It might now be over two years old, but the Nikon D3500 is still our number one pick for the title of best beginner DSLR camera. Why? It combines all of the main strengths of DSLRs, including great handling and an amazing battery life, into a small, affordable package.
The D3500's age also counts in its favor when it comes to price. It's now available for a lot less than its original asking price, making it a great choice for beginners who are looking to take a step up from point-and-shoot photography.
Of course, the D3500 isn't perfect, as you'd expect at this price. The main drawbacks are the lack of 4K video capture, some cost-cutting with the external controls, and the absence of touchscreen functionality. If you need the latter, it's worth considering alternatives like the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D, or a mirrorless camera like the Fujifilm X-T200.
Still, neither of those cameras come close to the D3500's 1,550-shot battery life, and it does compensate for the lack of a touchscreen with a handy 'Guide' mode for beginners, which takes you through the process of creating effects like a blurred background. It's a great way for inexperienced shooters to understand manual settings and start building their confidence and knowledge.
The D3500's 24.2MP sensor produces impressive results, although you'll want to invest in some additional lenses to really see its potential.
Fortunately, Nikon's DX system has a vast range of lenses to suit pretty much every shooting style and budget. Still, we'd recommend buying the D3500 with the 'VR' version of its kit lens –the AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR – as this brings handy vibration reduction for very little extra cost.
Some more AF points would have been nice, but the 11-point AF system works fine for general shooting, and does the job for some moving subjects too.
If you're looking for a smaller camera for travel shooting, then mirrorless alternatives like the Fujifilm X-T200 or Canon EOS M50 are worth considering. But as an affordable, beginner-friendly camera that'll teach you the nuts and bolts of creative photography, then the Nikon D3500 remains an excellent choice.
Nikon D3500 review: features
- New sensor, but effective resolution stays the same
- No touchscreen or 4K video
- Bluetooth connectivity
The D3500 retains the same effective 24.2MP pixel count as the old D3400, but this is a newer sensor, and closer inspection of the specs shows that the total count on the D3500's sensor stands at 24.78MP, compared to 24.72MP on the D3400.
The APS-C sized sensor (typical for an entry-level DSLR, and much larger than the sensors used in most compact cameras) in the D3500 also does away with an optical low-pass filter to help improve image quality.
The D3500's ISO sensitivity range of 100-25,600 is also pretty wide, but doesn't improve on the D3400's range.
Sensor: 24.2MP APS-C CMOS
Lens mount: Nikon F
Screen: 3.0-inch fixed display, 921,000 dots
Burst shooting: 5fps
Autofocus: 11-point AF
Video: Full HD 1080p
Battery life: 1,550 shots
Weight: 415g (with battery and card)
Given that most mirrorless cameras (and even smartphones) offer 4K video, it's a bit disappointing to only see Full HD capture on the D3500. It's not all bad news though, as the D3500 can shoot at a smooth 60/50p, as well as 30/25p and 24p, while there are lower-resolution recording options as well.
There's also no microphone port, so you'll need to rely on the D3500's built-in monaural microphones. If you're looking to shoot video regularly, you'll probably want to look elsewhere.
Nikon has also opted to carry over the same 3.0-inch display, with a modest 921,000-dot resolution, from the D3400. The screen is fixed, and sits flush with the body – if you want a DSLR with a vari-angle display then you'll need to look further up the range to the Nikon D5600 or at the Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D. It's also slightly disappointing to see no touchscreen functionality, a feature that would really lend itself to a entry-level DSLR, with touchscreens having become second nature for anyone using a smartphone.
Complementing the rear display is an optical viewfinder. This is perhaps the most obvious feature that that distinguishes DSLRs from mirrorless cameras, with many similarly priced mirrorless cameras either relying solely on the rear screen for shooting, while others will feature electronic viewfinders (EVF) with pretty modest resolutions (at this price point).
EVFs certainly have their advantages, especially as you can see the exposure 'live', meaning you don't get any nasty surprises when you fire the shutter, although many photographers prefer the cleaner, lag-free view offered by an optical viewfinder. The optical viewfinder on the D3500 offers a coverage of 95%, which is typical for an entry-level DSLR, so you may need to be a bit careful when framing some shots to avoid unwanted elements creeping into the edges of the frame.
As on the D3400 there's no Wi-Fi connectivity, but you do get Bluetooth, so it's possible to transfer images via Nikon's SnapBridge feature. Here, an always-on Bluetooth Low Energy connection is made between the camera and your smart device, and you can configure SnapBridge so that images are automatically transferred as you shoot, or later, so you can select particular images to transfer.
Which 18-55mm kit lens should you buy with the D3500?
While you can buy the Nikon D3500 as a standalone camera with no lens, most people looking at this beginner camera will choose to get the 18-55mm lens that's bundled with the camera for a few more dollars or pounds.
Often referred to as a 'kit' lens as these lenses are sold as part of the kit with the camera, the focal range of 18-55mm offers a decent standard zoom range to get your started. This covers everything from wide-angle landscapes to moderate telephoto that's more suited for portraits.
It's worth paying close attention to the lens though when you're looking to buy a D3500 as there's two versions available. There's the AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G and the AF-P DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. The VR designation is what you want to pay attention to as this denotes Nikon's image stabilization system (known as Vibration Reduction).
The difference in cost between the two lenses is negligible, so our advice is to splash out a few dollars or pounds more for the VR version of the lens, as this will allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds and still achieve sharp shots.
Once you're ready to upgrade your lens, or want something to complement your 18-55mm lens, take a look at our best Nikon lenses buying guide.