Guidance for a newbie

Hello! I am planning on purchasing a Nikon d3200, d3300 or d3400 for the main purpose of taking pictures at my boys soccer games. I've been trying to research if any of the models I mentioned are really better than the other. I also plan on purchasing a 55-200mm or 70-300mm lens to go with it. Needless to say I am totally overwhelmed!

What are opinions on the models I mentioned? Also very confused on the AF-S vs AF-P lenses. I plan on buying on Amazon. They have many bundles to choose from but I don't even know where to begin!!

Can anyone help me out?

Thanks in advance!


  • The difference in the three is small but significant. The D3200, the oldest of the set, has a very good sensor, is quite decent all around, but has the lowest high ISO and most noise of the three. It also will not accept AF-P lenses. They simply will not focus at all.

    The D3300 is nearly identical to the D3200, but has a boost in its ISO performance, and it will accept AF-P lenses if it has the latest firmware. No features that were on the D3200 are dropped in this model. Apart from the improved ISO, the D3300 also has a slightly sharper sensor, because the anti-aliasing filter is no longer used, and I think it also has a panorama function that the 3200 lacks. I think the viewfinder may be a tiny bit better.

    The D3400 is the newest, and has even a little higher iSO performance and speed, but drops a couple of features that were on the earlier models. I believe it loses its rear infrared sensor (a small convenience when using a remote from behind). It drops metering capability with older AF lenses (the other models will not auto focus with an AF or AFD lens, but will meter correctly). And it drops the built-in sensor cleaning function, which some find a helpful feature. Otherwise, it's said to be quite good and the image quality is good. I think it also has some wifi or snapbridge capability, which might be useful if you need to transfer images to a smart phone or tablet, but some people have reported that Snapbridge is not all it might be.

    All three of these cameras are good, and capable of very fine images. Of the three, I'd look first at the D3300, which is only slightly out of date but probably the best overall combination of performance and features.

    As for the lens types, there are a number of variations (in Nikon's nomenclature here - other brands have other terminology)

    The first manual focus Nikon F mount lenses, designated "pre-AI" will mount and work manually on all three cameras, but will not operate the meter at all. You'll get a "lens not mounted" error in all but M mode. In M mode the camera will work even if a lens is not actually mounted at all. Although the D3x00 and 5x000 family can use them, other cameras that can meter with manual lenses (D7x00 for example) cannot use pre-AI without damage. But these cameras don't care.

    Later manual focus Nikon F mount lenses, designated "AI" are indistinguishable on these cameras from the older ones.

    The original AF and AFD used a "screwdriver" auto focus mechanism that requires a motor in the camera. They also had a manual aperture ring. None will auto focus on a D3x00 camera. When the ring is correctly locked, they will meter on a 3200 and 3300, and on all 5x00 family. The D3400 treats them as manual lenses and does not meter.

    The AFG uses screwdriver focus but has no manual aperture ring. They will work (metering) without AF on a 3200 and 3300, and I think also on a 3400, but I'm not 100 percent sure about that.

    An AFS lens has its focus motor built in, and always is a "g" type with no aperture ring, and all will work 100% with all D3x00 family. The kit lenses on the D3200 and 3300, and maybe the D3400, will likely be this type.

    An AF-E lens has an electronic aperture. It will work 100% with D3200 and up, but will not work with D3000 and 3100.

    An AF-P lens uses a "fly by wire" focus system, with a new style pulse motor, and no purely manual override. You can manually focus but only when the motor is activated. A D3300 and up will operate these correctly. A D3200 and lower will not focus, including no manual focus at all.

    Nikon has recently come out with several P type lenses, some of which are very good, and they tend to be a pretty good bargain too. If you expect to use those, don't get a D3200. The Pulse motor in these lenses works very fast, and is nearly silent, very nice for action and especially movie making. However, make sure if you're looking at the 70-300P models, to note that there are two that are similar but one does not have vibration reduction. For still photography VR is very much worth having.

