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.
So here’s a rundown of how to change aperture on the 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 control the 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.
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 change the 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 the 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 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.
Rotating it counter-clockwise will increase the aperture number. 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 the 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.
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, 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, the maximum aperture available will be ƒ/5.6.
There are other lenses that have a constant maximum aperture throughout the zoom range. They’re often higher-end lenses (and more expensive).
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.