous entry-level Nikon DSLRs: it has a lightweight body, a single control dial, a mode dial that includes Nikon's guide mode, an optical viewfinder, and a 3-inch 921k-dot LCD. The body also has a built-in flash, as well as ports for USB, HDMI, a 3.5mm mic input, and a remote release. There's no built-in WiFi, though the D3300 is compatible with Nikon's wireless adapter.
Using the D3300 is fairly simple. The grip is large and wrapped in a smooth rubberized material. The major shooting controls are all positioned on the top and right side of the camera, allowing you to shoot easily with one hand. You can change the shooting mode, adjust exposure, change exposure compensation, begin video recording, and trigger live view all with the right hand. Less frequently used controls–such as those for playback and the menu—are all organized on the left size of the rear LCD. The lack of a second control dial may turn off enthusiasts, but that's hardly the D3300's target market.
Other than some small tweaks, the D3300 is a standard refresh.
The D3300 has quite a few small performance improvements over the D3200. From a technical standpoint, the biggest change is the move from an Expeed 3 processor to the newer Expeed 4; the 24.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor is the same as in the previous model. The new processor should be able to get a little more out of the sensor, and Nikon has upped the maximum ISO from 12800 to 25600 as a result. The D3300 can also shoot at 5 frames per second, as opposed to 4 fps on the previous model, and can capture full 1080/60p video rather than topping out at 1080/30p.
From a usability perspective, very little has changed. The main addition we could find was the addition of a "Photo Illustration" in-camera editing feature, which creates a painterly effect with a shot that you've already taken. The D3300 also retains the simple Guide mode that's appeared on multiple entry-level Nikon models. This mode makes adjusting the camera's settings much simpler and is designed primarily for true novices, giving you a simpler graphic user interface that's less confusing than most camera menus. It doesn't completely hold your hand through the shooting process, but it doesn't allow you to get lost, either.
One interesting tidbit that we were unable to put to the test at CES was the D3300's battery life. Though it uses the same EN-EL14a battery as the D3200, the CIPA rating has jumped from 540 shots to 700. CIPA battery tests aren't very representative of real-world use, so there's lots of room for operator error or fishiness in the testing process. It could also simply be that the new processor consumes less power despite the camera using mostly the same components as its predecessor. We're not sure and we've reached out to Nikon for comment. We'll report back if and when we hear anything.
A host of small improvements make a difference
Nothing about the D3300 is revolutionary: it's slightly smaller, slightly lighter, slightly faster, slightly more sensitive in low light, and reportedly has better battery life. It's also got a much smaller kit lens that has better image stabilization. That said, this is still an entry-level DSLR with an optical viewfinder, decent continuous shooting speed, a nice 11-point autofocus system, and 24-megapixel resolution.
Though the D3300 will retail for $649.95 when it debuts next month, that's only $50 more than the D3200's current MSRP. It's worth noting, however, that the D3200's starting MSRP was actually $699.95, so the D3300 is already quite competitively priced. It is a little more expensive than the entry-level mirrorless cameras from Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic, but it has the advantage of a true optical viewfinder. Among traditional DSLRs, there's also the Canon T3 and Pentax K-30, but the T3 was already outdated two years ago while the K-30 was recently discontinued.
That all leaves the D3300 as a compelling option for novice shooters who want the comfort of shooting with a traditional DSLR with an optical viewfinder. Even if performance only matches the D3200 there are enough upgrades here to justify spending the extra money over the older model. We'll still have to get the D3300 into our labs, and there's the small matter of CP+ next month, but Nikon is starting 2014 on the right foot.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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