- Good video and images
- Plenty of resolution for crops
- Light and compact
- Quirks in video start process
- Some noise at higher ISO
- Distortion Control feature limits burst frames
The Nikon D3200 provides some welcome updates to the entry-level series, like a high-res LCD and 4 fps burst shooting. With just a few quirks, it's a worthy option for any beginning user.
Announced on April 19, 2012 and available in the marketplace at the end of that month, the D3200 is Nikon’s latest generation entry-level DSLR. While the D3100 remains on Nikon’s website as this is written, the D3200 provides some significant performance enhancements over the older camera for only a $50 increase in MSRP. Maximum continuous shooting rate increases to 4 frames per second (3 fps in the D3100); the 3.0-inch LCD monitor gets a healthy resolution increase up to 921,000 dots and the DX format CMOS sensor (APS-C, 1.5x crop factor in 35mm equivalents) jumps from 14.2 to 24.2 megapixels of resolution. That increased sensor resolution is paired with Nikon’s latest EXPEED 3 processing technology – and makes the D3200 the highest resolution cropped-sensor camera in Nikon’s lineup.
As befits an entry-level DSLR, there are fully automatic and scene shooting modes in addition to traditional manual exposure options. Nikon has also included its Guide Mode to assist novice or first-time DSLR users with image capture. The native ISO sensitivity range extends from 100 to 6400 (expandable to 12800) and there’s a built-in flash. An optional mobile wireless adapter allows the connected user to share photos taken on the D3200 to an Android platform-based smartphone or tablet.
The camera can capture video in full 1080 HD resolution via a dedicated video record button, utilizes SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media and is offered in kit form, with a red or black body and the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR lens. Here’s a look at both ends of that kit lens focal range:
NIKKOR AF-S or AF-I lenses are fully compatible, but as the camera lacks an internal focus motor most other AF lenses will not autofocus. Here’s the sun and the moon, taken with my 600mm VR f/4 AF-S NIKKOR telephoto.
WARNING: The photo of the sun was made utilizing a special astronomical grade filter that is designed to allow unlimited visual observation of the sun through telescopes. Do not attempt photography of the sun without appropriate filtration to prevent irreparable damage to your eyesight and camera equipment.
And with 24.2 megapixels of resolution on that sensor there’s plenty of data to allow you to crop the frame fairly substantially to dispense with a lot of that empty space surrounding our subjects. These two crops are both 12 x 8″ and 300 dots resolution – there’s no up sampling or manipulation of the data, just a straightforward crop.
Nikon includes a battery charger and battery, A/V and USB cables, a rubber eyecup, camera strap, eyepiece cap, body cap, accessory shoe cover, CD-ROM software and printed basic user’s manual with each camera – the full manual is on the CD.
Build and Design
The D3200 follows the modern template for a DSLR – an exaggerated handgrip at the right front of the generally rectangular camera body that is topped with the combination penta prism/built-in flash housing. Body materials are largely composites and overall construction, fit and finish appear good and appropriate for the price point. The camera is made in Thailand.
Ergonomics and Controls
While the D3200 presents the classic SLR/DSLR shape, its overall size and weight falls towards the smaller end of the scale with dimensions of 5 x 3.8 x 3 inches and a body only weight of 16 ounces. The handgrip section of the body is covered with a modestly sticky rubberized material and there’s another patch of the same material on the back of the camera body as a thumb rest. The handgrip provides decent clearance between it and the barrel of the lens and the index finger of my right hand fell naturally to the shutter button, albeit right on the joint between the tip and the middle of the finger. I found myself constantly pulling back the index finger just a bit so I could activate the shutter button with the tip of the finger, but the light weight of the camera and kit lens make it a comfortable shooter in one-handed situations.
Controls are also mainstream Nikon DSLR, with the top right of the camera body holding the combination on-off/shutter button, info, movie capture and exposure compensation buttons along with the mode dial presenting the camera’s various shooting options. The left front/side of the camera body contains flash compensation and function buttons – with the function button offering quick access to image size/quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity or active D-lighting functions as preset by the user.
The camera back is dominated by the 3.0-inch LCD monitor; arrayed vertically along its left side are playback, menu, playback zoom, playback zoom out and information edit buttons. A rear facing infrared receiver sits on the left rear of the body next to the eyepiece (there’s another receiver on the front of the handgrip), and permits hands free operation of the camera shutter with an optional ML-L3 IR remote. The right rear top of the body has an auto exposure/autofocus lock button and Nikon’s typical command dial arrayed horizontally; vertically to the right of the monitor are live view, multi selector/OK, release mode/self-timer/remote control and delete buttons.
Depending on the individual shooting mode selected on the mode dial, the information edit button can provide quick access to a screen permitting inputs into image quality, white balance, ISO sensitivity, release mode, focus mode, autofocus area mode, metering, exposure and flash compensation exposure and flash mode settings. With this feature the D3200 permits fairly quick access to shooting settings likely to be utilized and changed on the fly by more advanced shooters.