    So be very very careful when buying bundles from any but the most reputable dealers. Nikon US will not service (in or out of warranty!) any "gray market" cameras or lenses. Some of the least expensive bundlers may open up kits and make substitutions, so you can't always guarantee that you're getting what Nikon USA would put in the box. Some shady dealers even substitute the batteries.

    I'd avoid bundles that throw in a lot of stuff like filters and tripods and auxiliary lenses. The accessories are likely to be of very low quality. Some reputable dealers like B&H or Adorama, may toss in a bag and an extra memory card or the like, which is fine, but avoid the big bundle deals.

    If equipment is not specified as being "Nikon USA" assume it is not. And if a lens is not specified as having VR, you should assume it does not. Chances are good that the difference in price between one dealer and another offering USA warrantied merchandise will be very close.

    A good camera like these can serve you for years to come, and the lenses maybe even longer, so it may pay to spend a little more to be sure you're getting what you need. After three or four years, the difference ends up pretty much absorbed.

  • Thank you so much for all your detailed info @Bruto!! I've been leaning towards the 3300 the most.

    Do you think the new AF-P lenses are best to go with or would you stick with the AF-S lenses? I am a pretty inexperienced photographer! ;) I think that is what is confusing me the most!
  • I don't have much experience with some of them, except for the 10-20 AFP-DX which I have. It totally does not work on my D3200 but does on the D7100, and it's a nice sharp lens at a bargain price, a good one for traveling if you need a wide angle. It's cheaply made, but that also means it's very light and compact, and the focus really is nearly instantaneous and silent. When I tried it out, I had to purposely defocus it and re-aim to be sure it was working at all.

    One of my major complaints about the DX format has been that it's hard and expensive to get a really wide angle, and this goes a long way toward solving that.

    There are three new P versions of the 70-300 now. One is a full frame with switches for AV and AF on it, said to be very good and sharper than its predecessor, the 70-300 AFG-DX, which is quite good. Then there is a DX (crop sensor like the D3300 and its ilk) version with VR, which is said to be very good, a bit less and a bit slower than the FX version, but better than the previous 55-300 AFS, which is optically decent but very slow focusing. And finally there is a similar DX version with no VR, whose main virtue is that it's quite inexpensive. The two DX versions have no external switches, and rely on camera firmware to turn VR and AF on or off. I would not get the non-VR version for routine still photography.

    I think there's also at least one AFP version of the 18-55 kit lens as well, but don't know if it's optically any different from others. Recent 18-55 AFS lenses, which usually come with the camera, are lightly made, but optically surprisingly good, and the one with the D3300 is likely to be fine. Again, make sure what you get at least has VR. The D3300 should come with a "VRII" version, with a retracting button for more compact storage.

    The one problem you might have, which is not a huge one but is something, is that if you get the 18-55 kit lens as your starter, the 70-300 leaves a bit of a gap between 55 and 70 millimeters. Most times it won't make a big difference, and you can always crop a 55 shot to the angle of view of 70 and lose very little resolution. Another option, generally pretty inexpensive, might be to go with the 55-200 AFS VR lens, whatever is the latest version of that. It's decently sharp and not terribly expensive. You lose a little reach, but 200 will get you pretty close, and there's room to crop. If you get the 18-55 and 55-200 together you end up with good coverage from wide angle to tele. Given the quality difference, I would not go now with the 55-300 Dx (this is a lens I have and use) now, but if you just can't live without the 200-300 mm. reach, settle for the small gap in coverage and go for the 70-300 with VR. The 55-300 works OK, but its focus is maddeningly slow and it gets a little softer at 300 than one would like.

    Basically, for most purposes AFS is fine, and a good AFS lens will do what you need. If you expect to do a lot of video, not only the focus speed but the silence of AFP will be useful, but for still work it's less of an issue. The one thing nobody can predict well is what Nikon will be doing in the future. It seems likely that AFP will come up more in newer lens designs, so having a camera that can use it is good insurance.
  • Thank you again @Bruto
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