Nikon D35007.5/10 (Expert Score)
The Nikon D3500 is a 24 Megapixel entry-level DSLR with an APS-C CMOS sensor, that is cheaper, lighter, and has a longer battery life than the D3400 that it replaced. It was designed with the new photographer in mind and features a Guide Mode that will essentially teach you how to shoot in various situations.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to some of the full-frame DSLRs on this list, the Nikon D3500 is super affordable, has one of the sharpest APS-C sensors out there, and a neat retracting kit lens. A word of warning: there are two versions of this lens, and it’s worth spending the extra $20/£20 and getting it with VR, Nikon’s image stabilization system.
It’s proof that you don’t have to pay a fortune to get a great camera, and we say its value for money makes it just as impressive as much more advanced (and much more expensive) alternatives.
The controls are designed to be simple for novices, and in the right hands it’s a match for cameras costing far more. If you’re looking to get more creative with your photography, and looking for your first DSLR, the Nikon D3500 is certainly hard to beat.
Inside, the D3500 has a 24.2-megapixel APS-C ‘DX’ sensor. It might be a beginner-level camera, but that’s as high as most APS-C cameras go, even today. It also has an unusually good 5fps continuous shooting speed, where most rivals in this price bracket can only manage 3fps. Mirrorless cameras can generally shoot a little faster, but cost a little more too.
You don’t get 4K video capability with this camera, but it can shoot full HD 1920 x 1080 video at up to 60/50fps. You don’t get Wi-Fi, either, but built-in Bluetooth does let you transfer images to your smart device and, in this latest model, fire the shutter remotely using your smartphone. To be honest, you’re unlikely to use this camera for video. Its live view autofocus is a little too slow and the fixed rear screen is a drawback in itself.
Nikon says it’s upgraded its sensor and EXPEED image processing system over the previous D3400 to give improved speed, detail and colours. It’s also uprated the battery life, quoting a pretty amazing 1,550 shots on a single charge – that’s four or five times more shots than you’d expect to get from a mirrorless camera. This is a key point; if you’re out all day shooting, the average mirrorless camera could pack up by lunchtime unless you have spare batteries or a power bank, but the D3500 could keep going into the evening.
The D3500 does shoot raw files, as you’d expect, but these are 12-bit only, rather than the 14-bit raw files captured by models further up the Nikon range. Will you notice the difference? Probably not, as even a 12-bit raw gives a much wider tone and colour range than regular JPEGs, and for the users this camera is aimed at, the differences are likely to be academic.
|Camera Type||Digital Single Lens Reflex|
|Display Screen||3.0-inch fixed display, 921,000 dots|
|Sensor||24.2MP APS-C CMOS|
|Lens mount||DX-format Nikon F Mount with AF contacts|
|Video capability||1080p at 60, 50, 30, 25 and 24p|
|Battery Life||Battery rated for 1,550 shots per charge (CIPA)|
|Weight||415g (with battery and card)|
|Size||4.9 x 3.9 x 2.8 (in) (body only)|
- Autofocus feels old-fashioned and is threatened to be outmoded
- Well-balanced straight-out-the-camera shots, with good detail and depth
- Guide Mode is good, but most will outgrow it quickly
- 5fps burst shooting speed
- Incredible battery life
With a burst shooting speed of just 5fps, the Nikon D3500 isn’t really a camera for those who want to shoot a lot of action. It’s better than the EOS Rebel T7 / 2000D’s sluggish 3fps, but some comparable mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm X-T30 can shoot quicker if that’s a key priority. Sports and other fast-moving action aside, though, it should be satisfactory for most shooting situations, including speeding pets.
The D3500’s metering performed well in our tests, delivering consistent exposures for most scenes, and even avoiding overexposing predominantly dark subjects. Thanks to the dedicated exposure compensation button on the top plate, which works in tandem with the rear command dial, if you do need to dial in compensation, it’s quick and easy to do so.
As we found with the D3400, the D3500’s Auto White Balance is similarly proficient, only slipping up a couple of times during our review. It actually coped very well under artificial lighting, with only a little warmth taken away in some of our shots, while mixed lighting was handled well.
The viewfinder on the D3500 is nice and clear, delivering a pleasingly bright view with good color accuracy. Its LCD display, despite its modest resolution compared to those on pricier rivals, shows details clearly when you’re reviewing images and reproduces the scene you’re shooting faithfully, meaning there are no nasty surprises when you view images later on a larger display.
You’ll need to download Nikon’s free SnapBridge app (for both iOS and Android) to wirelessly transfer images. While the system hasn’t had the best reception since its introduction, we found it pretty easy and straightforward to set up a connection between our iPhone and the D3500, enabling us to transfer images quite easily.
