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Nikon D3200 Review

Nikon D3200 is the latest entry model DSLR from Nikon. It’s the successor to the D3100. We have just spent a week testing and playing with this camera, so how good is this new little DSLR?

First, let’s look at the D3200 specs.

Specifications
D3200′s specifications is pretty impressive:

  • 24MP DX sensor
  • ISO 100-12800
  • Multi-cam 1000 11pt autofocus system
  • Expeed 3 processor
  • 420Pixel RGB metering sensor
  • 4fps
  • 3″ 921,000 pixel LCD screen
  • 1080p30 video with continuous autofocus and external mic input

There are also lots of smaller changes and improvements over the previous model that you don’t see on the spec list and we’ll talk about some of them later in this review. Anyway, looking at the D3200′s specs and it’s really hard to complain about this latest entry level DSLR.

 

Body design and handling

As an entry model DSLR,  the D3200 is a pretty light camera. Without any lens attached, the D3200 almost feel as light as my Fujifilm x10 compact camera. But while it’s light, it is not really that small. I haven’t really put it side by side with a D5100 but I felt the D3200 is pretty much the same size as the D5100, just a lot lighter! Some people will like the not-too-small size (especially if you have big hands) but some people may want a smaller camera.
As an entry model camera designed mainly for amateur or beginner  users , the D3200 doesn’t have a metal body or weather seal and is mostly made of plastic to keep the weight and cost down. But the camera still feel reasonably solid and doesn’t feel too cheap. If you have large hands the D3200 could be a bit small for you but the new rubber grip design makes the camera sit comfortably in your hands.

The camera is available in either black or red colour. The red one has a glossy red coating and comes with a matching red neck-strap. The red glossy coating looks shiny and pretty and makes the camera look quite special, but it also means the camera is a little bit more slippery than the normal black one. It’s not really an issue at all if you wear the neck-strap around your neck when you are walking around. But if you are like me who normally just hold the camera with one hand when walking around, then holding the black one feel a bit more secure.

If you are a complete beginner, you’ll probably be using the improved guide mode quite a bit. The guide mode is basically a step by step graphical wizard that help you to pick the best settings. But not only that, at the same time the guide mode will also give you explanations on the settings/technique so you can learn and improve your skills as well. The guide mode is not the fastest way to setup your camera but pretty much anyone can pick up the camera and follow the step by step menu to capture some fantastic photos.

If you already have a bit of photography experience, you may want to use the scene modes instead. This allows you to setup your camera quicker than using the guide mode.

And if you are an experienced photographer, you can just use one of the traditional A/S/M mode and adjust all the settings yourself.  Normally adjusting all the settings yourself on a entry level camera is not the easiest thing to do and requires you to go into the menus all the time. But I was surprised by how rare I have to go into the camera menus as a large number of settings can be adjusted directly by using the buttons and dials. I also found the button and dial layout is excellent and very easy to use. I can pick up the camera,  quickly turn on the camera power and adjust a lot of different settings and take the photo all using my right hand only. Or by pressing the “i” button on the bottom left, the information display will be displayed on the main LCD screen which allows the user to adjust about a dozen of settings quickly. There is also an user assignable Fn button but I do find the position of that button slightly awful to use.

One thing the D3100 disappointed me a little bit was it’s low resolution LCD screen. For the D3200, the LCD is finally upgraded to a 921,000 dot 3″ screen, which is the same resolution as the one on the high end model such as D3s or D700. The LCD screen is pretty sharp, bright and very usable even under sunlight.  But one thing I did notice is the LCD seems to has a little bit of blue colour cast occassionally. It’s nothing major but it is definitely noticeable.

As an entry model camera, it doesn’t have any top/secondary LCD screen. All the camera information are displayed on the main LCD and  the viewfinder. It’s not really a problem for normal users as the main LCD displays the current camera settings automatically everytime when you move your eye away from the viewfinder and also when you are changing the camera settings.

The camera feels very responsive thanks to  the latest EXPEED3 processor. Bring up and go through the menu is fast. And despite the large 24MP image file size, writing and reading photos is pretty fast when I was testing it with a 64GB 45mb/s Sandisk Extreme SDXC card.

