Nikon D3200 Review

Each of the cameras in my new “vintage” camera collection has a specific purpose. Most are to represent a certain time in the evolution of Digital SLRs, similar to my Mac Museum where I try to get one representation of every major design. My D3200 follows that trend by representing Nikon’s smallest and least expensive DSLR, but it has a second purpose as well: daily use.

The D3200 is certainly on the vintage side of the equation, being 8 years old at this point in time, but its technology isn’t that far behind current cameras. I purchased it for it’s 24 MP sensor, equivalent to the resolution in my D750. Eight years may seem like a long time, but sensor in the D3200 has barely changed. My D750 was released six years ago and still beats out many current DSLRs.

I intentionally purchased a crop-sensor camera to magnify my images more than my D750 and get closer to animals. Since it would be used for special purposes, I didn’t need something with tons of features like the $1,500 D500, so I bought Nikon’s lowest-end model, used. It cost me about $170, with accessories. I don’t expect the same quality as my full-frame sensor, but the increased magnification will give me more space to crop than my D750 will.

The D3000 series is the current generation of Nikon’s low-end lineup, started way back in 2007 by the amateur-focused D40. Released for $700 in 2012, this was Nikon’s lightest and smallest camera at 1.1 lbs. To get it to that weight, size, and price point, many features had to be cut including the LCD display on the top panel, the sub command dial, the internal autofocus motor capable of focusing screw-type lenses like my beautiful AF-D primes, a bright pentaprism view finder, auto bracketing, dedicated buttons for focus mode and metering mode, depth of field preview, and the majority of customization settings. It only has 11 focus points (still selectable, but pretty ugly looking), limited viewfinder information (no ISO display, even in auto), and a slow continuous shooting speed of 4 fps.

What’s left is a small and light camera with a high resolution sensor, live view, the ability to make 1080p movies, several scene modes, a guide mode, and of course, standard manual / aperture / shutter / and program modes. It also has a big and bright screen on the back and of course and shoots RAW, so I can still edit to my heart’s content afterward. It serves a dual purpose as a real tool and a look at what Nikon decided to cut at the low end.

In Use

The D3200 is small, about the same size as my *ist, and feels pretty off-balance with a large lens like my 70-200 mm or my 150 – 600 mm. The hand grip is also small and not very deep; I feel like I’m constantly going to drop it. It has the resolution I’m looking for and can definitely make the images I want, but it is not nearly as easy as on my D750.

First off, there is no sub-command dial. If there is no sub-command dial to control aperture or shutter then the main command dial is not free to control exposure compensation. Bummer. There is no top LCD so it’s harder to determine what the current photo settings are – you have to turn on and look at the screen. There are no “custom settings” though some categorized as “custom” on my D750 are available through the setup menu but without the “custom” moniker.’

The autofocus is nowhere near as fast, accurate, or usable as my D750. The focus points are small and I find it difficult and slow for them to acquire focus where I want them to. They aren’t as bad as my *ist but seem to be much slower than even the focus points on the D70, which is 8 years older and has fewer points. The D70’s focus points are certainly more visible. Maximum continuous shooting speed is 4 frames per second, but focus has so many issues that it can’t lock long enough to maintain that speed. There is no option to display a grid in the viewfinder (helpful for keeping horizons level) and live view doesn’t allow you to set shutter speeds below 1/30 at f/16, which interferes with macro and night work.

As with any used product, there can also be quirks, and this particular copy has some. It didn’t get along with one of the 64 GB Kingston SD cards from my D750 and would freeze up after 10 or 15 images. It seems to like my second card OK, though it still exhibits odd behavior at some points. It came with 3 non-Nikon batteries and all are absolutely terrible. I can get a few hundred shots with regular preview on one battery, which is terrible by itself, but turn live view on for 60 seconds or so and the batteries are completely dead. Not the camera’s fault, but I’ll be purchasing a Nikon-branded battery for this sucker.

Image Quality

It’s a cheap camera and it’s a used camera, so what did I expect? I expected missing features and quirks. The good news is that I can manage around all of that stuff and get some really great images out of it. I shoot RAW so I’m not dependent on how well the JPEG processing engine works in any given camera. Images are crisp and clear, resolution is high, and dynamic range if usable, though not near my D750.

It works fine with most of my lenses, except it can’t focus my AF-D series because it doesn’t include a focusing motor. That’s not a problem because I will mostly use it with my telephoto lenses. It’s 1.5x magnification factor turns my 150 – 600 mm lens into a 225 – 900 mm lens, which is great for animal shots. I could take those same images on my D750 and crop them, but I’d eventually hit the limitations of cutting down the resolution. The images from my D3200 are still 24 MP and are equivalent to images that I’ve cropped from my D750. At the end of the day that leaves me with more room to crop further if needed.

I’ve used it for a variety of images so far and I have to say I’m impressed. The 1.5x magnification lets me get closer to details with the same lens compared with my D750 and the resolution of the sensor accurately captures the detail. I’ve taken some phenomenal flower images with it, arguably some of my best photos ever. They are crisp and clear, with accurate colors, and enough RAW latitude to adjust in Lightroom to bring out details.

Noise is well-enough controlled at high ISO, but can’t match my D750 in terms of smoothness or color rendition. With some editing they are usable. I did notice that auto ISO chooses very odd settings that I’ve never seen before, including ISO 7184 and ISO 9051. They look worse than my D750 ISO 12,800, but again, that’s OK. It’s an unfair comparison because full frame sensors of this class always have better noise control than their crop-sensor competition. 

Conclusion

It is worth what I paid for it and it’s a useful tool in certain scenarios. It is far from my main camera, but it works well. 

Sample photos below.

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