The Nikon D3200 was the compnay’s budget DSLR launch for 2012, and it was good enough to instantly make the older D5100 obsolete. Despite now being over three years old and being superseded twice, it’s still widely available from major retailers. At current prices you can pick up the body-only D3200 for as little as £229, though most are better off picking up the kit with a 18-55mm lens for £279. That makes the camera around £110 less than the more recent Nikon D3300, a sizeable saving at these already-low prices. It’s also the same price as the far newer Canon 1200D. But in both cases does newer actually mean better?
The D3200’s 24-megapixel resolution was a big step up for Nikon’s budget line and remains the typical resolution for Nikon’s range to this day, it’s also considerably more pixels than the 1200D’s 18-megapixel sensor. Continuous shooting is at a very respectable four frames-per-second. The screen isn’t articulated but it shares the 921,000-dot resolution of many more expensive Nikon models – and is a vast improvement on the old D3100’s 230,000-dot screen. It even has one more button than the then mid-range 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.