Nikon D3200 sensor review

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My friends at DxOMark just released the test results of the Nikon D3200 24MP CMOS sensor. And guess what ? They are good !

How good did the high-definition sensor of the Nikon D3200 on DxO’s benchmark ?

 

Well here are the results :

  • The Nikon D3200 is 9th on DxO’s historical chart of all tested cameras, and makes a tie with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. If you please !….
  • The Nikon D3200 is the 2nd best APS-C Digital SLR, one single point behind the Pentax K-5, an other DSLR gifted with Sony sensor technology.
  • Striking is the dynamic range measured : with over 13EV, the sensor covers a wide range of tons and should be perfect for high contrasted sceneries and landscape photography.
  • The Nikon D3200 low-light ISO score reached ISO 1131 which is more than one could have expected because of the high definition of the sensor whose size is not that big. But I know how good the nEX-7 mirrorless camera behaves under low-light and I assume the D3200 gets the same sensor. So I was pretty optimistic. The Nikon D3200 is the 4th most sensitive APS-C camera, behind 3 cameras equipped with the 16MP APS-C Sony sensor, the Pentax K-5 (and most certainly the Pentax K-30, weather-sealed amateur DLSR announced a few days ago), and the Nikon D5100 and D7000.
nikon D3200 sensor review
The NIkon D3200 sensor did very well on DxO benchmark

Check out all test results of the Nikon D3200 on DxOMark.com.

 

Is the Nikon D3200 sensor the same as the Sony NEX-7 and SLT-A77 ?

Actually, there were very little doubts about that… but it all comes clear now looking at the test results of the Nikon D3200 : it shares the same sensor as the Sony NEX-7 and SLT-A77. Of course, the translucent mirror technology lowers the low-light ISO rating of the Alpha 77 as the translucent mirror deviates a fraction of the light beam coming through the lens. But all other sensor test results are even : dynamic range, color depth.

Nikon D3200 DSLR vs Sony NEX-7
The Nikon D3200 compared to the Sony NEX-7 and SLT-A77. Conclusion : they share the same sensor.

 

nikon D3200 review signal to noise ratio
The signal to noise ratio of the SLT-A77 is 1/3 to 1/2EV lower than other conventinal cameras equipped with the same sensor. That is how much costs the translucent mirror technology pushed by Sony.

The Nikon D3200 vs its closest competitor, the Canon EOS 600D

 

No, the Canon EOS 600D is not a bad camera. It offers a very decent image quality (that was the disclaimer before getting into its sensor’s test results). Now, the comparison between its APS-C 18MP sensor and the Nikon D3200’s 24MP is cruel : when the Nikon D3200 is 9th camera ever tested by my bodies at DxO, the Canon DSLR is only 67th… Canon’s 18MP sensor has been launched back in 2008, two Photokinas ago ! Therefore, it is 2 generations old. And that makes a difference. So, no surprise that this “vintage” sensor gets poor results on DxO Benchmark compared to a new generation sensor. The Nikon D3200 color depth is 2 bits higher than the Canon DSLR, its dynamic range is almost 2EV wider and its low-light ISO image quality has been measured 1/2EV better on the Nikon. One word on the Canon sensor dynamic range : as you can see on the curve, it levels off after ISO 400 while Sony’s sensor still widens its dynamic range as you lower the ISO setting. This is a kind of (bad) signature of Canon sensor technology as I noticed it also in the Powershot G1 X sensor review.

 

Nikon D3200 digital SLR vs Canon T3i / EOS 600D
The Nikon D3200 vs Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D Digital SLR. Results speak for themselves.

 

nikon D3200 camera vs Canon EOS 600D review
Notice how the Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D dynamic range stops evolving when the sensibility goes down after ISO 400 while the Nikon D3200 DR keeps on improving.

 

We are expecting Canon to unveil its 2012 amateur DSLR, the EOS 650D / Rebel T4i, which is expected to get, once again, the same sensor. I’ll review its sensor ASAP with my DxO partners to check wether or not Canon has finally improved its sensor base.

 

Nikon D3100, D3200, D5100 : one body, 3 sensors

Today, in Nikon’s range, you now have the choice between 3 cameras built around the same body :

  • The Nikon D3100 : the entry level DSLR with its 12MP sensor sold $549
  • The Nikon D3200 : with this new high-definition 24MP sensor sold $699
  • The Nikon D5100 : with the high sensitivity 16MP sensor (same as he D7000) and swivel screen sold $649

Looking at these DSLRs prices (incl. 18-55mm VR kit lens) and what they have to offer image qualitywise… to me, the D3100 is out of the race. It is a great camera that I tested in september 2010 but knowing the fact that you can practically have the same body with such an image quality improvement, there is little o argue about. The D3200 and the D5100 are worth extra bucks. That is going to lead us to the next question…

 

If you own a D3100, is it worth upgrading ?

 

Well, as I always say : if you were happy with your camera before the new one appeared, then, it is worth keeping it. Now, having said that, the test results of both cameras show a wide leap in quality :

  • DxO Mark overall score : Nikon D3200 = 81 / Nikon D3100 = 67
  • Color depth : Nikon D3200 = 24.1 bits / Nikon D3100 = 22.5 bits
  • Dynamic range : Nikon D3200 = 13.2 EV / Nikon D3100 = 11.3 EV
  • Low-light ISO : Nikon D3200 = ISO 1131 / Nikon D3100 = ISO 919
nikon D3200 vs D3100 digital camera
The Nikon D3200 compared to the D3100. A lot of progresses have been made. Waiting for the lens+cameras measurements to see how much more details you may capture with the 24-megapixel sensor over the 12-megapixel one.

The new sensor beats the older in every criteria it can be tested. If you  get rid of your D3100 and buy the D3200, you’ll have much more detailed images and a lot of cropping head room (24MP vs 12MP), but quite often 12MP is more than you need unless you plan to print poster size images. The D3200 will offer you more subtle color tone gradations, therefore better color reproduction and smoother color transitions that can be quite interesting if you are into portrait photography. The new generation sensor also offers a 2EV additional exposure freedom. That means better images when shooting high contrasted scenes but I noticed that the D3100 had some issues with highlights and I observed a loss of details (like in clouds for instance) that was occurring way before I wish it were. So, for that, I would upgrade to the new generation camera. The extra ISO score obtained by the Nikon D3200 over the Nikon D3100 would be a simple bonus, not a huge advantage.

Check out all test results of the Nikon D3200 on DxOMark.com.