How to Change Aperture on a Nikon D3500

There are a few different ways to change aperture on the Nikon D3500. Which method you use depends on the lens and shooting mode you’re using. Here’s a guide.

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There are a few different ways to change the aperture on a Nikon D3500, so it’s not as simple as saying “press this button” or “turn this dial.” Which you use at any given time depends on the lens you’re using and the shooting mode you’re in. None of the methods is complicated, but there are some differences in how they work. And it works a bit differently from changing the ISO or changing the shutter speed, even though those three parts of the exposure triangle work together.

So here’s a rundown of how to change aperture on a Nikon D3500 DSLR.

First, though, a point of clarification. Aperture refers to the size of the opening that allows light in. So it’s actually something that refers to the lens rather than the camera—and on a DSLR like the D3500, that’s an important distinction. If you’re stepping up from a compact camera or smartphone, they generally work as an integrated system, and you often don’t have separate controls for the camera and lens. But on a DSLR or mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses, you can often find some controls on the lens itself.

On older DSLRs and film cameras, you would usually adjust aperture by rotating a ring on the lens itself. But many modern lenses, including many that are most commonly used on the D3500, don’t have an aperture ring and instead make use of two-way electronic communication between camera and lens. That opens up the possibility to change the aperture using one of the dials on the camera body.

Which Lenses Does This Work With?

But making use of that two-way electronic linkup is not always true. There are still lenses that you can use on the D3500 that have their own aperture ring. If that’s the case, then you use that to adjust the aperture. It’s possible to use older F-mount Nikon lenses, or fully manual (i.e., not autofocus) ones for that matter that won’t allow the camera to control the aperture electronically. The way to change the aperture on those lenses will depend on the specific lens, and there are far too many different lenses to provide a one-size-fits-all answer for all of them. But by far the most common method is to use an aperture ring on the camera that rotates around the lens. You’d typically adjust that with your left hand as you support the camera and frame the shot. With most of those lenses, you won’t be able to see the aperture in the viewfinder or live view display; the lens can’t transmit the information to the camera, and the camera can’t instruct the lens to change the aperture.

What I’m referring to in this how-to guide are the lenses that are most commonly used with the Nikon D3500, lenses like the 18–55mm and 18–300mm. Or other lenses, such as Nikon’s G Lenses. Those lenses don’t include an aperture ring, so any aperture changes have to be done through the controls on the camera body.

In Which Shooting Modes Can You Change Aperture on the Nikon D3500?

You can’t change the aperture in all shooting modes.

Shooting modes that you can change the aperture:

  • M (Manual)
  • A (Aperture Priority)

D3500 shooting modes that you can’t change the aperture:

  • S (Shutter Priority)
  • P (Program)

If you’re shooting in M (Manual) or A (Aperture Priority), you obviously can, because being able to change the aperture is a key element to making those modes work.

If you’re shooting in S (Shutter Priority), you can’t, and adjusting the dial will change the shutter speed instead of the aperture. You also can’t change the aperture directly when shooting in the P (Program) mode.

So the first thing to check is that you’re in a shooting mode that allows you to adjust aperture. Then there’s a different method depending on whether you’re shooting in Aperture-Priority (A) mode or Manual (M) mode. In both of the methods I outline here, I’m assuming you’re using a lens that is compatible with the camera’s dials changing the aperture.

How to Change the Aperture on Nikon D3500 in Aperture-Priority Mode

If you’re shooting in Aperture-Priority (A) mode, the dial to change the aperture on the Nikon D3500 is at the top of the back of the camera, on the right side as you’re shooting. Its placement is the same as on the D3400, although the dial’s design has been modified somewhat.

Rotating the command dial clockwise (i.e., right to left) will lower the aperture number. That corresponds to making the size of the opening larger to let more light in.

Rotate the command dial counter-clockwise to increase the aperture setting (ie. a larger number=smaller aperture). That corresponds to making the size of the opening smaller to let less light in.

If you’re shooting with Auto ISO turned on, both the ISO and shutter speed will automatically adjust to compensate.

How to Change the Aperture on Nikon D3500 in Manual Mode

The method to change the aperture in Manual mode is slightly different. If you try only turning the dial, as you would in A mode, you’ll find that it adjusts the shutter speed. But you use that same dial while holding down the +/- button on top at the same time. It’s the button next to the shutter button. If you look closely next to it, you’ll see a little icon that looks like the aperture blades of a lens.

Nikon D3500 Shutter, Aperture, and Exposure Compensation You can see the +/- exposure compensation button at the bottom of this shot. Just below it, you can see the icon that looks like the internal blades of a camera lens—it denotes aperture.

Things Worth Knowing About Changing Aperture on Nikon D3500

Lens aperture works in concert with the other two sides of the exposure triangle: ISO and shutter speed. To maintain the same exposure, if you adjust one, you need to adjust at least one of the other sides.

As an example, if you reduce the aperture, it will make the opening smaller, which will let less light in. If that’s all you do, the exposure will be darker. If you want to maintain the same exposure, you’d need to either slow down the shutter speed to keep the shutter open longer or increase the ISO to make the sensor more sensitive (or some combination of both of those things).

