How to Change ISO on a Nikon D3400

A practical guide on how to change ISO on a Nikon D3400, including manual and Auto ISO options.

Nikon D3400
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The Nikon D3400 has several ways to change the ISO. They include manually assigning a specific ISO setting and using and customizing the Auto ISO behavior that leaves the camera to decide on the best ISO when balancing the other exposure controls. Here’s a guide to the various ISO options on the Nikon D3400 and how to use them.

Nikon D3400 w/ AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)
  • SnapBridge Bluetooth Connectivity
  • 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor

Why Change the ISO?

ISO is one of the three settings that is part of the crucial exposure trio in photography. The other two–shutter speed and aperture–control how much light hits the sensor. Shutter speed does it by controlling how long the shutter is open and exposed to the light. Aperture controls how large the opening is–a larger opening lets more light in. ISO refers to something a bit different: how sensitive the sensor is to light.

Back in film days, you’d buy a roll a film that had a specific ISO rating (or ASA rating, if you really want to go back). The most common was ISO 100, which was good for general-purpose photography and people photos. If you were shooting sports or street photos you might have used ISO 400 or 800 or faster. If you were shooting the iconic Kodachrome film, there was a good chance you were using ISO 64 film. Basically, the lower the number the less sensitive it is, and vice versa. So an ISO 800 film was far more sensitive to light than ISO 64 film.

Those ISO ratings have been transferred across to digital cameras. A default with many cameras is ISO 100 or 200. But advances in the technology of digital sensors has also opened up opportunities for very high ISOs that are extremely sensitive to light. The D3400, for instance, can go all the way up to ISO 25600, which is much higher than any standard consumer film was.

The catch with those very high ISOs is that the photo can become grainy (film) or noisy (digital), detracting from the sharpness of edges and smoothness of tones in the photos. The dynamic range also decreases, so the depth of the colors and tones decreases. So it’s always a trade-off of having enough sensitivity to get a decently exposed photo while minimizing noise and maximizing dynamic range. I’ve posted some practical examples of the Nikon D3400’s high ISO performance separately.

How to Adjust ISO on the Nikon D3400 Manually

The Nikon D3400 has Auto ISO enabled by default, but you can also set the ISO manually. There are a couple of ways to do this. First, though, you’ll need to turn off the Auto ISO feature. To do that, go to:

Shooting Menu (the camera icon) > ISO Sensitivity Settings > Auto ISO Sensitivity Control > Off

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Turning Auto ISO Off

The quickest and easiest when you’re composing the shot is to use a combination of the Fn button on the front of the camera and the adjustment dial on the back. (The image at the top of this page shows the Fn button in the middle.) If you hold down the Fn button and turn the dial, it will change the ISO up or down.

Another method is to use the quick menu. On the back of the camera, at the bottom left, you’ll see an i button. Press that to bring up the quick menu. You can then use the dial on the back to move across to the ISO box.

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Quick Menu

Press OK to edit it, and then choose from the available options. Don’t forget to press the OK button to make the selection—if you just push the i button again to break out of the quick menu it won’t save your selection.

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Quick Menu ISO Sensitivity

A slower method, but one that nevertheless still works, is to use the main menu system. You can find the setting under:

Shooting Menu (the camera icon) > ISO Sensitivity Settings > Auto ISO Sensitivity Control > ISO Sensitivity

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Manually Change ISO

What is Auto ISO?

Auto ISO is one of the innovations made possible with digital photography. It makes the ISO calculation available to the camera’s automatic exposure calculations so that it can be adjusted automatically from shot to shot.

Back in film days, you were pretty much stuck with a single ISO until you finished the roll.[^1] So if you put in a roll of ISO 100 film and then headed out to shoot in the evening, you were very limited in what you could capture. Or if you put in a roll of ISO 1600 for some low-light street photography, it wasn’t ideal for the brighter lights and bolder colors the next morning.

But the sensors of digital cameras work very differently in many ways. And one of those is that its sensitivity can be adjusted on a per-photo basis. So you can take ISO 100 and ISO 25600 photos consecutively within a fraction of a second. And letting the camera adjust the ISO on the fly is a feature I find incredibly useful.

One key to understanding how this works in practice is to know that the camera’s auto-exposure algorithm will always prefer the lowest ISO it can get away with. It will only increase the ISO if it has already reached the minimum shutter speed or maximum aperture available.

