This long overdue review of the Nikon D3200 is based on my 2 months experience with the camera – first when it came out and later when then I received the Nikon D5200 for testing. Due to an extremely busy schedule and a huge number of lens and camera reviews that I went through in 2012, I did not get a chance to review this camera. So before I start working on any other articles, I decided to first post the Nikon D3200 review.
Targeted at beginners and those upgrading from a point and shoot, the D3200 is an entry-level DSLR with the least number of features (when compared to other Nikon DSLRs), simplified user interface and lightest and most compact camera body. This is a third iteration of the camera, with the D3000 making a debut back in 2009, followed by the D3100 in 2010. The Nikon D3200 was delayed until April of 2012 due to the major earthquake in Japan in March of 2011 and severe floods in Thailand in summer of 2011 (where Nikon had manufacturing facilities).
1) Nikon D3200 Specifications
- 24.2 Megapixel DX-format CMOS Image Sensor
- Full 1080p HD video with stereo sound
- Easy-To-Use with Nikon’s Guide Mode
- Fast and accurate shooting with 11-point Autofocus System
- 3-in. monitor with One-Touch Live View shooting and movie capture
- Built-in HDMI port
- 6 Automatic Exposure Scene Modes – Portrait, Landscape, Child, Sports, Close-up or Night Portrait
- Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape Picture Controls
- Built-in pop-up flash
- Includes 3x 18-55mm Zoom-NIKKOR VR Image Stabilization Lens
- Compact and Lightweight Design
- ISO sensitivity 100-6400, expandable to ISO 12800 equivalent
- Scene Auto Selector and Scene Recognition System in Live View
- Features Nikon’s EXPEED 3 image processing engine
- Active D-Lighting for shadow highlight recovery
- Automatic Image Sensor Cleaning
- In-camera Image Editing
- Compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC cards
- 95% Viewfinder frame coverage
- 4 frames per second in Continuous Shooting Mode
- AF-S lens required for autofocus (no built-in focus motor)
Detailed technical specifications are available on Nikonusa.com.
2) Nikon D3200 vs D3100
I won’t go into the detailed comparison between the Nikon D3200 and its predecessor, because the comparison is already provided in my Nikon D3200 vs D3100 article that I wrote a while ago. In summary, aside from the higher megapixel sensor, faster processor, faster shooting speed of 4 fps and a higher resolution LCD screen, not much has changed on the Nikon D3200.
3) Camera construction and handling
Being an entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D3200 is built to be a compact and an ultra-lightweight camera, with dimensions of 125x96x76.5mm (about the same as the D3100 in size), making it the smallest DSLR in Nikon’s current line of cameras. While it is not as compact as some of the mirrorless cameras due to the presence of a mirror and a pentamirror, it is still quite small when compared to high-end cameras like Nikon D800. The newly announced Canon EOS Rebel SL1 took the “world’s smallest DSLR” crown this week though, which measures a little smaller at 117x91x69mm. With a weight of only 455 grams without the lens, the Nikon D3200 weighs the same as its predecessor – the Nikon D3200, which was the lightest Nikon DSLR produced to date. Compare that to the same D800 I referred to earlier, which is twice heavier at 900 grams. Weighing so little means that the camera is mostly made of plastic, with the exception of the metal lens mount.
The camera handles very similarly as its predecessor, with slightly superior ergonomics. The lightweight Nikkor 18-55mm kit lens that ships with D3200 is a great fit for everyday photography and the two balance quite well together. While the front of the camera went through very modest ergonomic changes, the top and back of the camera have been slightly modified, with more buttons for quicker and easier access of camera functions. The lever that used to be embedded to the camera mode dial on the D3100 has been eliminated from the D3200 and the functionality has been transferred to a single button on the back of the camera (Left: Nikon D3200, Right: Nikon D3100):
Personally, I liked the lever on the D3100 and saw nothing wrong with it, but I believe Nikon eliminated it for a reason. If more shooting modes are available in the future, there is no way to add them to a physical lever, while a single button can be programmed via firmware to have additional functionality. Plus, it is one less piece of plastic that can potentially break.
The Info button, which gives quick access on the rear LCD to various camera settings has been moved to the middle, between the exposure compensation button and a new dedicated video recording button.
