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This article will make you an expert with the Nikon D3300's controls and menus. It also includes a lot of tips, tricks, and the settings I prefer to use.
However, making great photos involves a lot more than knowing how to use your camera. You need to get yourself to the right place at the right time and point the camera in the right direction, which is a lot harder than simply mastering the D3300. Right out of the box at default settings, the D3300 does a great job all by itself. Making a great photo involves timing, FARTing and much more explained at How to Take Better Pictures.
For great pictures, you need to master the art underlying all this. To learn the art behind great photos, the best book ever written is Bruce Barnbaum's "The Art of Photography." If you read it, understand it and learn from it, you'll be able to take great pictures with any camera, but if you don't understand the critical art required, you'll only get good photos occasionally by chance. Be warned, it's a very tough book, but I find it to be the best if you're serious. More Books.
Below are the basics of how to use the Nikon D3300. Explicit details follow in later pages linked at the bottom.
Many other tricks are in the detail pages at the bottom, like:
Camera Settings top
I leave most settings at their defaults.
I shoot with the top mode dial in P, Program Exposure mode.
Many of the menu options explained this guide are deactivated in anything except the P, S, A and M modes.
I never use the AUTO, EFFECTS, SCENE, or other fluff modes. I usually only use P mode. (we will use the EFFECTS position to shoot panoramas.)
My standard operating setting is only a few clicks different from the defaults.
Here is how I set up my D3300:
I format cards every time I put one in my D3300. It completely erases the memory card and formats it for perfect compatibility.
If you've connected the card to a computer and don't reformat, there is always the tiny, but real, possibility that there may have been something altered on your card.
Formatting essentially erases your card, so be sure you have all your pictures downloaded first. Formatting isn't mandatory, but it ensures that data and compatibility problems will only happen to other people, not to you.
Press MENU > WRENCH > Format memory card > YES > OK.
If you're not familiar with how to do this in a menu system, here's a click-by-click explanation:
Press the MENU button on the back of your D3300.
Click left until the left-hand icons light up.
Click up or down to highlight the wrench icon (the SETUP MENU).
Press OK (or click right) to light-up the actual menu line items.
Click up or down to highlight "Format memory card."
Press OK (or click right) to get to a gray screen asking YES or NO.
Click up to YES.
This level of detail makes it seem even more complex, so I'm only going to give the simple directions for the rest of this guide. If you're a total beginner like most people, it's the same idea each time: you have to hit OK or click to the right each time to get it to go to the next selection.
Image Quality top
I use BASIC JPG.
To set this, use:
MENU > CAMERA icon > Image quality > JPEG basic > OK.
The default of JPEG Normal wastes twice as much space in your computer, lets fewer photos fit on a memory card, and makes the data take twice as long to transfer or email.
Since the pictures look the same at BASIC, I use it so more pictures fit on my card, and more importantly, I don't clog up my computer and everything transfers, copies and sends twice as fast. FINE is twice as big again as NORMAL.
The D3300 can't make a bad image even at it's lowest setting. The NORMAL, FINE and NEF RAW modes are for people who don't mind fitting only 12 images on a card. The pictures really do look the same; try it and see if you're curious. I did, which is why I shoot JPG BASIC.
This also can be set at the INFO screen using the < i > button.
More details at the SHOOTING Menu.
Image Size top
I use LARGE (24MP) or MEDIUM (13MP) for landscapes, and SMALL (6MP) for family photos.
Large is the default, but unless you want to print everything twenty feet (6m) wide, the Small setting also lets you make prints of any size (20 x 30" or 50 x 75cm is easy) and saves even more room on your computer and memory cards.
I'm serious: even at the Small setting you've got 6 very sharp megapixels, which is more than enough to print at any size if your photo is in focus in the first place. I've sold photos to McDonald's with cameras set down to 4 MP — and McDonalds used those for billboards.
To set this, use:
MENU > CAMERA icon > Image size > Large, Medium or Small.
This also can be set at the INFO screen using the i button.
More details at the SHOOTING Menu.
White Balance top
I use AUTO, the default.
If you prefer a slightly warmer (more orange) image, set A2 (amber 2) by pressing:
MENU > CAMERA icon > White balance > Auto > clicking two clicks to the right to A2 > OK.
You can set any color offset you like. Simply move the controller around in this menu for any combination of amber/blue and green/magenta fine-tuning adjustments.
The basic WB settings can also be set at the INFO screen using the < i > button.
More details at the SHOOTING Menu.
Picture Control top
This is where you set the look of your images. Do you want more or less vibrant colors, or more or less contrast, or maybe black-and-white? This is where you set it.
The D3300 has the same look with any given setting of the Picture Controls as every other Nikon since the D300, thank goodness. What looks good on one Nikon will look the same on other Nikons: these are all interchangeable between cameras.
I use STANDARD with
Sharpening set to 7 and
Saturation set to 0, or maybe +1 or +2 depending on my mood. 0 is the best setting for starting out.
For Places and Things
I use VIVID with
Sharpening set to7 and
Saturation set to +3.
Play around and see what you prefer. I'm always changing my preferences depending on the subject and the look I want. This is how I get award-winning images right out of my camera as JPGs with no other twiddling needed.
