How to Shoot a Panorama with the Nikon D3400

The Easy Panorama mode that was in its predecessor has gone. Here’s a guide to shooting panoramas with the Nikon D3400.

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Panoramas use an extreme aspect ratio and high resolution for fun, interesting, and dramatic perspectives.

The Nikon D3400‘s predecessor, the Nikon D3300, had an Easy Panorama mode that made things, well, easy. It’s the kind of in-camera all-in-one solution you might have used on your smartphone or another modern camera. But that has been removed for the D3400.

So how do you shoot a panorama with a Nikon D3400? Since the camera can’t do the stitching for you, the only option is to go back to the fundamentals and do it the old-fashioned way.

It’s a two-step process: shoot the image tiles and then stitch them together. I’ll walk through the most basic version here. It works on pretty much any camera and isn’t tied to the Nikon D3400 specifically. And there are ways to expand on it to get different kinds of results. On the negative side, that means more steps and a slower workflow that involves using third-party software. On the plus side, though, it gives you a lot more control, potentially much better quality, and sets you up nicely to be able to use the same technique with other cameras.

Step 1: Shoot the Individual Photo Tiles

The way this method works is to take a series of overlapping individual images, or tiles, that are then stitched together to provide a seamless single panoramic image. In very basic terms, what you want to do is shoot a sequence of photos while slowly rotating the camera. In practice, there’s a number of things that will help give better results.

Tripods vs. Hand-Held

There are a number of different ways to mount and hold the camera when shooting panoramas. At the top of the range are robots like the Gigapan or eMotimo TB3. These offer a computerized approach where the shooting of the tiles is automated, precise, and repeatable. They’re also bulky and expensive and require a sturdy tripod or another solid mounting point.

A smaller, simpler version is something like the Syrp Genie Mini. It doesn’t offer control over the nodal point, but it’s much more portable and significantly less expensive.

The step down from those is a mechanical approach with a specialized panorama tripod head that slides the camera back so that you can adjust the nodal point. They range from heavy-duty (and heavy!) models like the Manfrotto MH057A5 to small, lightweight designs.

If you’re looking to dive into panoramas more seriously, the Nodal Ninja offers a number of good cost-effective and portable panorama heads that are strong enough to work well with a Nikon D3400 with a standard lens.

The next best is a tripod head that has a rotating base. You can get specialized ones like this, but any standard tripod head with a rotating base will do the trick. While you can’t control the nodal point with those, they still work very well in most circumstances.

And finally, you can shoot handheld. The obvious advantage is convenience. The downside is that it’s less precise, and the physical movement of the camera between shots changes the perspective slightly and makes it harder for the stitching software to line things up. In practice, that’s mostly an issue with things that are close to the camera, such as railings, tiled floors, etc. It’s much less of an issue for panoramas of subjects in the distance. And shooting handheld isn’t a good option when shooting in low light or with long exposures, of course.

Consistency is Key

Keeping the exposure settings, focus, and focal length consistent between shots is going to result in a smoother panorama. If you have settings change between shots, you might have a slightly darker image to be merged with a lighter one, and that can create some ugly seams. And if you’re zooming between shots, the stitching software is going to have a much harder time trying to merge them.

On the Nikon D3400, there are a few things that can help with this and a couple of different ways to do it. I’m assuming that you’re using some combination of the automatic settings. If you’re already using fully manual settings, you can skip this section—just remember to keep the same settings for each shot in the panorama.

Something else that helps just that little bit more with consistency between the frames is shooting in RAW. The methods I’m outlining here will work just as well with JPG or RAW, but with RAW, you get more exposure latitude when trying to even out highlights and shadows across a panorama, as well as more room to move in correcting things later on like lens vignetting. I nearly always shoot RAW, and it has strong advantages in situations like this, although it does require more processing before the image is usable.

