Nikon D3200 review
A superb video mode, but details in photos don't live up to expectations and the menu-driven controls bug us as much as ever
Review Date: 24 Jul 2012
Price when reviewed: £522
Reviewed By: Ben Pitt
Nikon clearly knows how to make a good SLR, so designing an entry level-model is as much a matter of marketing than engineering. It needs to be good enough to attract customers but not so tantalising that it damages sales of its pricier siblings. Nikon seemingly forgot the second half of this strategy in the feature-packed D3100; and now that the D3200 is here, the pricier D5100 looks to be completely redundant.
The D3200's 24-megapixel resolution is far higher than any previous Nikon DSLR except the full-frame D800. Continuous shooting is up from 3fps to 4fps, which is the same speed as the D5100. The screen isn't articulated but it shares the D5100's 921,000-dot resolution – a vast improvement on the D3100's 230,000-dot screen. It even has one more button than the D5100, giving direct access to the drive mode, although a step back from the D3100's lever for the same function.
Nikon's SLRs were the first to offer a customisable Auto ISO mode, letting the user set thresholds for shutter and ISO speed for precise control over the camera's behaviour in diminishing light. However, it doesn't allow for the fact that it's harder to avoid camera shake at longer focal lengths. The D3200 addresses this with an Auto option for the minimum shutter speed setting. This set the threshold to 1/30s for wide-angle shots with the 18-55mm kit lens, but raised it to 1/100s for telephoto shots.
It's a useful improvement, but it's a shame that Nikon didn’t take the opportunity to redesign the layout of the ISO speed controls. Switching Auto ISO on or off still takes anything up to 20 button pushes. It's also unclear how the various ISO speed controls relate to each other. Another frustration is that the speed chosen by the Auto ISO system is only visible when using live view, and doesn’t appear in the information shown below the viewfinder.
It's somewhat ironic because ease of use is meant to be one of the D3200's key selling points. We like labelled, single-function buttons because they're so quick to use, but there's an argument that people upgrading from point-and-shoot compacts prefer fewer buttons and menu-driven controls. The D3200 takes this further with its Guide mode, which falls somewhere between scene presets and an interactive photography course. It offers a choice of shooting conditions and advises which settings to use. However, there are significant gaps in its advice. For example, it recommends a 1/1,000s shutter speed to freeze motion, then complains that the subject is too dark but doesn't suggest a solution.
Still, day-to-day use with the D3200 isn't so bad. It's easy to move the autofocus point and access drive mode and exposure compensation settings. A customisable Fn button can be set to control the ISO speed or white balance, among other options. It can't access the Auto ISO mode, though, or calibrate the manual white balance function – these functions are buried in the sprawling main menu.
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