Menus and Modes
Menus are typical Nikon DSLR in layout and consist of a one-page playback menu, two-page shooting menu, four page setup menu, three page retouch menu and three page recent settings menu. The retouch menu itself offers a fairly comprehensive suite of processing and effect options, including D-lighting, redeye correction, trim, and a filter effects submenu with options such as skylight, warm, red, green, blue cross screen and soft filters. There’s also in-camera RAW processing, fisheye and perspective control options and a movie editing submenu.
Once in any particular menu you can scroll through all the available choices (which may vary depending on the individual shooting mode) and the menu will repeat itself once you reach the end. The menu items themselves are fairly intuitive and easy to use.
Shooting modes are what you would expect from an entry-level DSLR, consisting of automatic and scene modes along with the traditional manual exposure options. The camera also offers a “guide” mode, which in fact turns out to be basically a set of menus that assist the novice user in achieving desired results for image capture, review or camera set up. When you first switch into guide mode you’re presented with a screen offering “shoot,” “view/delete” or “set up” options. Selecting the shoot option takes you to submenus for easy or advanced operation, with additional options within each submenu Here’s a look at the primary guide mode screen as well as the screen you get if you press OK with the shoot option enabled:
And here’s a look at the screens that are displayed if you press the easy and advanced options.
Scrolling to the view option and pressing OK produces these two screens:
The view/delete option gives you one-page menu allowing use of single or multiple photos, locating photos from a certain date, a slideshow or deletion of images. And finally, scrolling to set up and pushing OK brings up these screens:
Selecting set up produces a three-page menu providing access to parameters such as image quality, image size, auto off timers, display and sound settings, movie settings, playback display options, etc. These are all settings that can be located in the traditional menu but are presented in this format to simplify things for novice users.
Here’s a detailed rundown on the D3200 shooting modes:
- Auto: Fully automatic mode with the camera handling most camera settings and the user retains some inputs such as image quality, auto distortion control, color space, noise reduction and movie settings.
- Auto/flash disabled: Fully automatic mode with the camera’s built-in flash disabled.
- Scene: Automatic modes consisting of six scene specific choices (portrait, landscape, child, sports, close-up, night portrait) designated on the mode dial; camera handles most settings but user has some inputs available which may vary depending on the specific scene chosen.
- Guide: Primarily an instructional mode that assist users in achieving desired results by either selecting automatic modes based on the users expressed desires or providing information to users on settings to be manually input into the camera to achieve the desired result.
- Program auto: An automatic mode with the camera handling shutter speed and aperture settings while the user retains a wide variety of inputs into camera settings.
- Aperture priority: User sets aperture, camera sets shutter speed and the user retains a wide variety of inputs.
- Shutter priority: User sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture and the user retains a wide variety of inputs.
- Manual: User sets shutter speed and aperture, retains a wide variety of inputs.
- Video: Movies may be captured NTSC or PAL outputs; in NTSC full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution is available at 24p or 30p frames per second; 1280 x 720 at 60p and 640 x 424 at 30p. PAL output is available in full HD 1920 x 1080 at either 24p or 25p; 1280 x 720 at 50p and 640 x 424 at 25p. The camera features a built-in monaural audio microphone but there is an optional external stereo mini-pin jack. Maximum clip length is 4 GB/20 minutes.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the D3200 has a 921,000 dot composition and is adjustable for eight levels of brightness. The monitor has a 160 degree viewing angle and measured a fairly low 376 nit peak brightness in our studio tests, well below the 500 nit threshold we like to see as a minimum. Contrast ratio came in at a more satisfactory 767:1, well above the 500:1 threshold for that value. Outside, the D3200 monitor did pretty well for image composition and capture in live view mode, but there were still times when lighting conditions could make it difficult to use.
My experience with monitors has been that those with larger resolutions such as the D3200 seem to compensate for sub-500 nit brightness if their contrast ratios exceed 500:1, and in general perform better outdoors than the low peak brightness level would indicate. That seems to hold true with the D3200, but with a fairly decent viewfinder the only time to be using live view for image composition or capture is when there is absolutely, positively no other way to get the shot. One such instance is during video capture, as the D3200 requires you be in live view mode in order to capture movies. Monitor coverage is not specified but appears to be about 100%.
The D3200 viewfinder offers approximately 95% coverage in both horizontal and vertical planes as well as a diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight. The viewfinder is not as large and bright as a Nikon pro body like my D3S, but is comparable to other entry-level DSLRs I’ve reviewed. Still, 95% coverage means there’s going to be objects creeping into photos around the edges that aren’t apparent through the viewfinder, so a little careful composition can go a long way toward saving some post-processing cropping.