Friday, February 14, 2014

Nikon D3300 quick review

I picked up the Nikon D3300 a few days ago and we finally had nice enough weather today so I could go strolling around downtown Austin testing the D3300 out along with new 18-55 collapsible kit lens. I need another week or two to come up with a full review, but so far this camera is knocking my socks off!

Digital photography technology is starting to plateau and the new camera updates don't seem like much because a lot of the changes are starting under the hood. Nikon has realized that 24MP is about the right size for a DX sensor, the best compromise between resolution without making files sizes unmanageable.  With the D7100 Nikon started to ditch the Optical Low-Pass Filter - OLPF (aka "blur filter") because the resolution is high enough to deal with the issue of moirĂ©. The OLPF was made to kill this effect by creating a slight blur. With the D7100, the D5300, and now the D3300 the OPLF has been done away with. This allows the sensor to resolve very fine detail with more clarity, as you can see in the photo below. In cameras with lesser resolution if there were no OLPF the image below would have rife with moirĂ© and aliasing. As you can see, there is none.

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The difference between the D3200 with the OLPF and the D3300 without is pretty apparent. Looking in at 100%, the amount of detail is incredible. The difference in image quality between the entry-level cameras and high-end model is not a huge stretch as it used to be. D3300 and the flagship DX camera the D7100 are both nearly identical any my research as well as others like DxO Mark show that the D3300 performs in some ways better than the D7100, which costs twice what the D3300 does (of course the build quality and handling are much different).

In any case the even when shooting JPEGs (no LR5 RAW support yet), I've noticed that the image quality of the D3300 is nothing less than astounding. The photos are sharp as a razor, the color  is contrasty and vibrant even using SD Picture Control, but it's not overboard. The Auto-WB is amazingly accurate even in odd lighting situations like the one in the image shown below that has a super blue sky, warm sunlight and cool shadows all right on top of each other.

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The dynamic range of the Nikon D3300 is very good in JPEG mode and with RAW support should show a vast improvement. As you can see in this image of the 6th Street Cowboy and Mule, even though the light was very harsh, and the dynamic range was probably about 12-14 EV, the D3300 JPEGs captured the shadow and highlight details very well even without Active D-Lighting.

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The D5300 also comes with a newly designed kit lens. The lens is collapsible to make it smaller (something that Leica did since the 30's to keep the camera pocketable when not in use). When the lens is collapsed it's about 1/2" shorter than the original VR kit lens, and its also skinnier and lighter. The AF-S on this lens is so quiet I found myself aiming at something at a different distance just to make sure it was working! So the AF-S has been refined but it's still a cheaper version than the Silent-Wave motor in the more expensive lenses. The focus ring still rotates when focusing, but the front element does not. It seems a tad faster at focusing than the previous versions as well.

The lens is crazy sharp. Although the lens design supposedly didn't change from the original, I can see that it's sharper right off the bat. It's quite noticeable. It's very good wide open and at f/8-11 it's phenomenal. If sharpness is your thing this kit lens is it. If you don't need a fast lens or a tele this may be then only lens you ever need buy. This D33000 + 18-55 VR II lens combo produces highly detailed and clinically sharp images. Stopped down to f/8 this lens compares to my 50mm Zeiss Planar f/2. And that's saying something!

The real downside to this lens is the terrible distortion, I mean really bad. I'm not one that goes looking for distortion, but with this lens it's almost unacceptable. At 18mm to compensate for the distortion I have to dial in +22 on the Distortion slider in the Lens Corrections module in Lightroom 5. My Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 at 18mm needs almost no correction (+0.5 to 2mm at most). If you're shooting JPEG or using Nikon Capture NX2 you can enable the Auto distortion control, but then your frames start losing edges. Distortion is pretty easy to correct in post, so it's not a deal-breaker, but it is definitely not the lens for shooting things with lots of straight lines, such as architecture.

The D3300 is very small and light but it still feels good in your hands, even for someone like me with big ol' paws. It handles very nice. It's comfortable to hold and shoot with and the buttons are well laid out in Nikon style. If you're not attracted to the idea of mirrorless cameras and you want a DSLR with a real optical viewfinder this is Nikon's smallest and lightest offering.

The 11 point AF module is tried and true, but still kinda tough to see especially when it's very bright or very dark. I wish the AF brackets would light up instead of the little dots. The AF has a good amount of coverage (ahem, better than the D600/610 and Df...). I would be great AF brackets would stay lit in dark as it's really hard to tell where the active point is until you start focusing. The AF works pretty well in low light. Of course the center cross point is more responsive and faster to hit focus than the outer points. In daylight it nails focus no problems

The EXPEED 4 image processor pushes this camera ahead of the D3200 by allowing a faster frame rate of 5fps (which is pretty darn good), it also allows the D3300 to record full HD 1080p at 60fps, and one of the most important features to me is that the EXPEED 4 processor enables cleaner high ISO files. The D3300 is a bit better than the D5300 maybe 1/3 stop, but it's an easy 1stop better than the D7100. The D3300 actually performs at the same level or better as both the D5300 and the D7100, the only thing it's bested at is about 1 stop better in dynamic range. Considering all of these cameras have the same sensor the EXPEED 4 is doing some good things. The 5300 has EXPEED 4 as well, but somehow the D3300 still gets a slight edge.