When to Use a Small Aperture on Nikon D3500

Using a small aperture, such as f/16 or f/22, is useful for a few different shooting scenarios:

  • When you want to maximize the depth of field of the photo. Depth of field refers to the field of focus. A smaller aperture has a great depth of field. In practice, that means that more foreground *and* background elements are in focus. It also means that there’s less risk of photos being out of focus. Which is why many photographers use something around f/8 as a general-use setting for walking-around type photography. It’s a middle-ground that works well in outdoor daytime settings while still maintaining a high chance that the photos will be in focus without much fiddling.
  • If you want to use a slow shutter speed. By reducing the physical size of the opening, you can keep the shutter open for longer without overexposing the image. That can be useful when you want to ensure motion blur, such as with a panning shot to imply speed, blurring a waterfall, or streaking car lights or stars. All of these require slow shutter speeds (and often work better with a sturdy mount such as on a tripod).
  • If you want to use a high ISO. This is more theoretical than practical, because most of the time you want to keep the ISO as low as possible to avoid unwanted side effects that can negatively impact image quality. But if you use a small aperture and don’t change the shutter speed to compensate, the other way to compensate is by increasing the ISO.

When to Use a Large Aperture on Nikon D3500

Using a large aperture, such as f/2.8 or f/3.5, is useful for a few different shooting scenarios:

  • When you want to minimize the depth of field. With the lens set to maximum aperture, the opening is as wide as it can go. And that will let in more light. To compensate while still maintaining ideal exposure, you’ll want to adjust shutter speed or ISO (or both). But using the maximum aperture also has an optical effect or reducing the depth of field. While that means there’s a greater risk of parts of the frame being out of focus, that can be put to use in a very useful way. Most of the time it’s useful to create a contrast between an in-focus foreground and an out-of-focus background–think of a portrait shot where you want to blur background details to draw the eye to the subject’s face. (The character of that out-of-focus part is known as bokeh.) But as with everything in photography, there are a other creative ways to put it to use, such as blurring the foreground to draw the eye to a background.
  • When you want to use a fast shutter speed. Maximizing the aperture will let you increase the shutter speed. And using a fast shutter speed is useful for freezing action and minimizing motion blur.
  • When you want to use a low ISO. Most digital cameras are optimized to produce their best image quality at the lowest (or near lowest) ISO setting. The higher the ISO, the greater the risk of negative effects on image quality such as graininess, shifting colors, and reduced dynamic range (the amount of detail in both the shadows and highlights).
  • In low-light conditions. Using a larger aperture (ie. denoted by a small number) will increase the physical size of the opening and allow more light in. When used in combination with a slower shutter speed and a higher ISO, you can shoot in lower light.

FAQs

A larger aperture number means a smaller aperture?

Apertures work somewhat counterintuitively in that a large number (eg. f/22) actually refers to a smaller aperture (ie. a smaller physical opening to let light through). Conversely, a large aperture is referred to by a smaller number (eg. f/1.8 or f/2.8).

In other words, the larger physical opening, the lower the number.

What does a “fast” lens mean?

Referring to a lens as “fast” isn’t anything to do with traditional speed of operation. So it’s nothing to do with how quickly a lens focuses or zooms. It has everything to do with its maximum aperture. A lens with a larger maximum aperture (ie. which corresponds to a smaller number) is referred to as fast (or, if you want to get with photographer lingo: “fast glass”). So a lens with a maximum aperture of, say, f/1.4 would be a fast lens. A lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 isn’t.

But there’s not a fixed threshold. In part because it’s subjective. And in part because focal length matters. If a long telephoto lens of 400mm has a maximum aperture of f/3.5, it’s considered fast (and will almost certainly be expensive). But for a 50mm lens to have a maximum aperture of f/3.5 it would be considered quite slow (fast 50mm lenses are more in the f/1.4 and f/1.2 range).

My lens says it is ƒ/3.5–5.6, but I can’t get it to do ƒ/3.5.

Some lenses, such as Nikon’s 18–55mm and 70–300mm, both of which are often included as kit lenses with the D3500, have a range in the aperture area for its name. What that means is that the maximum aperture available depends on how much it is zoomed.

On the 18–55, for example, it’s full model name is the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR. That means that at 18mm you can get the widest aperture of f3.5, but that’s not going to be available when you start zooming in. Fully zoomed in to 55mm, the maximum aperture available will be ƒ/5.6.

This is due to the optical design of the lens. There are other lenses that have a constant maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. They’re often higher-end lenses (and more expensive).

What is the Nikon D3500 Aperture Range?

The aperture range is a characteristic of a lens, not the camera. And since the D3500 is an interchangeable-lens camera, the whole point of that is that it can be used with different lenses.

Aperture range refers to a specification of the lens. It’s the range between the lens’s smallest aperture and its largest aperture. Using the standard kit lens again as an example (the AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR), its largest aperture (or maximum aperture) is f/3.5. It’s smallest aperture (or minimum aperture) isn’t included in the model name, but from the specs (or from using the lens, of course), you can find that it’s f/22 to f/38, again variable according to the amount of zoom.