Exposure Lock Method

This is the easiest way to do it on the Nikon D3400. It works in any of the automatic exposure modes: P, A, or S. It’s an excellent option for handheld shooting or with a tripod in conditions where you can use a relatively fast shutter speed. If you’re shooting with long exposures, you won’t want your hand on the camera while the shutter’s open, so you’ll be better off using the full manual version instead (see below).

The Nikon D3400 has an exposure lock button on the back that’s labeled AE-L AF-L. It’s above the top right corner of the back screen, and you can hold it with your thumb while still using the shutter.

Nikon D3400 AE-L AF-L button for exposure lock

The label stands for Auto Exposure Lock and AutoFocus Lock. And, helpfully, there’s also a small key icon next to it. What that button does is keeps the exposure settings locked so long as you’ve got the button pressed. Don’t release it between shots, or it will reset.

  1. Point the camera at either the part you want to draw the most attention to or, if your panorama is going to include areas of different lighting, a part that has a safe middle ground.
  2. Half-press the shutter button to focus.
  3. Then press the AE-L / AE-F button with your right thumb and hold it down.
  4. Now, point the camera at the left or right edge of the area you want to include in your panorama. Add a little buffer to add some flexibility when cropping later. You can start at the left and move right, or vice versa—there is a slight convenience advantage in going left to right because some stitching software has a hard time automatically detecting sequences shot right to left. And while we’re most used to horizontal panoramas, there’s no reason you can’t also make a vertical panorama.
  5. When shooting each shot, make sure that there’s some overlap. For the matching and perspective algorithms to do their thing, you’ll need some overlap between each shot. The idea is somewhere around 20 percent, but you don’t need to get too hung up on precise degrees–in many cases, the software can work comfortably with a bit more or less. So just eyeball it unless you’re using a specialized panoramic tripod head that lets you define specific increments of rotation.
  6. Once you’ve done the row, you’re done. It is, of course, possible to shoot multi-row panoramas, but I’m focusing here on the simplest approach of a single row. I’ll sometimes repeat the exercise as a precaution.
  7. You’re done with the shooting. Now it’s time to feed the tiles into editing and stitching software (see below).

Full Manual Method

Using the AE-L button is the most convenient in many cases, especially if shooting handheld, but it’s not the only way to do it. You can also put the camera into full manual mode. It gives you more control, and it’s much better in situations where any vibration from your hands on the camera is critical, such as shooting long exposure.

As you’d expect, using the manual mode turns off the automatic exposure settings. It gives you maximum control, but if you’re not used to using manual exposure, it can be more complicated to get the exposure right. It’s also pretty much foolproof and also works on any camera that gives you a manual control option—not just the Nikon D3400.

The first step is to set your focus and exposure settings. So you’ll need to set your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.

There is one potential gotcha that can catch you out if you’re not careful. If you have the D3400’s Auto ISO Sensitivity Control set to On, you’ll want to turn it off. You can find that setting on the camera’s menu under the camera icon > ISO sensitivity settings > Auto ISO sensitivity control. Otherwise, it’s going to negate the point of putting the camera into Manual mode because it’s still going to adjust the exposure itself between images. It’s an easy thing to overlook.

The rest of the process is the same as using the AE-L button method. You want to do the same kind of tiles with overlap.

General Tips for Shooting Panoramas

Stop To Take Each Photo

If you’re used to shooting panoramas with something like an iPhone or other camera, they often involve a smooth panning motion in a single slow sweep. But when shooting individual images, you’ll get better results if you stop and keep the camera as still as possible while the shutter is open. That greatly reduces the risk of motion blur. The ideal is to use a tripod, of course, but handheld also works well in any conditions where handheld shooting would normally work.

Polarizing Filters with Panoramas

In most cases, especially with skies, don’t use a polarizing filter. Because of the way that they react to light, you’ll end up with uneven patches. I have more on that in a post on using circular polarizers on wide-angle lenses.

