DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 3200
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 17, 2004
Last Updated: February 17, 2004

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The Coolpix 3200 ($299) is the follow-up to Nikon's popular Coolpix 3100 from last year (see our review). Like that model, the 3200 is a compact point-and-shoot with a 3.2 Megapixel CCD and 3X optical zoom. The new model has a smaller body, AF-assist lamp, VGA movie mode, PictBridge support, and a unique "blur detection" feature.

There a whole lot of other cameras like the 3200 out there -- how well does it fare? Find out now in our review.

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 3200 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 3200 camera
  • Two AA alkaline batteries (not rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROMs featuring NikonView 6.2 and software manual
  • 109 page camera manual + foldout Quick Start Guide (both printed)

With the Coolpix 2200 and 3200 models, Nikon is starting to follow some other manufacturers by having built-in memory, rather than including a memory card. The Coolpix 3200 has 14.5MB of memory -- which doesn't hold too many photos -- so you'll have to buy a memory card. Like the Coolpix 3700, the 2200 and 3200 use Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMedia (MMC) cards. SD cards are larger and faster than MMC cards, so you'll want to stick with those.

Something else you'll need to buy are batteries, as the camera includes two alkaline batteries that will quickly find their way into the trash (please recycle them if you can!). So pick up a four pack of NiMH rechargeable batteries (and a charger), 2000 mAh or greater, and you'll be set. The camera takes two AA batteries, or one (non-rechargeable) CR-V3 lithium battery. With 2000 mAh batteries installed, Nikon estimates that you can take around 320 pictures per charge.

The CP3200 is one of those cameras with a lens cover built right into the lens. As you can see, it's a very compact little camera!

Accessories are limited on this small camera. All I could find (beside extra batteries) are an AC adapter ($35) and a soft case.

Nikon includes the latest versions of NikonView with the 3200 (version 6.2). You can use the software to organize and to do basic photo editing (one of the new features in version 6 is redeye reduction). It's not Photoshop, but it's decent.

Main screen, NikonView 6 in Mac OS X

Edit screen, NikonView 6 in Windows XP

As you can see, you can edit quite a few properties of your images. The RAW adjustments cannot be used with the 3200, since it has no RAW mode.

Although cluttered at times, the manual included with the Coolpix 3200 is pretty good. Do note that the NikonView manual is on CD.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix 3200 is a compact, plastic camera that can go anywhere. Although it's plastic, it doesn't feel cheap. It's easy to hold, with the important controls all within easy reach of your fingers.

The dimensions of the camera are 88 x 65 x 38 mm / 3.2 x 3.5 x 1.5 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), and it weighs just 140 g / 4.9 ounces empty. For the sake of comparison, the numbers for the old Coolpix 3100 are 3.4 x 2.6 x 1.5 inches and 150 g.

Let's begin our tour of this camera now!

The Coolpix 3200 has an F2.8-4.9, 3X optical zoom Nikkor lens. This lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 38 - 115 mm. (I believe that the CP3200 uses a different lens.) The 3200's lens is not threaded, so you cannot add a conversion lens.

Above the lens is the built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.4 - 3.4 m at wide-angle, and 0.4 - 2.0 m at telephoto -- both are improvements over the CP3100. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.

Directly below the flash is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. Yes, you read that right, an AF-assist lamp on a low-cost Nikon camera. Yes! The maximum range of the assist lamp is 2 meters. Those of you who are considering the CP2200 should note that it does not have an AF-assist lamp -- it's just for the self-timer.

The back of the camera has received a facelift since the CP3100, but it's still just as easy to use the controls.

While the LCD has gotten larger on the 3200 (1.6" versus 1.5" on the 3100), the resolution has gone down (80k pixels versus 110k on the 3100). Even so, the screen didn't scream "low resolution!" when I used it. One area in which the LCD shines is refresh rate: motion is very smooth! The LCD shows 96% of the frame.

