Overall Performance

The Nikon D3200 has an updated processor compared to its predecessor, but the only area of operation where this update becomes noticeable is the continuous shooting mode. The new model is one frame per second faster than the D3100 (4 fps vs 3 fps) and while at a first glance this doesn't look like too much of an improvement it becomes more impressive if you consider the D3200's considerably larger file sizes. Despite combined JPEG and Raw file sizes of over 35MB, with a fast SD card the camera can sustain 4 frames per second continuous shooting speed for approximately 9 frames.

The D3200's AF system is the same as in previous generations. It's not the state of the art (and is considerably hobbled by the slow-focussing 18-55mm kit zoom) but very capable, and able to lock focus reliably, even in very low light. There are very few customization options but you can choose between four AF-area modes, including 3D-tracking. The latter doesn't offer the same kind of rock-solid reliability as the D800 or D4, but does a very job at tracking moving subjects, assuming the subject has some contrast. Overall the Nikon D3200 is a snappy and responsive camera that is fun to operate, and a standout performer in its class.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

The Nikon D3200 is an entry-level DSLR, and as such, can't approach the same maximum framerates that make its higher-end stablemates so flexible but the camera's 4 frames per second is pretty much in line with what you would expect in this class of camera. It's worth noting that Nikon's semi-professional 36MP D800 also offers a maximum framerate of 'only' 4fps.

When shooting JPEGs only you can shoot at 4 fps up to 100 frames at which point you can start shooting again right away by releasing and re-pressing the shutter button. In raw mode you can shoot approximately 16 frames in one burst (9 when shooting raw+JPEG) which should be more than enough for most shooting situations. The D3200 is not meant to be a sports or action camera but it offers decent buffer size and speeds for its class.

Continuous mode

JPEG Large/Fine
Frame rate 4.0 fps 4.0 fps 4.0 fps
Number of frames 100 16 9
Buffer full rate n/a 2.0 0.9
Write complete n/a 2 sec 11 sec

All timings performed using a 64GB SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I SDHC card (90MB/s).

With the D3200's large images files it is advisable to use a fast SD memory card, especially if you are planning to shoot bursts in Raw+JPEG mode. The SD cards slot makes use of the fastest cards that are currently available but the number of images in a burst decreases with longer write complete times if you use slower cards.

Autofocus speed / accuracy

Like all of Nikon's other entry-level models, the D3200 lacks an in-body autofocus motor. This means the camera won't focus with older non-AF-S Nikkor lenses, or third party designs which lack an built-in motor; something you need to bear in mind if you choose to expand your lens collection (and which limits your options on the second-hand market). Non-AF-S autofocus lenses will fit perfectly well, and be entirely functional with the exception of focus, which will be manual.

The Nikon D3200 offers 4 different AF-area modes for focusing in both modes viewfinder shooting and live view. However, when framing your image through the viewfinder you are limited to the AF-system's 11-AF-points. Focusing in live view is slower but the contrast detect AF system allows you to move your AF point anywhere in the frame.

Other than that the camera's 11-point AF-system is the same that we have seen on the predecessor D3100 (and indeed the D3000). Despite not offering the same number of AF-points or speed than mid-level or professional cameras it locks focus very reliably, even in very dark conditions. We couldn't find any 'false positives' amongst our several hundred sample we shot while working on this review.

The Nikon D3200's 11-point AF system locks the focus reliably, even in very low light shooting situations such as in this underground dungeon.

The 3D-tracking mode is also pretty effective at tracking moving subjects which is unusual in the entry-level class. This works best in combination with one of Nikon's better AF-S lenses as the with the standard AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 VR kit zoom, the focus speed is too slow to be really useful for shooting action.

In live view focusing is of course a totally different affair. Despite some increase in speed over earlier implementations the contrast detect system in live view is still significantly slower than the standard phase detection system. Often you'll also encounter some focus hunting, especially in low light. That said, while in early live view days the AF used to be almost prohibitively slow it is now perfectly usable and makes live view a much better shooting option.

Battery life

The Nikon D3200 comes with the same EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery pack that was used in the predecessor D3100. It's got a capacity of 1030 mAh which, according to Nikon, is good for 540 shots (CIPA standard) when shooting in single-frame drive mode. If you switch to continuous shooting mode you can even get 1800 shots out of it, measured using Nikon's own standard procedures.

In real life we found the battery life to be good enough for a typical day of stills shooting with some video capture and image review in between but you'd want to charge the battery overnight if you are planning to do the same thing again the next day. As there is no optional battery grip available from Nikon for the D3200 a spare battery might be a good alternative who shoot a lot without overnight recharging opportunities.