Nikon D3200 - Megapixels Aren't Everything

11/22/2012 9:21:39 AM

Nikon, it can fairly be said, knows how to make an SLR, so we were keen to see how its latest entry-level model would raise the bar. The D3200 replaces the already feature-packed D3100 and has some tantalizing specs, rendering the pricier D5100 redundant.

For a start, the 24 megapixel resolution is far higher than any previous Nikon DSLR except the full-frame D800, and continuous shooting is up from 3fps to4fps. The screen isn't articulated, but it shares the D5100's 921,000-dotresolution- a vast improvement on the D3100's 230,000-dot screen. It even has one more button than the D5100, giving direct access to the drive mode, although this is a bit of a step back from the D3100's lever for the same function.

Description: Nikon D3200 - Megapixels Aren't Everything

Nikon D3200 Front

Nikon's DSLRs were the first to offer a customizable Auto ISO mode, allowing you can set thresholds for shutter and ISO speed. But it doesn't allow for the fact that it's harder to avoid camera shake at longer focal lengths. The D3200 addresses this with an Auto option for the minimum shutter speed setting. In our tests, this set the threshold to 1/30 second for wide-angle shots with the 18-55mm kit lens, but raised it to 1/100 second for telephoto shots.

IT'S A SHAME Nikon hasn't redesigned the ISO controls. Switching Auto ISO on or off still takes up to 20 button pushes, and it's unclear how the various ISO speed controls relate to each other. Further, the speed chosen by the Auto ISO system is only visible when using live view. This is ironic, as ease of use is meant to be one of the D3200's key selling points.

We like labeled, single-function buttons because they're quick to use, but there's an argument that buyers upgrading from point-and-shoot compacts will prefer fewer buttons and menu-driven controls. The D3200 takes this further with its Guide mode, which falls somewhere between scene presets and an interactive photography course. It offers a choice of shooting conditions and advises which settings to use -but there are gaps in its guidance. For example, it recommended a 1/1000 second shutter speed to freeze motion, then warned that the subject was too dark but offered no solution. Not rocket science.

Still, day-to-day use with the D3200 isn't so bad. It's easy to move the autofocus point and access drive mode and exposure compensation settings. A customizable Fn button can be set to control the ISO speed or white balance, among others. It can't access the Auto ISO mode, though, or calibrate the manual white balance function – these functions are buried in the main menu.

Description: Nikon D3200 Back

Nikon D3200 Back

Videos are recorded at 1080p at 24, 25 or 30fps, while 720p clips are at 50 or 60fps. The auto focus system is clearly designed for photography rather than video, and smattered our soundtrack with gentle whirrs whenever we half-pressed the shutter button to update focus while recording. However, the microphone socket lets you place an external mic a good distance away, and it's great to find one on an entry-level SLR. Another unexpected treat is full manual control over the shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed in video mode. Casual users will prefer to use automatic exposure, which reacted quickly and smoothly to changing light. Exposure compensation and lock give a useful amount of control without having to set everything manually. The D3200's videos were limited to ten minutes per clip, but the D3200's extend to 20 minutes. All in all, this is a seriously impressive video camera.

Description: Nikon D3200 - Megapixels Aren't Everything

Nikon has a superb track record, of course, for photo quality, but how would the new 24 megapixel sensor perform? There was a little more detail than from the 16 megapixel D5100 in the center of the frame in our studio scene, but the improvement wasn't as big as the numbers might suggest. In outdoor shots, focus was often worryingly soft at the center, while the foreground at the bottom of the frame appeared sharper, even though we'd selected the center autofocus point. At first we thought the kit lens might be to blame, but the problem persisted when we replaced it with a Nikkor F/4G ED VR. Nikon sent us a replacement D3200, which didn't exhibit this front-focusing problem but still had more than its fair share of autofocus errors.

“The D3200’s 24 megapixel resolution is far higher than any previous Nikon DSLR except the full-frame D800”

AFTER EXTENSIVE TESTS with a Variety of lenses, we failed to pinpoint the cause, but we suspect a combination of slight calibration errors in the autofocus system, possible issues with optical stabilization, and an over-zealous anti-aliasing filter. A Nikon D800 produced far sharper per pixel details using the same lens as you might hope, given its $4,219 price tag-but so too did the Samsung NX20 (see MacUser, 31 August 2012, p32,, which is much closer to the D3200's price. We don't expect every entry-level SLR to give eye-popping detail, but we do when it has 24 megapixels.

The downside of the huge resolution is increased noise at high ISO, with the D5100 still in the lead for image quality at IS0800. We've grown accustomed to seeing extra resolution at the expense of noise levels in compact cameras, but it's disappointing to see the same thing happening to SLRs.

The D3200 has some impressive specs for this bracket, but while it excels at video capture, photo quality is disappointing. And it's barely any cheaper than the D5100 or Canon EOS 600D. All three are pretty similar in terms of features and performance, but the others' articulated screens and lower noise are more attractive than the D3200's nominally higher resolution. The Canon also has a better control layout, making it our favorite of the three. Meanwhile, the D3100 is still available for around $600 including VAT, and remains an excellent choice.


Price: $814

From: .com


Pro: Excellent video mode

Con: Poor level of detail in photos, Frustrating menu-driven controls

Ratings: 3/5


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