Nikon D3200 (with 18-55mm VR lens) review: Nikon D3200 with 18-55mm VR lens

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The Good With reasonably fast performance and very good photo quality, the Nikon D3200 delivers what you expect from a dSLR.

The Bad The camera's lackluster feature set, some underwhelming design changes, and photos that don't necessarily surpass its predecessor may disappoint.

The Bottom Line A solid if unexceptional entry-level dSLR, the Nikon D3200 should still please most folks looking for an upgrade from their point-and-shoots.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

The Nikon D3200 has a lot of the same or similar components to the D3100, including the same autofocus system (bolstered by Nikon's newer scene-recognition technology) and viewfinder, it's got a newer, higher resolution sensor coupled with Nikon's updated Expeed 3 imaging engine, a higher-resolution LCD, and 1080/30p video with a supporting microphone jack and HDMI connector. But the D3200 may be a case of newer not necessarily being better; it's a solid camera, but one that doesn't particularly stand out from the crowd.

Image quality
Compared with its competitors, the D3200 matches their photo quality but doesn't surpass them; in fact, I think the D3100 has better photos overall, and by the numbers has a better noise profile at all levels up to ISO 12800 (which is immaterial since it's unusable on most cameras under at least $1,800). In general, JPEG photos look clean up through ISO 400 with increasing noise and loss of detail through ISO 3200, the highest I'd probably use and even then only scaled down. You don't gain any unambiguous advantages shooting raw until about ISO 1600; it still gives you some headroom for image manipulation, but you can't easily produce a cleaner image without some trade-offs.

Click to view ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 1600

In other respects -- color, exposure, sharpness, tonal range -- the camera fares very well. JPEGs are sharp without being oversharpened, it conserves a good amount of highlight and shadow detail for recovery during raw processing, and it delivers relatively accurate color. One thing to watch out for is that the default Standard Picture Control settings bump up contrast enough that you can lose some shadow detail.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the video quality. It's OK for personal vacation-type use, but even in good light it's fairly soft and there are a variety of annoying edge-based artifacts. In dim light it's quite noisy.

While I'd consider the photo quality comparison with the D3100 debatable, the D3200's performance is definitely better than its predecessor. It's still no rocketship, however, compared with models like the SLT-A37. It's fast enough at powering on and shooting at less than 0.3 second. Its shot lag -- focusing and shooting -- in good light takes about 0.3 second, which is fast but now typical for its class. In dim light that rises to about 0.5 second; also typical and pretty good. Two sequential shots take roughly 0.5 - 0.6 second, depending upon whether you're shooting raw or JPEG, bumping up to 0.9 second if the flash fires. Continuous shooting runs at about 3.9fps, which should be good enough for most hobbyist photographers.

The autofocus occasionally feels more sluggish than the numbers would indicate, however. It's smart enough to not hunt when you go for that second shot of the same subject and fine in good light. But in suboptimal conditions you can feel the kit lens moving more slowly. As is typical for the class, the Live View autofocus is slow and cumbersome as well, and the full-time autofocus in video performs about the same as other dSLRs -- it can focus, but it doesn't stick and pulses on unmoving objects.

Design and features
The D3200 essentially has the same body as the D3100 body -- it's still relatively small and light -- though it still feels a little plasticky. (Because of the similarities, parts of the body description are the same as in that review.) While it remains a pretty streamlined camera to shoot with, Nikon has changed a few of the control types and locations in ways I don't particularly like.

It keeps the same viewfinder; it's small and dim, which is typical for this class. But I also hate the tiny focus points which only illuminate (and briefly) when you half-press the shutter. They're impossible to see in moderate to dim light, so if you shoot on anything other than full auto you first have to press the shutter to find the appropriate focus point (in my case, center) before you can even begin to frame the scene.

A programmable Fn button -- you can set it to control the image quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, or Active D-Lighting menus -- lies under your left thumb, though it's a little hard to differentiate from the flash pop-up/compensation button that sits above it by feel alone. Behind the shutter button circumscribed by the power switch are the exposure compensation and info buttons; the latter toggles the back display.