The full-frame mirrorless Nikon Z7 is getting a lot of attention right now, but that doesn’t mean Nikon has given up on SLRs, or in the entry-level camera market. Its latest entry in the D3000 series, the D3500 ($499.95 with 18-55mm AF-P lens), carries a lower price than the D3400 did at launch, is slightly smaller, and while it maintains the 24MP resolution of its predecessor, Nikon says it sports an updated image sensor and processor. The camera ships in September. We’ve not yet had a chance to test it, but will report back with findings as soon as possible.
Small, Light, Capable
The D3500 is surprisingly light and compact for an SLR, at 3.9 by 4.9 by 2.8 inches (HWD) and just 12.9 ounces without a lens. The bundled AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR adds 7.2 ounces, bringing the kit to about 1.3 pounds. It’s not quite as svelte as our favorite entry-level mirrorless camera, the Sony a6000, which measures 2.6 by 4.7 by 1.8 inches and weighs just about a pound with its 16-50mm kit lens attached.
In addition to the single-lens kit, Nikon is offering the D3500 along with the aforementioned 18-55mm and the AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED for $849.95. This doesn’t represent any sort of savings, and we recommend skipping the kit, as the 70-300mm doesn’t have any sort of image stabilization—Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction (VR). Spend an extra $50 and buy the stabilized AF-P DX Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.4G ED VR for $400 instead. You’ll find the extra cost is well worth it. VR may only be two letters, but those are very important letters when it comes getting sharp photos with a telephoto lens.
The D3500 doesn’t break from the SLR design motif. It has a deep handgrip with the trademark Nikon red stripe, although as an entry-level model it does eschew the front command dial included in SLRs aimed at serious shutterbugs like the D7500.
On top, centered behind the lens mount, you’ll find the pop-up flash and a hot shoe to mount an external Speedlight or other accessory. To the right is the Mode Dial. It has the standard Program, Aperture, Shutter, and Manual modes, along with Scene settings to various types of images, a full Auto mode, a Guide mode for photographic novices, and an Effects setting for images with an Instagram filter look. The Live View toggle switch is set at the base of the dial.
You also get a control dial, for changing the f-stop or shutter speed when venturing out of Auto, along with a plus/minus button to brighten or darken shots using Exposure Value (EV) Compensation, a dedicated Record button for video, and the shutter release. The On/Off toggle switch surrounds the shutter, which is the forward-most control, atop the handgrip.
Look at the camera from the rear to see the optical viewfinder and the diopter used to adjust its focus to match your eyes. It’s a pentamirror, so it won’t be as bright or large to your eye as the pentaprism viewfinders found in more expensive SLRs. It covers about 95 percent of the image sensor, so your photos will be slightly wider than what you see as you capture them. This can be a good thing for beginners, especially if you still print and frame family photos.
There’s one button to the left of the viewfinder, the flash release and power adjustment. To the right of the eyecup you get Info and AF-L/AE-L buttons, the latter of which can be set to lock focus or exposure.
The remainder of the rear buttons are all placed in between the LCD and rear thumb rest. The Play button is at the top, larger than the others for easy access. Below it are Menu, i, and a directional pad with a center OK button. Finally you get plus and minus buttons for zooming in and out of photos, a Drive Mode/Self Timer button, and a Delete button.
The LCD is the same as the D3400, a 3-inch panel with 921k dots of resolution and a 170-degree viewing angle. I think Nikon is making a mistake by not adding touch support to the D3500. You’ll need to step up to the more expensive D5600 to get touch and a tilting display.
There’s no Wi-Fi, but the D3500 does have Bluetooth for wireless file transfer. It can transfer 2MP JPG images to your Android or iOS device using the Nikon SnapBridge app, a free download for either platform. This can be done automatically or on demand.
Nikon quotes a 1,550-shot battery life, although heavy use of SnapBridge will cut into that. The D3500 uses the same EN-EL14a as other recent models in the series. You charge the battery in the included external wall charger; in-camera charging is not supported. There is a single memory card slot, supporting SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.
Same Focus, Improved Sensor
The D3500’s 11-point autofocus system and 5fps burst rate match the D3400. We expect identical performance to the D3400—which is quite good for its class—but will confirm in testing.
The DX (APS-C) image sensor sports the same 24MP resolution as the one used in the past few models in the series, but Nikon says it is updated, and powered with a new image processor. The D3400 had one of the best sensors in its class, so we have high expectations when it comes to image quality. The camera can capture photos as JPG for easy sharing and printing, and if you want to have more freedom in processing images, Raw capture at 12-bit quality is available.
Previous cameras in the series have captured crisp, high-quality video at 1080p, and we expect the D3500 to do the same. It supports 24, 25, 30, 50, or 60fps at 1080p, and can also shoot at 50 or 60fps at 720p. There’s no 4K support, but many entry-level buyers don’t have the computing horsepower to edit high-resolution video.
The real headache for consumers using the D3500 for video is its autofocus system. It uses contrast detection, which can be quite quick, but will always hunt back and forth a little before locking focus. It’s distracting when you compare it with the silky smooth autofocus you get with mirrorless cameras like the aforementioned Sony a6000, or Canon SLRs with a Dual Pixel AF sensor, like the small EOS Rebel SL2. The D3500’s video is a fine choice for scenes where you don’t have to track a moving subject, but it falters when it comes to buttery smooth autofocus. There’s also no mic input, which is a deal breaker for any sort of serious video work where the recorded soundtrack is important. Internal microphones work for casual use, but tend to pick up too much background noise for serious applications.
Less Expensive, More Appealing
We’ve not yet used or tested the D3500, so we’re not giving it a rating at this time. On paper it looks like a very modest update to the D3400, which went on sale around $650 and eventually dropped in price to $500. The D3500 starts off at $500, which is the right price for the camera and lens.
It’s not a total no-frills model, but isn’t top of the line either. It has plenty of automatic features for family historians who care more about preserving memories than learning the ins and outs of f-stops, and also has the Guide Mode for those who want to take some creative control, but aren’t quite sure how to get the look they want from a photo.
If you like to record as many videos as you do photos, think about a camera with smoother autofocus when recording movies—the Canon SL2 and Sony a6000 both fit the bill in this general price vicinity, and the Canon EOS Rebel T7i or the Fujifilm X-T20 are solid picks for stills and video if you have a bit more to spend.
We’ll have a full review of the D3500 soon.