The consumer space in the entry-level segment has become extremely interesting in the past few years. More and more users are continually looking to upgrade from their smartphones towards the entry-level DSLR segment. The Nikon D3500 marks Nikon’s latest entry-level APS-C sized camera into this arena with its 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor and EXPEED 4 imaging processor. Nikon aims this camera squarely at the beginning photographer who is looking to upgrade from the image quality their smartphone or compact cameras can provide.
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And they direct this camera as a competitor to the Canon Rebel T6, Canon SL2, Sony a5100, Sony a6000, and Fujifilm X-T100. Initially release in fall 2018, it replaces the highly popular Nikon D3400, now taking the helm as their flagship entry-level camera. On paper, its specifications appear to look identical to the predecessor.
However, Nikon has made key changes to deliver what they deem as the better camera. Yet, are these changes enough for first-time users to blunt the additional cost of the newer model? Or are they better of getting the older D3400 at a lower price? How does a DSLR stand up against all of its mirrorless rivals, offering even more compact form factors? Let’s find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon D3500?
It inherits the same 24.2-megapixel DX sized CMOS sensor without an Anti-Aisling (AA) Filter and EXPEED 4 image processor as the predecessor. The removal of the AA filter allows the camera to resolve fine details better, as including this filter on cameras softens its images. The departure of the filter marks a notable strength in this lineup of cameras, considering much of the competition has one installed.
However, it does increase the chances of moiré occurring in certain scenes. Nonetheless, the image quality this camera produces is impressive for its entry-level price-point. The pictures are well exposed, sharp, and color rendering is excellent.
As with photos, the sensor in this camera delivers excellent image quality, which translates to sharp videos with accurate colors. It shoots 1080p Full HD video up to 60 fps with a maximum recording limit of 20 minutes at this quality. To shoot longer clips at the industry-standard 29 minutes and 59 seconds, you must drop down to 1080p 30 fps.
Low Light Performance
It has a native ISO range from ISO 100-25,600, and, overall, low light performance delivered here is quite good for this class of camera. It easily provides usable images up to ISO 3,200 or ISO 6,400, where only a mild amount of post-production noise reduction is required. Considering most cameras in this class struggle starting at ISO 3,200, the results provided here are surprisingly good.
It features an 11-point autofocusing system with 3D and Dynamic tracking, where its center point is cross-type compatible. It’s surprising to see the addition of 3D-tracking on this class of camera, as Nikon typically reserves this feature their higher-end professional level cameras. 3D-tracking melds the camera’s AF point together, bouncing between points as needed, for more precise subject tracking. Overall, focusing works well, provided you compose using the optical viewfinder.
Battery performance is excellent and, in many respects, class-leading, considering the camera’s price and compact size. It features Nikon’s EN-14a battery, which Nikon rates for an impressive 1,550 shots per charge. Overall, this equates to a 30% improvement over the predecessors 1,200 shot battery life and one of the notable selling points of the camera.
Display & Viewfinder
It features an optical viewfinder with 95% frame coverage and a large 0.85x magnification. While not the largest Nikon offers, it’s adequate considering the camera’s price.
It features a 3.0-inch wide-angle TFT-LCD with a resolution of 921K dots, which is on par with the competition. It supplies excellent viewing angles and is bright enough for composing outdoors in bright sunlight conditions.
It features well organized traditional Nikon menus with useful categorization, which creates an excellent navigation experience.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Although it’s inexpensive, it uses the same design principals from Nikon’s higher-end camera, like the D5000 series. In this case, the most notable change is the inheritance of a surprisingly deep grip, which makes the camera quite comfortable to hold and feels reassuring in hand. To make the camera more useful, Nikon has positioned the majority of its buttons on the right-hand side of the camera surrounding the grip. This strategic change now enables you to change all core functions without altering your grip whatsoever. And this design creates a camera that provides excellent one-handed operation.
Considering its price, it features a wealth of physical buttons and adequate manual controls. Typically, cameras at this price lack the necessary controls offered by this camera. Overall, the controls and ergonomics provided by this camera surprisingly rival that of cameras twice its price.
In size, its both the smallest and lightest DSLR Nikon has made to date. They’ve managed to lighten the camera by an additional 30g over the predecessor, and now it weighs only 365g.