With Auto ISO enabled, if you’re shooting in manual mode (M), ISO will be the only part of the exposure triangle that the camera adjusts on the fly. If you’re shooting in aperture-priority mode (A), you’ve manually selected the aperture, so it will adjust shutter speed and ISO on the fly. If you’re shooting in shutter-priority mode, you’ve manually set the shutter speed, so it will adjust aperture and ISO on the fly. And if you’re shooting in P, it will find a balance between all three.

How Does Auto ISO Work on the D3400?

Auto ISO is available on the Nikon D3400. It’s enabled by default. On some of the information displays on the camera it’s denoted by ISO-A.

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings 12

But you have more control than just turning Auto ISO on or off. Here’s a rundown of the options and how to use them.

Setting Auto ISO’s Maximum Limit

By default, the Auto ISO uses the entire ISO range of the D3400. That means it can use anything from ISO 100 up to the camera’s maximum of ISO 25600.

But there are times you might want to restrict that. That’s especially useful if you’re trying to maximize image quality, because as you get higher in the range, the image quality suffers from more image noise (grain), reduced dynamic range, and less accurate colors. You generally wouldn’t use ISO 25600 for flattering portraits, for example.

So what you can do is to tell the Auto ISO feature not to go above whatever threshold meets with your needs and tastes. It might be ISO 3200, for example. Or it might be ISO 6400. Or for particularly fine work in controlled conditions, perhaps ISO 400.

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Maximum Sensitivity

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Maximum Sensitivity

There’s no right answer on what to use. Every photographer is going to have their own personal tolerance for high-ISO image degradation, and some subjects are more forgiving of it than others.

Setting Auto ISO’s Minimum Limit

Setting the minimum ISO that the Auto ISO feature uses isn’t quite as self-evident, but it can be done easily. Unlike the maximum ISO, there’s no menu item for it, though.

To set the minimum ISO, hold down the Fn button on the front of the camera and rotate the dial on the back. So it’s the same process as the first method for setting the ISO manually. But if you have Auto ISO enabled, what it’s actually doing is setting the minimum ISO.

This might be useful if you’re shooting in aperture-priority mode and want to encourage the camera to stick to higher shutter speeds.

Setting the Minimum Shutter Speed

And there’s one more neat feature: you can set the minimum shutter speed to its own Auto setting. This applies to the A and P shooting modes; it’s not relevant to the S and M shooting modes because you specify the shutter speed in those.

Why is this under the ISO options rather than somewhere else? It’s because the shutter speed is one of the three crucial factors in calculating the exposure. If there’s no limit to how long the shutter stays open, then the ISO rating becomes irrelevant. You could keep it set to ISO 100 and keep the shutter open for minutes to let me light in, if you wanted.

But long shutter speeds cause problems, especially if you’re shooting without a tripod. Even the tiniest shaking can blur the photo. And that effect is magnified with longer focal lengths of zoom and telephoto lenses. A useful general rule of thumb is that when doing hand-held shooting you probably want the shutter speed to be at least around the focal length number. What I mean by that is that if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, you probably don’t want shutter speed to be around 1/50 of a second or faster. With a 100mm lens you probably want it to be at least 1/100th of a second or faster. That by no means a hard-and-fast rule; with modern lenses with vibration reduction you can often get away with slower than normal shutter speeds, or you might need even faster if you’re shooting with cold hands or windy or bumpy conditions. But it’s a reasonable place to start.

So the D3400 has a neat trick that helps with this: it will detect the focal length being used on many modern lenses and automatically use that in adjusting the minimum shutter speed. If you’re using the 18-55mm kit lens, as an example, when you zoom out as wide as it will go, the minimum shutter speed will be 1/30 sec. If you zoom in as close as you can go the minimum shutter speed will automatically change to 1/100 sec. And there’s a sliding scale in between.

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Minimum Shutter Speed

For general shooting, the Auto setting is an excellent starting point. But you can also manually set a minimum shutter speed. This can be very useful for fine-tuning the behavior. One scenario is if the default is too slow to avoid camera shake. Shooting in cold or windy conditions, or from a boat or moving vehicle, are all recipes for exacerbating camera shake. You can also base it on the subject. If you’re shooting sports, for instance, 1/30 second is often going to be too slow. So you might want to set a minimum of 1/250 second. Or if you’re shooting a night-time city scene using a tripod, 1/30 might be too fast, and you can get away with something much slower—perhaps even 30 seconds.

