Featuring an impressive specification, but also promising to be accessible for beginners, is the Nikon D3200 the perfect entry-level DSLR? Find out in the What Digital Camera Nikon D3200 review
As the popularity of Compact System Cameras increases with a host of new models, it’s been pretty quiet period for entry-level DSLRs over the last twelve months. This is about to change with the arrival of the Nikon D3200.
Boasting a resolution that’s a match for much higher priced models, while at the same time promising to make the transition from a point and shoot compact to a DSLR a breeze with a built-in Guide Mode, the Nikon D3200 looks set to tempt potential Compact System Camera purchasers back to a DSLR. Has it done enough?
Nikon D3200 Review – Features
The most dramatic change from the 14.2MP D3100 (which will continue in the Nikon DSLR line-up for now) is the arrival of a 24.2MP CMOS sensor. Not only does this mean it has the second highest pixel count in the entire Nikon DSLR line-up behind the pro-spec 36.3MP full-frame D800 (eclipsing both the higher priced D5100 and D7000 as well), but offers one of the highest pixel counts ever seen on a APS-C DSLR.
Nikon hope the boost in resolution over the D3100 will see entry-level users wanting to crop images and refine composition safe in the knowledge that there will be limited impact on image quality.
While cropping is pretty straightforward in image editing programmes, and photos can be trimmed in-camera after capture, the inclusion of a specific telezoom crop mode on the Nikon D3200 would have been welcome – Sony’s SLT range of cameras already feature something similar called Smart Teleconverter, while Nikon themselves have a host of crop modes on offer in their high-end full-frame DSLRs.
The Nikon D3200 features the same EXPEED 3 image-processing engine that’s found in the top-of-the-line D4 and D800. Capable of shooting from ISO 100-6400, this can be expanded a stop to an ISO equivalent of 12,800 if required.
Considering the resolution, the maximum frame rate of 4fps (frames per second) is pretty good and compares well with the competition, while it’s also up on the 3fps offered by the D3100. There’s also a Quiet Shutter Release mode, where the sound of the shutter is dulled, so when you need to shoot unobtrusively, you can.
Nikon has stuck with the 11-point Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus module that was featured in both the D3100 and D3000. Along with Single-point AF and dynamic-area AF, there’s auto-area AF and Nikon’s clever 3D tracking.
This mode will track your subject from AF point to AF point as it moves across the frame, utilising colour and distance information from the Nikon D3200’s 420-pixel RGB sensor that provides input into the Scene Recognition System. Just like previous entry-level Nikon DSLRs, the Nikon D3200 doesn’t feature a built-in AF motor. This isn’t a major issue, as the majority of the Nikon lens line-up features lenses with their own built-in motors (designated AF-S), but it is worth bearing in mind if you’re planning on using or buying older designs that don’t offer this, as manual focus will only be achievable.
The Nikon D3200 sports an optical viewfinder with a 95% coverage of the frame – this is pretty much par for the course with DSLRs of this class, and while good, there will be times when you’ll need to be careful of unwanted elements straying into the edge of the frame.
While the rear screen remains flush with the body, it does see a jump in resolution, with the 3in screen on the Nikon D3200 now featuring a resolution of 921k-dots compared to 230k-dots on the D3100.
The Nikon D3200 is designed to be as simple or as advanced as you want it to be. If you’re just making the jump from a compact camera, then there’s a dedicated Guide Mode found on the main mode dial. While this isn’t a new feature on entry-level Nikon DSLRs, it’s been refined, offering even more guidance when picture taking.
The Guide Mode includes text and photo graphics, with advice on how to achieve a range of shots – low key, sunset, blurred background for instance, in an easy to follow step-by-step guide. Once you’ve built-up a bit more of a working knowledge, then simply flick over to the more advanced controls on offer.
Like the Nikon D5100 model, the Nikon D3200 also includes a host of in-camera Effects that include Monochrome, Miniature, Sketch and a variety of others. Rather than apply these at the point of capture though, these can be only added after you’ve taken the photo. There is also a Retouch menu with a selection of tools to edit and adjust your image including straighten horizons, trim photos and control distortion.
