The D3500 represents very good value for money, particularly for beginners and those with tight budgets.
Announced at the end of August, 2018, Nikon’s D3500 carries over many of the features of the D3400 but has been what Nikon guru, Thom Hogan, describes as ‘designed by bean counters’. Replacing the two-year-old D3400, the D3500’s body is constructed with the same lightweight monocoque structure as the D5600, as part of a cost-saving strategy. Fortunately, it weighs only 365 grams and measures approximately 124 x 97 x 70 mm. The review camera was supplied with the AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens, which we reviewed in October 2016.
Angled view of the Nikon D3500 with the AF-P 18-55mm kit lens. (Source: Nikon.)
The 24.2-megapixel sensor and EXPEED 4 processor are unchanged from the D3400 and together they support ISO settings up to ISO 25600 and continuous shooting at up to five frames/second. However, at a time when 4K is increasingly common, even in smartphones, video recording is still limited to Full DH 1080p, although with a maximum frame rate of 50/60 fps (depending on whether you use the PAL or NTSC standard).
The Multi-CAM 1000 AF system hasn’t changed through the six-camera series, which means it’s some way from the latest technology, although it does include Nikon’s 3D tracking system. The 11-Area phase detection module, which works when the viewfinder is used for framing shots, has one cross-type in the centre of the frame and 10 line-type sensor points around it.
Contrast-detection AF is used in Live View mode and the Multi-CAM 1000 module’s stepping motor drive mechanism is both fast and accurate. The upper limit for continuous shooting remains at 5 fps and the buffer memory can accommodate up to 100 JPEGs, 16 NEF.RAW files or 6 RAW+JPEG pairs.
While the D3500 has a slightly different control layout from its predecessor, its mostly plastic body is slightly smaller and lighter than the D3400’s. However, it’s not quite as small as Canon’s EOS 200D Mark II.
The camera is listed on Nikon’s Australian website as being offered in two kits, one with the AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR standard zoom lens and the other with the AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED VR telephoto zoom. However, most re-sellers have it listed as a single-lens kit with the 18-55mm or a twin-lens kit with both lenses. A few are selling the body alone.
Who’s it for?
Like its predecessor, the D3500 is targeted at entry-level photographers who want a better imaging tool than their smartphones but prefer traditional DSLR styling over the newer mirrorless cameras, which are steadily rising in popularity. The Guide Mode, which is accessed via the mode dial, provides an easy way for novice photographers to adjust functions like shutter speed, aperture, white balance and exposure compensation without having to know what they actually are.
For example, in the ‘easy operation’ mode, you can select something like ‘moving subjects’ and the camera set these functions to match. The ‘advanced operation’ mode is more precise, enabling users to choose between, say, freeze motion (people), freeze motion (vehicles) and show water flowing. Selecting one of these settings will display a brief explanation of what the effect involves.
In contrast to shooting in Full Auto mode, the Guide Mode allows users to adjust settings like ISO sensitivity and Picture Controls. And the P/A/S/M modes are still there on the mode dial for photographers who want to use them, along with 10 special effects filters.
One of the downsides of entry-level cameras is the degree to which some camera controls are taken out of the user’s hands. A prime example in the D3500 is the self-timer, which re-sets to off immediately after each exposure, a source of frustration when you’re taking a series of group portraits or long exposures and relying on the self-timer to trigger the shot. Another is the default setting for autofocusing when you switch to movie recording (see below).
Actually, nothing much is genuinely new, which shouldn’t be a surprise on an entry-level camera, and some D3400 functions have ‘disappeared’. No bracketing functions are available (not even AE bracketing) and users can’t access a depth-of-field preview. Nor can they lock the mirror up to mimimise potential blurring during long exposures.
The Fn button is gone, as is the front IR receiver, which means the camera can’t be used with the ML-L3 wireless remote. Wi-Fi is also absent so those who want to control the camera remotely will have to use their smartphone and the SnapBridge app.