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is about average size for a compact camera. It lacks a diopter correction feature (as does most of the competition), which you use to focus what you're looking at. The optical viewfinder shows 82% of the frame.

Just to the right of the optical viewfinder is the mode dial -- which was located on the top of the CP3100. The mode dial has the following options:

  • Record mode
  • Scene mode - choose a situation, camera uses the appropriate settings
    • Party/indoor
    • Beach/snow
    • Sunset
    • Dusk/dawn
    • Night landscape
    • Closeup
    • Museum
    • Fireworks show
    • Copy
    • Backlight
    • Panorama assist - this is new to the 3200
  • Portrait assist
  • Landscape assist
  • Sports assist
  • Night portrait assist
  • Setup - more later
  • Movie mode - more later

I wanted to briefly describe those "assist" modes. The panorama assist mode is a handy tool for taking a bunch of pictures that overlap a little bit, which you later "stitch" together in NikonView. The other assist modes put gridlines on the LCD, which are there to help you compose. Some of them seem a little silly to me, like a landscape overlay which assumes that your mountains will be low and symmetrical. I should add that the only thing you can change in the scene modes is the image quality -- things like white balance are locked up.

Back to our tour now. To the right of the mode dial is the zoom controller, which moves the lens smoothly from wide-angle to telephoto in under two seconds. The are lots of "steps" in between the wide and tele positions, so being precise is easy.

To the right of the LCD you'll find three buttons and the four-way controller. The three buttons are for entering the menu, entering playback mode, and deleting photos. In addition to its menu navigation duties, the four-way controller also does the following:

  • Up - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash, slow sync)
  • Down - Macro (on/off)
  • Left - Self-timer (on/off)
  • Center - Mark image for auto transfer (playback mode)

On top of the camera, you'll find the speaker, power and shutter release buttons, and the microphone. Do note that the microphone and speaker are not on the CP2200 model.

On this side of the camera, you'll find the USB and A/V out ports, which are kept under a plastic cover. These used to be two separate ports on the 3100 -- now they've been combined into one.

Over here you'll find the SD/MMC slot, which is behind a fairly sturdy plastic door.

The last stop on our tour is the bottom of the camera. Down here, you'll find a plastic tripod mount and the battery compartment. As you can see, the 3200 uses two AA batteries (or one CR-V3). The door over the battery compartment seems sturdy enough.

Using the Nikon Coolpix 3200

Record Mode

It takes about three seconds for the CP3200 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.

LCD in record mode

Press the shutter release halfway and you'll find that the CP3200 locks focus quickly -- in under a second, even if the AF-assist lamp has to be used. A couple of times, it took a little longer, but overall, speeds were good. The AF-assist lamp helped the camera lock focus in low light situations, and I like how Nikon boosts the signal on the LCD in low light, so you can see what you're shooting at. Do note that the image on the LCD becomes grainy, and that great refresh rate disappears, when the LCD is doing this.

Shutter lag was not a problem at fast shutter speeds, but noticeable at slower shutter speeds (where you should be using the flash or a tripod, anyway).

Shot-to-shot speed is a little weird on this camera (maybe there's not a lot of buffer memory). You can take two shots quickly, with less than a 2 second interval between shots, but after that, you have to wait 5 or 6 seconds for the camera to clear the buffer. Something else that bothers me is that you can't enter the menu or playback mode while the camera is finishing up saving the image to memory.

The Coolpix 3200 has a unique "blur detection" feature that tells you when a photo is blurry -- and indoors without the flash, that's most of the time. When the blur warning comes on, the camera gives you the option to delete the photo and try again. You can turn this feature off in the setup menu, if you'd like.

If the blur warning doesn't come on, you have to wait for the image to be saved to the memory card before you can delete it (by pressing the delete button, of course).