Nikon D3400 ISO Settings Minimum Shutter Speed

This is a very handy feature, because it greatly reduces the chances of blurred photos from camera shake. On higher-end models in Nikon’s range you can fine-tune it even more by adjusting the sensitivity of the auto minimum shutter speed setting itself to be faster or slower than the default, and even though I’m pretty comfortable hand-holding the camera at slowish shutter speeds, I often set it to be one step faster than the default as a safety precaution to reduce the chances of motion blur.

Again, there’s no right answer. Unless you have reason not to, it’s worth starting with Auto. If you find that you’re getting too much camera shake or motion blur, bump it up to, say, 1/125 or faster.

Things Worth Knowing About Adjusting the ISO on the Nikon D3400

Auto ISO works in M, A, S, and P shooting modes. The Auto minimum shutter speed setting works only in the A and P modes.

It also works in the special scene modes such as portrait or landscape, but each of those has its own hard-coded maximum ISO. In these scene modes, the Auto ISO setting in the camera’s menu is grayed out and you can’t adjust it. With the portrait mode, for example, it only goes up to ISO 400 to preserve maximum image quality and natural colors.

These are the maximum limits for those special modes:

  • Auto: ISO 6400
  • Portrait: ISO 400
  • Landscape: ISO 1600
  • Child: ISO 1600
  • Sports: ISO 3200
  • Close up: ISO 3200
  • Night Portraits: ISO 1600

When Not to Use Automatic ISO

The Auto ISO setting can be really useful, and it’s something I leave on much of the time for general shooting. But there are still times when you might not want to use it.

When minimum image noise is critical. The D3400 has excellent low-light performance for its class and is practically noise free up to reasonably high ISOs. But in situations where you want as little noise as possible, you’ll want to keep the ISO setting at the bottom of the range (that is, around ISO 100 or so).

There are two ways to accomplish this. One is to turn off the Auto ISO setting and set the ISO manually to something like 100. The other is to keep using Auto ISO but set the maximum to something like ISO 200 or 400.

When using a tripod. There’s nothing inherent about using a tripod that means you can’t or shouldn’t user Auto ISO–if you want to, knock yourself out. But if you’re using a tripod you have vastly more leeway to use longer shutter speeds and can therefore adjust that while keeping the ISO at the lowest possible setting.

As always with photography, there are of course exceptions. When shooting this photo of stars on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, for instance, I was using a tripod but still want to keep the shutter speed relatively brief to keep each star as a small point, so I still used a relatively high ISO setting of ISO 1600 (30 seconds at f/1.8). A lower ISO and smaller aperture would have meant a longer shutter speed, which would have created slight motion trails in the stars and make them less distinct. A similar principle might apply if you’re shooting traffic or city lights.

When shooting panoramas. When you’re shooting panoramas, you generally want each of the tiles to use exactly the same exposure settings if possible. Variations between frames can lead to some ugly joins between the tiles.

Again, there are a couple of ways to do this. One is to turn off Auto ISO and set the ISO manually. The other is to lock the exposure using the AE-L/AF-L button on the back of the camera. I have a detailed guide to shooting panoramas on the D3400 that goes into more detail.

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Nikon D3400 Accessories

Here are some of the key accessories and official part numbers for the Nikon D3400.

Battery & Charger for Nikon D3400

If you're looking for a replacement or spare battery for your D3400, the Nikon D3400's battery is model EN-EL14a. It's a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that's also used by many other Nikon DSLRs (7.2V, 1230mAh). You can also find very good aftermarket versions, like this one from Watson or these from PowerExtra that provide more cost-effective alternatives.

Powerextra 2 x EN-EL14 EN-EL14a Battery & Dual LCD Charger Compatible with...
  • ✔ Battery Specs:Capacity: 1500mAh / Battery Type: Lithium-ion / Voltage: 7.4V / Come with CE...
  • ✔ Standard Compatible with Nikon EN-EL14 EN-EL14a:Ideal Replacement Battery for Nikon Coolpix P7000,...

