In the world of entry-level cameras, innovation happens at speed. Every year a growing number of consumers want to begin photography as a hobby, and owning a simple point-and-shoot just doesn’t cut it anymore for most buyers. They want the ability to really excel, and they do this by purchasing a DSLR camera body.
Nikon’s entry-level series is the Nikon D3000 series. It began in earnest (following of course the exploratory Nikon D3000) in August 2010 with the Nikon D3100, and has continued through March 2012 with the Nikon D3200, and to January of 2014 with the Nikon D3300. All three cameras remain in circulation, leaving consumers with challenging questions about just which camera is going to suit their needs, and their style, the best.
The Nikon D3100 was a powerhouse of its time, with inclusions that almost guaranteed its popularity among the crowing consumer base at entry-level. The Nikon D3100 had solid features that any photographer could make use of, including new advances like Live View and full HD video recording. Its performance made bold statements about Nikon’s dedication to the entry-level market, and were of such a calibre that many continue today on the Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3300.
In terms of specifications, the Nikon D3100 delivered consistently across the board, with some aspects of its capabilities even beating out existing Nikon pro bodies at the time. It offers photographers a 14.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, EXPEED 2 processor, 3-inch 230k-dot LCD screen, 11 autofocus points with one cross-type, an ISO range of 100 – 3200 ISO standard and 12,800 ISO expanded, full HD 1080p24 movies and an educational guide mode.
The Nikon D3200 was an inevitable addition to Nikon’s entry-level line following the popularity of the Nikon D3100. However, we can really see how Nikon worked to make more of a statement with the Nikon D3200, even more so than it was able to make with its predecessor. Considering the level at which the Nikon D3200 sits in the line-up, it offers a wide range of features we expect, and then a few we definitely don’t.
Photographers can expect the Nikon D3200 to offer a 24-megapixel CMOS sensor, EXPEED 3 processor, 3-inch 920k-dot LCD screen, 11 focus points with one cross-type, an ISO range of 100 – 6,400 ISO standard with 12,800 ISO expanded, full HD 1080p30 movies, with external mic jack, and an educational guide mode.
A bit more long awaited than its two predecessors, the Nikon D3300 nevertheless continued on Nikon’s reputation of quality entry-level camera body manufacture. At first glance, the Nikon D3300 doesn’t offer much more on the Nikon D3200, but the improvements are definitely in the details. This model worked on the small complaints of the Nikon D3100 and the Nikon D3200 to produce a camera that is perfect for any beginner, as well as the occasional enthusiast.
The Nikon D3300 offer a number of impressive specs, but the basics are a 24-megapixel CMOS sensor, EXPEED 4 processor, 3-inch 920k-dot LCD screen, 11 focus points with one cross-type, an ISO range of 100 – 12,800 ISO standard and 25,600 ISO expanded, full HD 1080p60 movies with external mic jack, and an upgraded educational guide mode.
The Nikon D3100, Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3300 are all updates in Nikon’s entry-level D3000 series. This means that with each new release Nikon means to upgrade and improve on the previous models to better suit that level of photographer. However, this isn’t always true across the board so to look at which camera really offers more, we’re going to have to examine their features in depth.
As the Nikon D3100 is the most dated of the three cameras, it is easy to see that it isn’t going to be much competition for the Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3300. So, although the focus of this article will certainly be on the newer cameras overall, references to the Nikon D3100 will be used to show the progression and evolution of the bodies in this series.
Each of the Nikon D3000 series cameras was fitted with the most updated processor at the time. So, the Nikon D3100 got the EXPEED 2, the Nikon D3200 has the EXPEED 3 and the Nikon D3300 got the updated EXPEED 4. Although each of these processors made an impact in their time, newer processors do translate into faster performance across the board. In this Nikon range, we see the effect of this different processor in terms of high ISO noise reduction and continuous shooting speeds. In particular the EXPEED 4 was a big jump forward for Nikon, with the manufacturer claiming the new processor is 30% faster than the previous EXPEED 3.
When the Nikon D3100 was released, its 14.2-megapixel sensor rivalled even some of the Nikon professional range. Now, manufacturers have built further on the idea that high megapixels translate to better camera performance, and the Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3300 have seen upgrades to 24 megapixels. However, most photographers at this level will find both the 14.2 and the 24 megapixels equal in performance, unless you intend to crop significantly.
What is worth mentioning when it comes to sensors is the performance of the Nikon D3300. Although it has the same megapixel ability as the Nikon D3200 the two camera bodies are not the same. The Nikon D3300 has dropped the Optical Low Pass Filter from its sensor, meaning it should produce much more detailed images, with more accurate texture representation. This feature is so noticeable that it has been introduced on a number of other higher range DSLR models from Nikon.