 

Autofocus

Just like the D3100, the D3200 also use the Multi-CAM 1000 11 point Autofocus system. The Multi-Cam 1000 was originally released with the high end D200 DSLR a few years ago, so while it’s no where as sophisticated as the Multi-Cam 3500 or 4800 used in the latest high end models, the autofocus system is accurate and should be more than enough for it’s target audience. I remember I shot a lot of motorsports events few years ago with my D200, so there is no reason why the D3200 can’t be used to shoot fast actions as well. The D3200 also has a dedicated AF-assist illuminator to help autofocus when you are shooting in a dark area. And like all the recent entry level Nikon DSLRs, the D3200 doesn’t have a built-in AF motor so it can’t autofocus with the older “AF” type lenses.

 

Metering

The d3200 uses a 420 RGB metering system which should be the same as the one found on a lot of entry/mid level Nikon DSLRs like the d80,d90,d3100..etc There are three metering modes: Matrix, Center-Weighted and Spot metering. Spot metering is linked to the AF point like all the Nikon DSLRs. I am not sure if Nikon has made any adjustments or  improvements to the system but from the few hundreds photo I took I  found the matrix metering is very similar to those other cameras. Apart from a few shots where there was a strong light source in a dark scene, I found the matrix metering to be pretty consistency.  The exposure of the photos are pretty much what I expected and therefore I can dial in almost the correct amount of exposure compensation by just guessing.

 

Image Quality

The camera’s high resolution 24MP APS-C sensor is definitely one of D3200′s biggest selling and talking point. It’s the almost exactly the same resolution as Nikon’s last generation full frame flagship DSLR D3x. So when I heard the 18-55mm VR is D3200′s kit lens, I was a bit worried if the 18-55mm VR is good enough for the 24MP sensor. Afterall, the pixel density of the D3200 is even higher than Nikon’s high resolution monster, the 36MP D800!


Nikon D3200 with it’s 18-55mm VR kit lens

But after using the D3200 with 18-55mm for the first day, I can tell you the 18-55mm VR is surprisingly better than most of us thought it is. While I won’t call the images from the 18-55mmVR tack sharp, the image I got far exceed my expectation. Even at the corners, the image is reasonably sharp. If you display the images on a large 27″ monitor at full screen, you will still be quite happy with the picture from this little 18-55mm VR lens!


D3200 + 18-55mmVR @ f/8 1/20s ISO100 (Unedted JPG Straight out of camera)


100% crop

Because of it’s high resolution output, you need to more careful with your shutter speed as even a small amount of blur will now be visible in the output photo. But this is only an issue if you want maximum sharpness and you are viewing your photos at 100% on your computer screen as you are now viewing the photo at a higher magnification ratio then say viewing a 12MP image at 100%.  At the same time, the higher resolution allows you to do some extreme crop as long as you have captured a sharp image.

But of course, the beauty of getting a DSLR camrea is that you can use better/different lenses on the same camera to improve the picture quality and capture different photos. So while we were using the 18-55mmVR almost exclusively when doing this review, we also tried putting a few other lenses on the D3200 and see what results we got. The Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.8DX is definitely my favourite! The D3200 + 35mm f/1.8DX together is very light and small and the image quality is very nice and sharp! The large f/1.8 aperture allows you to capture photos under low light pretty well. The 53mm equivalent focal length means it’s a very good everyday lens! The other lens I found that works quite well is the AFS 50mm f/1.8G (or even f/1.4G) prime lens. The camera with the 50mm lens attached feels quite well balanced and it’s a fantastic light weight portrait setup! The 35mm or 50mm f/1.8G lenses are both quite affordable as well.


A versatile combo – Nikon D3200 + Nikon AFS 35mm f/1.8G DX


Nice portrait setup – Nikon D3200 + Nikon AFS 50mm f/1.4G

 

I’ve also tried mounting the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens on the D3200. (Or is it actually the other way round?).  While the image quality from this combo is excellent, the camera just feel very unbalanced and quite hard to hold because of D3200′s smallish grip. It looks pretty ridiculous too.