The Bluetooth-only version of Nikon’s SnapBridge wireless system can only transfer two-megapixel versions of JPEGs from the camera as they are taken, which is OK for sharing on social networks but not good for saving and archiving. Like its predecessor, the D3500 can only use AF-S or AF-P lenses.
On the plus side, Nikon has added the Flat Picture Control, although it seems a bit pointless in a camera that can’t record 4K video. And, it seems, the red body option offered for the D3400 has been discontinued and the D3500 is only available in black.
Build and Ergonomics
Thanks to the monocoque construction, the D3500 is small and light for a DSLR camera but its plastic body is solidly built and the camera is bundled with a decent kit lens. Fast and quiet autofocusing coupled with simple controls and a logical menu system make this camera relatively easy to use.
Front view of the D3500 with its pop-up flash raised and the AF-P 18-55mm kit lens fitted. (Source: Nikon.)
The grip moulding, which is slightly wider and more comfortable than the D3400’s, and the lens mount dominate the front panel. Otherwise, the only things there are the embedded LED, which provides AF-assist and red-eye reduction illumination and an indicator for the self-timer, and the lens-release button and a two-hole monaural microphone.
The pop-up flash, which sits above the pentamirror viewfinder assembly, is the same GN 7 (m/ISO 100), low-power unit as in previous cameras. It supports i-TTL flash control using the 420-pixel RGB sensor and provides balanced fill-in flash with the matrix and centre-weighted average metering patterns.
Rear views of the D3400 (left) and D3500 (right) showing the differences in their control layouts. (Source: Nikon.)
Aside from the changes already mentioned, Nikon has done some shuffling of the buttons on the rear panel of the new camera. The flash button has been moved to the back of the camera and the Live View switch is now a lever beneath the mode dial on the top panel.
The fixed, 921,000-dot monitor is unchanged, as is the pentamirror viewfinder, which provides 95% frame coverage with a magnification of 0.85x and an 18 mm eyepoint. Dioptre adjustment is skimpy, ranging from -1.7 to +0.5 dioptres.
Top view of the D3500 with no lens fitted. (Source: Nikon.)
There’s only one control dial and it’s been squeezed in on the right of the mode dial on the top panel. A couple of settings – Kids and Landscape – have been removed from the mode dial.
Nice touches for an entry-level camera are the separate memory card slot on the right hand side panel and inset LED that glows when the memory card is being used. As usual, the battery slots into a compartment in the base of the hand grip and, although it’s the same EN-EL14a battery as in the D3400, power management has been improved to yield an impressive CIPA rating for 1550 shots/charge, 30% up on the previous model.
Sensor and Image Processing
As noted, the basic parameters haven’t changed since the D3400. However, according to the latest Reference Manual (which can be downloaded via this link) the size of some files is slightly bigger in the new camera, which could indicate a little less file compression or new calculations providing more accurate file sizes. The differences are marginal at best, as shown in the table below.
|Image quality||Image size||Pixels||File size||Burst depth|
|JPEG||Fine||Large||6000 x 4000||12.9MB||100 frames|
|Normal||Large||4496 x 3000||6.5MB|
|Basic||Large||2992 x 2000||2.6MB|
|NEF.RAW||6000 x 4000||20.4MB||16 frames|
|RAW+JPEG||6000 x 4000||33.3MB||6 frames|
Movie options are the same as in the D3400, with the highest resolution and frame rate being Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) with a frame rate of 60 fps for NTSC countries or 50 fps in PAL countries like Australia. Two ‘quality’ settings are available. The maximum size for a movie file is 4GB but recording times can vary as shown in the table below, which covers PAL system options.
|Quality setting||Frame size/rate||Maximum recording time|
|High quality||1920 x 1080; 50p||10 minutes|
|1920 x 1080; 25p||20 minutes|
|1920 x 1080; 24p|
|1280 x 720; 50p|
|Normal quality||1920 x 1080; 50p|
|1920 x 1080; 25p||29 minutes 59 seconds|
|1920 x 1080; 24p|
|1280 x 720; 50p|
As is usual with DSLRs, movies can only be recorded in Live View mode, which is selected by pressing the lever on the top panel. The dedicated movie button on the top panel (with a red dot) is used to start and end recordings.
