Nikon D3500 DSLR Camera Review: An Affordable and Travel-Friendly DSLR

Price and Where to Buy: The Nikon D3500 DSLR Camera costs $497 from Amazon or $500 on the Nikon website.

How the Nikon D3500 DSLR Rates:

  • Usefulness: 9/10. To earn a place in a travel daypack, a DSLR camera must be able to go above and beyond the high quality images a new smartphone can offer. The Nikon D3500 delivers, offering superior images for action shots and any time you need to zoom to capture the shot. Its 24.2 MP image sensor is 15 times larger than the average smartphone, and it shoots video as well. It’s relatively compact and lightweight for a DSLR, and it requires little technical knowledge: the automatic focus setting delivers great results most of the time. It also has Bluetooth connectivity so you can instantly transfer images to your phone.
  • Value: 9/10. The camera and lens is about $500—significantly less than most quality DSLRs.
  • Durability: 7/10. It’s a camera so it needs to be treated well. That said, it withstood the jostling that comes with being carried cross-body.
  • Cool Factor: 9/10. To be able to capture the magic of a place is to share the world with others. That ranks high on the cool scale.

Final Verdict: The Nikon D3500 offers an easy way to take high-quality photos without spending a lot or requiring much technical know-how. It distinguishes itself from even the highest-quality smartphone cameras with its high-quality zoom and its ability to capture crystal-clear action shots. And with its video capabilities and ability to transfer images directly to a phone, it’s an ally in the quest to share your best travel pics on social media.

Comparing the Nikon D3500 to the iPhone X

Overall, I love the quality of images I get from my iPhone X, but here are a few (lightly edited for framing, etc.) side-by-side shots I took with both the Nikon and the iPhone to get a sense of the circumstances in which the Nikon D3500 shines in comparison to a smartphone camera.

Test 1: Rich Color and Filtered Light

Nikon D3500

side image of a water blessing bowl in small temple cambodia

iPhone X

overhead image of a water blessing bowl in small temple cambodia

Notice how the depth of field is more apparent in the first photo and the gold seems to be shinier. Plus, you can see more brush details.

Test 2: Zoom and Photo Taken from a Bright Area Toward a Shaded Balcony

Nikon D3500

a young monk looks out over the temple

iPhone X

a young monk looks out over the temple complex
The image captured with the Nikon not only benefited from the high-res zoom, but was also able to capture rich color and plenty of detail.

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Editor’s Note: Reviews are based on usefulness, portability, durability, value, and “cool factor.” Some review products are sent to us to test free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product. If you have any questions or comments concerning our reviews or would like to suggest a product for review, please email us at

By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

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