The Nikon D3200 Review

INTRODUCTION

The Nikon D3200 is an exceptional camera for those looking to make the jump from a point-and-shoot or a camera phone. It replaces the D3100 as Nikon's entry-level DSLR. But, don't let the "entry-level" price tag fool you. The D3200 offers enough power and features to satisfy most weekend photographers who want to get more out of their photography. The Nikon D3200 is versatile, affordable, and capable of taking great photographs.

SPECIFICATIONS

Single lens reflex
Nikon F mount
24.2 MP CMOS sensor
1.5x lens focal length (35mm equivalent)
ISO 100-6400
Shutter 1/4000-30 secs
File formats: NEF (RAW), JPEG, NEF (RAW)+JPEG
Media: SDHC, SDXC
Frame rate: Up to 4 fps
Video: 1080p (30 fps), 720p (60 fps)
Built in flash: Yes

PERFORMANCE

The Nikon D3200 is surprisingly fast and comes with an upgraded processor (from the D3000) that is capable of handling supported features. It’s fairly ergonomic and it feels good to hold - though this is subjective. In the hands of those with enough knowledge to do so, it takes great photographs. Perhaps most notable is the 24.2 megapixel sensor, which is more than enough for anyone not printing giant, wall-sized images. I wouldn't call the D3200 blazing, but with my 60 mb/s SDHC card, I was able to take a number of burst photos and record HD video with no hiccups. Most photographers won't find themselves waiting around often to shoot. 

AUTO FOCUS

The D3200 features the standard AF-S and AF-C auto focus settings along with AF-A (which automatically chooses the better of the two options based on the situation).

The autofocus is rather fast and fairly accurate, though there were times I had to half-press the shutter button over and over to get the focus to land where I wanted (of course, I would switch to manual or point focus). In certain low contrast scenes, it was easier to just set the focus manually. The 11 focus points is enough for many entry-level photographers, but might be slightly on the low-side for prosumers. 

FINDER

The viewfinder is a lightweight pentamirror, rather than a more traditional pentaprism, but is sufficiently bright and offers excellent coverage (95 percent). The auto focus points seldom interfere with the subject you’re shooting (though there are only 11 of them). The finder displays all necessary information in an accessible, but desecrate manner, and shows exposure compensation in third-stops - a nice touch.

IMAGE QUALITY

At 24.2 megapixels, images on the D3200 provide an amazing amount of detail. In fact, with so many pixels, I find that the D3200 provides me (someone still learning much about composition) the flexibility to crop and recompose shots in post-production, while still preserving a good amount of data. Colors look fairly accurate (I’m told they look just as good as they do on Nikon’s high-end cameras). I usually have to do a little adjusting to the white balance in post, though I think much of this is probably on account of taste. I tend to shoot RAW and adjust the WB in post rather than playing with the various settings on the D3200. However, you may find utilizing the camera's WB settings to be a better approach.

Frankly, if this is your first DSLR, the image quality will be such a substantial leap over your camera phone or point-and-shoot that it will be hard to be disappointed with your images.

ISO

Auto ISO works rather well, adjusting from the selected speed when the camera needs more light. The D3200 has an ISO range from 100-6400 (along with a 12800 HI setting), but for practical purposes anything above ISO 800 starts to introduce a fair amount of noise - especially when shooting in low light. I’m okay shooting as high as ISO 800 and reducing some noise in post, but ISO 1600 starts to introduce too much noise to clean up (see below). I'd only shoot 3200-6400 if no other options present themselves. 

LCD AND PLAYBACK

For a DSLR, the playback and LCD are nice. Playback is fast and clear and the 3-inch screen is large enough to display of a good amount of information. Navigating the menu is nice on such a large screen. In fact, the colors on the LCD are rather impressive when compared to other cameras.

But, if you’re used to shooting on an iPhone, any DSLR display or playback is going feel disgusting. The 3-inch LCD on the D3200 may be great compared to other DSLRs, but is a night and day difference from my 4.7-inch Retina display on the iPhone 6 (thought, at least, I can get a histogram on the D3200). I know this isn't a fair comparison, certainly not apples to apples (pardon the pun), but it does illustrate just how far behind camera makers are compared to most cell phone makers in user interface design. If you are used to DSLR LCDs, you’ll likely be satisfied with the D3200. If this is your first DSLR, temper your expectations.

LENSES

Today, the Nikon D3200 likely comes with some combination of a 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit lens and either feature Vibration Reduction (VR) or are non-VR. Together, both lenses give you great flexibility, but neither make a good walk-around lens. I constantly find myself switching lenses and often wish it came with Nikon's 18-140mm lens instead. Depending on price, it might be worth buying the body and purchasing a lens that better fits your shooting goals. It might also be worth investing in a fast lens as you become used to your D3200 (perhaps a 35mm or 50mm, f/1.8 lens), particularly if you're wanting to shoot more shallow depth of field.

With no built-in AF motor the Nikon D3200 will only autofocus with AF-S lenses. Non AF-S lenses still work fine, but require manual focus.

If you shoot handheld (meaning, not with a tripod), you might want to ensure you get a lens with VR (read image stabilization). If you shoot a lot in low-light, VR is a must. Regardless, the glass included with Nikon’s entry-level DSLRs are good enough to get you through many situations. If you find yourself wanting to do more, you’ll likely need to start looking into better optics. Thankfully, nobody makes more lenses than Nikon.


RECOMMENDATIONS

If you’re looking to make the move to a DSLR, the Nikon D3200 is an excellent choice. In my research, I found it to be a better option than most entry-level DSLRs from Canon. The D3200 offers a number of pleasant surprises - many I’m still discovering. I was disappointed to discover that the D3200 does not include bracketed exposures. If you don't know what this means, don't worry about it. If you do, you'll likely find this a befuddling as I do. Still, the camera feels good in your hands, has great image quality, lots of flexibility, and some great features that will last until you’re ready to make the move to a more pro-friendly camera. 

PROS

Price, image quality, flexibility, plenty of pro features, Nikon’s lens ecosystem.

CONS

No built-in AF motor, noise issues at ISO 800/1600. 

PRICE

$446