The camera includes flicker reduction and a wind filter. Soundtracks are recorded monaurally and a sensitivity adjustment is provided in the menu for controlling audio levels.
Playback and Software
Playback options are standard Nikon fare and include full-frame and thumbnail (4, 9, or 72 images or calendar) playback with playback zoom, movie playback, photo and/or movie slide shows, histogram display, highlights, auto image rotation, and image comment (up to 36 characters). ‘Retouching’ is also available with 20 different adjustments, including NEF.RAW processing (to JPEG only). D-Lighting adjustments to the brightness range are also available.
Nikon’s SnapBridge app for connecting the camera to a smart device is available on the Apple App Store as well as Google Play. The basic View NX-i browser and Capture NX-D for processing NEF.RAW files are available for downloading from the Nikon Download Centre at http://downloadcenter.nikonimglib.com/. Raw files from the D3500 can also be processed in popular third-party applications, including Adobe Camera Raw, our preferred raw file processor.
Shots taken with the review camera and lens kit with the default standard Picture Control appeared to be reasonably colour accurate and with a modest contrast range that minimised the incidence of highlight blow-out and blocked-up shadows under normal conditions. However, both problems persisted in situations where the subject brightness range was very wide and the Active D-Lighting function failed to provide adequate correction. Imatest confirmed our assessments and showed saturation to be well controlled for an entry-level camera and the rendition of individual hues was close to the ‘ideal’ positions.
Our Imatest testing also showed the review camera and supplied kit lens fell just below expectations for the camera’s 24-megapixel sensor, based upon measurements around the centre of the frame. Edge resolution was quite a bit below expectations, which is much as we expected, given previous test results.
As expected, the measurements from NEF.RAW files converted into 16-bit TIFFs exceeded expectations by a comfortable margin. Edge resolution in converted raw files proved an exact match to expectations. Resolution remained relatively high from ISO 100 through to ISO 800, but declined steadily across the ISO range, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results below.
Low light performance was very good for an entry-level camera. In the S and M shooting modes, exposures up to 30 seconds are supported and the camera’s menu includes a general-purpose noise reduction setting. But the review camera appeared to block using the self-timer to capture exposures longer than one second so we had to trigger the shot and hope for the best. This could account for the slight blurring in some test shots.
Noise became noticeable in the form of additional softening at ISO 6400 and became increasingly obvious through to ISO 25600. But, despite the blurring, images shot at these high sensitivity settings would be usable in many applications.
Flash exposures largely paralleled the long exposure performance, although noise was less obvious at the highest ISO settings, probably because of shorter exposure times. As we observed with the D3400, with the auto flash setting and P exposure mode, exposures were remarkably consistent across the camera’s sensitivity range.
Lateral chromatic aberration was an issue with the kit lens, although it was corrected automatically in-camera for JPEGs. Uncorrected raw files showed moderate chromatic aberration, although it was easy enough to correct it in Adobe Camera Raw via the built-in camera and lens profiles.
Auto white balance performance was similar to other Nikon cameras we’ve tested. Close to neutral colour rendition was obtained under both fluorescent and flash lighting but the auto white balance failed to correct the warm cast imparted by incandescent or warm-toned LED lights.
There’s no pre-set for correcting LED lighting and the incandescent pre-set tended to over-correct it, as it did with regular tungsten lighting. The various fluorescent presets also introduce different colour biases, none of which matched the domestic light we used.
The flash pre-set barely changed colour rendition and flash shots were close to a neutral colour balance with and without the pre-set’s adjustments. Manual measurement produced close to neutral colour rendition with the three types of lighting we tested.
Video performance was and strongly reliant on having suitable shooting conditions, the right kind of subject and the correct camera settings. We learned the hard way that relying the default auto settings produced soft video clips since the camera wouldn’t focus on the subject. You have to set the Live View/Move mode the AF-F Full-Time Servo AF if you want the camera to focus properly in movie mode.
