Choosing your first SLR can be a daunting experience. Fortunately, the Nikon D3200 is geared towards beginners, with a range of features to enhance your photos, no matter what level of photographic skill you possess.
Design and features
The D3200 borrows most of its design aesthetic from the earlier entry-level Nikon cameras, such as the D3100. It sits comfortably in the hand and doesn't overwhelm, particularly if you are using one of the smaller kit lenses, such as the 18-55mm, or a prime lens, such as the new 40mm model. There's a red colour option, for anyone who wants a bit of spice with their photography.
At the top is a mode dial, which is home to all the main controls. Like all SLRs, you get full program, aperture and shutter priority, as well as manual modes. There's also a variety of scene modes, such as macro, sports, portrait and landscape, denoted on the dial with an appropriate picture. Automatic is painted green and is ideal for beginners, though anyone looking to learn a little more about photography will be interested in the Guide mode.
This steps the user through some common shooting scenarios and, in Easy Operation, it lets you choose the most appropriate shooting mode, according to the scene. There's also Advanced Operation, which explains how the camera will achieve certain effects. For example, if you want to bring more of the scene into focus, you select this option and the camera tells you that you should increase the depth of field. It lets you do it yourself by suggesting shooting in aperture-priority and selecting a bigger aperture/f-stop, or you can do it from within the same menu and it will visually indicate what aperture you should shoot at.
While we're sceptical about a beginner photographer needing as high of a resolution sensor as the 24-megapixel CMOS found on the D3200, the camera does deliver very good image quality. Find out more about how it performs in the image quality section below.
The D3200 uses the same Expeed 3 image processor that's found in the company's highest-end cameras, the D800 and the D4. It's not as fast as those monsters though, as it can only shoot at 4 frames per second in continuous mode. The 3-inch LCD screen boasts a high resolution of 921,000 dots, which makes playback and Live View use much more pleasurable than previous entry-level Nikon cameras.
Unfortunately, the screen doesn't give a true representation of either the final image or the scene in front of you. The colour balance is particularly cool on default settings, which gives a false impression of what the photo actually looks like.
The D3200 does not have a built-in AF motor like its entry-level siblings, meaning that you must use an AF-S lens in order for the camera to autofocus. Most lenses that you'll be looking at, including the kit lenses, will have a built-in motor, so there's no real issue here, unless you want to use older Nikon lenses. There's the same 11-point AF system as found on the D3100, which gives accurate focusing. Nikon says that there is an improved scene-recognition system, which means that things like subject tracking, metering and automatic white balance are all improved from earlier cameras.
While the D3200 is well and truly an entry-level camera, it's missing automatic exposure bracketing, a feature that would be particularly useful for anyone wanting to learn more about how the camera meters. It's also important for anyone wanting to dabble in HDR photography.
With an AF-S lens attached to the camera, the D3200 offers automatic focusing in video. It's a little clunky in its implementation still, as you can hear the lens movement rather loudly through the internal microphone. Even with an external microphone, it's possible to pick up a faint trace of the noise in a quiet environment.
There are plenty of picture effects and built-in features, to adjust the look and feel of images. These filters include options such as fish-eye, monochrome, toy camera, colour outline and colour sketch, which can be applied after taking the photo from the retouch menu.