DCRP

Nikon D3200 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The D3200's performance really depends on how you're composing your shots. If you're using the optical viewfinder, then it's pretty responsive. If you're using live view, not so much. The table below summarizes the cameras performance in a number of areas:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 0.6 secs Above average
Autofocus
(Normal light, VF)
0.1 - 0.3 secs (W)
0.4 - 0.9 secs (T)
Average
Autofocus
(Normal light, LV)
1 - 2 secs Average *
Autofocus
(Low light, VF)
0.5 - 1.0 secs Average
Autofocus
(Low light, LV)
2 - 3 secs Below average *
Shutter lag Not noticeable Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
1.5 secs Average
Shot-to-shot
(With flash)
2.0 secs Average

* Compared to other D-SLRs with live view

Focus times measured using the 18 - 55 mm kit lens

Sorry if that chart's a bit more confusing than normal. In a nutshell, autofocus speeds are competitive with other D-SLRs when you're shooting with the optical viewfinder. If you're using live view, expect multi-second focus times, with a good possibility that the camera won't lock focus at all in low light. Mirrorless cameras are much faster compared to the D3200 (and most D-SLRs) when it comes to live view focusing performance.

The D3200 is capable of continuous shooting as fast as 4 frames/second -- up from 3 fps on the D3100. Let's see if it hits the advertised numbers in the real world:

Image quality Performance
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 8 shots @ 4.0 frames/sec
RAW 13 shots @ 4.2 frames/sec
Large/Fine JPEG 30 shots @ 4.1 frames/sec
Tested with a SanDisk UHS-I SDHC card

Not a bad performance for an entry-level D-SLR, if I do say so myself. Do note that when you hit those limits that the camera doesn't stop shooting -- it just slows down (considerably, in the case of RAW+JPEG). You can shoot bursts with the viewfinder or in live view mode.

Let's move on to our photo tests now. All of these were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens, with the exception of the night shots.

I really had to crank up the exposure compensation to get our macro test scene to look decent. The colors on the subject look pretty good (though the red is a bit too orange), though the background is grayer in it is in reality. The figurine is quite sharp, with plenty of detail captured. I don't see any signs of noise here, nor would I expect to.

The minimum distance to your subject depends on the lens you're using. For the kit lens, that distance is 28 cm. If you think you'll be taking a lot of close-up shots, then you may want to consider one of Nikon's dedicated macro lenses (four of which will support AF on the D3200).

I took the night shots with the Nikon F4.0-5.6, 55 - 300 mm VR lens. The photo is a bit soft, and there's an brown/orange color cast as well, despite using my usual white balance settings. The camera did bring in plenty of light, and highlight clipping isn't too bad. Fairly strong purple fringing can be found toward the right side of the photo. One thing you won't find here is noise, which is a good thing.

Now let's use this same night scene to see how the D3200 performed at higher sensitivities:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800 (H1)

The ISO 100 and 200 crops look more-or-less the same. There's a slight increase in noise at ISO 400, but it doesn't really become noticeable until ISO 800. At ISO 1600 it's time to switch to RAW or downsize your prints, as there's quite a bit of noise. The higher sensitivities are too noisy to be usable -- at least in JPEG form.

With that in mind, let's see if we can't make the ISO 1600 and 3200 shots look better by shooting RAW and performing noise reduction using NeatImage. I'm thinking it'll help -- let's find out:

ISO 1600

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight from the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

I'd say that's quite an improvement. You get quite a bit of detail back, and there's less highlight clipping, to boot. I could've fixed the color cast while processing the RAW files, but I left that alone here.

We'll do this test again using our studio test shortly.

In a world where most cameras I review have at least some redeye problems, it's nice to see a camera that does not. I wouldn't expect the D3200 to have this issue, as it's flash pops up well away from the lens. If you're not quite as lucky and end up with this annoyance in your photos, you can remove it using the tool in playback mode.

Auto Distortion Correction off (default) Auto Distortion Correction on

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. You can see what this does to your photos by looking at the way the building on the right side of this photo appears to curve. Fret not, because the D3200 has lens distortion correction built right in, and you see for yourself using the comparison tool above that it flattens things out nicely. While my first 18 - 55 mm kit lens was quite soft on one side of the frame, the second one was much better, with just mild corner blurring. Vignetting wasn't an issue on the kit lens.

Now it's time to see how the D3200 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. Since the D3200 produces such high resolution images, I'm only able to show you a small portion of the test scene, so be sure to view the full size images, too. And with that, let's go from ISO 100 to 12800:


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800 (H1)

Everything is very clean through ISO 800, as one would expect from a digital SLR. Noise makes its first real appearance at ISO 1600, but that sensitivity is still usable for all print sizes. Details start getting a little fuzzy at ISO 3200, but small and mid-sized prints are still very possible. ISO 6400 is okay in desperate circumstances, but you'll get better results by shooting RAW. I'd pass on ISO 12800 altogether.

Now let's repeat the RAW vs. JPEG comparison that I did with the night shots, this time with the ISO 6400 and 12800 images:

ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 12800 (H1)

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

As you can see, there's a huge improvement at ISO 6400, with that photo becoming usable for much larger prints than before. The ISO 12800 shot is definitely better after some post-processing, but it's still best suited for small prints or downsizing for the web only.

Overall, the Nikon D3200's massive images look very good, though there is room for improvement. The main problems I had were related to exposure. Outdoors, the camera tended to overexpose by 1/3 or 2/3 stop. The opposite was true in our studio, where the D3200 underexposed our test scenes by quite a bit. Normally I'd just bracket all my shots to get around that, but the D3200 lacks that very useful feature. The camera will clip highlights at times and, as you saw earlier, the Active D-Lighting feature will reduce that a bit. In natural light, colors were quite saturated, though most of the photos I took under artificial light had a brownish color cast. Photos seemed to be a bit on the soft side, at least with the kit lens. If you can't shell out the money for a nicer lens, you can try turning up the in-camera sharpening in the Picture Control menu. As my previous tests have hopefully illustrated, the D3200 keeps noise levels low through ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. If you shoot RAW, you'll be able to get even better results, as the camera's noise reduction is fairly strong. Purple fringing is generally lens-related, and that issue rarely popped up during my time with the camera and its kit lens.

Now I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery. There you'll find sixteen lovely photos which you can use to judge the D3200's image quality with your own eyes.

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