Exposure levels were also affected by the metering mode and the default setting could deliver over- or under-exposure in different types of lighting; backlighting was especially vulnerable. Once those problems were solved, video clips were similar to those we obtained from the D3400, which is of average quality with respect to both image and audio.
Autofocusing was much as you’d expect from an entry-level camera with a 10-year-old AF system. In bright lighting, focusing was fast and relatively quiet. But in low light levels, hunting was common, although the camera usually found focus within a second or two if the sensor was placed upon a contrast gradient. Choosing the right AF mode was also vital, particularly when recording movies clips (as outline above).
Our timing tests were carried out with a 32GB SanDisk Ultra SDHC U1 memory card, which claims a transfer speed of 80 MB/second. When we unlocked the lens before switching the camera on, the review camera took just under half a second to power-up ready for the first shot. It took just over a second to switch from the viewfinder to the live view mode.
We measured an average capture lag of 0.25 seconds when the viewfinder was used. Pre-focusing reduced it to less than 0.1 seconds. In live view mode capture lag averaged 0.3 seconds, reducing to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.45 seconds with the viewfinder and 1.9 seconds in live view mode. With flash shot-to-shot times averaged 4.4 seconds.
The average processing time for Large/ Fine JPEG exposures, shot-to-shot times averaged 1.3 seconds. Combining flash with Live View resulted in shs was 0.2 seconds, which extended to 2.2 seconds for each NEF.RAW file and 2.7 seconds for each RAW+JPEG pair.
With the fastest continuous shooting mode, the review camera could record a burst of 102 Large/ Fine JPEGs in 20 seconds before pausing, which is slightly faster than specifications. Processing was completed within 1.4 seconds of the last frame recorded in this burst. Switching to raw file capture, the camera was able to record 14 frames in 2.7 seconds before pausing. It took 2.4 seconds to complete the processing of this burst.
Only six RAW+JPEG pairs could be recorded before the buffer memory filled after one second. Processing this burst took approximately four seconds.
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Image sensor: 23.5 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor with 24.78 million photosites (24.2 megapixels effective)
Image processor: EXPEED 4
A/D processing: 12-bit
Lens mount: Nikon F
Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
Image formats: Stills: JPEG (DCF Ver. 2.0, Exif Ver. 2.3), NEF.RAW, RAW+JPEG; Movies: MOV/H.264, Linear PCM (Stereo) audio
Image Sizes: Stills – 6000 x 4000, ; 4496 x 3000, 2992 x 2000; Movies: 1920 x 1080 (progressive), 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p; 1280 x 720; 60p, 50p
Aspect ratios: 3:2
Image Stabilisation: Lens based
Dust removal: Image Dust Off reference data (Capture NX-D software required)
Shutter (speed range): Electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal-plane shutter (1/4000 to 30 sec. in steps of 1/3 EV plus Bulb and Time); flash synch at 1/200 second
Exposure Compensation: +/- 5EV in 1/3EV steps (+/-EV for movies)
Exposure bracketing: Not available
Self-timer: 2, 5, 10, 20 seconds delay; 1 to 9 exposures
Focus system: Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection plus Contrast-detect AF anywhere in frame
AF points & selection: 11 focus points (including one cross-type sensor)
Focus modes: Single-servo AF (AF-S); full-time-servo AF (AF-F) Manual focus (MF), Face-priority AF, Wide-area AF, Normal-area AF, Subject-tracking AF, Single point AF, dynamic-area AF, auto-area AF, 3D-tracking (11 points)
Exposure metering: 420-pixel RGB sensor with TTL exposure metering using main image sensor; 3D colour matrix metering, Centre-weighted average and spot metering patterns
Shooting modes: Auto modes (auto; auto, flash off); programmed auto with flexible program (P); shutter-priority auto (S); aperture-priority auto (A); manual (M); scene modes (portrait; sports; close up; night portrait)
Picture Control modes: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape, Flat
Special effects modes: Night vision; super vivid; pop; photo illustration; toy camera effect; miniature effect; selective colour; silhouette; high key; low key
Dynamic Range functions: Active D-Lighting (on/off)
