Choosing your first SLR can be a daunting experience. Fortunately, the Nikon D3200 is geared towards beginners, with a range of features to enhance your photos, no matter what level of photographic skill you possess.
Design and features
The D3200 borrows most of its design aesthetic from the earlier entry-level Nikon cameras, such as the D3100. It sits comfortably in the hand and doesn't overwhelm, particularly if you are using one of the smaller kit lenses, such as the 18-55mm, or a prime lens, such as the new 40mm model. There's a red colour option, for anyone who wants a bit of spice with their photography.
At the top is a mode dial, which is home to all the main controls. Like all SLRs, you get full program, aperture and shutter priority, as well as manual modes. There's also a variety of scene modes, such as macro, sports, portrait and landscape, denoted on the dial with an appropriate picture. Automatic is painted green and is ideal for beginners, though anyone looking to learn a little more about photography will be interested in the Guide mode.
The mode dial and location of Guide mode on the D3200.
This steps the user through some common shooting scenarios and, in Easy Operation, it lets you choose the most appropriate shooting mode, according to the scene. There's also Advanced Operation, which explains how the camera will achieve certain effects. For example, if you want to bring more of the scene into focus, you select this option and the camera tells you that you should increase the depth of field. It lets you do it yourself by suggesting shooting in aperture-priority and selecting a bigger aperture/f-stop, or you can do it from within the same menu and it will visually indicate what aperture you should shoot at.
The Guide Mode main screen.
While we're sceptical about a beginner photographer needing as high of a resolution sensor as the 24-megapixel CMOS found on the D3200, the camera does deliver very good image quality. Find out more about how it performs in the image quality section below.
The D3200 uses the same Expeed 3 image processor that's found in the company's highest-end cameras, the D800 and the D4. It's not as fast as those monsters though, as it can only shoot at 4 frames per second in continuous mode. The 3-inch LCD screen boasts a high resolution of 921,000 dots, which makes playback and Live View use much more pleasurable than previous entry-level Nikon cameras.
Unfortunately, the screen doesn't give a true representation of either the final image or the scene in front of you. The colour balance is particularly cool on default settings, which gives a false impression of what the photo actually looks like.
The D3200 does not have a built-in AF motor like its entry-level siblings, meaning that you must use an AF-S lens in order for the camera to autofocus. Most lenses that you'll be looking at, including the kit lenses, will have a built-in motor, so there's no real issue here, unless you want to use older Nikon lenses. There's the same 11-point AF system as found on the D3100, which gives accurate focusing. Nikon says that there is an improved scene-recognition system, which means that things like subject tracking, metering and automatic white balance are all improved from earlier cameras.
While the D3200 is well and truly an entry-level camera, it's missing automatic exposure bracketing, a feature that would be particularly useful for anyone wanting to learn more about how the camera meters. It's also important for anyone wanting to dabble in HDR photography.
With an AF-S lens attached to the camera, the D3200 offers automatic focusing in video. It's a little clunky in its implementation still, as you can hear the lens movement rather loudly through the internal microphone. Even with an external microphone, it's possible to pick up a faint trace of the noise in a quiet environment.
There are plenty of picture effects and built-in features, to adjust the look and feel of images. These filters include options such as fish-eye, monochrome, toy camera, colour outline and colour sketch, which can be applied after taking the photo from the retouch menu.
When the camera is connected to a TV using HDMI, you can flick through photos and videos using the TV remote to control the camera. There's also a mobile adapter (WU-1a), which can use an Android device or iOS (coming soon) as a remote trigger and wireless display and plugs into the mini-USB port. We weren't supplied with one of these to test at the time of writing.
|Nikon D3200||Canon 1100D||Sony Alpha SLT-A37|
|24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor||12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor||16.1-megapixel Exmor APS CMOS sensor|
|3-inch, 921,000-dot LCD||2.7-inch, 230,000-dot LCD||2.6-inch, 230,400 LCD|
|Full HD video (1080p, 25/24fps)||HD video (720p, 30/25fps)||Full HD video (1080i, 60/30fps)|
|11-point AF||9-point AF||15-point AF (phase detection)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Canon EOS 600D
Canon EOS 650D
Sony Alpha SLT-A37
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in FPS)
Canon EOS 650D
Sony Alpha SLT-A37
Canon EOS 600D
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The D3200 can take 23 JPEG images, in a continuous burst, and 11 RAW images before it slows to process them. Nikon rates the battery at 540 shots.
Thanks to the resolution of the sensor, the quality of photos from the D3200 will depend on the lens you pair with the camera. Fortunately, even entry-level and kit lenses are able to resolve an excellent amount of detail. We did most of our testing using the 40mm f/2.8 lens and 55-300mm, which were supplied for review — unfortunately, we didn't get access to a more standard 18-55mm kit model.
The D3200 may have 24-megapixels at its disposal, but it can produce shots with a lot of detail. The 100 per cent crop inset shows how detailed photos can be, although there's a slight amount of softening on its JPEG files.
Colour rendition is very good on JPEG images taken on standard colour settings, with good tonality. The camera does tend to slightly blow out certain highlights when shooting in automatic mode, though this can easily be rectified by reviewing the histogram and bringing down the exposure compensation, or shooting in manual mode.
ISO sensitivity on the D3200 is a native range of 100-6400, with a Hi 1 or boost setting of 12,800. Images stay reasonably noise-free, right up until ISO 1600, which is where you'll start to notice a slight increase in colour noise. If you stick down by ISO 100, 200 or 400, you will be rewarded with virtually noise-free images and very little over-processing. ISO 6400 and above becomes messy, as would be expected, but there's a lot of detail that can be rescued when shooting RAW.
If you do like shooting RAW, which is the image straight from the camera sensor, without any extra processing to JPEG, do beware that due to the resolution, files are anywhere from 20-28MB each. You'll get a lot more usable detail when shooting RAW, than the slightly softer JPEG files.
A comparison between the RAW and JPEG files produced by the D3200. The colour rendition is similar, though, as you can see from the 100 per cent crops inset, there's a lot more usable detail on the RAW file. The JPEG file also has some softening applied, as part of the noise reduction and processing of the image.
Video quality from the D3200 is very good. The image is crisp, and sound from the internal microphone is decent. The biggest issue, as mentioned before, is the automatic focusing during video recording, which is twitchy and the lens movement very loud. Most photographers who know their way around an SLR won't consider using the AF-F (autofocus in video) at all — you can still shoot with fixed focus from the first frame or manual focus — but beginners will probably want to start out with automatic.
The other issue with the video implementation is the relocation of the video record button. It's been brought into line to match the higher-end SLRs in Nikon's range, so the button is just behind the shutter release. On previous entry-level SLRs, like the D3100, this button was located within a nice, easy-to-use switch at the back of the camera, which activated Live View. The process now is a little more complicated than before.
Exposure: 1/60, f/3.2, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/15, f/3.5, ISO 1600
Exposure: 1/500, f/5.6, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/1000, f/8, ISO 400
The D3200 is a very enjoyable camera to use for beginner photographers. If only the LCD screen was more colour accurate and the automatic focusing in video a little less twitchy, we'd have no qualms in recommending it wholeheartedly.