Picture Quality, File Formats, & Size Settings on the Nikon D3500

The Nikon D3500 has several options you can choose relating to image quality, image file formats, and size. Here’s a rundown of what they mean and which is best for what.

Nikon D3500 DSLR
Nikon D3500 DSLR
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The Nikon D3500 has several options you can choose relating to image quality and size. Here’s a rundown of what they mean and which option is best for what use.

These options are all accessible through the camera’s menu system on the back screen. They’re generally in the Shooting Menu section, which is denoted by the camera icon on the left panel.

Image Types on the Nikon D3500: RAW & JPG

With the Nikon D3500, you have a choice of two image types: RAW and JPG (or both at once).

RAW offers the best image quality, but it’s less convenient because the files require post-processing to use them. JPG is far more convenient because of its wide compatibility, but it doesn’t offer the same quality benefits.

You can find these settings under Shooting Menu (camera icon) > Image Quality.

Nikon D3500 Image Quality Settings

Nikon D3500 RAW Images

The RAW file format saves all the information from the camera’s sensor without processing it and applying filters. Think of it as a digital negative.

Nikon cameras use Nikon’s own proprietary RAW image format that has a file extension of .NEF.

The RAW format is best if you want both maximum image quality and maximum flexibility in editing the images. Just like an old film negative, it’s the master, original photo.

But you’ll also need to allow space in your workflow to process the images, edit them how you want, and then export them as another format that’s more share-friendly (e.g., JPG).

That’s because RAW files aren’t designed for sharing or display by themselves—you really need to process the images before you can do much with them. Just as it doesn’t make much sense to be handing people film negatives and expecting them to do much with them, you wouldn’t, in most instances, share the RAW file. Typically you’d use something like Lightroom or one of the other RAW processing apps to create derivative versions that would be saved as JPGs or TIFFs. If you try to send someone else an NEF file, they might not be able to do much with it, and you can’t share them directly to social media or even most websites.

With the D3500, you don’t have any options with the RAW files—the option is either on or off. All of the RAW files have compression applied. With some other cameras, including higher models in Nikon’s DSLR lineup, you can choose between 14-bit or 12-bit RAW files and compressed and uncompressed images, but those choices aren’t available on the D3500.

RAW + JPG on the Nikon D3500

This setting saves two image files simultaneously every time you take a photo. One is a master RAW file, and the other is a JPG version of the same file. It’s the best of both worlds, but creating two files instead of one takes up more space on your memory card and slows things down a bit.

It can be a handy option to use if you might want to share JPG versions without processing as well as retain the option to come back to them later and edit them.

It’s also a handy option to have in those instances where you want both maximum image quality but also need to preserve a version that can prove that the image is unadulterated and hasn’t been tampered with, such as working with photojournalism wire services, forensic photography, or insurance claims.

JPG Quality Settings on the Nikon D3500

JPG (also often rendered as JPEG) is a de facto standard and can be used pretty much anywhere. They’re easy to email and share on social media. And while their quality potential isn’t as high as RAW images, they can still have excellent image quality, especially at the higher quality settings.

You can choose from three different JPG quality settings: Fine, Normal, and Basic. These don’t refer to the pixel dimensions—they refer to the aggressiveness of the JPG compression. The more aggressive the JPG compression, the smaller the files, but the lower the quality.

You can find these options under Shooting Menu (camera icon) > Image Quality.

Nikon D3500 JPG Image Quality

Because JPG compression is lossy compression, it means that information is discarded as part of the process. The more aggressively the compression is applied, the more information is discarded. While the difference between them might not be immediately visible with first-generation images straight out of the camera, it will become more noticeable if you edit the images in Lightroom or Photoshop and generate second- or third-generation versions. In extreme cases, you can see JPG artifacts and blocks of colors that visibly detract from the image.

The Fine setting, therefore, is best if you’re looking for the highest image quality, and especially if you plan to edit the files. The Medium and Basic settings have slightly lower quality, but they save space on your memory card and can be more convenient for sharing the images directly out of the camera without any post-processing. Situations where that might be important include time-lapse photography, where every frame doesn’t need maximum size or quality.