Vertical vs Horizontal Framing

You can hold the camera vertically or horizontally, but for maximum flexibility and resolution, hold the camera vertically and line the photos up in portrait style. Like this:

Lightroom panorama  4

Step 2: Stitch the Images Together to Create a Panorama

The second step is to stitch the image tiles together. Software algorithms do the heavy lifting here.

Panorama Stitching Software

There are quite a few apps that can stitch images together; I’ve listed some of them below, and you can find more panorama stitching apps here.

Each has its pros and cons. There’s nothing specific about the files generated by the Nikon D3400 that lend themselves to one app over another with one exception–if you want to feed RAW (.nef) files in directly without processing them to JPG or TIFF first, you’ll need to make sure the app can read RAW files. If you’re after something simple, free, and cross-platform, take a look at Hugin or AutoStitch. For more advanced capabilities, PTGUI and AutoPano Pro are good. Both are paid apps. If you’re using GIMP, there are plugins that can add panorama stitching, like this one.

Photoshop and Lightroom also have panorama stitching features built-in. So if you’re already using either of those, it’s a good place to start. For this quick demo, I’m going to use Lightroom Classic’s built-in panorama stitcher. The workflow is similar in the other apps–import the sequence of images, have the software automatically align the images, make any tweaks, and then export the stitched panorama–but each app has its own options and features.

Stitching in Lightroom Classic

I’m just going to do a simple single-row horizontal panorama here. I’m starting with Nikon NEF files.

  1. Choose one of the images in the sequence and open it in the Develop module. Make any basic edits such as brightness or contrast, etc. While it’s not essential, checking the “Enable Profile Corrections” box under the Lens Corrections tab can help address any lens vignetting or lens distortion that might make it harder on the stitching algorithm.
  2. Apply the edits across every image in the sequence so that they’re consistent. In Lightroom, you do this with the Sync function (or AutoSync, if you have that turned on).
  3. Select all of the images in the sequence, either in the Library’s Grid Mode or in the filmstrip at the bottom. Right-click one of the images (or use the top menu’s Photo > Photo Merge item) and choose “Photo Merge.” Choose the Panorama item.

Lightroom Panorama  1

  1. You’ll get a popup window with some basic options and a preview of the image.

Lightroom Panorama  2

  1. Select a projection mode. If in doubt, start with Cylindrical. You’ll get a preview of the effect, so by all means, try the others in case they fit the look you’re going for. The Auto Crop option crops down to only the functional part of the images, removing any white edges. In this example, the panning wasn’t perfectly flat, so the stitched version appears to slope down a bit. The Boundary Warp slider can also help with this.

Lightroom Panorama  3

  1. Once you’re happy with the preview, click the Merge Button at the bottom right. It’ll then process the stitching more carefully and add the new stitched panorama. Now that you have a shiny new stitched panorama, you can go ahead and make more edits. An advantage of doing all this in Lightroom is that the stitched version is still a RAW file (it creates it as a DNG file), so you retain all the benefits of working natively in a RAW format.

After some tweaking, this one comes out like this:

Here’s another one with a much busier foreground. But the stitching algorithms do a remarkable job even with ones like this (which was shot handheld).

Washington DC Cherry Blossoms February 6, 2017

And this one, also shot handheld, stitches together 14 individual images. If you look very closely at full resolution, there are some stitching errors in the ripples of the water simply because they’re moving. That’s where the fancier stitching software can offer some improvements over the Lightroom stitching.

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](https://www.nikonimgsupport.com/eu/BV_article?articleNo=000005024&configured=1&lang=en_GB), 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), here are some 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 EH-5 AC Adapter EP-5A DC Coupler Power Supply EN-EL14A Dummy Battery...
  • [COMPATIBLE WITH MODEL:] EP-5A DC coupler (Connector) replace EN-EL14/EN-EL14a Battery, work for Nikon...
  • [STEPS FOR USAGE:] Remove the original battery, Replace with virtual battery, and cover the battery...

FAQs

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.