The most-useful features revolve around the 15 different scene modes, which simplify some typically vexing shooting situations. For example, shooters who stay up late or get up early will find a sunset/sunrise mode and a separate dusk/dawn mode, along with night-landscape and fireworks-show modes. There's a panorama setting, too, to help you stitch together several pictures into one.
Four of the scene modes (Portrait, Night Portrait, Sports, and Landscape) have positions of their own on the mode dial and a menu of options. Portrait mode has settings for full-body shots, close-up portraits, and two-person shots. Choose one, and outlines representing one or more humans appear on the LCD to help you position your subjects. In Landscape mode, you can choose Scenic View, which superimposes outlines representing the horizon and mountains, or Architecture, which generates a grid that helps you orient vertical and horizontal lines. This assistance seems a little wacky at times, but it's useful.
The camera features Nikon's Best Shot Selector, which snaps a quick series of up to 10 shots and saves only the sharpest one. There's a blur warning that pops up when the Coolpix 3200's camera-selected shutter speed (automatically adjusted from 4 seconds to 1/3,000 second) is too slow to ensure a sharp image. There's no way for the user to manually designate shutter speed, f-stop, focus, or ISO sensitivity, which is set by the camera between ISO 50 and 200. The 256-segment matrix exposure-metering system works in tandem with the five-area autofocus system; the user can enter plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments.
Minimovie fans will like this Nikon's ability to fill a memory card with one long clip at 640x480-pixel resolution (320x240 and 160x120 pixels are also available) but may wish for better sound and a faster frame rate than the Coolpix 3200's 15fps.
As you might expect from a budget-priced entry, the Nikon Coolpix 3200's performance was strictly middle-of-the-road. Time to first shot was 4.29 seconds, about average for cameras in this class, and shot-to-shot times were a decent 1.7 seconds with the flash turned off. Don't plan on shooting any sequences with the flash turned on, however; we waited about 8 seconds between pictures while the speed light recharged.
We didn't burst with enthusiasm over burst mode, either. The Coolpix 3200 managed only 3 shots at full resolution at a clip of about 2 shots per second before pausing while the images were stored. With the Coolpix at 640x480 resolution, we were able to snap off 36 pictures at roughly the same rate. Shutter lag was respectable at 0.6 second under high-contrast lighting, but the autofocus system slowed response down to 1.7 seconds under more difficult low-contrast lighting.
While the optical viewfinder shows only 82 percent of the image, poor parallax correction means you're still likely to chop off the top of your photo. There's no diopter adjustment, so those who wear glasses may have some difficulty viewing the optical frame. The LCD shows 96 percent of the sensor's view prior to taking a picture and 100 percent on playback.
The LCD itself has five different brightness levels available but was still difficult to view outdoors in full sunlight; if the sun is behind you, the picture can be improved by letting your body's shadow fall on the screen. On the other hand, the LCD was better than most indoors; the camera boosts the gain on the image under the dimmest lighting conditions, so the view is fuzzy and noisy but still usable.Although we've seen better image quality from a 3.2-megapixel camera, the Nikon Coolpix 3200's pictures were generally crisp and clean with rich, saturated colors and realistic flesh tones. Exposures were consistent, although whites and lighter tones tended to wash out a little.
The automatic noise reduction system generally did a good job, but the camera's ISO sensitivity tops out at ISO 200 in any case. Noise reduction kicks in at low light levels to improve color. If you want strange or desaturated hues, you can switch to Vivid Color, Sepia, Black-and-White, or Cyanotype (for a blue tinge) color modes.