Now this looks a bit strange!


Two of the highest resolution Nikon DSLRs, 24MP APS-C D3200 with 35mm f/1.8DX and 36MP full frame D800 with 50mm f/1.4G lenses. Both setup give you almost identical view angle.

D3200′s native ISO range is 100 – 6400, but can be expanded to max ISO 12800. It doesn’t sound too bad on paper but the spec sheet is one thing and the actual real world performance can be completely different, so how good or bad the D3200 performs under high ISO?
If you look at the photo from D3200 at 100% zoom, i.e. examining the photo at pixel level, you’ll probably find the D3200′s high ISO performance is not too impressive and probably slightly worse than some other latest APS-C DSLRs. But remember D3200 is a 24MP camera so each pixel represent a smaller area than most APS-C sensor cameras. A more accurate way to compare the noise performance is by comparing the photo at the same output size. You can either resize all the photos (from different cameras) to the same resolution or simply display or print them out to the same physical size (e.g. print them out to a A3 size, or review the photo on the same size monitor and fit to screen). After all, what is most important about the noise  performance is how the image looks when display on screen or printed to a fixed size.
So if you look at and compare the D3200 photos this way, you’ll find D3200′s high ISO performance is actually pretty good. Even at ISO 1600, the photo is still quite clean and only has small amount of noise. At ISO3200 the noise become quite visible but the overall image quality is still not bad. At ISO6400, you can definitely see the colour, contrast, and fine details all starting to fade away. But for web and small prints, the photos taken at ISO6400 is still quite usable. Hi1 (ISO12800) is purely for emergency use only as the image quality drops significantly at this ISO. D3200′s high ISO performance may not be the best in the class but it’s not too far behind neither.


f/8 1/13s ISO6400 -2/3EV JPG straight out of camera

Since D7000, most of the Nikon DSLR can capture a very wide dynamic range and the D3200 is no exception. The dynamic range that can be captured by D3200 is very impressive especially at low ISO. If you shoot in JPG and turn on the Active Lighting, the camera can handle high contrast scenes easily. I took quite a number of photos under harsh and bright sunlight without using any flash, and I can still see a lot of details in both the shadow and highlight area. Speak about the active D-lighting, while the D3200 doesn’t allow you to specify how strong you want the Active D-lighting is, I believe the active D-lighting on this latest entry level camera is a lot smarter and more effective compare to the previous Nikons and can handle and render scenes with extreme lighting a lot better. If you shoot in RAW, you can extract even more dynamic range from the RAW file yourself!

 

Video

D3200′s video mode improved quite a lot compare to D3100. D3200 can capture full HD video up to 1920×1080 (1080P) at 30/25/24p or 720p at up to 60frame per second. It has a built-in mono mic and surprisingly, Nikon also allows user to plugin an external stereo microphone on this entry level camera for better quality audio. It also has manual audio adjustment and can display audio information on screen. The maximum video recording time is also increased from D3100′s 10 minute to 20 minute. The video recording button has been moved from the back to the top, near the photo shutter button, that help minimise camera shake when you start/stop recording video.  But the position and size of the video record button is quite close to the info button so you might press the wrong button if you are in a hurry.

Overall, the video quality is pretty good and most D3200 should be happy with it. D3200 is able to do continuous autofocus when doing video recording. Even though the autofocus speed is a bit slower than the latest mirrorless cameras, it works pretty well overall. But one thing I found is, the internal mic just captures a lot of autofocus noise. With the 18-55mm VR lens, the autofocus noise recorded by the internal mic is so loud that the audio is almost unusable if you are recording in a quiet room. You really need to use an external mic such as Nikon’s own ME-1 if you want decent audio in your video. Even a cheap external mic can greatly reduce the autofocus noise.

The D3100 doesn’t allow full manual control in video mode at all but now the D3200  allows pretty much full manual control in video mode. You can adjust shutter speed, ISO and of course do manual/auto focus independently. The only thing you can’t adjust during recording is the aperture value .

