Nikon D3300 DSLR camera

07/10/2014 12:09 PM

07/10/2014 12:10 PM

Nikon’s new entry-level D3300 camera takes a lousy selfie, doesn’t fit in your back pocket on the dance floor and can’t reserve a table for two at Chez Josephine.

This $650 DSLR, obviously, is neither cellphone nor point-and-shoot but a digital version of the single-lens-reflex camera long used by professionals and serious amateur shooters. Although they’re distinctly bigger and heavier than a point-and-shoot, DSLRs have several advantages:

The shooter sees, through the lens, exactly what will appear in a photograph. A DSLR sees the reflection, as in “reflex,” through a mirror and prism. A point-and-shoot, which uses a viewfinder through the camera’s body, can only approximate the actual image.

It takes a better picture. Stop counting megapixels: It’s not the number of megapixels, but their size. A better indicator of picture quality is the size of a camera’s sensor, where the lens projects the image. A point-and-shoot’s sensor area is maybe a quarter the size of a pro-style DSLR’s sensor, which explains the greater clarity of DSLR photos.

This camera, 24.2 for megapixel counters, also uses Nikon’s newer Expeed 4 image processor.

The D3300 comes with an AF-S DX Nikkor retractable-barrel 18-55 mm zoom lens.

Aside from their higher price and bigger size – this weighs about 1.5 pounds with the lens – DSLRs are more complicated to operate. As a former Nikon SLR (analog) owner from the pre-iPhone days, I had some experience with similar cameras. But I had become so detached from f-stops and variable shutter speeds by a decade of mindless point-and-shoot and instant-iPhone gratification that I welcomed the Nikon’s “mode” dial for basic settings such as auto, disabling the flash and taking portraits or close-ups. A function button, near the lens mount, changes ISO and other settings.

Beginners have much to learn. Transferring highlights of the 120-page user’s manual to the on-board menu, though, makes the D3300 feel like a training-wheels camera.

Some concerns: The 3-inch screen, unlike more expensive models, doesn’t move. The tiny viewfinder, for anyone used to oversize screens on a point-and-shoot, will challenge newbies initially. The D3300 also lacks built-in Wi-Fi to send photos instantly to a phone, friend or computer – the Wi-Fi adapter is an awkward add-on.

This amateur stuck in auto mode is still not sure why a camera with high-resolution video would have a monophonic microphone. And I often struggled to see in dimmer light the too-small focus points that appear through the viewfinder when half-pressing the shutter. Because it took about two seconds to focus and shoot, then almost twice that for back-to-back shots, I sometimes missed the optimal photo too.

Yet the D3300 can produce high-resolution pictures (and video) like the pros, as I found out when I packed it for a recent 16,000-plus-mile round trip to China. Nothing announces “tourist” like lugging a camera that’s 3.9 inches tall, 4.9 inches wide and 3 inches deep through Tiananmen Square.

I liked the high ISO range (12,800), its five-frames-per-second burst mode and seemingly endless battery life – it powered close to 700 high-resolution images and some video over eight days without a recharge.

For an assessment of the manual capabilities, I dished it off to a colleague, a professional photographer who also teaches a multimedia course at a local college. He was put off by the camera’s lighter weight (next to a pro-style camera) and the effort required to override auto modes.

After considering the camera for his multimedia class this fall, he’s now favoring a Canon EOS-M mirrorless camera.

But for the first-time DSLR user, the D3300 combines the ease of point-and-shoot and enough technical sophistication to challenge any amateur.

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