Is the Nikon D3200 the ultimate beginners’ camera?

Nikon D3200 front view

Is the new Nikon D3200, which was only announced this week, the ultimate beginners’ camera? It certainly makes a strong case on paper. Our head of testing, Angela Nicholson, asked the question over on our sister website, TechRadar.
Nikon D3200 unveiledThe Nikon D3100 has been one of the best selling DSLRs of recent times for a good reason. For a start, it sits at the bottom of Nikon’s DSLR lineup, so it is relatively affordable and yet and offers a gateway to the company’s extensive camera system with a huge number of lenses and accessories.

In addition, it has a sturdy little body with a relatively modest selection of controls, so those who are relatively new to photography aren’t overwhelmed by the prospect of learning how to use it.

And most importantly, it is capable of delivering high quality images that reward the photographer who has made the jump from a compact camera to an SLR.

Guide Mode
The D3100 has also received praise because of its Guide Mode, which explains to photographers how to achieve particular effects, such as blurred backgrounds, in simple, non-technical or overtly photographic language (see Nikon D3100: tips for using your digital camera).

Nikon D3200: easy operation

For the Nikon D3200, Nikon has developed the Guide Mode concept a bit further and installed a number of reference images. As a result, when you make the settings adjustments that the camera suggests are required to create an effect, you can actually see the impact.

So for example when the ‘Reds in sunsets’ option is selected, you can see the sky in the reference image get redder as the white balance is adjusted.

Nikon D3200: mode dial

As with the D3100, Guide Mode is selected via the main mode dial on the Nikon D3200’s top plate, and the settings changes are made within that mode following the Guide’s directions.

Helpfully, the Guide explains which settings are being adjusted, so when blurring the background, for example, you’re informed that a low f/number is required and that aperture priority mode is a good choice of exposure mode to try to recreate this in the future, when your confidence builds.

Pixel count
Having a 24.2 million pixels means that the Nikon D3200 produces very large images and, provided that noise levels are adequately controlled, there’s plenty of scope for cropping.

This is ideal for novice photographers on two counts. Firstly, one of the most common mistakes that inexperienced photographers make is to stand too far away from their subject, so it looks too small in the frame. This problem often doesn’t become apparent to them until the image is downloaded on the computer, at which point you can crop to improve the composition.

Another issue is that, if new to the hobby, you’re likely to only have one or two lenses and may not have an optic with enough reach to get you as close as you’d like to the subject. Instead you can crop the image to make the subject appear larger in the frame.

Because cropping and zooming into an image makes any noise or loss of detail more noticeable, it is essential that the Nikon D3200 controls noise well to enable dramatic cropping.

Naturally, we will study this closely when we get a full production sample in for testing, but in the meantime we think that the signs are good. The Nikon D3200 uses a completely new sensor, which has a pixel density that isn’t too far off the Nikon D800’s.

It also features the same Expeed 3 processing engine as the D4 (see our Nikon D4 review) and D800 (see our Nikon D800 review), so it would appear to have the necessary specification to make large images on which fairly heavy crops can be made.

What’s next?
While Nikon’s Guide Mode is very good, you might find it helpful to have a guide that helps you analyse your images and rectify any problems.

Imagine, for example, that you’re reviewing an image that is too bright. The camera could explain that you need to reduce the exposure using the exposure compensation control.

The image analysis could be performed using a multiple choice question and answer type wizard, for instance, saying what’s wrong with the image – if it’s too bright, too dark, the colours are too cold, the colours are too warm and so on.

If Nikon continues to develop its Scene Recognition System, it could become possible to analyse the images automatically using the EXIF data and histograms. Thus the camera could suggest how to correct exposure errors and colourcasts.


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