The Nikon D3200, an APS-C digital SLR for beginners, is a rather unusual entry-level DSLR. It includes the basics of its predecessor, the D3100, but packs a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, the highest definition on the market, found on the Sony SLT-A77 DSLR and mirrorless NEX-7, both of which are enthusiast cameras. The Nikon D3200 is a compact and lightweight camera, designed for family and travel photography. It can shoot Full HD video, featuring continuous autofocus and manual exposure controls. Its APS-C sensor makes it ideal for use with Nikon DX lenses. It is also compatible with full-frame FX lenses with a 1.5x crop factor. Join me for my personal Nikon D3200 review.
You will mostly notice the D3200’s amateur-like design, especially when you take a look at the cramped optical viewfinder, passed down from the D3100 and covering only 95% of the real image scope. For live, precise framing you would be better off using LiveView. However, the D3200 does include an editing mode that will make in-camera cropping fun and simple. We noticed color displays in LiveView are somewhat inaccurate.
The Nikon D3200 review I drove showed a rather amateur design which will make it more difficult to control manual settings compared to an advanced SLR such as the Nikon D7000 and its easier-to-use PSAM modes. Furthermore, without an exposure bracketing option, the D3200 will be an unlikely choice for HDR imaging or for those who tend to shoot several pictures to guarantee adequate exposure. This is a voluntary, software-based limitation Nikon imposed in an aim to diversify its range of DSLRs. The D5100, priced 50 euros cheaper, does include the option.
The D3200 features a decent, 11-point autofocus that offers broad coverage of the APS-C sensor image area. Burst shooting reaches 4fps, a standard rate for an entry-level DSLR. Though speed was slightly enhanced over the D3100, image definition prevails over speed on the D3200. It offers continuous autofocusing video mode, though the phase-detection system is not really suitable for video seeing that the engine is rather noisy and subjects will tend to jump in and out of focus. The D3200 does, nonetheless, feature continuous autofocus, and, for family and vacation filming, don’t forget to enable Face-Priority AF.
The Nikon D3200’s APS-C sensor offers high image quality (as we shall see below), in spite of its being an “entry-level” DSLR. As an amateur camera, it remains small (no second LCD screen at the top of the camera) and light (only 550 grams, battery and memory card included), which is an asset when shooting. The step-by-step user guide offers a visual aid to learn while using the camera. Moreover, the D3200 is a camera that a beginner can stick with pretty far down the road to mastering photography.
Nikon D3200 review : image quality
With a DxOMark score of 81, the Nikon D3100 came 9th place on DxOMark’s overall ranking, tied with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, until the Nikon D800 and D800E squeezed in, pushing it down to 11th place. It ranks second for APS-C DSLRs, one point behind the Pentax K-5 featuring Sony’s 16-megapixel sensor, brilliantly exploited by Pentax engineers. Obviously, the D3200’s Sony CMOS sensor is a powerful asset, providing it with record dynamic range that exceeds 13EV at ISO 100, making the D3200 especially proficient in landscape photography.
The Sony sensor also stands out in that it features the highest color depth, 24.1 bits, of all APS-C DSLRs. It even beats many Full Frame sensors and is second only to the Nikon D4 and D3x medium format cameras.
Nikon D3200 scores 1131 ISO in low-light ISO sensitivities, making it the fourth best APS-C DSLR, only outdone by three cameras, all featuring the Sony 16-megapixel sensor: the Nikon D5100 and D7000 and the Pentax K-5 (and likely the recently-announced K-30). Our fears regarding the D3200’s higher resolution turned out to be groundless as it actually scored higher than the D3100 and its 14MP CMOS sensor (919 ISO).
Nikon D3200: Sensitivity champion
As you can notice on the DxOMark.com results, the D3200 keeps up with the D3100 when it comes to sensitivity even with a higher definition sensor. As a matter of fact, the new technology is good news. In our D3200 photo comparison at different sensitivities below, displayed at 100% and thus less flattering than the real prints, you can see the D3200’s very decent performance from ISO 100 to 3200. Noise becomes intrusive at ISO 6400, so you can use the D3200 up to ISO 3200 without a second thought. You will however notice that the image is rather “softened” at higher ISO settings, and will require some sharpening for crisper images.
Nikon D3200 vs Sony NEX-7
Is the Nikon D3200 sensor really the APS-C Exmor HD Sony sensor found on the NEX-7 and SLT-A77? You may have spotted a few pictures of a “Nikon” branded D3200 sensor. Does that mean its Nikon-made? Or is it manufactured by Sony exclusively for Nikon?
With a 81 DxOmark score, the D3200 ties with the Sony NEX-7. It reaches the same color-depth as the mirrorless NEX-7, with 24.1 bits (the SLT-A77 measured 24 bits). The Dynamic range is also near-identical, 13.3 EV on the Nikon D3200 against 13.4 EV on the NEX-7 (and 13.2 on the SLT-A77). It seams the Nikon D3200 does feature the same 24-megapixel Sony sensor that surfaced last September on high-end cameras at the Berlin IFA show. Packing a Sony sensor has become a real selling point.
However, if we take a closer look at the low-light ISO graph, we will notice that the Nikon does fairly better than its Sony counterparts. The NEX-7 scores 1016 versus 1131 ISO for the Nikon SLR. This is often the case: Nikon and Pentax make better use of the Sony sensors than Sony itself… Each brand masters its own area of expertise. On the other hand, RAW files processed in Adobe Camera RAW all produce the same images.