To set these, press:
Click it and you'll see a menu of Standard, Neutral, Vivid, etc.
You can alter any one of these starting points by selecting them, and then clicking to the right. Now you can click up and down to select different parameters and left and right to change them. Be sure to click OK to save the setting.
You can save and recall these as well.
More at Picture Controls.
ISO, pronounced "eye ess oh," sets the D3300's sensitivity to light. 100 is normal, and 6,400 or 12,800 is much more sensitive for very low light.
The D3300 can be set to adjust its ISO to the light conditions all by itself. I never set the actual ISO; I program Auto ISO to set this for me.
Auto ISO increases the ISO automatically as it gets darker so I don't have to stop and set it myself. It shoots at ISO 100 in good light, and at 1/125 of a second (or at any speed you choose) it starts ramping up the ISO to a maximum of 12,800 (or any ISO you choose) as it gets darker. Only if it gets much darker will it let the shutter speed go below 1/125 at ISO 12,800, exactly as I'd do manually.
To set this, press:
MENU > CAMERA icon > ISO sensitivity settings > Auto ISO sensitivity control > ON.
Just below this, Maximum sensitivity and Minimum shutter speed to taste. I set ISO 12,800 as the maximum because the D3300 still looks great at ISO 12,800 if you need it. If you set a lower speed, the D3300 will start shooting at slower speeds when it could have kept the speed up at a higher (and still clean) ISO.
I set the Minimum shutter speed depending on my lens and my subject.
For family, people, action and kids, I set it to 1/125. For sports you might want to set 1/250 or 1/500. This is the speed the D3300 will try to hold by increasing the ISO, and below which the D3300 will shoot at the highest ISO you set above.
For shots of still subjects, I set this to the slowest speed at which I can hand-hold sharply. For me, that's 1/8 with VR wide-angle lenses, and 1/30 for VR telephotos.
The D3300 is so advanced that there is an AUTO setting for the lowest shutter speed within the AUTO ISO mode!
In AUTO minimum speed, the D3300 sets the slowest shutter speed before the ISO starts increasing based on the lens' focal length setting. For instance, with a 35mm lens, the D3300 uses about 1/30, and with a 135mm lens, uses about 1/125.
More at the SHOOTING Menu.
Advance Mode top
I use Continuous. This means that the D3300 takes one picture when I press the button, and if I keep the button held down, it keeps taking pictures at up to 5 frames per second.
This is also where you set the self timer, arm the remote or select the quiet mode.
More details at the advance mode button.
See my separate Nikon D3300 Autofocus Settings page.
Info Display Format top
If you leave them at default ("graphic"), they look really screwy.
Auto Info Display top
If you leave Auto info display at its default of ON, the INFO screen keeps lighting up on the back of the D3300 just about all the time, even when you hold it to your eye!
Lens Settings top
The included 18-55mm VR II zoom is all you need for just about anything.
Instead of the included 18-55mm lens, I often use my 35mm f/1.8 DX because it's tougher and better for use indoors without flash.
The built-in flash is excellent, so long as you don't need it to be ready immediately after each shot.
If you need something faster, the small but discontinued SB-400 is what I use. They're easy to get on eBay or at Amazon. You don't need bigger flashes unless you're trying to shoot sports at long distances and at high frame rates, which you probably aren't doing with a D3300.
Change the image resolution and audio in Movie settings in the SHOOTING Menu
I shoot at the lowest 424p setting. It looks fine, and takes up much less file and card space than the other settings. Use whichever you prefer.
To shoot panoramas:
1.) Set EFFECTS on the top dial.
2.) Push the rear Live View button.
3.) Turn the rear dial to Easy Panorama.
4.) Press and hold the shutter button halfway until the camera focuses and you see a green box.
5.) Press the shutter the rest of the way down, wait for the click and for the screen to reappear, and then slowly pan the camera.
6.) You'll see a yellow progress bar at the top as you pan.
7.) When you complete the pan, the D3300 stops and saves your completed panorama.
I prefer to hold my D3300 vertically as I do this. A defect in the D3300 makes the panoramas come out rotated the wrong way, which I fix later in Media Pro software. I expect newer firmware will fix this; my brand-new D3300 is still at version C 1.00 and L 2.002.
I set the NORMAL Panorama mode in the Image Size settings in the SHOOTING Menu. The WIDE mode didn't work. It stopped recording after 180º and filled the rest of the longer image with dark grey. I will presume that Nikon will fix this as well in newer firmware.
Meter selection is settable with the < i > button (bottom center adjustment on the LCD) or at MENU > SHOOTING > Metering.
This lets you select the long obsolete center-weighted or spot metering modes.
Center weighted dates from the 1960s, and spot from the 1980s.
Matrix, the default shown by four quarters lit inside the rectangle, works wonders. Use it. It's the only meter I ever use, which is why my exposures are always perfect. Use the older meters like SPOT or CENTER WEIGHT, and you'll almost never get good exposure.
These are the basics. You've got 99% of what you need; go shoot and have fun!
Keep reading for explicit details.
KNOBS, BUTTONS and CONTROLS < NEXT
Help me help you top
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