It features GUIDE mode, a mode designed specifically for users who want to learn photography and master the craft. In this mode, it breaks down advanced everyday operations and teaches users the appropriate settings required to shoot the medium best. Overall, it is a useful and helpful addition that’s well-suited for new photographers foreign to digital photography.
- It features built-in Bluetooth, which allows the camera to share images wirelessly via Nikon’s SnapBridge app. And you can also use your smartphone as a wireless remote control as well.
- It maintains the same continuous burst rate of 5 fps as the predecessor, which is good for this class of camera.
- It has flicker reduction, which takes images at the same intervals of LED or fluorescent lights to avoid dramatic shifts in exposure caused by the lights flickering.
The camera lacks a dedicated video mode, and its video functions surprisingly don’t have a dedicated menu either. Instead, you must use a submenu to find video recording options or change settings, incredibly cumbersome.
The Live View autofocus system used in video is different from the system used in photos. And, sadly, the focusing system is virtually unusable. The system frequently struggles to lock focus on more complex subjects, where it hunts sporadically and doesn’t provide enough consistent focusing to make for a confident system. Thus, manual focusing is the only option if filming a video with this camera.
The rear display is both fixed and lacks touch functionality. These are a shame considering much of the competition features some level of articulation and touch support.
The build quality is quite low on this camera. The body feels quite plasticky and cheap. Although its competitors are also inexpensive, they manage to provide a more premium feel. This camera doesn’t offer any such feelings, and the overall construction feels quite cheap.
It lacks any functions buttons, a feature present on the predecessor, which was assignable to different tasks. That function button, FN1, allowed users to alter the default functionality of the adjustment wheel to change ISO, which was greatly appreciated. However, with the removal of this shortcut, the camera now thoroughly lacks any customizable buttons. You will have to change most settings through the menus.
Sadly, It lacks the Infrared (IR) Sensor for remote shutter operation, a feature present in the predecessor. Without the remote shutter option, users cannot use wireless remotes to trigger the camera’s shutter. The trade-off is that Nikon enabled remote shooting via the SnapBridge application, which allows you to use your smartphone as a remote shutter release instead. But, the camera’s bluetooth connection doesn’t approach the distances available when using IR remotes.
- It lacks a microphone input, which means users will have to use an external audio recorder for better audio capture.
- It lacks built-in sensor cleaning functionality, so you will have to clean the sensor manually.
- It lacks USB charging.
- It lacks a built-in electronic level.
- It lacks kelvin white balance settings, for custom white balance.
- It lacks a Depth of Field Preview button. Instead, switch the camera into Live View mode to judge the depth of field.
Is this a good beginner camera?
Yes. While it features the same sensor, processor, autofocusing system, and display as the predecessor, the changes implemented do culminate into the better of the two cameras. The improvements in design, ergonomics, and battery longevity deliver a camera that makes for a more pleasant day to day shooter. While it’s compact and lightweight, it remains highly capable, so much so that it gives the competing mirrorless cameras some stiff competition. Overall, it’s an excellent choice for the enthusiast or hobbyist photographer looking for a step-up from their smartphones or a capable travel companion.
Is the Nikon D3500 a good camera for you?
For current Nikon D3400 owners, should you upgrade? Possible, if you want improved ergonomics and battery life. Otherwise, no, you there’s no need. The image quality between both cameras are virtually identical, so there’s not much to gain otherwise.
If you’re an aspiring video shooter, should you get this camera? No, this is not the best option for that medium. It lacks the proper video-centric features and functionality to make it a good starting platform. Its main setback is the autofocusing system in Live View isn’t strong enough for accurate video focusing. Thus, manually focusing is the only option, which is not ideal for a beginning videographer.
For those looking for their first entry-level DSLR to learn photography, should you get this camera? Yes, add this camera to your considerations. It’s compact size, and excellent image quality makes for an ideal starting camera. Though, for best results, you must be willing to compose using the viewfinder. Overall, the Nikon D3500 is an excellent camera that’s well tailored towards the demographic Nikon intends.
Last Updated on September 11, 2023 by Photography PX Published January 30, 2020
Even with its compact size and lightweight body, it remains highly competent. And overall, it makes an excellent choice for enthusiast or hobbyist photographer looking for a step-up from their smartphones or a capable travel companion.