How to Change ISO on Nikon D3500?

I have a separate post on how to change the ISO on a Nikon D3500.

How to Change Shutter Speed on Nikon D3500?

I have a separate post on how to change shutter speed on a Nikon D3500.

Nikon D3500 Accessories

Looking for replacements or spares? These are some of the core Nikon D3500 accessories.

Battery & Charger for Nikon D3500

Spare batteries are very handy in your camera bag. Unlike the old mechanical SLRs that didn't need a battery to keep shooting, with the D3500 and other digital cameras, you're high and dry if your battery runs out of juice.

If you're looking for a replacement or spare battery for your D3500, the model number is 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,...

You can’t charge the battery while it’s in the camera, so you’ll need a separate charger. The camera comes with one. If you’re after a spare or replacement, the model number is 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 D3500'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 Cards

There's no official SD card for the D3500, but some cards will work better than others in this camera. And there's no point splurging on a super-fast SD card when the camera can't take advantage of it.

I've put together more detailed SD card recommendations for the Nikon D3500. But if you're just after some quick recommendations, any of these make for a good choice and are reasonably priced:

Camera Strap for the Nikon D3500

You don't have to stock with the original Nikon strap with the D3500--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.

Lenses for Nikon D3500

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 with it. So there's no "right" lens to use--it depends on what you're aiming for and how much you want to spend.

But for the D3500, 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 D3500). And you'll probably want one that has autofocus. These are not hard-and-fast rules, but sticking to those basics will make things easier if you're looking to expand your lens collection.

The D3500 typically comes with a basic 18-55mm zoom lens. There's nothing wrong with it as an entry-level lens. It works just fine, it's inexpensive, and, most importantly, you can still take great photos with it. But it's very much a starter lens. If you're after some recommendations on lenses to get for the D3500 to step beyond the kit lens, here are some ideas. These are sensibly priced, are logical additions to a D3500, and go beyond what the kit lens can do.

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 compact and portable, and is competitively priced. Sigma also makes a good version that's a bit cheaper but great quality. They're both high-quality, extremely versatile, and surprisingly affordable.

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 the fundamentals of 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 D3500 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 D3500 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 D3500 Body Cap

If you're storing or transporting your D3500 camera body without a lens attached, you'll want to put on a body cap. It goes over the opening where the lens goes and prevents dust and moisture from getting inside and wreaking 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--it's just a piece of plastic, after all. They're often sold paired with a rear lens cap, since you often need both of those things when removing a lens.

Nikon D3500 Rubber Eyecup

If the rubber eyecup has been knocked off the viewfinder 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 D3500

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 D3500 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 & Tips

I've put together a number of resources related to the Nikon D3500.

Good places to start are with the Nikon D3500 Q&As and recommended SD cards for the Nikon D3500.

Where Can I Find the Nikon D3500 Manual?

You can find the Nikon D3500 manuals here. There are several 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 D3500 Latest Firmware?

Nikon releases firmware updates on their website.

So far, there haven't been any firmware updates issued for the D3500.

Where to Buy a Nikon D3500 DSLR

The D3500 is an excellent entry-point camera for getting started with DSLR photography.

You can find them at Amazon and B&H Photo.

You can also find them used at major used camera gear sellers such as KEH (which is where I often buy when I'm looking for used gear).

Nikon D3500 FAQs

Is Nikon D3500 full frame?

The Nikon D3500 is in Nikon's DX format series of DSLRs, which means it has an APS-C sensor. These sensors are sized smaller than a full-frame sensor but larger than most smartphone and compact camera sensors.

The Nikon D3500's sensor measures 23.5 mm x 15.6 mm and produces images that are up to 24 megapixels (6000 x 4000 pixels). The sensor has a native ISO sensitivity of ISO 100 to ISO 25,600.

What year was the Nikon D3500 released?

The Nikon D3500 was released in 2018. It replaced the Nikon D3400.

What is the weight of the Nikon D3500?

The camera body itself (i.e., without a lens attached) weighs approximately 12.9 oz. (365 g).

Does the Nikon D3500 have a built-in flash?

Yes, the Nikon D3500 has a built-in flash that uses i-TTL.

Does the Nikon D3500 have wireless connectivity?

Yes, the D3500 has Bluetooth connectivity, although that connectivity is limited to use with Nikon's SnapBridge app.

by David Coleman

I'm a 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 »

2 thoughts on “How to Change Aperture on a Nikon D3500”

  1. Hello,
    I am trying to change the aperture while in Manual mode on my D3500 and I am turning the dial while holding down the +/- button on top at the same time but nothing is happening to change the aperture setting. I am using a manual focus Lightdow telephoto lens on the camera. Do I need to change something else to get this to work? Help…..
    Thanks for any assistance you can provide..
    Mark

    Reply
    • I haven’t used that specific lens, but it sounds like it might be a mechanical manual focus which doesn’t have an electronic link-up to the camera. If that’s the case, there should be an aperture ring on the lens barrel.

      Reply

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