Nikon D3200 Review

Design & Features

The Nikon D3200 is one of the smallest digital SLRs on the market. Despite being made of plastic (err, composite materials), it still feels very solid. About the only construction weak spot is the door over the memory card slot. The grip is just the right size, making the D3200 comfortable in the hand. Controls are well-placed, with just about everything within each reach of your fingers.

The D3200 looks nearly identical to the D3100, with these exceptions:

  • Live view switch on back of camera has become a button
  • Continuous shooting dial on the top of the D3100 has turned into a button on the back of the D3200
  • Movie recording button has been added near the power switch/shutter release button combo
  • Speaker has been relocated to the top-left of the D3200
  • External microphone input added to group of I/O ports
  • New IR receiver on grip and back of camera (for optional remote)

Images courtesy of Nikon USA

As I mentioned earlier, you can pick up the D3200 in your choice of traditional black, or a more attention-getting red.

Now let's see how the D3200 compares to the same group of D-SLRs and ILCs that I had back in the battery life discussion:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS Rebel T3i 5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 in. 62.9 cu in. 515 g
Nikon D3200 5.0 x 3.8 x 3.1 in. 58.9 cu in. 455 g
Olympus E-PL3 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.5 in. 16.1 cu in. 265 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8 in. 26.7 cu in. 336 g
Pentax K-30 5.1 x 3.8 x 2.8 in. 54.3 cu in. 590 g
Samsung NX20 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.6 in. 26.9 cu in. 341 g
Sony Alpha SLT-A57 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3 in. 68.2 cu in. 539 g

Naturally, the mirrorless cameras are going to be a lot smaller than their D-SLR counterparts. If you focus on the cameras with mirrors, you'll see that the D3200 is the second smallest in the group.

Let's tour the D3200 now, using our tabbed interface:

Front of the Nikon D3200

Here's the front of the D3200 without a lens attached. As I mentioned earlier, the D3200 supports all Nikkor F-mount lenses, though only AF-S and AF-I lenses will support autofocus. And let's not forget the 1.5X crop factor, either! To release an attached lens, just press the button located to the right of the mount.

Right at the center of the photo, behind the mirror, is the D3200's new 24 Megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor. At first, I thought this might be the same sensor that's used in the Sony Alpha NEX-7, but that's apparently not the case. The camera keeps dust off of the sensor by using ultrasonic waves.

Directly above the lens mount is the D3200's pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash has a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100 -- typical for a D-SLR. If you want more flash power, less redeye, and wireless control, then you'll need to pony up for one of the external flashes that I mentioned back in the accessory discussion.

Also seen here are the AF-assist lamp (just to the right of that red strip) and the receiver for the optional wireless remote (directly below the same strip). Just above the D3200 logo is the camera's monaural microphone.

Back of the Nikon D3200

On the back of the D3200 is its newly upgraded LCD display. While the size remained at 3 inches, the resolution has gone for 230k pixels on the D3100 to 921k pixels here. I can't explain why, but the screen didn't seem nearly as sharp as the resolution would indicate. Outdoor visibility was about average.

Above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is slightly smaller than the one on the D3100 (0.78X vs 0.80X). Compared to the other two D-SLRs I've referenced in this review (the Canon T3i and Pentax K-30), the D3200's viewfinder is the smallest (but not by much). The viewfinder displays 95% of the frame, and has relatively small (but visible) illuminated focus points. You can adjust the focus on the viewfinder by using the dial on its upper-right corner.

Now let's talk buttons. Just to the right of the viewfinder is the button for AE/AF lock. To the right of that you won't find a button, but rather the D3200's sole control dial. Under those we find the new Live View and Drive mode buttons, as well as the same delete photo and four-way controller buttons that were found on the D3100. The four-way controller does not have any shortcuts assigned to it, unfortunately.

Over on the left side of the LCD we have buttons for entering playback mode and the menu system, zooming in or out of photos (and viewing help screens), and opening up the shortcut menu. More on some of those after the tour.

Straight above the column of five buttons is a secondary receiver for the remote control.

Top of the Nikon D3200

The first thing to see on the top of the camera is the speaker, which is next to the strap mount on the left side of the photo.

In the middle of the photo is the D3200's hot shoe. It'll work best with modern Nikon Speedlights, which will sync with the camera's metering system, and also allow for use of the flash's AF-assist lamp (among other things). If you get one of the more expensive flashes, it can be used to control other Nikon flashes wirelessly. The one thing you can't do here is high speed x-sync -- you'll need to step up to a more expensive Nikon D-SLR for that. The fastest shutter speed you can use with the camera is 1/200 sec.

To the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, which I'll cover in detail right after this tour. Above it are buttons for movie recording, toggling what's shown on the LCD, and adjusting the exposure compensation. Above all that is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it.

Left side of the Nikon D3200

Before I talk about the items on the D3200 body, I want to tell you what the two switches on the 18 - 55 mm kit lens are for. The top one switches between auto and manual focus, while the bottom one turns the image stabilization (VR) system on and off.

