DCRP

Nikon D3200 Review

Conclusion

The Nikon D3200 is an entry-level digital SLR that packs a whopping 24 Megapixel CMOS sensor into its compact body. The camera is made of composite (AKA plastic) materials, but it still feels pretty solid. There's a good-sized grip for your right hand, and the most important controls are within easy reach of your fingers. While the D3200 supports all Nikon F-mount lenses, only AF-S and AF-I lenses will support autofocus (which is the case on all of their lower-end D-SLRs). And, as with all DX-format Nikon SLRs, there's a 1.5X crop factor to keep in mind. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD display with 921k pixels. For some reason, the screen didn't seem nearly as sharp as other LCDs with that resolution. There's also an optical viewfinder (this is a D-SLR, after all), with 95% coverage and a magnification of 0.78X. The D3200 has a built-in flash and supports external flashes via its hot shoe. It also supports an optional GPS receiver, and a low-cost Wi-Fi adapter. This Wi-Fi adapter lets you control the camera from your smartphone (Android only at this point), and use it as a gateway for sending photos to social networking and photo sharing sites.

The D3200 is definitely slanted toward the beginner end of the D-SLR spectrum. Nowhere is that more obvious than in Guide Mode, where you tell the camera what you want to do (like take action photos), and it'll use the proper settings. More advanced users can adjust things like shutter speed in Guide Mode, if they want. The camera also has help screens for every menu option, which is handy. The D3200 also has a good set of manual controls, allowing you to set the aperture, shutter speed, or both, along with white balance fine-tuning and RAW format support. The most disappointing omission here is bracketing. Photos can be composed using the optical viewfinder or via live view on the LCD display. The live view experience is just okay here -- it works, but autofocus can be very slow, and there's no live histogram available. The D3200's playback mode is fully loaded, with lots of special effects, a redeye removal tool, and in-camera RAW editing. As you'd expect these days, the D3200 can record Full HD videos at 1080/30p, albeit with monaural sound (a external stereo mic is optional). Continuous autofocus is available (but sluggish), and you can adjust the shutter speed, ISO, and mic level, if you'd like.

Camera performance is very good, except when it comes to autofocus in live view. The camera starts up very quickly, taking about just over half a second to get ready for shooting. If you're using the optical viewfinder, then expect very quick focus lock. Live view focusing isn't nearly as fast -- expect to wait anywhere from 1 - 3 seconds for the camera to focus, with lots of struggling in low light. Needless to say, you will want to stick with the optical viewfinder if you're photographing anything that's moving. Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were brief. The D3200 has a pretty nice burst mode for an entry-level D-SLR, with the ability to take 8 - 30 shots in a row (depending on the quality setting) at over 4 frames/second. Battery life on the D3200 is quite good when using the viewfinder. If you're using live view, expect less stellar numbers.

Image quality was very good, with the D3200 producing relatively noise-free 24 Megapixel photos. That said, I did run into a couple of issues worth mentioning. Probably the most frustrating thing was that the D3200's frequently overexposed by 1/3 to 2/3 stop, with the opposite occurring in the studio. Thankfully the camera keeps highlight clipping under control. Colors were nice and saturated in natural light, though I had some brownish color casts under artificial light. Photos are a bit soft, and that's probably due to noise reduction, light in-camera sharpening, and my use of the kit lens. Those issues are all easy enough to address. The camera keeps noise at bay until ISO 800 in low light, and ISO 3200 in good light. You can squeeze out quite a bit more detail by shooting RAW at the higher ISO sensitivities. Redeye wasn't a problem on the D3200, but if you do run into it, you can remove it in playback mode. Purple fringing levels were low, at least with the two inexpensive lenses I used.

If you're looking for an entry-level digital SLR that's very easy to use, look no further than the Nikon D3200. It takes nice-looking photos (just keep an eye on the exposure), offers a feature set that'll please consumers (and maybe a few enthusiasts), and it's small and light enough to carry around every day. It's not a great choice for the more hardcore user, due to the lack of bracketing and other manual controls, and I wouldn't recommend using live view for anything moving. If you can live with those issues then I think you'll definitely get your money's worth with the D3200.

  • Very good photo quality (though see issues below)
  • Compact body is well built for this class
  • Snappy performance when shooting with the viewfinder
  • Standard selection of manual controls, including WB fine-tuning and RAW support
  • Guide Mode makes taking complex photos a snap; help screens for menus an added bonus
  • Active D-Lighting brightens shadows, reduces highlight clipping
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Full HD video recording w/continuous AF
  • Elaborate playback mode, complete with RAW editing
  • Above average battery life
  • Stereo mic input + support for GPS and wired/wireless remotes
  • Optional (and inexpensive) Wi-Fi adapter lets you beam photos to smartphones and beyond; phone can also be used to take photos remotely, complete with live view

What I didn't care for:

  • Tends to overexpose outdoors (and the opposite in our studio)
  • Images on the soft side
  • Very slow AF when using live view
  • Photos taken in artificial light tended to have a brownish color cast
  • No bracketing of any kind
  • LCD doesn't seem as sharp as specs imply
  • Mono sound recording in movie mode (stereo mic is optional)
  • Live histogram in live view would've been nice
  • Full manual on CD-ROM (though printed basic manual isn't bad)

Other digital SLRs to consider include the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, Pentax K-30, and the Sony Alpha SLT-A57 (which uses an electronic viewfinder but is otherwise like an SLR). Some competitive mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are the Olympus E-PL3, Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, and Samsung NX20.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Nikon D3200 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the D3200's photos turned out? Then check out our gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.