Nikon D3200 review

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Nikon D5200 vari-angle screen
Nikon D5200 vari-angle screen : 3" / 921,000 dots. Perfect. Can be useful to protect it when traveling, folding the screen with the external shield out.

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.

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The Nikon D3200 remains an entry level camera but gets a brand new 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor.

 

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.

 

nikon d3200 review
Nikon D3200 features the new GUIDE mode, a visual learning aid to understanding photography basics while shooting and achieving desired result easily.

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.

 

nikon d3200 with Nikon ME-1
The external microphone connector allows for better sound quality.

 

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

 

DxOMark Ratings

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.

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The Nikon D3200 put to the test by dxomark.

 

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.

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The Nikon D3200 JPG image quality at all ISO settings.

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?

nikon d3200 vs Sony nEX-7 and SLT-A77
THe nikon D3200 test results compared to the 24MP Sony Alpha 77 and NEX-7.

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.

The signal-to-noise ratio on the three 24-megapixel APS-C cameras on the market.
The signal-to-noise ratio on the three 24-megapixel APS-C cameras on the market.

 

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…

 

nikon-D3200-DX0-VS-EOS-600D
The Nikon D3200 provides superior image quality than the Canon EOS 600D.

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 review dynamic range
The dynamic range of the D3200 continues to evolve at lower sensitivities while the Canon EOS 600D stalls from ISO 400.

 

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.

 

nikon d3100 vs D3200 vs D5100
A detail at 100% of the same picture taken with the Nikon D5100 and D3200.
A detail at 100% of the same picture taken with the Nikon D5100 and D3200.
A detail at 100% of the same picture taken with the Nikon D5100 and D3200.

 

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.

 

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Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 – f / 8 – 1/15s with a Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM wide-angle lens.
Nikon D3200 DSLR review
Nikon D3200 at ISO 800 f / 7,1 – 1/125s with the Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM lens at 10mm. With Active D-Lighting enabled, dark tones are enhanced, resulting in an HDR-like image.
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Nikon D3200 with the ISO 3200 – f / 8 – 1/400s. Natural light. I loved the atmosphere at the scene and the camera did perfectly capture it.
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Nikon D3200 at ISO 400 – f / 5 – 1/100s.

 

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Nikon D3200 ISO 100 – f / 3.5 – 1/1600s.
Note that the D3200’s high resolution provides much detail, even at a very wide angle, while the Sony sensor’s wide dynamic range enables it to capture extended tones even in high-contrast settings.

 

D3200 with Sigma 10-30mm lens
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 – f / 7.1 – 1/80s, still using the Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM lens, a lens I had a lot of fun using with the D3200.
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 - f / 8 - 1/160s.
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 – f / 8 – 1/160s.

 

Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 - f / 8 - 1/160s.
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 – f / 8 – 1/160s.
nikon d3200 HDSLR
Nikon D3200 at ISO 100 – f / 3.5 – 1/800s with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm F1.4G lens that becomes a small telephoto lens when mounted on the D3200 and its APS-C sensor resulting in a 1.5× crop factor.