Keeping with its easy-to-use theme, the Coolpix 3200 has just a few image quality choices, including:

Option Resolution # Images on 14.5MB internal memory # Images on 128MB card
2048 x 1536
(1:4 compression)
9 75
2048 x 1536
(1:8 compression)
18 153
2M 1600 x 1200 29 239
PC screen 1024 x 768 61 511
TV screen 640 x 480 132 1096

The Coolpix 3200 does not support TIFF or RAW file formats.

Images are named DSCN####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

The Coolpix 3200 has a very simple menu system, just like on its predecessors. Note that this menu is not accessible in the scene modes. Here are the options:

  • Image mode (see above chart)
  • White balance (Auto, preset, daylight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight)
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Continuous (Single, continuous, multi-shot 16) - see below
  • Best Shot Selector [BSS] (on/off)
  • Color options (Standard, vivid, black & white, sepia, cyanotype) - new feature on the 3200; the last item is an image with a bluish cast

As you can see, the 3200 has a manual white balance feature, which lets you get perfect white balance in any lighting by using a white or gray card as your reference. This is the only true manual control on the camera.

The continuous shooting feature will take up to 3 pictures at a rate of 1.5 frames/sec. Multi-shot 16 takes sixteen shots in a row (at 1.5 frames/sec) and assembles them all into one 2048 x 1536 collage.

Nikon's exclusive Best Shot Selector (BSS) feature will let you take up to 10 shots in a row, and then the camera chooses the best of the bunch -- and that's the one that is saved to the memory card. This feature is useful in situations where "camera shake" may be an issue.

There is also a setup menu, which is accessed via the mode wheel. The choices here include:

  • Welcome screen (Disable, Nikon, animation, custom) - the custom mode lets you pick a photo on the memory card to use
  • Date
    • Date (set)
    • Time zone - choose a home and travel time zone
  • Monitor settings (Show info, hide info, framing grid, monitor off) - choose what is shown on the LCD, or turn the whole thing off
  • Date imprint (Off, date, date & time, date counter) - print the date/time on your photos; I can't figure out the date counter feature
  • LCD brightness
  • Sound settings
    • Button sound (on/off)
    • Shutter sound (1-3, off) - choose a fake shutter sound
    • Startup sound (on/off)
    • Volume (Loud, normal, off)
  • Blur warning (on/off) - described above
  • Auto off
    • Auto off (30 sec, 1, 5, 30 min)
    • Sleep mode (on/off) - if camera will enter a sleep mode after a set time
  • Format memory/card
  • Language (German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Korean)
  • USB (PTP, Mass Storage)
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • Reset all
  • Battery type (Alkaline, Coolpix [NiMH], CR-V3) - no idea if this actually changes anything
  • Firmware version - displays the firmware version of the camera

Everything up there should be self-explanatory.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

Macro shooting has always been one of the trademarks of the Coolpix series, and the 3200 continues that tradition. You can get as close as 4 cm to your subject. In order to get that close, you'll need to adjust the zoom to just until the little flower on the LCD turns green, which is near the wide end of the lens.

Our standard test shot looks great, with an image that's sharp and smooth at the same time. Colors are accurate, and noise levels are low. The 3200's support for a custom white balance setting certainly helps, as I use 3200K studio lights.

You can fill the frame with a subject as small as 29 x 23 mm.

The night shot was just okay. The main issue is that it didn't take in enough light -- and without manual shutter speed controls, there isn't much you can do about it. Using one of the night scene modes is the best way to do long exposures like this. The image is on the noisy side, as well. I didn't see any purple fringing.

Our distortion test shows moderate barrel distortion at wide-angle, and no vignetting (dark corners).

The redeye test illustrates two of the photo quality issues on the CP3200. Both are pretty obvious. Issue #1 is the redeye, which is pretty nasty (though your results may vary). You'll want to add more light, take the picture again, or use software to clean it up.

The other issue is noise -- the auto ISO "feature" on the CP3200 boosts the ISO from 50 to 200 whenever it wants. That means noisy pictures when the lighting isn't great (read: indoors). This photo perfectly illustrates what I'm talking about. Hopefully by the time the Coolpix 3300 comes out, there will be a way to lock the ISO at a set value.