Canon EOS 600D vs Nikon D3200
- The Nikon D3200’s 24-megapixel sensor scores higher than the Canon EOS 600D over all criteria, earning it an 81 DXOMark score against only 65 for the Canon EOS 600D which ranks 67th in the DxOMark chart while the Nikon D3200 reaches the Top 10.
- Color Depth: the D3200 gets 24.1 bits, two bits higher than the EOS 600D.
- Dynamic range: from ISO 800 and 400 on, the Canon 18 Megapixel APS-C’s curve stalls while the Sony sensor continues to expand the scope of tones captured on the Nikon D3200, reaching a a substantial difference, nearly 2EV with 11.5 EV on the Canon versus 13.2 EV on the Nikon.
- Low-light ISO: surprisingly, despite the higher resolution of its sensor, the Nikon D3200 offers improved image quality in low light giving it at least a half-stop advantage…
The sensor is excellent on all levels and offers high definition. However, you will need efficient RAW-file software processing to manage image sharpness, which could be a set-back for beginners. The D3200’s JPEG images lack sharpness and result in flattering images and colors while the camera-controlled D-lighting settings tend to give images a somewhat HDR-like artificial look, sometimes overly-enhancing dark tones. The Active D-Lighting does an excellent job on bright lights and takes good advantage of the sensor’s wide dynamic range.
Nikon D3200… worth the upgrade from the D3100 ?
When picking a camera, if you’re hesitating between a D3100, D5100 and D3200, the main question will be whether the high definition sensor will deliver on prints and if it really offers additional cropping leeway. Compared to the D3100, the 24MP sensor definitely rises the D3200 to another level. But when compared to the D5100, things aren’t so simple. The technological base of the two sensors is roughly the same and they offer the same color depth, dynamic range and sensitivity. For a 240 dpi native print, the definition of the D5100 can deliver 52 x 34 cm prints, while the D3200’s theoretical resolution will deliver 64 x 42 cm prints. How many amateur photographers using a D3200 will print images that size? To really benefit from the definition of the sensor you need high-end, high-resolution lenses. In short, with the standard kit or trans-standard zoom lenses, you will miss out on some of the D3200’s potential, but higher-end lenses will inevitably deliver larger files. A fine JPEG file on the D3200 weighs 9 MB.
24 megapixels is good, and yet …
Is the D3200’s publicized 24-megapixel sensor really an advantage? To take advantage of its resolution and enjoy more detailed prints, you need high-end lenses, which is quite inconsistent with the camera’s market positioning. Furthermore, more pixels also means that blur may be more visible: first, imprecise focusing may go unnoticed on the D5100’s 16-megapixel sensor and become apparent on the D3200’s 24-megapixel sensor, and second, motion blur is heightened by the small size of the photodiodes that float in their space and move when the photographer moves, making for more blurry pictures than on an typical camera, at identical shutter speed. Furthermore, 24 megapixels require larger and faster storage space (memory cards, hard drives, backup cloud …) to handle the 9 MB JPEG files, not mentioning RAW format files. Therefore, the D3200 high-definition sensor is an asset, but with some drawbacks you need to be aware of before purchase.
Nikon D3200 Test: Conclusion
For now, the Nikon D3200 has no real competitor in the entry-level range. You would need to go for the Sony NEX-7 to find the same image quality and the same sensitivity as the Nikon D3200, but with an entirely different approach. DSLR vs mirrorless compact, amateur ergonomics vs semi-pro ergonomics, SLR optical viewfinder vs. OLED viewfinder.
The CMOS 24-megapixel sensor on the D3200 is excellent and has its own hallmark: high definition / wide dynamic range. Nikon’s bold marketing choice, in providing its entry-level camera’s with the best sensors, is also praiseworthy. A trend they began last spring with the D5100 which made the excellent Nikon D7000 sensor available to D3100 customers. However, we would have liked the D3200 to improve more features, such as the viewfinder, ergonomics or even autofocus in video mode. Many photographers will be indifferent to the D3200’s 24-megapixel sensor and might prefer the D5100 featuring an articulated screen, at a smaller price. With this DSLR, Nikon’s range of APS-C Digital SLRs still seems incomplete: three cameras feature the same build, with room for improvement when it comes to the viewfinder and ergonomics, especially in manual modes. Only the D7000 provides advanced users with the quality expected on mid-range DSLRs, including a viewfinder that enhances photographer experience. In fact, the D7000, with its totally different approach, is sold for a reasonable price, only slightly up from the D3200. For a first-purchase, entry-level DSLR, if you don’t already have Nikon lenses, it may be wiser to opt for the cheaper, weather resistant Pentax K-30, and its very decent 100% viewfinder coverage.
Nikon D3200 Pros
+ Wide Dynamic Range
+ Excellent sensitivity
+ High Definition
+ 11-point AF, 3D-tracking, continuous autofocus in video mode
+ Active D-Lighting, efficient in bright lighting
Nikon D3200 Cons
– Size of files
– No exposure bracketing
– Unpleasant viewfinder
– Amateur-like design, unfit for more advanced users
– Inaccurate, non-articulated screen
– High-end lenses needed to make the most of the high-definition sensor
– Active D-Lighting is sometimes over-emphasized and not configurable
Nikon D3200 review : image gallery
Click on the pictures below to download original JPEG files from the Nikon D3200.