CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Nikon Coolpix 3200 review: Nikon Coolpix 3200

Nikon Coolpix 3200

David D. Busch

See full bio
6 min read


Nikon Coolpix 3200

The Good

Decent image quality; autofocus-assist lamp; simple operation; solid macro capabilities.

The Bad

No memory card or rechargeable batteries in the box; few manual controls; slow shot-to-shot time with flash; no diopter adjustment; slow autofocus in dim light.

The Bottom Line

This easy-to-use Nikon is a good starter camera for the new digital photographer, but it lacks most manual controls more-experienced shooters demand, and both the memory card and the rechargeable batteries cost extra.
The Nikon Coolpix 3200 eases the first-time buyer's transition to digital photography by combining lots of fun features that are easy to use with acceptable 3.2-megapixel image quality, a pocketable design, and an affordable price. There are almost no manual settings to confuse the neophyte and only a handful of buttons to worry about. If you're looking for an inexpensive compact digital camera to give to someone who's terrified of digital photography, this might be a good choice. (And if 2-megapixel resolution is sufficient for your needs, you can pick up the otherwise nearly identical Coolpix 2200 for about $100 less.) This Coolpix is best suited to photographers who will benefit from digital training wheels. More-experienced shutterbugs looking for a bargain-priced camera can find better options. The Nikon Coolpix 3200's 3.5-by-2.6-by-1.5-inch, 7-ounce, silver-toned plastic body fits comfortably in your grip for one- or two-hand shooting. The camera body is clean and uncluttered, and every control is well labeled and its function unambiguous. The top surface of the camera has only two buttons: a recessed on/off control and a raised shutter release. There's also a green power LED, which flashes when the camera enters power-saving standby mode, and two sets of tiny holes for the built-in microphone and speaker.
"="" --="">/sc/30685213-2-200-DT1.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
Nikon keeps the camera-top controls simple, with just a shutter release and a power button.

The back panel is punctuated by the optical viewfinder and a 1.6-inch LCD on the left and a cluster of six controls on the right that includes a mode dial, a zoom rocker, a menu button, a picture-review key, a Trash key, and a four-way controller pad with an embedded OK/Set button. You can press the pad in the up direction to adjust flash options, down to switch to macro mode, or left to activate the self-timer. Nikon clearly expects this camera to do most of the thinking for you. Adjustments that some other cameras put on the back panel, such as burst-mode controls and exposure compensation, are tucked away out of sight in the menu system.

"="" --="">/sc/30685213-2-200-DT3.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
Both the zoom toggle and the mode dial are easily accessible with your right thumb.
"="" --="">/sc/30685213-2-200-DT2.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
The four-way controller lets you navigate LCD menus and access a few basic settings.

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 actually has quite a few different menus, all carefully segregated by function to avoid confusing the neophyte. For example, press the menu key when reviewing photos, and a playback menu appears, with choices for deleting photos, watching a slide show, selecting a photo for printing, and other functions. In recording mode, the menu key invokes a shooting menu, where you can choose resolution, set white balance, enter exposure-compensation settings, or activate burst mode. With the mode dial on Setup, five screens of camera settings are available. There's also a separate Scene menu for choosing among 15 scene modes, 4 of which have menus of their own with four to seven different options. All those choices sound confusing, but they're not.

"="" --="">/sc/30685213-2-200-M.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
Put an SD/MMC card on your shopping list with the Coolpix 3200; you won't find one in the box.

While the Nikon Coolpix 3200 makes a decent first camera, it's unlikely to be the owner's last. The abundance of scene modes can handle everything from sunsets to sports to fireworks, but an enthusiastic digital photographer will soon outgrow this Coolpix's feature set and want a little more resolution, a zoom lens with a better-than-3X range for a wider or longer view, and a lot more control over the results.

Nikon kept the price low by transforming some essentials into options. The camera ships without an SD memory card, and the built-in 14.5MB of flash memory is good for only 9 maximum-resolution shots. If you want rechargeable batteries and a charger, you'll have to buy them, too; only a pair of alkaline cells comes in the box.

The Coolpix 3200's 3X zoom lens is fairly basic, offering the 35mm-camera equivalent of a 38mm-to-115mm range. Autofocus will take you as close as 1.6 inches in macro mode, but you'll need to use the LCD to compose your shot.

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.

"="" --="">/sc/30685213-2-200-BATT.gif" width="200" height="150" alt="" />
Add a couple rechargeable AA batteries and a charger to your shopping list to power the Coolpix 3200.

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.


Nikon Coolpix 3200

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6Image quality 7
Shopping laptop image
Get the best price on everything
Shop your favorite products and we’ll find the best deal with a single click. Designed to make shopping easier.
Add CNET Shopping