Category: Entry Level Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Good detail at low ISOs (with good lenses)
- Well-balanced noise reduction at higher sensitivities, decent noise levels
- Relatively low raw noise levels allow for custom processing in raw conversion
- Good quality video output
- Decent buffer and burst rates for this class of camera
- Overall responsive and snappy performance
- Intuitive user interface and control layout
- Sizeable and comfortable hand-grip
- Customizable Fn-button
- External microphone socket
- Control over sound recording levels in video mode
- Connector for optional GPS device
- Separate SD-card compartment
- Comprehensive in-camera retouching options
- Decent bundled software package including raw converter
- Two wireless infrared remote ports
Conclusion - Cons
- Slightly soft output at a pixel-level
- Tendency to slightly overexpose in bright contrasty conditions
- Unintuitive setting of aperture in movie mode
- No 'live-preview' of aperture changes in live -view
- No dedicated ISO button (but you can set the Fn-button to control this setting)
- Live-view magnification not very precise
- Slow contrast-detect AF in live-view
From 2006, when Nikon launched the D40, until today's D3200 the Nikon entry-level line of DSLR has been more about evolution than revolution. With the introduction of live view and a movie mode the step from the D3000 to the D3100 was significant, but other than that, very few changes have been made that don't fall into the 'iterative' category.
The latest model in the series, the D3200, is no exception from this pattern and the main improvements over the predecessor D3100 are an increased pixel count (24 vs 14MP), a higher resolution screen (960,000 vs 230,000 dots) and a movie mode that now comes with some more manual control and an external microphone jack. Other than that the two cameras are as good as identical.
That's not a bad thing though. The Nikon entry-level DSLRs have always been well-regarded for their thought-out design and intuitive user interface by technology journalists and consumers alike. So Nikon had little reason to make any radical changes to a successful concept. As we said in the introduction to this review, the D3200 doesn't need to represent a massive leap forward from its predecessor in order to be successful. What it does need to be is competitive in an entry-level DSLR market that is being put under increasing pressure from a new generation of innovative mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.
In only a few years, mirrorless system cameras have improved to a level where they do not only offer the sort of image quality that we'd expect from DSLRs but also the same or even better AF speeds and more flexibility in terms of AF-point positioning. Sony's SLT cameras offer seamless switching between live-view and viewfinder shooting and very fast burst modes. A lot of the models in the entry-level bracket come with HDR and panorama modes and digital filter effects that help create interesting results without the use of a computer or imaging software. The Nikon D3200's feature set is sparse in this respect. In some ways it is a fairly 'old-fashioned' DSLR, but it is a solid performer in almost all areas and a good entry-level choice for those who prefer to frame their images through an optical viewfinder.
What really sets the D3200 apart from the competition in the entry level segment is its 24MP CMOS sensor. With a good lens attached, and shooting in Raw mode, the D3200's image quality potential is considerable. The problem is that the 18-55mm kit-lens just isn't good enough to give you the benefit of the chip's megapixel-count. Given that some time ago Nikon told us that a large proportion of their entry-level DSLR users never take the kit lens off the camera (as a response to the question why their entry-level series has to make do without a built-in focus motor) we have to assume that Nikon is OK with the fact that many D3200 users will never see the true potential of their camera. This doesn't sit well with us, but ultimately, although 24MP is probably unnecessary, and the kit zoom is definitely challenged by the demands of the sensor, there is no penalty to the D3200's high pixel count.
The D3200's processor is beefy enough to move images along at 4fps, the camera is nice and snappy in normal use, and its price is competitive with lower-resolution entry-level offerings from other manufacturers. Full-resolution JPEGs will take up a considerable amount of card (and drive) space but both memory cards and hard drives are getting cheaper all the time. In the end then, a typical D3200 user might not need, or make use of the camera's high pixel count but having it - just in case - certainly doesn't do any harm.
If you're critically-inclined, to make the most out of the D3200's sensor you should consider investing in better optics. Nikon makes an excellent range of affordable primes, some specifically designed for the DX format, and there are upgrade options for the kit zoom as well, both from Nikon and from third-party manufacturers. Of course, if you're looking for a smaller, cheaper second body to a D7000 or D300S outfit, and you already have a collection of high-quality AF-S glass, you'll be very happy with the D3200 (you can always use the 18-55mm as a paperweight).