Via the additional WU-1A transmitter (£54.99), the Nikon D3200 has a host of Wi-Fi connectivity. This small unit connects to the D3200 via the mini-USB socket on the side of the camera and allows you to transmit images to a host of devices.
Images can be shared directly with Facebook, back-up images to a computer or sent to an Android smartphone or tablet via a downloadable app – an Apple iOS version will be available a little later. As long as your no further away than 49ft, you can also stream the Live View feed from the Nikon D3200 to your Android device and be able to shoot remotely as well.
Nikon D3200 Review – Design
The exterior design of the D3200 differs slightly from the D3100, with the most noticeable change the handgrip. It’s still a decent size, but the shutter button and top of the grip are now at a more pronounced angle. If you’ve got big hands, then you may find your little finger hangs off the bottom of the grip thanks to the camera’s squat proportions, but overall it has to be one of the more comfortable grips for a camera in this class.
The outer shell is constructed from a high-impact plastic with a relatively matt finish to it, while there’s a textured rubber coating round the handgrip and thumb rest at the rear. Unlike a lot of cameras in this price bracket, rather than getting to the memory card via the battery compartment, the D3200 has its own dedicated card slot and separate hinged door on the side of the body.
While its not going to worry some Compact System Cameras for compactness, it’s pretty small for a DSLR.
Nikon has refined the button placement on the D3200 over the D3100, making a few subtle changes. The combined Live View/Video record switch on the D3100 has disappeared. Instead, there’s now a single Live View button on the rear of the D3200, and a dedicated video record button that now sits next to the shutter button on the top plate.
Where the mode dial on the D3100 also had an additional switch round it’s collar to change the drive mode of the camera, this has now disappeared. Instead, there’s now a single button on the rear of the camera to make these changes via the rear screen.
At the rear of the camera, there have been very few changes apart from the addition of the drive mode and the single Live View buttons already mentioned. The five buttons down the side of the screen maintain the same functions as on the D3100, though the zoom in/zoom out buttons for reviewing images have swapped round in keeping with the rest of the Nikon DSLR family.
Nikon D3200 Review – Performance
There AF system doesn’t through-up any nasty surprises, having been used in a host of previous Nikon DSLRs. It’s a reliable performer, with a central cross-type AF point sensitive to both the vertical and horizontal – the remaining 10 AF points are sensitive to one or other. AF point selection is carried out via the D-pad at the rear of the camera, making it pretty quick and hassle free to select your desired AF point. If you want to let the camera do the hard work, then select the auto-area AF mode, and the D3200 will automatically select the AF point it thinks is most suited to the subject.
If you’re planning on shooting moving subjects, then the 3D-tracking has to be one of the best AF tracking systems on a camera of this class, tracking your subject as it move round the frame. While it’s not as advanced AF tracking on higher end DSLRs, it’s much more reliable than systems found on Compact System Cameras.
When you switch the D3200 over to Live View shooting, the AF method also changes, going from phase-detect to contrast detect – the same kind of AF system as used by Compact System Cameras (CSC). There’s the choice of either AF-S (single) or AF-D (full-time servo AF, with autofocus being constantly adjusted if you or your subject is moving), with the option of Face-priority AF, wide-area AF, normal-area AF and subject-tracking AF. Though the AF speed in Live View is pretty fast for a DSLR, it’s still not a match for a Compact System Camera in Live View mode, which forgoes the mirror and optical viewfinder that a DSLR benefits from.
The 4fps is relatively quick for a camera of this class, though there are cameras out there for a similar price that will shoot at a faster burst mode if that’s your main criteria. The rear screen is nice and crisp, though on occasions, there did seem to be a slight blue cast when reviewing images that wasn’t apparent on the images once downloaded from the camera.
With minimal controls dotted round the camera, most of the shooting controls are set via the rear screen interface. Simply hit the ‘I’ button on the rear of the camera, and you can alter a host of shooting controls, including quality, white balance, ISO and AF. If you want quick access to a regularly used setting, then the function button can be set-up to control either ISO, white balance, Image quality or Active D-Lighting.