Colour space options: sRGB and Adobe RGB
ISO range: Auto, ISO 100 to 25600; adjustable in 1 EV steps
White balance: Auto, incandescent, fluorescent (7 types), direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual, all except preset manual with fine-tuning
Flash: Built-in, GN 7 (m/ISO 100)
Flash modes: Auto, auto slow sync, fill-flash, slow sync, rear-curtain with slow sync, rear-curtain sync, off; red-eye reduction is available
Flash exposure adjustment: +1 to -3EV in 1/3EV steps
Sequence shooting: Max. 5 frames/sec. with locked AF plus shutter speeds of 1/250 second or faster
Buffer capacity: Max. 100 Large/Fine JPEGs, 16 RAW files, 6 RAW+JPEG pairs
Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC cards (UHS-I compliant)
Viewfinder: Eye-level pentamirror with 95% frame coverage, Type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VII focusing screen,18 mm eyepoint, 0. 85x magnification, -1.7 to +0.5 dpt adjustment
LCD monitor: 3-inch TFT LCD with 921,000 dots, 100% coverage, 170-degree viewing angle, brightness adjustment
Playback functions: Full-frame and thumbnail (4, 9, or 72 images or calendar) playback with playback zoom, playback zoom cropping, playback face zoom, movie playback, photo and/or movie slide shows, histogram display, highlights, photo information, location data display, auto image rotation, picture rating, and image comment (up to 36 characters)
Interface terminals: Hi-Speed USB micro connector, Type C HDMI
Wi-Fi function: Bluetooth Low Energy 2402 to 2480 MHz
Power supply: EN-EL14a rechargeable Li-ion batteries in special base pack; CIPA rated for approx. 1550 shots/charge
Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx 124 x 97 x 69.5 mm (excluding protrusions)
Weight: Approx.365 grams (body only); 415 grams with battery and card
Distributor: Nikon Australia, 1300 366 499; www.nikon.com.au.
Based on JPEG files.
Based on NEF.RAW files converted with Adobe Camera Raw.
Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.
Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
Auto white balance with warm-toned LED lighting.
Auto white balance with flash illumination.
30-second exposure at f/5.6, 35mm focal length, ISO 100.
15-second exposure at f/5.6, 35mm focal length, ISO 400.
6-second exposure at f/6.3, 35mm focal length, ISO 1600.
3-second exposure at f/8, 35mm focal length, ISO 6400.
2.5-second exposure at f/10, 35mm focal length, ISO 12800.
1.6-second exposure at f/11, 35mm focal length, ISO 25600.
Flash exposure at ISO 100; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 400; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 1600; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
Flash exposure at ISO 6400; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/8.
Flash exposure at ISO 12800; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/10.
Flash exposure at ISO 25600; 55mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/11.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/8. P shooting mode with auto ISO.
55mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/250 second at f/8. P shooting mode with auto ISO.
Close-up; 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/3.5.
Close-up; 55mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/5.6.
Strong backlighting; 18mm focal length; 1/250 second at f/8, ISO 110. Full auto shooting mode.
Extreme brightness range scene; 18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/500 second at f/3.5; Full auto shooting mode.
Wide brightness range subject; 40mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/250 second at f/5.6. P shooting mode with auto ISO.
Fast AF in Auto shooting mode; 45mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/250 second at f/8.
30mm focal length, ISO 320, 1/250 second at f/5.6.
30mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/200 second at f/4.2.
48mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/8.
36mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/4.8.
18mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/320 second at f/9.
Still frame from Full HD 1080 movie clip recorded at 50p.
Still frame from Full HD 1080 movie clip recorded at 25p.
Still frame from Full HD 1080 movie clip recorded at 24p
Still frame from HD 720 movie clip recorded at 50p.
RRP: AU$688; US$ 499.95 (with Nikkor AF-P DX 18-55 VR lens)
- Build: 8.7
- Ease of use: 9.0
- Autofocusing: 8.5
- Still image quality JPEG: 8.8
- Still image quality RAW: 9.0
- Video quality: 8.5