Nikon’s entry level DSLR, the Nikon D3300 is a commendable effort, but it’s a tough sell to the smartphone crowd in any case.
There’s only so much you can do with a smartphone camera. Yes, they are improving all the time, and for the uses that a lot of people want to put cameras to they’re more than enough, especially if you don’t plan on ever actually printing out your photos to speak of. But if the photography bug bites, you’re going to find yourself put out at some point by the limitations of the optics on your smartphone, no matter what model you’ve got.
That’s where the impetus to buy a dedicated camera may come back into your life, although you’re rather swamped with choices, from mirrorless low-weight models up to DLSRs that can cost thousands just for the camera itself, sans lenses that can cost thousands more.
Nikon’s D3300 DSLR sits in a very distinct spot in the Nikon DSLR lineup, at the very bottom. It’s designed for entry level users, with a focus on slow learning of the camera basics.
The heart of the D3300 is its 24 megapixel sensor, aided with an 11 point autofocus system and in-camera editing, although you’ll still get better results shooting in RAW and post-processing your images. But again, this is the entry level camera for entry level users, and it’s fair to suggest that a lot of them will simply shoot in JPG modes for a long while until they feel more confident in their photography.
The 3 inch rear display screen doesn’t flip or fold out, something that’s common even in entry level compact system cameras, which is a little disappointing. You’ll also have to make do without Wi-Fi file transfer, and again that’s something of a norm even in budget camera bodies these days. But you do get a proper SLR viewfinder, something that’s surprisingly useful in teaching you the art of properly framing a shot.
Whenever I’m using a camera that’s pure digital viewfinder, I find myself hankering for an optical viewfinder in order to properly gather my visual reference and snap the shot I want, and I’m far from a pro photographer. Very far, in fact, but then the pro crowd wouldn’t go anywhere near the D3300. The other advantage with shooting with the viewfinder is that it’s markedly faster at focusing than with the live view of the rear screen.
As you’d expect from a beginner’s DSLR, while you can leap into the world of setting shutter speeds and apertures, there’s also a dedicated mode for those who need a little hand holding. The D3300’s Guide mode takes you through the basics of various shooting styles to get a feel for what’s possible, but those who want to take things in a more manual direction will still be able to dive into more detailed setting modes.
Nikon supplied the D3300 to me with an 55-300mm lens, which isn’t a combination that you’ll often find on store shelves, although plenty of retailers do sell the D3300 as body only for around $400-$450. Bear in mind that as with any DSLR, the body is only part of the equation, and the one where you’re more likely to spend the least amount of money once you start seriously investing in lenses. In any case, for longer telephoto shots the supplied 55-300mm lens worked very well within my own photographic limitations, although it naturally did make for a rather long and bulky camera to carry around. That’s in stark contrast to the D3300’s relatively minute 124x98x75.5mm body, which is quite small in the DSLR space, although bulky compared to many compact mirrorless models.
The D3300 presents an interesting challenge point for photographers who want just a bit more from their photography. Is it a step up from a smartphone shooter? Undoubtedly, and it’s one that can shoot some very nice scenes with the right lens in front of it, along with the requisite quantity of photographic skill. At the same time, I’m struck by the fact that it’s solidly a beginner’s camera, and that means that it’s not particularly fast to shoot if you’ve used higher range DSLRs, or even seen them in use. If you want something to learn on while you amass a quantity of Nikon lenses to take to a model further up the scale it’s a solid choice — but I do wonder how many smartphone shooters will go even to that step.