Another thing I found during the review is, if you want  to record the video at 1080P30, you have to change the camera’s TV mode setting to NTSC first. If you set your to PAL, then the max 1080p framerate is only 25p.

Here is a short video clip I took with the D3200 + 18-55mm VR lens and internal mic

 

[youtube width="600" height="365" video_id="FIDOJZccjFU?hd=1"]

(For best quality,  view the video on a new window and enable the full HD feed)

Wifi Connection

One of the big new feature for the D3200 is it’s ability to connect and control by a smart device such as Android phone using the optional WU-1a wireless mobile adapter. You can review photo, download photo and even capture photo using supported smart phone or tablet (at the moment it’s Android only, but iPhone support is coming later this year too!). Unfortunately at the time of doing this review, the WU-1a adaptor were not available for us to review yet. So we’ll be testing the WU-1a device later when it becomes available.
In-Camera Editing

The D3200 has a pretty decent in-camera editing ability, not only you can convert from RAW file to JPG and apply some basic editing like adjusting colour balance and resize..etc.  There are also a number of creative editing options like colour outline,  Miniature effect , Selective color…etc. Here are some example outputs I created using the in-camera editing feature:


 

Conclusions:

On paper. D3200′s spec is pretty impressive: 24MP APS-C sensor, 11pt Autofocus system, Expeed 3 processor, 1080p30 video with autofocus and external mic input, 4fps, 3″ high resolution LCD…etc, and after using the camera for about a week, I’m even more impressed by this little DSLR! The camera is responsive and very easy to use, for both beginner and more advanced users. Button and dial layouts are excellent. And the picture quality is excellent too, even if you are just shooting with the 18-55mmVR kit lens. While the camera also has a few flaws, like internal mic picks up too much autofocus noise and the LCD screen has a bit of blue cast, the overall performance and specs of this camera simply outweight its flaws.

Apart from not having a flip-out screen, Nikon can easily make this camera a replacement for the higher end D5100. But looks like Nikon has become quite aggressive lately and they are putting everything they can in their products, so even this entry model camera got a lot of upgrades.

This makes me wonder, if Nikon’s entry model camera already has such an impressive spec list, what can they do when they are replacing the D5100 and D7000? Is there really room for 2 more higher end consumer DX DSLRs? I guess we should just leave it to Nikon to figure that out. In the mean time, if you are looking at buying a small entry level DSLR, I highly recommend the D3200 to you!

 

Pros:

- High resolution 24MP sensor

- Great Dynamic Range

- Amazing Specs

- Wifi connectivity (which we haven’t test it yet)

- Excellent button and dial layout

- Easy to use, doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or experienced photographer

- Continuous Autofocus in video mode (even though AF speed is a bit slow)

- External Mic input

 

Cons:

- Internal mic pick up too much autofocus noise, especially when recording at a quiet place

- Occassionally the LCD shows slight blue cast

- High resolution means you have to be careful with your camera settings (such as shutter speed or aperture setting) if you want the best possible image quality

 

Sample Photos

(All Photos taken with D3200 with 18-55mm VR)


f/11 1/500s ISO140
JPG straight out of camera


f/6.3 1/10s ISO3200 -2/3EV
JPG straight out of camera


f/20 1/10s ISO100
JPG straight out of camera


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
JPG straight out of camera


f/7.1 1/160s ISO200 +1/3EV
JPG straight out of camera


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
Edited to taste


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
Edited to taste


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
Edited to taste


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
Edited to taste


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
Edited to taste


f/5 1/50s ISO2800
Edited to taste

For more and bigger sample photos, please visit the sample image gallery on our facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.306009679490168.70093.258422050915598&type=1

 

For comments and feedbacks on this review, or if you want to discuss about the D3200, please go to our discussion forum:

http://www.nikonjin.com/forum/showthread.php?tid=1643

 

 

 

Special Thanks to Nikon New Zealand www.nikon.co.nz for providing the D3200 for this review

 

Reviewer: Richard Wong

Richard is an award winning wedding photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. He is also a contributing writer for the D Photo magazine.

Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com and his facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/pages/Photo-by-Richard/113755425305636

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