Even when the Nikon D3100 was released in 2010, its screen was the absolute last thing on any photographer’s mind. The Nikon D3100’s 230k-dot screen is lacklustre at best, providing the minimum of technology that we might expect at this level. Happily, the Nikon D3200 and the Nikon D3300 did not continue in this disappointing tradition.
Both feature screens with 920k-dot resolution, a marked improvement that photographers will find impossible not to notice. Even on the standard entry-level 3-inch screen, this high resolution makes a difference in on-the-spot setting changes for better picture. In particular, it allows photographers to accurately see the images they’ve captured, and make setting changes as required to capture a better image.
The Nikon D3100, although it certainly turned some heads at the time, offers nothing of particular interest in terms of speed. The camera functions well in its class with a continuous shooting capability of 3fps. This was normal at the time, but the Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3300 have taken it a step further. The Nikon D3200 gained a little, offering a marginally better rate of 4fps. The Nikon D3300 also improved and is able to offer photographers a much more useful 5fps of continuous shooting. This is unusually good for a camera at this level, making it perfect for fast moving subject photography like sport or action. The Nikon D3300’s processor is also speedier at general image processing, which makes for a smoother user experience during shooting.
Although Nikon chose to make some very interesting upgrades in each of the Nikon D3000 series entry-level camera, they did not make changes to the autofocus system in the respective bodies. In fact, throughout each camera body absolutely no chances have been made to the 11-point autofocus system, which features just one cross-type focus point. This is a little unusual, but although the system is a little basic, it functions well and is more or less expected at this level. It isn’t perfect for fast moving subjects, and photographers but will likely suffice most entry-level photographers working to get a great wildlife or sports action image.
The improved processors in each of the Nikon bodies we’re looking at has meant that each upgraded model has been able to offer more in terms of ISO performance. The Nikon D3100 offered the worst range, with a maximum of just 3,200 ISO standard, boosted to 12,800 ISO, with noise appearing around 919 ISO. The Nikon D3200 was a little better, with a standard range up to 6,400 ISO, the same expanded capabilities and noise appearing around 1,131 ISO.
Not surprisingly, the Nikon D3300, with the updated EXPEED 4 processor, performed the best across the board when it came to ISO. The Nikon D3300 offers a standard range up to 6,400 ISO, expanded to 25,600 ISO and with noise coming in around 1,385 ISO. These are previously unseen capabilities in a model in Nikon’s entry-level range, so it is worth noting for potential buyers. ISO capabilities like this means that for low-light situations the Nikon D3300 can really hold its own in comparison to the other models. Possible low light situations include shooting indoors without the flash, or in the evenings, which can be a challenge due to the risk of high noise distortion that presents itself when the ISO is raised.
The similarities in these three camera bodies when it comes to video are obvious, but it is the not-so-obvious differences that really count when it comes to shooting great video. The simple D3100’s less advanced processor meant that video shooters we’re going to get much more than 24fps at 1080p resolution. The Nikon D3200 offered faster 30p and 25p frame rates, but it’s the Nikon D3300, with the full range of 60p and 50p frame rates that really rounds the picture off. The greater variation in frame rates really just means that photographers can try out creating some slow-motion HD videos with their cameras. The Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3300 also offer an external microphone jack to allow photographers to capture sound with additional hardware.
All of these Nikon bodies follow a line of simple, but solid, entry-level models. Obviously, Nikon is aware that these entry-level cameras might not get the same amount of love as their professional counterparts, so the bodies are well-built and up for a small amount of wear and tear. At this level all the cameras are quite light, and although there are some small differences between them in terms of weight and size, they’re insignificant to most photographers.
However, Nikon introduced a new construction technique before the release of the Nikon D3300 which means that the more sophisticated model also has the advantage of being slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessors. This is always worth mentioning in entry-level camera bodies, as beginners are not accustomed to the weight that a DSLR camera can bring, and lighter is usually seen as better.
The great thing about advances in technology are they tend to make life easier. This is true when we look at the battery potential of these three successive models. While the Nikon D3100 and the Nikon D3200 were only able to offer 550 shots before it needed charging, the D3300 lasts for around 700 shots, offering photographers more time to capture that perfect image.
One aspect of the Nikon entry-level series that made them very popular were the guide modes that were introduced to allow photographers to better access the full potential of their camera bodies. This mode, accessible via the top dial, is present on all three camera bodies. However, although it remained more or less unchanged in the Nikon D3100 and Nikon D3200, the Nikon D3300 really improved on a great idea. It still provides great shooting information for photographers, but the Nikon D3300 guide is more functional, and easier to get around thanks to design tweaks.