Nikon D3500 Image Sizes for JPGs

In addition to choosing the quality setting, you can also choose from three different JPG size settings. They are:

  • Large: 6000 x 4000 pixels, which comes to 24 megapixels
  • Medium: 4496 x 3000 pixels, which comes to 13.5 megapixels
  • Small: 2992 x 2000 pixels, which comes to 6 megapixels
Nikon D3500 JPG Image Size
You might notice on this example that the Medium option has a yellow box around it. That shoes the currently active setting being used. The filled in yellow background shows the menu item that’s being selected or changed to.

You can find these under Shooting Menu (camera icon) > Image Size. If that menu item is grayed out and you can’t select it, it’s most likely because you have the Image Quality set to RAW. The image size options are only available for JPGs.

Here’s a visual version that shows the relative dimensions of each size setting. Click on it to open a full-size version.

Nikon D3500 JPG Sizes

The Large setting will give you the maximum flexibility, highest resolution, and potentially the highest quality, but the images take up more space on your memory card (and computer) and will take a little longer to save and download. Most users will probably want to use the Large setting to make the best use of the camera’s capabilities. It’s better to take a large file and make a smaller copy if you need it rather than be stuck with a small file with less detail and try to make it larger.

The smaller settings do have their uses, though. One example is if you need to share the images right out of the camera and need a manageable file size for email, etc. Another example is if you’re shooting time-lapse and want to be able to fit thousands of images on the memory card without filling it up with images larger than you need.

By combining the image quality setting with the image size setting, you can get quite a lot of flexibility.

I rarely use the smaller sizes and will usually set the Large size. Memory cards for the D3500 are relatively inexpensive these days, and I’d rather have the higher quality versions available if I need them.

File Sizes & How Many Nikon D3500 Photos Will Fit on a Memory Card?

Memory cards are a crucial accessory for the Nikon D3500. You won’t get far without one. I’ve put together some recommendations of SD cards for the Nikon D3500 separately.

What I’m focusing on here is how many photos you can fit. Memory cards are available in a variety of sizes, and in deciding what size to get, it’s useful to know how many images you can fit on a card of such and such capacity. So here are some estimates.

You’ll notice that in the file size column I give ranges. That’s because the images generated on a Nikon D3500 are compressed, and the effectiveness of the image compression varies from photo to photo depending on factors like the colors, tones, and detail of each individual scene. A photo with few colors and tones and little detail can be compressed much more than a photo with many tones and colors and lots of detail. It’s just the way that most image compression algorithms work.

For the columns on the right, which show estimates of the number of images at each setting that will fit on 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB cards, I’ve used the upper end of the range because for something like this it’s better to underestimate than overestimate. So the numbers in this column, in particular, are very much approximations and should be read as rough guides but not absolutes.

 QualitySizeFilesize / MB32GB64GB128GB256GB
RAW26-271084216843368672
JPGFINELarge11.5-1521334266853217064
Medium6.5-7.5426685321706434128
Small3.5-4.57111142222844456888
NORMALLarge5.5-7.5426685321706434128
Medium3-4.57111142222844456888
Small1.5-2.512,8002560051200102400
BASICLarge1.5-2.512,8002560051200102400
Medium0.9-1.521,3334266685332170664
Small0.6-1.226,66653332106664213328

Q&A

Can you shoot RAW on the Nikon D3500? Yes. You have a choice of RAW, JPG, or RAW+JPG.

What RAW file format does the Nikon D3500 use? It uses Nikon’s NEF file format (file extension of .nef). It’s widely compatible with RAW processing apps, but it is a proprietary RAW format.

What aspect ratios does the Nikon D3500 shoot at? The Nikon D3500 shoots still images with an aspect ratio of 3:2 and video at 16:9. There’s no option to change the shooting aspect ratio, but you can use the camera’s built-in editing functions to crop the photos afterward to aspect ratios such as 1:1, 4:3, or 16:9.

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.