Being entry-level camera there are a few things left out, but to be honest the menu options are sparse and there are lots of things that should have been left in and it would have been easy to do so. The default for AF-C being focus priority with no option to change is very bad. No guide lines option, t's a personal choice, but it helps me to keep things straight. For some reason I look into the VF and a weird angle and if I don't watch it my shots will be slightly crooked. Anyway, the whole CSM isn't and there are a lot of good options in the CSM in the cameras above. Also no "My Menu" option which is one of the best features on entry-level camera like the D5300 because it's allows you to set your favorite options so you don't have to menu dive.

This quick review went a little longer than I expected, so I'm gonna cut it here. I'll post a more thorough review when I get a few more shooting scenarios with it, especially in the low light. But so far I'm very impressed with this little camera and I have no reservations recommending to to anyone.

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NewsView said...

I just bought the D3300 camera and the pictures are sharp, as pointed out, with no highlight clipping even in harsh light. That being said, my first use of the camera consisted, indirectly, of a lot of architecture and the lines are entirely off both indoors and out at all aspects of the zoom range, not just wide angle.

I don't have Lightroom, just an old version of Photoshop where correcting for lens distortion isn't a menu option. Even if I did have Lightroom, I wouldn't want to correct 600+ photos for distortion, anyhow. (My first use of this camera consisted of shooting an event for a friend.)

If lens distortion is this bad with in-camera distortion control set to "on", I shudder to think how bad it is with it set to "off"! I wish Nikon would release a firmware update to better deal with distortion in-camera. After all, this is an entry-level DSLR and not all users will have the patience, software or know-how to clean up the distortion present in the Nikkor VR II 18-55mm kit lens.

Distortion is so bad using the kit lens that it doesn't just border unacceptable, it is totally inexcusable. I photographed a table depicting several objects with a corner in the background (of a wall). Just using the basic crop function in Photoshop, I cannot get any of the limited number of angles visible in the image to square. The vertical line that forms the juncture of two walls coming together directly behind the table is severely slanted, or I can crop to straighten the vertical line out only to have the table look so titled it looks as if the objects ought to be sliding off.

I thought I had reviewed the merits of this camera prior to purchase but most of the reviews to date do no justice to the issue of kit lens performance, which is strange because kit lenses are precisely what come bundled and what most entry-level DSLR consumers are going to judge the camera by!

I was hopeful I simply received a defective lens and might be able to swap it out, but this page/review suggests that not only is distortion normal, it's "horrible" ("horrible" happens to be my exact choice of words, too).

On my first use of this camera I shot an outdoor event with a lot of columns, angles, steps and various architectural elements as a backdrop. Architecture was not the focal point of the photos but perspective is so skewed that it detracts from the subjects. I shot portraits of people both outdoors and indoors, only to find that mirrors, windows, columns, doorways and any other elements in the background take on a fun house effect.

Coming from another brand DSLR with incompatible lenses, I did not have in mind to go out and replace the Nikkor VR II kit lens right off the bat so most likely my entire D3300 camera will have to be returned. I'm all for the compact size of the newly designed Nikkor kit lenses, but how much of the redesign accounts for the poor geometric performance? Kit lenses or not, distortion shouldn't be so bad the average photographer can readily note a comedy of skewed perspectives (if only it were funny). Shame on Nikon!

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Honestly, from your description it sounds to me that you are confusing optical distortion with perspective distortion. Perspective distortion is something that can't be fixed by the in camera processing because it is caused by using wide-angle settings and being to close to the subject which effects the near/far relationships causing converging lines which look like a "fun house" as you say.

Optical distortion only shows by bowing out of straight lines and wide angle settings and the pinching in of straight lines at longer settings. This is easily fixable in-camera.

Perspective is controlled by the photographer. If you're getting crazy lines and angles then take a step back and zoom in instead of using a wide-angle setting and being close to the subject.

NewsView said...

The review indicates the D3300 kit lens isn't good for architecture, reporting a +22 in Lightroom to correct for geometric distortion. Before/after examples could be useful in separating out the observation in the review from what is presumably a misuse of the camera, with similar results.

I conducted a makeshift test on my Nikon D3300 18-55mm kit lens and found that and not until I zoomed in to 24mm did the distortion in a scene featuring a covered patio with a large window beneath it resolve.

Unfortunately, the only way to obtain a change of lens was to exchange the entire camera. In doing so, I find I can now shoot the same scene at the same distance with notably less distortion of the vertical elements.

At 18mm there is barrel distortion along a horizontal roofline at the edge of the frame but it doesn't carry through the entire scene for the previously descried "fun house effect".

My takeaway is this: The caveat "individual results may vary" very much applies to kit lens performance. The level of geometric accuracy I am seeing of the new/replacement 18-55mm kit lens at 18mm is similar to what I achieved on the previous one only upon reaching 24mm shooting the same scene.

Most consumers, and even those who write reviews for tech publications, aren't in a position to compare performance between more than one unit. Kit lenses do not come with a pass/fail QC sticker, either, and it is doubtful every last product undergoes hand inspection by this or any camera manufacturer. This could explain why consumers report differing levels of satisfaction with presumably identical products. Complicating matters, there may be a range of performance characteristics a manufacturer defines as "within scope".

Consumers are often left to conclude that unfamiliarity or user error is the culprit behind just about any level of dissatisfaction short of a complete failure to power on (DOA unit). However, if in spite of one's unfamiliarity an issue is severe enough to jump out and grab one's immediate attention, my advice would be to trust such instincts. There may very well be something wrong with the product.

If my experience with the D3300 is posted, I hope it serves to help someone else. I am happy with my Nikon D3300 camera now, but I am glad I didn't listen to naysayers on (other) photo forums who presumed inexperience to be the only problem.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

I'm not sure what you're getting at here.