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.
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- 24 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
- EXPEED 4 image processor
- ISO range of 100-25600
- 11-point autofocus system through the optical viewfinder
- Shoots continuously at 5 frames per second
- Capable of ‘Full HD’ 1080/60p video
- Bluetooth for image transfer
- 921k-dot fixed LCD screen
- Battery rated for 1,550 shots per charge (CIPA)
The D3500 is available with an MSRP of $499.95 with the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR, and $849.95 with the 18-55mm and an AF-P DX NIKKOR 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED.
What is it?
It can be admittedly hard to get excited about entry-level DSLRs: they’re bulky compared to mirrorless cameras and can be somewhat limiting in some respects, but for beginners they are a great place to start. The Nikon D3400 that this camera replaces was always very good, and the 24 megapixel sensor inside the D3500 is still one of the best APS-C sensors around.
This is a camera that a brand-new photographer can pick up and start making decent pictures without a steep learning curve
The D3500’s Guide Mode puts it into an ‘easy-to-use’ space in the market. This mode makes it easy to tell the camera what kind of scene you are trying to capture and essentially teaches you the basics of photography, such as shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation along the way. This is a camera that a brand new photographer can pick up and start making decent pictures without a steep learning curve.
It’s not as simple as shooting with a smartphone, but the image quality is better than you’ll get from your phone in a whole lot of situations: especially if you are shooting with a fast prime lens. The D3500 is also a great deal. You can pick this one up with a lens for under $500, making it incredibly appealing for newbie photographers.
We spent time with the D3500 around Brooklyn with the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens and an additional 35mm f/1.8G DX Nikkor lens.
Although this is a very compact DSLR, you’ll never forget that it’s hanging off your shoulder: DSLRs can only be so small. As a result of its form factor, though, the camera’s hand grip is still substantial and comfortable. The camera’s back buttons have been reorganized, so that everything sits on the right side of the camera within easy reach.
The D3500’s battery life has increased by thirty percent and has a CIPA rating of 1550 shots. That’s a lot of photos, and these ratings much lower than you’ll usually see in the real world. Expect to be able to get through nearly a week of casual shooting and image reviewing without having to charge up.
The biggest changes here are the inclusion of the Guide Mode menu, making it easy for entry level photographers to capture a variety of scenes. In ‘easy operation’ mode shooters can select options like ‘moving subjects’ and the camera will automatically adjust to this mode. ‘Advanced operation’ lets shooters refine settings like shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
What stands out about the camera?
The D3500 is so compact and lightweight that, as someone who usually uses a higher-end body, it felt a little bit like shooting with a toy. It’s comfortable for a full day of shooting, but like most entry-level cameras, it has a body that feels like it could easily get dinged-up if you aren’t careful. Of course the benefit is that its lightweight, making it easy to take everywhere, but there were situations where I found myself thinking twice about shooting with it.
Its lightweight, making it easy to take everywhere
The camera’s menu systems were easy enough to navigate for changing settings, but the layout of the camera’s back buttons and dials left something to be desired. The grip itself is comfortable, but the redesigned layout of buttons makes the back and top of the camera a little cluttered. I found it difficult to change certain settings while my eye was to the viewfinder, especially while I was shooting in manual mode and attempting to adjust my aperture. Changing ISO is also a bit cumbersome. There is no dedicated ISO button so adjustments must be made by diving into the menus on the camera.
One of the consequences of the DSLR design is that the D3500 only offers eleven autofocus points, all clustered fairly near the middle of the frame. As you learn and grow with the camera, you might find this limiting. The autofocus system on the camera feels quite dated, even for an entry-level camera. It has a hard time keeping up in low-light situations and when your eye is to the viewfinder it can be a little difficult to tell which point is selected. Pressing the shutter down half-way to initiate autofocus before firing a shot shows you what point is selected, but the red dot only appears for half a second, is quite faint, and occasionally will trigger a red glow from other spots in the viewfinder.
Face-detection AF only works in Live View mode, where the rear screen is used to frame up your photo, instead of the viewfinder and although it reacts quickly in sunny conditions, indoors it got laggy seemed to have trouble keeping up. There is no touch-screen functionality on the 921k LCD screen, which can be a little frustrating if you’re used to shooting mirrorless or with a phone. Another unfamiliar (but minor) annoyance could be that the optical viewfinder only covers 95 percent of the frame. It’s pretty standard for an entry-level DSLR like this, but means it’s hard to precisely judge what is and isn’t in the edges of your photo.
The AF does a fine job when you have a static subject, but with something fast moving you will probably have to learn to pre-focus at the point you expect the subject to arrive at, which may require some trial-and-error.
The camera’s image quality is beautiful on the low end of the ISO range and just fine up to about ISO 6400. On the higher end of the range things start to deteriorate. We didn’t love the amount of noise that we were seeing on files shot at ISO 12800.
The battery life on the D3500 is amazing, though. It will effectively last for days at a time if you shoot through the optical viewfinder: longer than its predecessor or mirrorless cameras. You can’t charge over USB, which is disappointing, but during our time with the camera we didn’t even notice a percentage drop on the battery.
Although the Guide Mode can be incredibly helpful for new photographers, we didn’t find the camera quite as dependable as we’d like. Unlike mirrorless cameras, which use their main sensor to assess exposure, the D3500 uses a small, dedicated metering sensor. We found the results to be more inconsistent than we’ve become used to, with photos that were too bright or too dark. And, because we were looking through an optical viewfinder, we only found this out once we’d taken the shot: making it hard to preemptively apply exposure compensation to correct this.
The camera lacks Wi-Fi and uses a much slower Bluetooth connection to transfer images, via Nikon’s SnapBridge app. You can transfer 2 megapixel versions from the camera to your smartphone automatically or one at a time, but it takes a while. And if you want access to the full resolution images that the camera is capable of shooting, which you absolutely should, you are simply better off waiting to unload files onto your computer, or smart device using a memory-card reader.
Because it’s a DSLR, you have to flip the mirror up, block the optical viewfinder and use live-view mode to shoot video. The D3500’s video capability tops out at Full HD at 1080/60p, which seems odd considering that 4K seems to be baked into everything hitting the market, but is also likely one of the reasons that the D3500 is so accessible when it comes to price. It’s fine for short clips, but it does feel like a bit of an afterthought. This is a camera that is far more capable for handling stills photography and you would probably be better off shooting video with your smartphone.
Although the experience of shooting with the camera was just okay, the images that it produced were good quality, especially when considering the low price for the kit.
Ultimately the D3500 is a very capable and affordable camera for beginners and young families. It does a fine job capturing ‘candids’ and other casual shots. Although the Guide Mode leaves something to be desired for seasoned shooters, it does offer a non-intimidating way to learn about some of the more technical aspects of photography.
The autofocus on the camera can be a bit limited—especially if you are dealing with tricky lighting situations or very fast moving subjects. It isn’t the most fun camera to shoot with, but the image quality is good. The 24-megapixel sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor make for high-quality frames that would look great as prints.
D3500 is an affordable camera that is simple enough to not be intimidating
If you are looking to capture a lot of movies with your camera you will probably want to look elsewhere, as the D3500 is a camera that was made for primarily capturing stills. It is just fine for short clips, but there are much better options on the market for video making. We don’t love the outdated 11-point AF system, the lack of a touchscreen or the cluttered nature of the back buttons. Having a dedicated ISO button on the back of the camera would have been a worthy addition here.
Overall the D3500 is an affordable camera that is simple enough to not be intimidating, but features enough tech that a young photographer could grow into it. The D3500 probably won’t be a ‘forever’ camera, but it’s a solid place to start.