The rear of the camera also went through minimal changes. The zoom in and out buttons on the left side of the LCD have been swapped, which is good, because it follows the layout of all higher-end Nikon DSLRs. Because the video recording button has been moved to the top, the Live View lever + video record button have been replaced with a single LV button:
Overall, considering the entry-level nature of the D3200, there is not much to complain about construction and handling. My only wish, is that the AE-L/AF-L button was located closer to the rear dial – I often use this button for focusing and it felt like it was too far away (same problem with the Nikon D7000 and the new D7100). I don’t see the point of leaving all that empty space between the button and the rear dial, so I hope Nikon will fix this in the future. The original Nikon D3000, by the way, did not have this inconvenience.
As for weather and dust protection, although the D3200 is a pretty tough camera, there is no sealing of any kind, which is expected for an entry-level DSLR. This means that you should be careful when using it in challenging weather conditions.
4) Image Sensor and the EXPEED 3 Processor
To be honest, I was quite surprised when Nikon announced the D3200 with a 24.2 MP sensor. Since all previous entry-level DSLRs had relatively less resolution, I expected the D3200 to be around 14-18 MP. There is both good and bad when dealing with such high resolution sensors. The good is that you get plenty of resolution for large prints, more cropping options and with a good downsampling technique you can significantly reduce the amount of noise in images, as I have demonstrated in my previous reviews. The bad is large files, more visible blur and more visible noise at pixel level. So for an experienced photographer that knows how to take advantage of high resolution, the sensor on the D3200 is capable of producing very impressive images. Landscape and architectural photographers will be happy. However, for those who are just starting out in photography, I believe that 24 MP is an overkill. And since the D3200 is targeted at that specific group, I believe Nikon should have been a little more considerate and should have used a lower resolution sensor. The excellent 16 MP Sony sensor that many manufacturers, including Nikon have been using for the past couple of years would have been a much better choice for this particular camera in my opinion. Take a look at the Sony NEX-5R, for example. Its pixel level performance is superb and the images are pretty clean even past ISO 1600.
Now mind you, I am not saying that the sensor on the D3200 is bad. On the contrary; as you will see from the camera comparisons section of this review, it is a very capable sensor. All I am saying is that 24 MP just feels like a lot for a beginner, especially when higher-end DSLRs like Nikon D5200 and D7100 also have 24 MP sensors. When the D3200 came out, I thought that it sported the same 24 MP Sony sensor that we have seen on such cameras as Sony NEX-7. However, my assumptions proved to be false – the sensor on the D3200 has been fully developed by Nikon. The 24 MP sensors on the Nikon D5200 and the D7100, on the other hand, were developed by Toshiba. So it seems like Nikon has been moving away from using Sony sensors in its recent DX cameras.
As for the processor, Nikon did not go short on that one either. The Nikon D3200 has the same EXPEED 3 processor as on high-end cameras like D600, D800 and D4. This means that you can expect the D3200 to handle high-resolution files very quickly and effectively, with superb response times. It also means that the D3200 is capable of handling high definition video. The camera can record 1080p at up to 30 fps and 720p at up to 60 fps.
For a more detailed comparison between Nikon D3200 and other DSLRs, see the Camera Comparisons section of this review.
5) Autofocus Performance and Metering
The Nikon D3200 is equipped with the same 11 Point AF System with 1 cross-type sensor in the center, as in Nikon D3100 and D3000 predecessors, so there is no change in AF performance. If you are interested in seeing how AF points and cross-type sensors impact the autofocus performance, please see my DSLR Autofocus Modes article. In short, the Nikon D3200 performs quite well for everyday photography, but it is not really targeted for fast action photography such as sports and wildlife like some of the higher-end Nikon DSLRs. Autofocus is very accurate for stationary and slow moving subjects, but it tends to miss on fast subjects with erratic movements, especially when you use anything other than the center AF point. For example, take a look at the following image of a biker that I photographed in San Francisco:
At web resolution and thanks to the huge 24 MP sensor (which essentially hides your mistakes when down-sampled), the image looks good. However, take a look at it at pixel level:
As you can see, the camera chose to focus on the background, although I kept the left AF point at the subject in continuous AF-C mode while he rode the bike. I came across similar situations a number of times and when using different lenses, so this is not just a single bad image I picked. If you want the best AF accuracy with this camera, try to stick to the center AF point, which is a cross-type sensor – it generally does a much better job than any other AF sensor on the camera, especially in low-light situations. If you want to place your subject off the center, simply focus and recompose.
