Nikon D3200 Review
Raw and raw conversion
Like its predecessors the D3200 comes with several pieces of software but the key one is ViewNX 2 - a generally capable raw conversion platform. ViewNX 2 is not as sophisticated as Nikon's Capture NX 2 (available separately), but it offers most of the key functionality that a beginner will require when starting out on the DSLR road, including the ability to crop and straighten images, and change white balance and exposure in NEF files. More advanced tools include D-Lighting and highlight/shadow recovery sliders, plus lateral and axial chromatic aberration correction. Basic video editing functionality is also available. In a nice touch, many of these parameters can be built into presets using the Picture Control Utility, meaning that presets you find yourself regularly applying can be uploaded to the camera. Inexplicably absent, however, are any noise reduction options.
As well as being free, ViewNX 2 has another advantage over Capture NX 2 in that it is a small program that does not require a huge amount of computing power to run. It's far from being as slick as Adobe's Camera Raw plug in for Photoshop, but much more forgiving of older, slower computers than Capture NX 2. As well as raw conversion, ViewNX 2 also allows you to geotag photographs using Google Maps (automatically if you use the optional GP-1 GPS unit), and to rate and label images with stars or colors for ease of organization. You can even modify the names of the color tags so that they show up as 'Work,' 'Holiday,' 'Portraits' or whatever best suits your needs.
As is normal in our reviews we like to compare the supplied raw conversion software, any optional manufacturer raw conversion software and some third party raw converter. For the purpose of this test we've picked Adobe Camera Raw and DxO Optics Pro alongside the Nikon software. Here we compare these three converters to the camera's JPEG engine to see how each of them pulls detail out of the images.
- JPEG - Large/Fine, Default settings
- NX2 - Nikon View NX2 2.3.2
- DxO - DxO Optics Pro 7.5.1
- ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.1
Sharpness and Detail
Like we've seen with many Nikon DSLRs View NX2 at default settings emulates the output of the camera's JPEG engine very closely. Color rendition, tonality sharpness and detail are as good as identical. Adobe Camera Raw's default output is a little less contrasty and saturated. It uses slightly more subtle sharpening with a smaller radius but overall there is no visible gain in detail over the out-of-camera JPEG.
DxO uses significantly more aggressive sharpening. Again the increase in detail is marginal but the image looks visibly 'crisper'. That said, any differences will only be visible at a 100% magnification and are therefore only really relevant if you plan to display your images at very large sizes. In any case processing your raw files gives you the flexibility to customize image parameters for your specific requirements.
|View NX2 ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
|Adobe ACR 7.1 raw ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
|DxO Optics Pro raw ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
|JPEG out of camera, High quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
The resolution chart confirms pretty much the observations we've made when looking at the crops above. View NX2 generates output that looks almost identical to the out-of-camera JPEGs but if you look closely you can see that a small amount of additional detail is resolved. Adobe ACR's sharpening squeezes another tiny extra amount of detail out of the files but also shows moiré than the View NX2 output. DxO's sharpening is very heavy handed, resulting in large amounts of color moiré, halos and a generally oversharpened look.
|JPEG from camera||View NX2 (raw)|
|Adobe Camera Raw (raw)||DxO Optics Pro (raw)|
RAW vs JPEG
The Nikon D3200's 24MP sensor captures large amounts of detail but at a pixel-level the camera's output can look a little soft, with a lack of detail in low-contrast areas such as distant foliage. However, you can squeeze some additional detail out of the raw files by applying customized sharpening in raw conversion.
In the sample below we did that in Adobe ACR 7.1 (Amount 54, radius 0.7, detail 42) which results in the appearance of some additional detail in the foliage behind the statue and an overall crisper rendition of the image. The sample below was shot at ISO 100, 1/160th sec, F6.3 at a focal length of 17mm with the 17-55mm kit-lens.
|JPEG from camera||Adobe Camera Raw - custom sharpening|
|100% crop||100% crop|
Even if pixel-level detail is not your number one priority the ability to modify shooting parameters after an image has been taken, in raw conversion, can be extremely useful. Depending on the light source Auto White Balance systems don't always work 100% reliably and if you don't have the time to take a custom reading you can snap away in Raw mode and take care of the problem in post-processing.
The picture below was taken in extremely low light with a tripod in an underground dungeon. The D3200's white balance was set to 'AWB' and the weak tungsten light has inevitably caused a strong yellow cast. This sort of light is so intensely warm that critical color accuracy is basically impossible but in Adobe ACR we modified the color temperature and tint to create a more pleasant and realistic end result, albeit not what you might call 100% 'correct'. The sample below was shot at ISO 12800, 1/2 sec, F3.5 and a focal length of 18mm.
JPEG from camera
Adobe Camera Raw - custom WB
At default settings the Nikon D3200 has a comparatively steep tone-curve, which, in combination with a tendency to overexpose in bright light, can lead to washed out highlights as seen in the sky in the image below. Images like this one can be significantly improved in raw conversion by playing with digital exposure compensation and highlight and shadow recovery.
In the picture below we applied 1.35EV digital exposure compensation and 100 highlight recovery which resulted in the sky recovering some of its blue color. We then slightly lifted the shadows in the buildings for an overall more balanced and pleasant end result. The sample below was shot using a Sigma 10-20mm super wide-angle lens at ISO 100, 1/250th sec, F8 and a focal length of 10mm.
However, the sample below illustrates that the process described above only works within certain limits. When taking this shot the camera metered for the rusty surface of the sculpture which resulted in a totally blown-out sky. Pulling the exposure back digitally (-0.4EV) and applying highlight recovery (-100 highlights) ends up with some of blue sky turning grey as one or more color channels have clipped (the same effect can be observed, although to a much lesser degree in the clouds in the sample above).
Raw files for download
Don't just take our word for it - take a look at the Nikon D3200's raw files for yourself, and run them through your own software and preferred conversion settings. Here, we provide you with a selection of raw files of 'real world' scenes, and if you want to take a closer look at the NikonD3200's studio scene shots, you can download original raw files from our compared to (raw) page.
Jun 23, 2015
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