The battery charger is model MH-24. It's an AC quick charger that plugs directly into the wall socket. Unlike many other cameras, you can't charge the Nikon D3400's battery in the camera. Some of the aftermarket batteries come with a dock charger, which can be a cheaper way to solve the problem.

Memory Card

A memory card is right up there with a battery as an essential accessory for your D3400. But, unlike the battery, it doesn't come with the D3400.

There's no official SD card for the D3400, but there are some that make more sense than others. Some older-model cards are too slow. And some newer, faster (and more expensive) SD cards will work in the D3400 but go beyond what the D3400 can make use of, so you'd be paying for SD card performance that the camera can't take advantage of.

I've put together more detailed SD card recommendations for the Nikon D3400. But here's the Cliff notes version. Any of these make for a good choice and are reasonably priced:

USB Cable for Nikon D3400

If you're looking to connect a Nikon D3400 to a computer to download your photos and videos, you'll need a USB cable. If you've misplaced the one that came with the camera, replacements are easy to find and not expensive. If you'd prefer to get the Nikon original, the model number you're after is UC-E20, and you can find them at camera specialists like B&H Photo.

But there's no particular reason you have to stick with the Nikon-branded one. There are also many aftermarket micro-USB cables that will work just fine. But there is a bit of a catch: not all micro-USB cables will work with the data transfer that the D3400 needs.

By all means try any others you have lying around to see if the camera mounts to your computer--it won't hurt it. If it doesn't mount, you can pick up replacement data transfer cables like this aftermarket version or this one.

And a reminder that this is only for data transfer. You can't charge the battery while it's in the D3400. For charging, you'll need the MH-24 charger or equivalent (see above).

MaxLLTo 3FT Replacement USB 2.0 Transfer Cable Cord for Nikon D3400 D3500...
  • Length: 3FT, light and easy to carry.
  • Brand new, high quality usb 2.0 Data cable/lead.( Non-OEM )

Camera Strap for the Nikon D3400

There's no particular reason you have to use the original Nikon strap with the D3400--any camera strap will work. But if you want to replace the original (the black one with the gold/yellow Nikon branding), its model number is AN-DC3.

There's also a huge variety of other good alternatives. My personal favorites are the ones by Peak Design, which come in especially handy if you're going back and forth between multiple cameras because they come with a quick-release system. And they're very strong.

Remote Shutter Release for Nikon D3400

There's a number of different options for remotely triggering your D3400 (unlike the D3500, where this functionality was removed).

The first step is Nikon's ML-L3 wireless remote. It's very simple--just a single button, without any intervalometer or other features--and with an infrared signal, its range is limited to about 16 feet or less. But it's inexpensive and designed by Nikon for use with their cameras.

And there's a variety of other wireless receiver/transmitter kits that can be set up to work, some of which get up there in terms of complexity and price.

Lenses for Nikon D3400

One of the great things about DSLRs--and especially ones that use a long-standing mounting system like Nikon's F-mount--is that there's a huge variety of lenses that you can use. So there's no "right" lens to use.

But for the D3400, in general, you want to look for lenses that have Nikon's F-mount system and that are designed for DX camera bodies (that's the cropped sensor size of the D3400). And you'll probably want one that has autofocus. None of these things are requirements, though--there are any number of ways to use adapters or manual older manual-focus lenses--but sticking to those basics will make things easier if you're looking to expand your lens collection.

If you're after some recommendations on lenses to get for the D3400 to step beyond the kit lens that comes with the camera (usually a basic 18-55mm zoom lens), I've put together some recommendations on wide-angle lenses for the Nikon D3400.

And here are some other ideas that are sensibly priced and greatly expand your options:

Nikon AF-S DX 18-300mm ƒ/3.5-6.3G ED VR zoom lens. If you had to choose just one lens to take with your traveling, this is a great choice. It has a very wide zoom range. At 18mm (equivalent to 27mm on a full-frame body), it's great for interiors or landscapes. At 300mm (equivalent to 450mm on a full-frame body), there's plenty of reach for wildlife, sports, or dramatic sunsets. It has vibration reduction, is surprisingly compact and light, and is competitively priced. Sigma also makes a good version that's a bit cheaper but great quality.

Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens...
  • Maximum magnification of 032x
  • Angle of view from 76 degree to 5 degree 20'. Focal length range: 18 300 millimeter, minimum focus...