As for metering, the Nikon D3200 does a pretty good job just like its predecessor, giving pretty accurate results in most conditions.
6) Movie Recording
As I have pointed out previously, the Nikon D3200 is capable of recording high definition 1080p video in up to 30 frames per second, which is more than plenty for occasional family videos. While you can hook up a microphone to the camera via a built-in mic input, you cannot monitor the sound with a headphone like you can on the Nikon D7100 and high-end DSLRs. Since the old lever + video record button are gone, you now need to first press the “Lv” button on the back of the camera (located to the top left of the multi-function button) to raise the mirror and get into Live View mode, then press the dedicated red video record button on the top of the camera to start recording video. Pressing the same button will stop recording video.
Since I am not a fan of shooting videos, I don’t have any videos worth sharing for this review. But you can find plenty of those on the Internet.
One thing that is definitely worth pointing out is the LCD screen on the Nikon D3200. As I have already noted above, the D3200 has a better LCD screen. With 921,000 dots in a 3″ LCD, the camera now has the same screen as most high-end Nikon DSLRs. In comparison, the Nikon D3100 had a screen that had 4 times less pixels – only 230,000 total.
7) Dynamic Range
All recent Nikon DSLRs have shown excellent dynamic range results and the D3200 is no exception. DXOMark rates it at top #19 as of March 2013 with 13.2 EVs of dynamic range, which is pretty impressive. This puts it right in between excellent NEX-7 and NEX-5R Sony sensors. Considering that this sensor is fully developed by Nikon engineers, this shows that Nikon is capable of making excellent sensors on its own. Although I did not perform any scientific tests to measure the dynamic range, I used some high contrast sample images from the D3200 and tried to recover shadow details from RAW files. The results were quite impressive for an APS-C sensor, very similar to what I was getting with the NEX-series cameras. Don’t forget that dynamic range decreases as you increase ISO, so if you want to be able to recover the maximum amount of details, you should be shooting at ISO 100 on the D3200. This is especially important for HDR photography – always shoot at base ISO of 100 and use a tripod.
If you are wondering about how to shoot HDR images with this camera (since it has no built-in bracketing capability) here is a quick tip for you – just change your camera mode to Manual Mode, set your aperture to one number like f/8.0, set ISO to 100 (and turn off Auto ISO), then look at the built-in meter inside the camera and adjust your shutter speed. Take a sample picture and make sure that it is not severely overexposed or underexposed. All you have to do from this point on, is take a picture with the shutter speed twice less the current value and twice more the current value (for 3 brackets) or you can take more pictures at slower/faster shutter speeds for more information. For example, if your aperture is f/8.0, ISO 100 and shutter speed is 1/500th of a second, take one picture at 1/250th shutter speed, then another at 1/500th and finally one at 1/1000th – you will have three bracketed images with lots of details (three full stops) for an HDR photo. If you need more information for a very high contrast scene, take more pictures at slower shutter speeds and then at higher shutter speeds. When decreasing the shutter speed, divide the last number by two and when increasing the shutter speed, multiply the last shutter speed value by two. This method is obviously slower than using a built-in HDR feature, but it works quite well for most situations.
As for Active D-Lighting, if you shoot RAW (and you absolutely should) and do not use Nikon’s Capture NX2 product, you should just turn it off. For JPEG images, leaving Active D-Lighting On works great and the camera does a pretty good job with balancing highlights and shadows.
8) Built-in Flash
The built-in flash is identical as in Nikon D3100 and earlier models, with no new or special features. Sadly, the entry-level DSLRs do not have the capability to control other flashes, so you will see no option to “command” other flash units through the camera’s pop-up flash as I show in my “How to get the best out of your pop-up flash” article. The built-in flash works great as fill flash and can be used in low-light situations, although you have to watch out for subject distance, shadows, red eye, size of lens hood and other potential problems when using flash.
9) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4500 Temp, +3 Tint in Lightroom
- ISO: 100
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G
- Aperture: f/5.6
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Mirror Lock-Up mode with Exposure Delay set to “On” and remote cable release to completely eliminate camera shake
- Long exposure NR: Off
- Image Format: RAW/NEF
- Imported images into Lightroom and cropped to 100% – no resizing was performed in Photoshop
- No exposure adjustments were performed in Lightroom (besides White Balance)
- Lightroom sharpening: 25, 1.0, 25, 0 (default)
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon D3200 performs at low ISOs. Here are some 100% crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
The noise levels at base ISO are typically the cleanest, as the above crops indicate. ISO 100 and ISO 200 look pretty much the same to me. ISO 400 picks up a little noise, but it is very gradual and only visible in darker areas of the image. At ISO 800, there is more noise visible across the frame and the image details are preserved very well. Overall, the ISO performance of the Nikon D3200 at ISOs 100-800 yields very pleasant results.
10) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-12800)
High ISO performance is a very important measure of DSLR sensor quality. Here is how the Nikon D3200 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400:
ISO 1600 adds a bit more grain when compared to ISO 800, but there is still plenty of detail to work with. Keep in mind that these are 100% crops. I would not hesitate to use ISO 1600 on the D3200 and would probably use noise reduction software if I needed to get rid of the noise at pixel level. At ISO 3200 we are seeing loss of detail throughout the frame and some artifacts show up in the shadows. The artifacts are much more visible at ISO 6400, which looks too grainy for me and ISO 12600 is even worse, with a clear loss of colors and details across the frame. Judging from the above crops and my field tests, I personally would shoot between ISO 100-1600 and push ISO to 3200 every once in a while when needed. Anything higher than ISO 3200 is beyond my comfort level.
11) ISO Performance Summary
Overall, the Nikon D3200 seems to yield pretty impressive results at such high resolution. Once again, keep in mind that the above crops are 100%, which means that no down-sampling techniques have been applied – this is what you will see when zooming in to images at 100%.
It is hard to judge the performance of the Nikon D3200 without direct comparisons against other cameras. Although I have not had a chance to perform ISO comparison tests between Nikon D3200 and the older Nikon D3100, I did a comparison against the higher end Nikon D5200 and the full-frame Nikon D600 DSLRs, which you can see in the next pages of this review.
While I have shown what the pixel-level performance of the D3200 is at different ISO speeds, I typically down-sample images when comparing sensor performance between cameras. The only proper way to compare sensors is to down-sample images, because you would never compare prints of different size. If you have two cameras with different resolution, the one that has more pixels would obviously produce larger prints. So to compare, you would want to match the print size, which is the same thing as down-sampling images.
For the below comparisons though, I will only show pixel level performance between the D3200, the D5200 / D7100 and the D600 DSLRs. The reason for this – all of these cameras have 24 MP of resolution, so there is no need to down-sample anything.
Compared to Nikon D5200 / D7100
The Nikon D5200 and D7100 DSLRs share the same Toshiba 24 MP sensor, which is different from the Nikon sensor used on the D3200. Let’s take a look at how these sensors compare at 100%.
12) Nikon D3200 vs D5200 / D7100 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
At low ISOs between ISO 100 and 400, both Nikon D3200 and Nikon D5200 have about the same noise levels. Details and colors also look very similar (Left: Nikon D3200, Right: Nikon D5200):
However, at ISO 800 we see a slight difference between the two sensors – the Nikon D5200 shows better noise performance in the shadows.
13) Nikon D3200 vs D5200 / D7100 High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? Let’s take a look:
The difference in high ISO performance is more evident at ISO 1600. While the Nikon D3200 has slightly visible artifacts in the shadows, the D5200 has none. This is more evident at ISO 3200, where the D5200 clearly handles noise better. The Nikon D3200 has some loss of details as well, while the D5200 retains them. At much higher ISOs above 3200, the D5200 looks overall much better.
14) Nikon D3200 vs D5200 / D7100 Summary
As you can see from the below comparison, while both sensors produce impressive low ISO performance, there is certainly difference in the way that noise is handled at ISOs above 400. You can see that the D5200 renders better shadows starting from ISO 800 and the difference is much more evident past ISO 1600. Still, the D3200 has excellent image quality overall, especially when images are down-sampled to smaller resolution.