It should surprise nobody that the Nikon D3300 is currently retailing at the highest price out of these three camera bodies. However, the gap continues to close and at present just a few hundred dollars in price separate the models. Obviously, the Nikon D3200 and Nikon D3100 are very close in price, while the Nikon D3300 remains in a higher price range. This is partly due to the improvements between the models, but also due to the more impressive kit lens present on the Nikon D3300, which we’ll discuss now.
As always, it is worth making note that all three of these camera bodies have cropped frame sensors. For photographers at this level, the cropped frame sensor will mean nothing in terms of quality or change in shooting. They are completely expected in most DSLRs targeted to enthusiasts. All it does mean is that the focal length of the camera’s lenses are not true when mounted, so it is worth keeping in mind.
Both the Nikon D3100 and the Nikon D3200 were sold in a kit with the AF-S NIKKOR 18-55mm VR lens. A popular lens from Nikon’s entry-level kit collection this 18-55mm lens makes the process of capturing stunning images easy. It has a versatile and flexible 18-55mm focal range, which is just enough to get a hint of your camera’s zoom capabilities.
It also features Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) technology to help eliminate unnecessary blur in your images, for sharp photos that make a statement. Of particular interest in this lens, especially for wildlife photographers and hobby videographers is the Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology that allows for near silent focusing for quiet, unobtrusive focus capabilities.
The two cameras also appeared in twin-lens kits with the 18-55mm as well as the AF-S NIKKOR 55-200mm lens. This lens is known for its focal length versatility that make it perfect for dreamy portraits, and distance wildlife and sports photography. It also offers amazing optical performance with vivid colors and coating that minimises the effects of light flare.
Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) also makes an appearance in this lens, which is likely to make it popular especially among nature photographers, and those looking to capture images without disturbing their subjects.
The big story when the Nikon D3300 was released was the new lens that it was marketed with. Unlike its predecessors, the Nikon D3300 featured the impressive AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II. This updated version of the 18-55mm lens found on the earlier models delivers sharp, vibrant images of any scene. Perfect for cropped frame cameras, and with both Vibration Reduction (VR) and Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology the lens functions smoothly and in almost total silence.
What was really special about the updated 18-55mm lens is that it was ultra-compact. Unlike previous models, the new 18-55mm lens featured a completely retractable lens barrel that allowed the lens to sit much simpler on the camera. This is idea for a small entry-level camera like the Nikon D3300, which tends to suffer from having too much weight at the front. Thanks to this update, the new 18-55mm is much more suited for travel, and general on-the-go shooting without attracting too much attention.
The Nikon D3300 is the obvious winner in a comparison with the Nikon D3200 and the Nikon D3100, as it should be. As the most advanced and recent addition to this series, the Nikon D3300 logically offers the best range of features and the most impressive specifications, along with a great new kit lens from Nikon. However, that isn’t to say that it is necessarily the best camera for your needs. Each photographer, especially at entry-level, has different wants and needs, and there may be something in each camera body for you specifically.
There may indeed be something in each camera body, but there are few reasons to buy the Nikon D3100 over any of the successive models in the line. Price is certainly a strong motivator, and there’s no arguing that the Nikon D3100 is cheap. If you’re a starter photographer who wants to just dip a toe into the world of DSLR photography, and not pay much to do so, then the Nikon D3100 offers everything you need to give it a go.
Still, the smarter choice for a photography enthusiast just starting out, or for someone who knows nothing about the world of DSLR photography, is the Nikon D3200. Competitively priced in comparison to the Nikon D3100, the Nikon D3200 offers better everything. Photographers can expect better image quality, a higher resolution screen, faster continuous shooting, better ISO performance, higher megapixels capturing 70% more detail, 1080p movies at 30fps plus the bonus of an external microphone jack.
If you’re trying to keep your costs down, you could always look to purchase the Nikon D3200 used. As passionate photographers often outgrow their entry-level models, you can often find cameras like the Nikon D3200 in very good condition.
The Nikon D3300 is the camera to get if you’re a photographer with a focus on details. At first glance its clear that the Nikon D3200 and the Nikon D3300 are very similar, but the Nikon D3300 comes ahead with the little things. It offers faster continuous shooting, considerably better ISO performance, lower movie frame rates and the benefits of a longer lasting battery. It also has the updated kit lens working in its favor, which for many will be more than enough to justify the upgrade.
However, compared to the Nikon D3200 the Nikon D3300 is more expensive. This is important to many entry-level photographers as at this point photography is more a hobby than a passion for many, and the drive to spend big just isn’t there. If it is, by all means get the Nikon D3300. It is a great camera with some impressive features that are sure to fulfil the needs of any starter photographer, with a lens to match.
But, if you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck, without spending too many bucks, the Nikon D3200 really does offer the best of both worlds. It is high performing, but its age means that its price has dipped into the realm of seriously affordable. It can be easily purchased used, and photographers can also consider dressing up this great all-round camera with a more specialist lens to really work its potential.