Nikon AF-S 50mm ƒ/1.8G lens. It's hard to go past a 50mm prime lens for versatility, fun, and learning photography. They're fast, which means they're good in low-light as well as give you that nice blurry background while keeping the subject sharp. They're inexpensive. They're often very sharp. And they're small and highly portable. This is the ƒ/1.8 version. Nikon also makes a B&H Photofaster ƒ/1.4 version, but it's about double the price. because the D3400 has a cropped DX sensor, the 50mm lens will become a slight telephoto perspective, equivalent to a 75mm lens on a full-frame camera (i.e., 35mm equivalent). Which makes it all the more useful as a portrait lens, whether you're taking formal portraits or candids of the family. And if you want a more traditional "true" 50mm perspective, you can put the 35mm ƒ/1.8G on the D3400 instead.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens
  • Fast, upgraded f/1.8, compact FX format prime lens. The picture angle with 35 millimeter (135) format is...
  • Focal length 50 millimeter, minimum focus distance 1.48 feet (0.45 meter)

Nikon D3400 Body Cap

If you're transporting or storing your D3400 camera body without a lens attached, you'll want to put on a body cap over the opening where the lens goes. That prevents dust and moisture from getting inside and causing havoc (and pesky dust bunnies on your photos).

The camera comes with one, but they're easy to misplace. The model number for the replacement part is BF-1B. It's the same cap used for all Nikon F-mount camera bodies. And this is a great opportunity to save a few dollars with an aftermarket version. They're often sold paired with a rear lens cap, since you often need both of those things when removing a lens.

Nikon D3400 Rubber Eyecup

If the rubber eyecup has been knocked off when you take out of your camera bag, the replacement part model number is DK-25. There are also slightly cheaper aftermarket versions, such as the ones by Vello or JJC.

2 Pack JJC Eyecup Eyepiece Eye Cup Viewfinder for Nikon D3400 D3500 D3200...
  • Made from soft and durable silicone + high quality ABS
  • Provide cushioning around the camera's eyepiece, and are especially useful to eyeglass wearers

Battery Dummy for Nikon D3400

A battery dummy is used for longer-term power supply to the camera. They're especially useful for things like time lapse photography, astrophotography, or using your D3400 as a webcam.

It's an accessory that fits into your camera's battery compartment. By itself, it doesn't provide any power, but it's attached to a cable that you can then attach to different power sources such as AC power or a larger battery pack.

Nikon's official model is EP-5A. You can also pick up aftermarket versions. Some include only the dummy battery part; others come bundled with AC adapters.

TKDY EP-5A EH-5 AC Power Adapter EN-EL14A Dummy Battery Charger for Nikon...
  • [COMPATIBLE WITH MODEL:] EP-5A DC coupler (Connector) EN-EL14 A Dummy Battery, work for Nikon Coolpix...
  • [STEPS FOR USAGE:] Remove the EN EL14 original battery, Replace with EP-5A virtual battery, and cover the...


Where Can I Find the Nikon D3400 Manual?

You can find the Nikon D3400 manuals here. There are a few different versions. The Reference Manual is the most detailed and most complete. The User Manual is basically a quick start guide. There are also versions designed for different parts of the world.

The Reference Manual is available as both a downloadable PDF and as on online HTML version.

Where Can I Find the Nikon D3400 Latest Firmware?

Nikon releases firmware updates on their website.

There are a few different types of firmware used by the D3400. The main camera firmware is the "C" version. (The others are for the lens and lens distortion control.)

I have a detailed guide on how to check and update Nikon D3400 firmware versions here.

David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a professional freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. More »

3 thoughts on “How to Change ISO on a Nikon D3400”

  1. Hi. I want to know what is the max ISO you recommend not to go over when using this DSLR? I know they say for full-frame you can bump the ISO a lot higher without the pics coming out grainy but heard that for entry level dslr that is different and once you go above a certain ISO number the pics will start to show lots of noise??

      • There’s no hard and fast answer. It depends on what your own preferences are and tolerance for the costs of high ISOs compared with whether or not you’re getting the shot you want. These days, most DSLRs are very impressive at least up to ISO 6400, but with many you can push well beyond that and still get very good results. I’ve put together some side-by-side examples of high ISO images shot with the D3400 here.


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