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.
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.
Where to Buy a Nikon D3500 DSLRThe 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 Tips
I've put together a number of resources related to the Nikon D3500.