On the body itself, you've got the flash release / flash exposure compensation button, with the customizable Fn (function) button below it. By default, the Fn button lets you quickly adjust the ISO sensitivity.

At the far right, under a rubber cover, are the D3200's four I/O ports. They include:

  • Microphone input
  • USB + A/V output
  • Mini-HDMI
  • GPS / Remote shutter release

Right side of the Nikon D3200

The only thing to see here is the D3200's memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door that feels like it could bust off fairly easily.

Bottom of the Nikon D3200

No big surprises on the bottom of the camera. Here you've got the metal tripod mount -- in-line with the lens, of course -- and the battery compartment. The door that covers the battery compartment is of average quality.

The included EN-EL14 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

One of two possible info screens that are shown when using the viewfinder
All of the settings on the right can be adjusted at at the push of a button

Before I delve into camera features, I want to talk about the shooting experience on the D3200. Being a traditional D-SLR, you'll probably take most of your photos using the optical viewfinder. You get the clearest view possible when using the viewfinder, and get to use the camera's 11-point AF system, which is considerably faster than the contrast detection system in live view. The camera displays current shooting information on the LCD display, and you can quickly change settings on this screen by pressing the shortcut menu button (to the left of the LCD).

The "view" in live view

Speaking of live view, that's the other way in which you can compose photos on the D3200. In this mode you'll see the scene you're composing on the LCD in real-time, just like on compact and mirrorless cameras. The main benefits of live view include real-time previews of things like white balance and exposure, easy manual focusing with frame enlargement, face detection, and composition grid lines (sorry histogram lovers, that's not supported). The downside of live view is slow autofocus performance, which makes this feature best suited to non-moving subjects. Low light visibility while using the LCD in live view is decent, but I've seen better.

Now let's dive into the features accessed via the dials and buttons on the D3200, beginning with the mode dial:

Option Function
Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with some menu options locked up.
Guide mode The camera assists you with taking pictures, reviewing those you've taken, and adjusting settings on the camera. See below for more.
Program mode Still automatic, but with access to all menu options. The Flexible Program feature lets you scroll through several shutter speed / aperture combinations by using the control dial.
Shutter priority mode You choose the shutter speed, and the camera picks the appropriate aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/4000 sec.
Aperture priority mode You choose the aperture, and camera picks the correct shutter speed. Range depends on lens used. For the kit lens, it's F3.5 - F36.
Full manual (M) mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself, with the same ranges as above. The bulb and time modes will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is pressed. The optional AC adapter and remote shutter release cable are strongly recommended.

Night portrait

These are all scene modes
Flash off Disables the flash entirely, for natural light photos

A trip through the Guide Mode

The D3200's Guide Mode makes it one of the easiest-to-use cameras in its class. When you first enter the guide, you can choose from Shooting, Playback, and Setup options. Let's pretend that we need help taking good photos of a sports event. I choose "Shoot", then "Easy operation" and finally "Moving subject". From there you can choose if you want to use the viewfinder or the, or if you want to take a movie. If you went through "Advanced operation" you'd find "Freeze motion (people)" which is similar, except now you can choose the shutter speed used. The camera shows example photos on the LCD in the Guide and in some of the menus, which serves as a nice visual aid.

If you want point-and-shoot operation without the guide, there's an auto mode plus six scene modes to choose from. If the camera has something to tell you, a question mark will start blinking on the LCD. Pressing the button with the same character will explain what's going on, like "lighting is poor, flash recommended".

Naturally, the D3200 has manual controls as well. You can adjust the exposure (with bulb mode support), white balance (with fine-tuning), and focus (of course), and the RAW image format is supported. One thing that I really wish the D3200 had is bracketing, but alas it does not.

The shooting menu Help screens are available for each menu option -- very nice

The rest of the D3200's features can be found in its attractive menu system. It's easy to navigate, and by pressing the help button, you'll get a description of each option. The menus are broken into several tabs, covering playback, shooting, setup, retouching, and recently used settings. Here are the most interesting options from the shooting and setup menus:

  • Set Picture Control: choose which set of image parameters are currently being used; see below for more
  • Image size/quality: there are three image sizes to choose from (large, medium, small) as well as three quality settings for JPEGs (fine, normal, basic); here you can also turn on RAW or RAW+JPEG mode; a RAW image is roughly 20.4 MB in size, while a Large/Fine JPEG weighs in at 11.9 MB
  • White balance: the D3200 offers the usual presets, plus a custom option for using a white or gray card; see below for a bit more
  • ISO sensitivity: you've got a range of 100 - 6400 available, with a "high" option if 12800, plus an Auto mode for the point-and-shoot modes
  • Auto ISO control: turns on Auto ISO in the P/A/S/M modes; you can choose the maximum sensitivity used, as well as the minimum shutter speed permitted
  • Active D-Lighting: supposed to preserve highlight and shadow detail; see below for an example
  • Auto distortion control: reduces barrel and pin-cushion distortion automatically; strangely enough this is off by default; see example later in the photo tests
  • AF Area mode: when using the viewfinder you can select from Auto-area (11-point), single-point, dynamic-area (you select the point yourself), and 3D tracking; in live view you can choose from Face Priority, wide or normal area (you can select the area on which to focus), and subject tracking; the D3200 supports single and continuous AF, with an "auto" option they switches between the two based on subject movement
  • Image display format: choose the style of the info display on the LCD when you're shooting with the viewfinder
  • Self-timer: choose the delay and number of shots taken when using the self-timer
  • Quiet shutter mode: this is actually accessed with the drive button, but I'm mentioning it here; while the shutter sound isn't really any quieter than normal, this mode doesn't flip the mirror back up until you let go of the shutter release button
  • Rangefinder: provides a visual indicator in the optical viewfinder of how far off from correct focus
  • Buttons: here you can assign the function of the Fn button (choose from image quality/size, ISO, white balance, and Active D-Lighting), how the AE/AF lock button functions, and whether exposure is locked when the shutter release button is half-pressed

Adjusting a Picture Control preset

Let's go over a few of those. A Picture Control contains various sets of image parameters, such as sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. If you're taking black and white photos, you can also turn on virtual filters and toning effects. There are six preset Controls: standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, and landscape, and each of those can be adjusted.

Fine-tuning white balance

The D3200 has the usual selection of white balance presets, plus a custom mode in which you can use a white or gray card for accurate colors in unusual lighting. You can also fine-tune the WB using the controls you see above. Unfortunately there's no way to set the color temperature or bracket for white balance on the D3200 -- you'll have to step up to a more expensive Nikon camera if you want those features.

Active D-Lighting, found on many other Nikon cameras, aims to improve overall image contrast. On many Nikon cameras it's off by default, but the opposite is true on the D3200. There are no levels of ADL to choose from on this camera -- just on or off. Below is example comparing our purple fringing tunnel with and without ADL. I accidentally used the wrong white balance setting here, so excuse the brownish cast.

Active D-Lighting off
View Full Size Image
Active D-Lighting on (default)
View Full Size Image

As you can see, Active D-Lighting did a nice job with this scene. The shadows are brighter and there's less highlight clipping in and around the arch on the left. The sky looks a bit "bluer" too. Therefore, I'd leave ADL at its default setting: on.

As for movies, the D3200 can record Full HD videos, now at 30 frames/second, versus 24 fps on the D3100. If you'd prefer to shoot at 24p, that option is still available. Anyhow, you can keep recording until the file size hits 4GB, or the time elapsed reaches 20 minutes. Only mono sound is recorded, so if you want stereo, you'll have to spring for an optional external Mic.

There are two bit rates to choose from at both 1080p and 720p (the latter is recorded at 60 frames/sec): 24 or 12 Mbps. A low resolution 640 x 424 option is also available, recorded at 30 frames/sec, again with your choice of bit rates (5 or 3 Mbps).

The D3200 supports full-time autofocus while recording movies. The focusing definitely isn't seamless, since the C-AF system is on the side. Naturally, you can use the vibration reduction system on your lens, if it has that feature.

Despite being an entry-level D-SLR, the D3200 still allows you to manually adjust the exposure in movie mode. You can adjust the shutter speed and ISO while recording, but the aperture can only be changed before you turn on live view. The microphone levels can be manually adjusted, though the camera lacks a wind filter. While you can take a still photo while taking a movie, recording will stop at that point.

Movies are recorded using the H.264 codec and are saved in QuickTime format. Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:

Click to play movie (1920 x 1080, 30 frames/sec, 49.7 MB, QuickTime/H.264 format)

Looks pretty good to me!

About a third of the Retouch menu In-camera RAW processing

The D3200 has one of the nicest playback modes out there, with plenty of "retouching" options. Some of the more useful ones include:

  • Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a specific day by pressing the "zoom out" button
  • D-Lighting: brighten the dark areas of a photo, with your choice of low, normal, and high settings
  • Redeye correction: remove this annoying effect from your flash photos
  • Special effects: apply selective color, miniature effect, fisheye, and many more effects to your photos
  • Color balance: tweak the color tone of a photo you've taken -- even if it was a JPEG
  • NEF (RAW) processing: a feature every high-end camera should have, this lets you adjust the white balance, exposure, Picture Control, noise reduction, among of D-Lighting, and more, to a RAW image
  • Quick Retouch: enhance color and contrast at the press of a button
  • Straighten: fix those crooked horizons
  • Distortion control: fix barrel distortion automatically or manually
  • Edit movie: trim unwanted footage from a video clip

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos. However, a quick press of the info button will give you a lot more, including a two types of histogram.

The D3200 between photos instantly in playback mode. You can use the four-way controller or the control dial to move between them.