Battery life is one of the D3500’s real trump cards. While the D3400 had an impressive-enough battery life of 1,200 shots, Nikon managed to extend this to a staggering 1,550 shots – that’s much better than Canon DSLRs of a similar price, and significantly better than the typical battery life of around 300-400 shots for entry-level mirrorless cameras.
BUILD AND HANDLING
- Small and lightweight
- Excellent hand grip
- Buttons and menu items a little fiddly due to size
If you’re comparing the D3500 against mirrorless alternatives, its body is going to seem pretty fat and chunky by comparison. This does give you a good grip on the camera, though, and a redesigned button layout on the rear makes the D3500 easy to handle without accidentally pressing buttons you didn’t mean to.
The rear screen is not touch-sensitive, so you’re reliant on the physical buttons and dials (no great hardship, it has to be said). The screen is fixed, without even a tilting mechanism for low angle shots, but you have to accept some compromises at this price. The display quality is very good, though, with sharp detail and bright, clear colours. The information display is especially good, showing you graphical representations of the shutter speed, lens aperture and ISO setting, and this goes a long way towards demystifying exposure settings and how they interact.
The main mode dial on the top of the camera is clearly labelled and has a positive, solid feel. Right alongside is the camera’s single control dial, which also has a really good feel. It’s unmarked, and its function changes according to the mode you’re in.
DSLRs need a thicker body to accommodate the mirror mechanism, and by the time you’ve added on the 18-55mm AF-P kit lens, the D3500 is as long as it is wide. The retracting mechanism on the lens does make a difference, though. The only annoyance is the constant reminder that you need to extend the lens first before you can start shooting.
Otherwise, the D3500’s handling is really good. The power switch is around the shutter release button where it’s easy to flick with your index finger when you want to switch the camera on and off, and both the main mode dial and control dial are within easy reach of your right thumb.
- Lack of touchscreen may put some buyers off
- It’s frustrating to have to access sub-menus to reach some settings
- Excellent and leading battery life and performance
Switch the Nikon D3500 on via the familiar right-hand side toggle switch and you’re greeted with a standard Nikon setup and interface. Due to its size, we did find the redesigned button layout a little fiddly, but otherwise, the menu system and everyday operation of the camera are straightforward.
The biggest immediate and obvious drawback with the Nikon D3500 is the lack of a tilting LCD touchscreen, which on the D5xxx series of cameras makes awkward angles and quick setting adjustments a breeze. We often found ourselves swiping at the screen to no avail. There is, however, a good live view mode on the D3500, which paired with the 18-55mm kit lens produces accurate color reproduction and a sharp representation of what’s in front of you. Without the tilt mode or the ability to press on the screen, however, this does have slightly limited potential for day-to-day shooting.
Like in Nikon’s mid-range D5xxx series we found it frustrating that by default, ‘ISO-A’ mode is selected, which automatically moves the ISO setting up and down by itself. It doesn’t have a quick-change button on the face of the camera, and instead requires manual selection in the sub-menu systems.
If you’ve made up your mind to get a DSLR, the Nikon D3500 does face some strong competition in the Canon range. The cheapest of all is the Canon EOS Rebel T100 / EOS 4000D, but it’s hard to find now. It was made down to a price and it showed – we didn’t like it much at all. The EOS Rebel T7/2000D is closer to the Nikon D3500 in specifications, and an ideal alternative if you’re a Canon fan. However, the battery life is worse, its burst mode is slower, and there’s no retracting lens option – in fact getting a good kit lens with IS (image stabilization) pushes the price higher still.
The Nikon D3500 does have its limitations, obviously, because of its price and its intended audience, but we think it’s easily the best DSLR for beginners right now – and because mirrorless cameras with viewfinders tend to cost more, we’d say it’s the best camera for beginners all round. In fact, unless Nikon eventually pulls the plug on its cheapest DSLR, we reckon we’ll be saying exactly the same thing five years from now.
- Excellent Image sharpness and quality from basic kit lenses
- Guide Mode is good for absolute photography beginners
- Remarkable 1,550-shot battery life
- Handy Guide mode
- Easy to use
- Poor performance for those wanting to learn videomaking
- Patchy autofocus & Fixed rear screen
- Limited Live View responsiveness in low light conditions
- No 4K video
|Price history for Nikon intl D3500 DSLR Camera Bundle with 18-55mm VR Lens - Built-in Wi-Fi-24.2 MP CMOS Sensor - -EXPEED 4 Image Processor and Full HD Videos64GB Memory(17pcs)|