We've already mentioned the various caveats that come with the D3200's high-resolution sensor, but resolution and detail aside the Nikon D3200 has no image quality issues of note. Focussing and metering are generally very reliable, although like many previous Nikon models the camera has a tendency to slightly overexpose in bright contrasty conditions. In those situations it's worth dialing in 0.3 or 0.7EV negative exposure compensation to protect the highlights. However, if the highlights blow there is usually enough information the 'headroom' of the camera's .NEF Raw files to get at least some detail back by applying negative digital exposure compensation in raw conversion.
Image noise is generally well-controlled at low ISOs. Luminance noise starts to appear in plain colored areas from ISO 200 but you'll have to zoom in closely to see it. Noise reduction starts becoming more intrusive at ISO 800 where some fine low-contrast detail is visibly being blurred. At sensitivities higher than ISO 1600 grainy luminance noise and the loss of low-contrast detail become more obvious. Chroma noise only really becomes an issue at the two highest settings which are best reserved for smaller output sizes.
Converting your raw files can get you a small amount of additional detail compared to the out-of-camera JPEGs but again we'd recommend using good lenses to make this exercise worthwhile. Raw noise levels are in line with the competitors in the entry-level segment and at higher ISOs you can achieve better results than the out-of-camera JPEGs by converting raw and using customized noise reduction settings.
If you’ve shot with any recent Nikon DSLR, especially an entry-level model, the Nikon D3200 will instantly feel familiar to you. And even if you’re moving up from a compact camera or switching from another system the camera’s user interface and operation are very intuitive and will let you find your away around the buttons and menus in no time.
While the interface has clearly been designed for DSLR novices it offers more than enough capabilities and customization options to keep even enthusiasts happy. The limited number of external buttons means you might occasionally have to press an extra button or enter a menu to change a setting but the process is never illogical or long winded.
The D3200’s optical viewfinder is not the largest we have ever seen but it’s nice to work with and and advantage over the large number of mirrorless cameras the Nikon is competing with in its price bracket, especially when shooting in dim conditions or in very bright light. On the other hand with its slow contrast detect AF in live view the D3200 loses out to its mirrorless competitors when framing your images on the rear LCD screen. The fact that the Nikon has to flip its mirror out of the way to enter live view mode also means switching between LCD and eye-level framing is not as seamless as on Sony’s SLT models with their translucent mirrors or mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders such as Panasonic's G-series.
The camera’s small dimensions mean it fits even in smaller bags and won’t weigh you down during a long day out shooting, yet it’s comfortable to hold and handle, with a grip that’s beefy enough even for photographers with larger hands.
When we reviewed the D3200’s predecessor, the D3100 in 2010 we criticized a point that we would have liked to see improved on the new model but unfortunately there is still no dedicated ISO-button. Like on the D3100 you can assign this function to the Fn-button but when holding the camera up to your eye you are in danger of pressing the flash-button instead. Other than that though you won’t find much fault with the Nikon D3200’s user interface and after a few shooting sessions you’ll feel right at home with the camera and work out how to use it best for your individual shooting style.
The Final Word
All in all the Nikon D3200 is a through and through solid entry-level camera that offers good image quality, decent performance and intuitive operation. However, compared to some of the competition it does lack in the feature and innovation department and if you like playing with the latest digital helpers and gimmicks there better options available in the Nikon's price bracket.
Affordable mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus Pen E-PL3 or the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 (and recently announced G5) offer a better live-view shooting experience which makes them more attractive to users upgrading from compact cameras. The same is true for the entry-level models in Sony’s SLT-series with their translucent mirrors and electronic viewfinders. In addition many of these cameras come with built-in electronic helpers such as HDR-modes, panorama-shooting and a myriad of digital effects and filters. Apart from a few rather unexciting filter effects D3200 users will have to revert to post-processing to achieve the same effects the competition makes available in-camera.
That said, if you are after a no-nonsense , ‘traditional style’ entry-level DSLR that is a solid performer on all levels, with good image quality, the Nikon D3200 might be exactly the right match for you, just consider getting some high quality Nikkor glass with it to make the most out of its high pixel-count.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The Nikon D3200 is a no-nonsense, ‘traditional style’ entry-level DSLR that is a solid performer on all levels. It doesn't offer much in terms of innovative features, but comes with the highest pixel-count in its class and good image quality across the ISO range. Just consider getting some high-quality Nikkor glass with it to make the most out of its high pixel count.
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