Compared to Nikon D600
While DX vs FX is a whole different ballgame for comparing sensor performance, since it is not a true apples-to-apples comparison due to the huge difference in sensor size, I still decided to post the comparison with the D600. As you may already know, the Nikon D600 also has 24 MP of resolution, so it is interesting to see how the two differ at pixel level.
15) Nikon D3200 vs D600 Low ISO Comparison
Let’s take a look at how cropped sensor compares to full-frame at pixel level, at low ISO between 100 and 800 (Left: Nikon D3200, Right: Nikon D600):
The difference in how the cropped sensor and full-frame render details and noise is evident even at the base ISO of 100. There is noticeable “punch” of details, colors and smooth rendering of noise on the D600 that you just cannot see on the D3200. The difference is even more evident when ISO is increased to 400 and more so at 800. This is what one should expect to see when comparing APS-C with full-frame…
16) Nikon D3200 vs D600 High ISO Comparison
Clearly, the full-frame FX sensor from the D600 is capable of producing images of excellent quality at high ISO levels. Just take a look at images at ISO 3200 and 6400 – the D3200 image looks washed and suddenly lacks detail in comparison. Even the boosted ISO 12800 on the D600 looks better than ISO 3200 on the D3200 in my opinion.
17) Nikon D3200 vs D600 Summary
As I have already stated above, comparing an entry-level APS-C sensor to full-frame is certainly not a fair, apples-to-apples comparison. As expected, there is huge difference in the way images are rendered between sensors of different size. While the number of megapixels is the same, the D600 has much bigger pixels, which drives better overall performance with beautiful colors, higher dynamic range and better details. But keep in mind, the D3200 is priced under $700 with a lens, while the D600 costs $2K for the body alone…
Without a doubt, the Nikon D3200 is a very impressive little camera. Despite the fact that it is targeted at beginners and those upgrading from a point and shoot camera, the D3200 can deliver superb high resolution images that closely rival even some of the higher-end offerings from Nikon. If one can take a full advantage of the high-resolution sensor, understanding the benefits of down-sampling, there is a lot to like about the D3200. Landscape and architectural photographers will be very happy with this camera, because it can produce large prints that are practically noise-free at low ISO levels. The weaker 11 point AF system on the D3200 is not a problem either, because landscape / architectural photographers often rely on manual focus or focus via live view. There is a difference in performance between the D3200 and the higher-end D5200 / D7100 cameras, but it is only visible at ISO 800 and above, which is not an issue for those that use a tripod and use low ISO anyway. For portrait photographers, higher-end cameras such as D5200 and D7100 will yield slightly better images in low light, but obviously offer a lot more benefits such as much better autofocus, superior camera build, better ergonomics and other in-camera features. So it all depends on your needs – if you want a great camera for your everyday family moments or landscape /architectural photography needs, the D3200 has plenty to offer. For more specialized needs and better overall performance, higher-end Nikon DX cameras will obviously provide more options and capabilities.
While I praise the high-resolution sensor on the D3200, I also feel that it can be an overkill for a casual photographer, or for someone who is just starting out. The thing is, 24 MP is a lot of pixels when you compare the camera to earlier models with 8 to 12 MP of resolution (even the previous generation full-frame Nikon D700 only has 12 MP of resolution!). Photography newbies often lack the understanding of the benefits of high resolution sensors and might be bummed with more noticeable blur and noise at pixel level. While the 24 MP is great news for capable photographers, I feel that Nikon would have been better off with using a lower resolution sensor. After-all, not all beginners have super fast computers with a boatload of storage to handle those huge D3200 RAW files. Another thing to keep in mind, is that the D3200 is much more demanding on lenses than lower resolution cameras. To take a full advantage of the 24 MP sensor, one would need to use good lenses that are capable of resolving all that detail…
Overall, I am very impressed by the Nikon D3200 – it is without a doubt a great little camera not just for beginners, but also for amateurs that want to move up from a low resolution DSLR.
19) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Nikon D3200 + Nikkor 18-55mm VR lens for $596.95 (with a $100 instant rebate).
20) More image samples
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Packaging and Manual
Photography Life Overall Rating