Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Nikon D3200 DSLR (Entry Level Or Inexpensive Pro Camera?)

I was recently able to borrow a brand-new Nikon D3200 DSLR from a friend. By brand-new, I mean that the date and time had yet to be set and only a few frames had been exposed. I wanted to get my hands on a D3200 because I'm interested in the D3300, and the only significant difference between the two cameras is that the former has an anti-aliasing filter and the latter does not.

The camera had the kit 18mm-55mm lens attached. I failed to grab the instruction manual, figuring that I'd be able to easily figure everything out.
It's A Long Ways Down - Stallion Springs, California
Usually when I write camera reviews, I've used the camera for at least a couple of weeks. This allows me to understand pretty well the good and bad points. No camera is perfect--they all have limitations of some sort. It is important to understand what a camera does well and what it doesn't do well so you know if it is a good match for what you're trying to photographically accomplish.

With the D3200, I was only able to use the camera for a few hours. I did my best to put the camera to the test while I had it, and I believe that I was able to draw some conclusions even after limited use.
Goldie - Stallion Springs, California
One question that I wanted to answer about the D3200 is whether or not it could be used as a serious camera. The 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor provides more than enough resolution for most photographers, allowing for large prints or steep cropping. But is the camera too entry-level to be taken seriously?

I mentioned that I didn't take the instruction manual with me when I borrowed the camera. This turned out to be a mistake because for about an hour I couldn't figure out how to make basic adjustments to ISO, white-balance, auto-focus and metering. Finally I figured out the button that I needed to push to activate the menu to make those changes. In my opinion there are too many steps to make common adjustments. It is obvious that Nikon figured most D3200 users would use the camera in full auto made.
A Thistle Blossom - Stallion Springs, California
Once you know how to make all the necessary adjustments, you get used to the interface and the process to make changes. Even though it took more button presses than I'd prefer, making adjustments came naturally by the time I had to return the camera.

The D3200 has an 11-point auto-focus system, which may be the biggest drawback of this camera. However, I did not experience any problems with it. The camera focused where I wanted it to each time. In low-light/low-contrast situations the camera had a tendency to "fish" for a second or two before locking focus. Manual focus worked like it is supposed to, although as best as I can tell there is no "focus peaking" feature.
Epoch - Stallion Springs, California
This camera has 24 megapixels, which is about the maximum you'll find on an APS-C sized sensor, providing resolution more in line with full-frame cameras. However, putting that many "pixels" on an APS-C sized sensor typically has drawbacks, especially relating to dynamic range and high-ISO capabilities. Studying the photographs that I captured I believe the camera was sufficient in both of those categories.

According to DxOMark, who tests camera sensors, the D3200 has a similar color depth to the Hasselblad H3DII 39 and the Phase One P45 Plus, both medium-format cameras that are much higher in cost than the D3200. The dynamic range is nearly identical to the Nikon D4s and the Leica M Typ 240, both full-frame cameras that are much higher in cost. And the high-ISO capabilities are similar to the Phase One P65 Plus and better than the Canon EOS 1D Mark III, both (again) much more expensive than the D3200.  
Imminent Change - Stallion Springs, California
The reason that I point out those DxOMark findings is that it illustrates the image quality capabilities of the camera. Most serious photographers would be pleased with the results produced by the D3200. I was quite satisfied with the image quality. It most certainly outperforms its "entry level" title.

I want to briefly comment on this camera and high-ISO. I didn't get to play around with high-ISO nearly as much as I would have liked, but with what I did do, I was satisfied with the results all the way up to ISO 800 in JPEG format and ISO 1600 in RAW. Above that, ISO 3200 and 6400 seemed passable in the right situations, but only in RAW format where you have control over noise-reduction.
Summer Storm Ascension - Stallion Springs, California
Speaking of JPEG vs. RAW, the D3200 creates very nice looking JPEGs in-camera. They do require a boost in contrast and other post-processing tweaks, but the files are overall very good. There really isn't a big need to use RAW with this camera other than for perhaps critical, fast-changing work (such as a wedding) and high-ISO.

The D3200 has good speed. Start up time is almost instantaneous. Focus is fast, and the camera is capable of up to four frames-per-second. Files are written to the card almost as quickly as they're captured.
Thistle Bloom - Stallion Springs, California
For those concerned with ergonomics and size-and-weight, the camera fit good in my hand and was not a chore to carry around. I used it for a few hours straight almost without stopping--I even took it on a short hike--and it did not bother me. Overall it is small and well designed.

The D3200 comes with a pop-up flash attached to the top. I used it as a fill-flash a few times, and it worked as one would expect it to work. If you think that you may use a flash regularly, I would purchase a good external flash.
California Mountains, Summer of '83 - Stallion Springs, California
The viewfinder on the D3200 looks pretty good and bright for a pentamirror. It has 95% coverage, which is good. I personally prefer pentaprism viewfinders with 100% coverage, but that typically adds at least a couple hundred dollars to the cost of a camera. This pentamirror seems like a good compromise, keeping the camera cost down without much degradation to the viewfinder experience.

The meter on the D3200 was spot-on almost every time. Occasionally in bright light the camera needed -0.3 exposure compensation, but that is no big deal because exposure compensation is a simple task.
Obscure Glimpse - Stallion Springs, California
Auto-white-balance on the D3200 was spot-on almost every time, as well. I played around with mixed lighting situations and had a hard time throwing the camera off.

The D3200 has built-in auto-distortion-correction. What this does is straighten out warped lines from lens distortion, particularly from wide-angle lenses. While not perfect, it actually works pretty well. This feature can either be turned off or on, and, unless you purposefully want lens distortion, it should be kept on.
Ascending Storm Over The Central Valley - Stallion Springs, California
While I didn't have a chance to use these features, I was happy to see that the camera has infrared sensors for remote shutter release, 1080P high-definition video, auto-ISO where you can set the parameters, and tracking auto-focus. Because I didn't use any of those features, I cannot attest to the effectiveness of them, but it is good that they're available.

The camera had Nikon's kit 18mm-55mm lens attached. There is no such thing as a great kit lens, but Nikon's kit lens is one of the better kit lenses out there. The lens is sufficient for many people, however, I think that to get the most out of the 24 megapixel sensor one would want to get a better lens.
Basketball Hoop - Stallion Springs, California
A couple of budget lens options for the D3200 are the Nikkor 35mm AF-S f1.8 G, which retails for just under $200, and the Nikkor 50mm AF-S f1.8 G, which retails for just over $200. Both are well-regarded, sharp lenses that won't break the bank. Be aware that the D3200 does not have an auto-focus drive, so lenses without a built-in motor won't auto-focus on this camera. 

The Nikon D3200 can be found for under $400 for just the body or under $500 with the kit lens. That's an excellent price for a DSLR that delivers so much.
Boy Glancing Down - Stallion Springs, California
Is the D3200 perfect? No. Are there better cameras out there? Absolutely. But for the budget-minded photographer who does not want to drop thousands on a new camera, this is probably the best choice available. This is a value camera that can please new and old photographers alike.

I captured all of the photographs in this article using the Nikon D3200, with the exception of the top image, which was captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill. The photographs were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 6.


  1. Thanks for the review! I feel like I learned so much about the camera. Now to crack open the manual....