By all accounts, Nikon had a great year in 2011, topping both the DSLR and compact camera charts. The former came via the Nikon D3100, the company’s entry-level offering with a 14.2 million pixel sensor, which is a great way in for those looking to get serious about their photography.
After launching two new models at the very top of its lineup already this year, Nikon has now refreshed its beginner offering with the D3200, although interestingly not by replacing the D3100, but by introducing the new camera to sit alongside it.
Nikon says that it will continue to market and sell the D3100, giving customers the choice between a budget model, and a more sophisticated option in the D3200.
There’s lots of interesting technology crammed into the relatively small body of the Nikon D3200, including things that have trickled down from its more expensive bodies.
These include features such as the Expeed 3 processing engine, which promises to deliver quicker processing, low noise and a range of frame rates for Full HD video recording.
A number of other improvements have been made to the camera, which is priced at £649.99 in the UK and $699.95 in the US. These include slight ergonomic upgrades in the form of newly added buttons and an enhanced rear LCD screen.
But it is of course that 24.2 million pixel sensor that is likely to be the most headline-grabbing feature, coming just weeks after the unveiling of Nikon’s other high resolution camera, the Nikon D800 (with 36 million pixels).
Coming from a company that used to profess that 12 million pixels was “enough”, it’s likely that some will scoff at the hike in pixel count, but Nikon is keen to point out the cropping potential that such a high resolution offers.
This means that users who are unlikely to invest in a second, longer focal length range can crop into images post-capture and still retain a large enough pixel count for high quality images.
Aiming itself so squarely at the entry-level user, improvements made to the Guide Mode are something Nikon is understandably keen to shout about.
On the Nikon D3200, new guides including Reds in Sunsets have been added, which – along with the original guides – is designed to help users to achieve the best possible image quality without necessarily having to have a huge amount of photographic knowledge.
Helpfully, the updated guide now has more reference images. These change as the settings are adjusted to show the typical impact.
Another feature that’s likely to appeal to the intended target audience is the option to purchase an additional Wi-Fi adaptor, the WU-1A, which connects the camera to smartphones and tablets for remote shooting and uploading images to social networking sites.
A number of retouch options have been included in the camera, including the capability to straighten and crop images and add digital art filters after the shot has been taken.
The Nikon D3200 Verdict
Our testing team put the Nikon D3200 through its paces, which you can read about in the full Nikon D3200 review over on our sister site, TechRadar. If you want some of the key points from the full test and the final verdict on the D3200, here is what our team had to say…
On Build & Handling
While there are a limited number of direct control buttons on the Nikon D3200, commonly used functions (such as the sensitivity settings), can be accessed via the “i” quick menu button on the back of the camera.
Although quite a small camera, the deep grip provides a good amount of purchase. The combined weight of the camera and standard 18-55mm kit lens is heavy enough to give the Nikon D3200 the feel of a quality piece of kit.
It’s a shame that an articulating screen couldn’t be included on the Nikon D3200. However, according to Nikon, adding this would come at the cost of making the overall body bigger and more expensive, so it’s understandable that the manufacturer has chosen to keep articulating screens for its larger bodied cameras.
What’s more, the improvements made to the Guide menu make the process of shooting high quality images easier, while also managing to impart some knowledge to the photographer using it.
We think this camera is likely to appeal greatly to novice shooters. And because it has a few features that enthusiasts will also appreciate, they won’t need to upgrade too quickly as they gain experience.
Autofocus acquisition in the majority of cases is quick, slightly dropping in low light situations, but the system copes well otherwise. Although the Nikon D3200 doesn’t boast the AF speed of some other DSLRs, the average user should have no problems using the camera in everyday shooting scenarios.
On the whole, the camera’s automatic white balance system seemed to do a good job of measuring the scene, and produces mostly accurate results.
When shooting at high sensitivities, such as ISO 1600, noise is generally controlled well. When viewing images at 100 per cent there is sometimes some smoothing where noise control has been implemented in JPEG files.
On Noise and Dynamic Range
JPEG images from the Nikon D3200 show similar signal to noise ratio results to the D3100 up to a sensitivity of ISO 1600, above this value the results show a marked improvement.
TIFF images (After conversion from raw) from the Nikon 3200 are on a par with those from the Canon EOS 1100D and show improved results across the entire sensitivity range when compared with the Nikon D3100.
The Nikon D3200’s JPEGs have at least a 1EV higher dynamic range than theNikon D3100 up to a sensitivity of ISO 400, above this value it maintains around 0.5ev better dynamic range.
Nikon D3200 TIFF files (After conversion from raw) show a big improvement for dynamic range at all sensitivities over the D3100. At the lower end of the sensitivity range between ISO 100-400 the results show as much as a 2ev difference between the two cameras.
Nikon D3200: the final verdict
Nikon has delivered an excellent camera in the Nikon D3200, and it seems to be determined to completely dominate DSLR sales with three new DSLR releases already this year.
A camera with 24 million pixels at the entry level is pretty extraordinary, and it’s pleasing to note that the extra pixels don’t come at the cost of a reduction in image quality.
For beginners looking to get a bit more creative with their photography, Nikon’s innovative Guide Mode, brought over from the 3100, is a real boon, while of course the Nikon D3200 includes options for those wanting to explore manual and semi-manual exposure modes further down the line.
It’s worth remembering, however, that the Nikon D5100, higher up in the chain than the Nikon D3200, is currently cheaper to buy. In our lab tests, its 16 million pixel sensor performed better than the Nikon D3200 and also has the benefit of an articulating rear LCD screen.
With the D3200, Nikon is likely to continue the success of the D3100 into 2012 and beyond. It’s a shame that fairly large niggles, such as the quality of the screen, prevents this from being the perfect beginner camera… but it’s almost there.
The 24 million pixel sensor enables some creative image cropping while still keeping image resolution high – a great option for those who don’t want to invest in a zoom lens.
The LCD screen has an inaccurate colour cast, so it’s sometimes difficult to correctly gauge white balance.