Nikon D3200 hands on first look review

Nikon’s 24.2-megapixel entry-level DSLR packs the 'mega' into megapixels

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The announcement of Nikon's high-resolution D3200 tears up the rulebook for entry-level DSLR cameras. The huge 24.2MP resolution is significantly higher than its competitors, ushering in a new era of resolution at an affordable price.

Nikon D3200: Quick Spec

- 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- 11pt autofocus system (centre cross-type point)
- ISO 100-6400 (12,800 extended)
- 3in, 921k-dot LCD
- 1080p HD movie mode and 3.5in stereo microphone port
- 4fps burst shooting

Nikon D3200: 24-megapixels

At its core is what Nikon described in its preview presentation as an ‘all new' 24.2-megapixel (effective) sensor. While our assumption is that it's a Nikon-specified version of the sensor found in the both Sony Alpha A77 and NEX-7, Nikon had no further comments to support or deny this claim.

Although the resolution is high, the target market is for those new to DSLR cameras. But if the higher price - the D3200 will costs £650 with an 18-55mm lens - and megapixel count seem somewhat daunting then, fear not, the 14.2MP Nikon D3100 will also continue to run alongside its bigger brother.

Capble of shooting from ISO 100-6400 (extendable to ISO 12,800), the D3200 utilises the same EXPEED 3 processing engine as found in the top-tier Nikon D4 model.

Nikon D3200: Movie Master

The new sensor is not only capable of capturing top-spec images, but also brings new heights to entry-level movie capture. As well as 1080p capture at 24, 25 or 30fps, the camera also includes a 3.5in microphone port to capture stereo sound with an external microphone (sold separately) - a first for an entry-level DSLR. It seems that the goal posts continue to move, and the D3200 is a big push forward when it comes to both stills and video.

However, compared to its lower-resolution D3100 sibling, we're a little flummoxed at the choice to maintain the ‘3000-series' name. After all, this forthcoming release is the second highest resolution of any Nikon camera in the company's current lineup. It's wholly different to the D3100, and even crams in more pixels than the far pricier D300s or (larger-sensored) pro-spec D4. Consumers looking to buy an entry-level camera may see the big megapixel count and wonder its significance when compared to the Nikon D3100 or, for example, a Compact System Camera. Was there not room for a 'D4000' model? And will we see a higher resolution version of the Nikon D5100 in the immediate future?

Simon Iddon, Nikon's Consumer DSLR Product Manager, claimed that the higher resolution would be of significant interest to entry-level users with little knowledge, primarily as cropping would have limited impact on overall quality. However, unlike the Sony Alpha A77 and A65 models, the D3200 doesn't have a telezoom mode to crop into the image for an effective additional magnification. This seems like a significant oversight that could have easily been implemented and would have sat in keeping with the concept of the camera. Provided software or in-camera ‘Trim' does make cropping easy, but it's not the same as accurate composition from the get go.

Nikon D3200: Guiding you every step

As per the D3100, the D3200 includes a GUIDE mode that can be found on the main mode dial. The concept is to make achieving particular shots all the easier for first time users: GUIDE mode includes text and photo graphics to explain a mode's importance, talk the user through how to achieve a certain effect - whether low key, sunset, blurred background, or one of many others - and make for simple step-by-step implementation. It's like a mini photo encyclopedia. When it's outgrown simply flick to a new mode on the main dial and the pre-shooting information needn't get in the way of more developed or advanced users.

Just like the Nikon D5100 model, the D3200 also includes in-camera Effects that include Monochrome, Miniature, Sketch and a variety of others. There are also Retouch options to straighten horizons, trim photos, control distortion, or employ a handful of other manipulations.

The D3200's 3in LCD screen is also a higher resolution than its younger brother, with a high resolution 921K-dots on display. The viewfinder, however, remains the same 95% field of view as the D3100 - meaning that when composing in this way the outermost 5% edge of the frame won't show up, though it will be captured in the final image. This is common for entry-level cameras.  

The same 11-point (1 cross type sensor) focusing system as the D3100 also remains, while burst shooting is increased to a four frames per second maximum burst, up from the D3100's 3fps maximum.

The D3200's design is similar to the D3100's shell, yet there's a slightly different button layout. Just behind the shutter button is a trio of buttons: Exposure Compensation and One-Touch Movie surround the newly-positioned Info button (which has been shifted from the rear of the D3100's design).

Nikon D3200: New Wi-Fi transmitter

In addition to the camera there's also a brand new WU-1A Wi-Fi transmitter, priced £54.99. This small unit mounts on the side of the camera via mini-USB and can transmit to Android devices (Apple iOS from Autumn 2012). It can be used to share images direct to Facebook (via the connected smart device), backup images, or even in conjunction with a large-screen tablet to relay image composition and shoot remotely. At the time of writing the device is only compatible with the D3200, though we anticipate future Nikon DSLRs will also get in on the action.

Available from mid-May the Nikon D3200 will be available for £559.99 body only, or £649.99 with the 18-55mm kit lens. It's certainly more expensive than the D3100, but is some £100 less than the similar Sony Alpha A65 model - making Nikon's latest the most affordable 24MP model on the market. Whether that's a true 'entry-level' price is another matter, but otherwise we're impressed with what we've seen so far... Expect a full review this May. 

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