The Nikon D3400 is the company’s entry-level model, which is designed to get those who are new to DSLR photography on the bandwagon – and in theory, to potentially make them customers for life.
It’s the most basic DSLR in Nikon’s range, but includes all the features you'd expect of a camera such as this. Namely, full manual control, raw format shooting and all of the styling of a traditional camera.
Since it’s the entry-level model, however, it does lack a few features that you might get if you invested a little more cash. The screen is fixed, and isn't touch-sensitive, there’s no 4K video shooting, and rather than a full complement of connectivity options, you get only Bluetooth. The latter works in conjunction with Nikon’s SnapBridge app, which is available for iOS and Android.
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Never one to stray too far from something that's proved a success, Nikon more or less retains much of the same design for the D3400 as it employed for the D3300.
This translates to a traditional-looking camera, with the boxiness you might expect from a DSLR. A textured coating around the camera’s deep grip provides a feel of quality – a nice touch for a device that's at the budget end of the company’s offering.
As standard, you buy the D3400 with the 18-55mm kit lens. This is a retractable design, so it folds up a little smaller when not in use than when in its fully extended state. Although this means the camera will take up less room in your kit bag, you have the added faff of extending the lens before you can use it.
There’s a decent array of dials and buttons, although not quite as many as you’d find on a more advanced camera. On the top of the camera is a large mode dial, which features plenty of options that a beginner is likely to want to use.
As well as the standard Auto mode, there are also the more advanced "P,A,S,M" modes that you'll likely progress to as you become a little more advanced.
A couple of the interesting modes on the dial are "Guide" and " Effects". The former is something we’ve been seeing on Nikon’s entry-level model for quite a few generations now, and is indicative of the kind of user the company is targeting with this camera.
It helps beginners get to learn and understand how their camera works, and how they can best use the device to get the type of pictures they're after. The ultimate aim of the mode is that once you're familiar with what to do, you’ll be able to achieve those shots unaided.
The Effects mode is likely to appeal to the Instagram-type generation who want to apply filters and quirky looks to their shots. In this mode, you can choose between “super vivid” or “toy camera” effects. Although fun, however, such effects are beginning to look a little passé and could do with an update.
The shutter release button can be found in the position that your forefinger naturally rests on the top of the camera. Just behind it is a discreet and small video record button.
Flip to the back of the camera and you’ll see that most of the buttons for making changes to settings are grouped together on the right, while those you need to access menus, playback options and so on, are on the left. This is a sensible arrangement that makes sense when you’re actually using the camera, especially if you like to shoot one-handed.
Sitting conveniently where your thumb should rest is a dial for altering certain settings, depending on the shooting mode you’re in. If you’re working in aperture priority, for example, it will adjust the aperture. If you're in manual mode, scrolling the dial will change shutter speed; if you hold down the exposure compensation button (near the shutter release), you’ll be able to adjust aperture.
Adjusting the AF point is easy; simply use the directional buttons on the four-way keypad and you can select the point you need. All 11 points are more-or-less centred around the middle of the scene, so if your subject is on the outer edges of the frame, you may find you need to focus and recompose by half-pressing the shutter release button.
Pressing the “i” button on the left of the screen offers access to the camera’s quick menu. Here you can change common settings, such as white balance, image quality, ISO, picture control and so on, without having to delve into the main menu.
Direct access buttons would have been useful for some of these – ISO, for example – but it perhaps isn't surprising considering the target audience of the camera.
Some have complained about the fact that the D3400 offers only Bluetooth connectivity, with no Wi-Fi or NFC options. However, SnapBridge is a great app, and useful for the target audience of this camera.
It maintains a low-power always-on Bluetooth connection with your phone, meaning that as soon as you take an image, it will be automatically resized and transferred to your phone; this makes sharing your shots on social media a near-instant process. Note that you can turn off this feature if you don’t want to fill your phone’s memory.
There’s a reasonably large downside to this system however, since it means you can't control the camera remotely. This would be useful for several kinds of shots, so it’s a shame not to see both connectivity options available here.
Many people still prefer the look of an optical viewfinder, which is what you have on offer on the D3400. However, this one shows you only 95% of the scene – which in real terms means it’s very easy for something to creep into the edge of the frame, or for your composition to be ever so slightly off.
On the plus side, the view is bright and clear and there’s a good amount of information displayed around the edges to help you ensure you have the correct settings. The active AF point will light up red when focus has been achieved, too.
The screen is high-resolution and offers a decent angle of view – but it's fixed, making selfies or group shots, plus shots at awkward angles, a difficult proposition.