Nikon D3200 review
23.2x15.4mm 24.0-megapixel sensor, 3.0x zoom (27-82.5mm equivalent), 770g
Videos are recorded at 1080p at 24, 25 or 30fps, while 720p clips are at 50 or 60fps. The autofocus system is clearly designed for photography rather than video, and smattered the soundtrack with gentle whirrs when we half-pressed the shutter button to update focus while recording. It's a lot better than the video autofocus in Canon's SLRs, which lurch about like a bull in a china shop (although we await the newly announced 650D and EOS M for testing), but not as smooth as Panasonic, Sony and Olympus CSCs.
The microphone socket provides a solution, allowing an external mic to be placed a good distance away from the camera, and it's great to find one on an entry-level SLR. Another unexpected treat is full manual control over the shutter speed, aperture and ISO speed in video mode – an essential feature for serious video projects but previously unavailable in entry-level SLRs. Casual users will prefer to use automatic exposure, which reacted quickly and smoothly to changing light. Exposure compensation and lock give a useful amount of control without having to set everything manually. The D3100's videos were limited to 10 minutes per clip, but the D3200's extend to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, its HDMI port is active not just during playback but also for live view and video recording. All in all, this is a seriously impressive video camera.
Nikon SLRs have a superb track record for photo quality, but we were interested to see how the 24-megapixel sensor performed. There was a little more detail than from the 16-megapixel D5100 in the centre of the frame in our studio scene, but the improvement wasn't as big as the numbers might suggest. In outdoor shots, focus was often worryingly soft at the centre, while the foreground at the bottom of the frame appeared sharper even though we'd selected the centre autofocus point. At first we thought that the kit lens might be to blame, but the problem persisted when we replaced it with a Nikkor F/4G ED VR, which costs around £850.
The massive 24-megapixel sensor means there are lots of pixels to crop to reveal small details ... - click to enlarge
Nikon sent us a replacement D3200, which didn't exhibit this front-focusing problem, but it's worrying that the first camera passed Nikon's quality control – we wonder how many first-time SLR buyers would have the confidence to report the fault. The replacement camera wasn't perfect, either, exhibiting more than its fair share of autofocus errors.
After extensive tests with a variety of lenses and comparing with other cameras, we failed to pinpoint the cause, but our suspicion is that it was a combination of a number of factors: slight calibration errors in the autofocus system, possible issues with optical stabilisation and an overzealous anti-alias filter. A Nikon D800 produced far sharper per-pixel details using the same lens – as you might hope, given its £2,600 price – but so too did the Samsung NX20, which is much closer in price to the D3200. We don't necessarily expect an entry-level SLR to have eye-popping details, but we do when it's rated at 24 megapixels.
... but a large number of our test shots exhibited slightly soft focus - click to enlarge
The downside of the huge resolution was increased noise at fast ISO speeds, with the D5100 beginning to show a clear lead for image quality at ISO 800. We've grown wearily accustomed to seeing extra resolution at the expense of noise levels in compact cameras, but it's disappointing to see the same thing happening to SLRs.
Noise at fast ISO speeds isn't too obtrusive, but most lower-resolution SLRs are cleaner - click to enlarge
The D3200 has some impressive specs for an entry-level SLR, but while it excels for video capture, its photo quality is disappointing. Meanwhile, at current prices it's barely any cheaper than the D5100 or Canon EOS 600D. All three are pretty similar in terms of features and performance, but the others' articulated screens and lower noise are more attractive than the D3200's nominally higher resolution. The Canon also has a better layout of controls, making it our favourite of the three. Meanwhile, the D3100 is still available for around £370 including VAT, and remains an excellent choice.