For outdoor shooting, photo quality is quite good -- though slightly noisy. Images are usually sharp, well-exposed, and colorful. Purple fringing was not a major problem. Please have a look at the photo gallery and see if the quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The Coolpix 3200 has a pretty nice movie mode. You can record VGA quality video (640 x 480) at 15 frames/second, with sound, until the memory card is full. For the built-in memory, that's only 26 seconds, but if you get a larger card, you can have longer movies. If 640 x 480 is overkill, you can also choose from 320 x 240 or 160 x 120 resolutions, as well.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. Something to watch out for is the autofocus mode that's used in movie mode. Unless you like a clicking background noise in your movies, you'll want to set it to S-AF (single AF) instead of C-AF (continuous AF).

Movies are saved in QuickTime format.

Here's a mediocre sample movie for you:

Click to play movie (6.6MB, 640 x 480, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Coolpix 3200 has an easy-to-use, yet complete playback mode. The standard playback functions include slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, image protection, and zoom & scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) lets you zoom into your image as much as 10 times, and then scroll around in the enlarged photo. This feature is very well implemented on the 3200.

The small pic option lets you downsize your image to 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. The original image is saved.

The Coolpix lets you mark photos that you want to be automatically transferred when you connect the camera to your PC. Another nice feature that's all too uncommon these days is the ability to delete a group of photos, rather than just one at a time or all of them.

A copy feature lets you move photos between internal memory and a memory card, and vice versa.

The 3200 unfortunately doesn't give you any useful information about your photos. Even beginners would appreciate seeing some basic exposure information!

The camera moves through images very quickly in playback mode. A lower resolution image is shown instantly, with the high resolution version appearing less than a second later.

How Does it Compare?

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 is a decent point-and-shoot camera, but I found it lacking in two important areas. The first is noise, especially indoors where the lighting isn't great. This is due to the auto ISO system that most Nikon point-and-shoots have. The redeye test and this picture are great examples of the noise problem. For shots taken outdoors or in good lighting, the noise levels are acceptable. The other issue I had, which affects those who want to take action photos, is the shot-to-shot speed. You can quickly fire off two shots, but then you need to wait several seconds for the buffer memory to be cleared. A related issue is that you can't do anything while the camera is finishing savings an image to the memory card.

The CP3200 does just about everything else well. It's nice and compact, and easy to use, too. It has an AF-assist lamp, giving the camera good low light focusing ability (the AF system is good in general). The VGA movie mode is nice, though the 15 fps frame rate makes for choppy video. Like most Nikon cameras, the 3200 has an impressive macro mode.

All in all, the CP3200 is a good camera for outdoor photos, but if you do a lot of indoor shooting, you'll probably want to find a camera with an ISO setting that you can lock.

What I liked:

  • Compact body
  • Very good photo quality -- in good light
  • AF illuminator
  • Very good LCD display
  • Impressive macro ability
  • VGA movie mode
  • Interesting "blur detection" feature
  • Many scene modes

What I didn't care for:

  • Noisy images in low light
  • Redeye
  • Sluggish shot-to-shot performance (after two shots are taken); camera is locked up while camera finishes writing to memory card
  • Aside from white balance, no manual controls
  • No exposure information in playback mode
  • No memory card or rechargeable batteries included

Some other compact 3 Megapixel cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot PowerShot A75 and SD110, Casio Exilim EX-Z3, Fuji FinePix A330, Kyocera Finecam L3v and SL300R, Minolta DiMAGE Xt and Xg, Olympus D-580Z and Stylus 300, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC50, Pentax Optio 30, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 and DSC-P8.

If you want to save some money, check out the similiar Coolpix 2200 model. Do note that you'll lose a Megapixel of resoultion, the AF-assist lamp, and sound in movies.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Coolpix 3200 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Check out another review of the Coolpix 3200 over at Steve's Digicams.

Feedback & Discussion

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.

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

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