Picking up a DSLR for the first time after a compact camera can be a big step – especially if you’re not familiar with a host of photographic terminology. This is where the D3200’s Guide Mode comes into play. First seen on the D3000, Guide Mode is now in its third generation and is designed to help you get a variety of shots, from freezing motion to blurring backgrounds. Select Guide Mode on the mode dial and the rear screen provides three choices – Shoot, View/delete and Set up. By selecting Shoot, you have two further choices – Easy or Advanced operation. Easy operation has a range of Scene modes to choose from, while Advanced is less subject-based, offering a host of photographic effects you might want to achieve. When you select one of these, there’s shooting advice, before you can make your changes to the exposure. For instance, by selecting Show water flowing, the Guide Mode will instruct you to use a slow shutter speed (and a tripod). As you decrease the shutter speed on the rear screen, a visual example of a waterfall will be used to show the change in the blur as you lengthen the shutter speed.
Nikon D3200 review – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
The D3200 offers the choice of three metering modes – 3D color matrix metering II, Centre-weighted or spot. In use, and the multi-zone matrix metering does a good job of exposing scenes nice and evenly. There will be times though that a little bit of exposure compensation is required to correct for slightly bleached out skies, or to lighten portraits. If you’re going to be shooting JPEGs, then the D3200 features Active D-Lighting, bringing up shadow detail, at the same time retaining highlight detail.
White Balance and Colour
The Auto White Balance of the D3200 does a solid job, and while results are ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral, the D3200 delivered pleasing results. There’s also a host of presets to choose from if you want to be more precise with your white balance control, though there’s no manual Kelvin temperature scale available for really precise adjustment should you want it – not necessarily essential on a camera for this market.
If you’re shooting JPEG, then there’s a choice of Picture Controls as well: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape, while each preset can be adjusted to personal taste. Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and Hue can all be altered.
Sharpness and Detail
With a resolution of 24.2MP, there’s plenty of scope here for large prints and the flexibility to crop images pretty tightly should you need to. The level of detail is very good and will be more than enough for most peoples shooting requirements. The 18-55mm lens is one of the better performing lenses in this class, but to make the most out of the sensor, then higher performing optics will increase the sharpness achievable. This doesn’t even have to break the bank either – a Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens is a great starting point at only £160.
The D3200 is bundled with Nikon’s View NX2 software for Raw file conversion and adjustment that provides a pretty good level of control, though expect support from Photoshop CS6 and Elements 10 in the near future.
Straight out of the camera and Raw files are a touch flatter than the JPEG files, which have a slight boost in saturation. Image noise at higher ISOs is subdued in JPEG files, though this is at the expense of sharpness, where the Raw file retains more detail.
The D3200 has a native ISO range from 100-6400, expandable to an ISO equivalent of ISO 12,800 at its Hi1 setting.
While the sensor is much more densely populated with pixels over the D3100, ISO image noise performance is very good. Even up to ISO 800, image noise is kept well in check. Above that, and colour noise becomes more noticeable, and though the in-camera processing does a good job at controlling this, sharpness does suffer a small amount. Moving on up to the higher sensitivities, and while image noise is more prominent, it’s still more than useable to a point.
Full HD 1080p capture is possible at 24, 25, 30fps – improving on the D3100 that would record at only 24fps. There’s a built-in mono microphone, but if you want to capture footage with stereo sound, there’s a 3.5in microphone socket on the side of the camera that’ll connect to an external microphone, such as Nikon’s ME-1 stereo mic.
Nikon D3200 Review – Value & Verdict
At £649, the D3200 is actually more than the D5100 – the next model up in the Nikon DSLR line-up, though expect this price to fall slightly after launch. If you want a high resolution DSLR, this is the cheapest option out there – the Sony Alpha 65 with a virtually identical sensor, though with a faster AF and burst mode is £100 more.
Nikon D3200 review – Verdict
Thanks to the clever Guide Mode, the D3200 is a DSLR that’s easy to pick up and start shooting with, allowing you to learn as you go, while the impressive resolution offered can produce lovely looking images and plenty of photographic possibilities.
If you’re looking for you’re first DSLR and are prepared to pay a bit of a premium amongst the entry-level options out there, then you won’t be disappointed with the D3200.