Recently I went to the supermarket to buy bread, ham and a roll or two of paper towels.
I came home with bread, ham, four rolls of paper towels (they were at discount) and a Nikon D3200 with a 18-55mm zoom. Oh sh…
I’m sold to mirrorless, and I didn’t certainly need a new camera. But the price was ridiculously low. So I thought “What the heck, worst case I can use it as a toss around to keep in the car or when I go out with friends”. Turned out that is also so light that you can use it on a 5€ chinese made, mainly plastic tripod* and still have perfect results even in moderate winds. And the entire kit – yes, tripod included – fits comfortably in my messenger shoulder bag, with me barely noticing the weight!
And so here you have it: the Nikon D3200 review.
This short review will be split into two sections: beginners and experienced photographers. Please read the one that regards you. I will not punish you for reading the other as well 🙂 , it’s just that you will find in it information that is not relevant to you and to the use you will be presumably doing of the camera, and it might as well confuse you contradicting what I’ve said in the other section.
If you’re just stepping up from a compact camera, a smartphone or a bridge then this is probably the best camera money can buy (I’m assuming here you don’t want a mirrorless, otherwise go grab a Sony A6000 or a Nex 7).
Not only because it has tons of resolution, but because you will be actually able to grow with it, photographically speaking.
More, the kit lens is quite sharp, focuses really really close and the image stabilization will help you capture better images as a faster lens would do.
Do yourself a favor, though: ignore the various guided modes. With digital photography you can see the results right away, so you’ve got no excuses not to learn the fundamentals of photography. They are basically just three: aperture, time, and Iso. The relation among them determines the settings you need to use.
It is really that easy, and it’ll take an hour of your time at most to master the basic rules; on the other hand, then you will be able to fully exploit the potential of any camera, even the one in your phone, to the fullest.
With the camera you should buy a couple accessories, though. The first two are “compulsory”, will cost you probably as low as 30€ combined, but they will vastly improve your photography and your comfort. The last one is optional, but if you’re serious about photography, then shooting with a prime lens (i.e. not a zoom: a lens with only one focal length) will make wonders for your vision.
– a magnifier eyepiece for the viewfinder. Without one peering into the finder is like looking in a long dark tunnel (this is common to every other cheap DSLR); with a magnifier eyepiece things get really comfortable, and you can actually see what you are taking pictures of.
– a tripod (if you shoot landscapes, otherwise you get a free out of jail card); even a cheap ones, with a camera this light, will do wonders. I’ve used the D3200 on top of a 5€ chinese mainly plastic tripod, in moderate mountain winds, with absolute zero problems. The main cons of a tripod so cheap is that it will be low, so you will have to bow to take pictures. Uncomfortable, but the new angle of view maybe will widen your horizons! 🙂
– Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX AF-S. From 85 (used) to around 150€ (new). Waaaay sharper than the kit lens, also waaay faster. This means not only that you will exploit all the camera sensor potential (that is HUGE), but also that you will be able to shoot in much less light handheld. Think evening at the pub or night at the disco, instead of morning at the outside café.
This is obviously a beginner camera, so we can’t ask it to play the role of a D4. Below you’ll find a list of pros and cons, but there are a few cons that deserve a bit of a comment.
First of all let me rant a little: guide modes brain damage people, and don’t let them grow. Why on earth manufacturers insist in putting those things in their cameras is beyond me. Or better, I know that’s probably “the market” that asks for them; but typically of our times, trying to make something ultra easy so we don’t have to use our brains we end up actually complicating things… Besides, easy modes are worthless with digital cameras, because you can just review the image you’ve taken instantly and learn from your mistakes.
Another aspect of this attitude is the fact that the camera often “believes” to be smarter than you, even in manual or aperture priority. For example, you cannot set it to use the self-timer and leave it here, to avoid carrying a remote when shooting from a tripod. No, the camera will reset to whatever other “normal” choice you have made before (single shot, sequence etc.).
An additional example: base Iso is 200 in Live View, fine. But it will stay set at 200 even after you shut down Live View to come back to normal mode, even if you previously selected 100 Iso for normal (i.e. mirror down) shooting.
Lastly, the build quality of the camera is patently cheap. I’ve shot with film-era Nikon beginner models, and while with less bells and whistles in comparison with the pro cameras of the time, they were nonetheless extremely solid and well built. Here we have instead, for example, a mode dial that feels exactly what it is: cheap plastic rotating on cheap plastic. Go grab a F-301 or F-601 and you will understand what I’m talking about.
On the plus side, once you select the “Q” (for quiet) shutter mode the camera is almost whisper-quite for a DSLR, probably the quietest shutter this side of a Fuji X100 series camera! As long as you keep the shutter button pressed, the camera will not lower the mirror, cutting down the noise.
And the kit lens not only focuses quite close especially if used in manual focus (it covers an area around 3.5x5cm @ 85mm at the minimum focus distance if used in manual focus, a slightly bigger one in autofocus), but – drumroll please – it covers full frame between 24 and 55mm! As soon as I can get my hands on a D600, D750 or the like I will test if it is actually any good on FF, but I guess it should be pretty handy anyway as a people/street photography kind of zoom, where the borders performance is not that important.
- Battery life is pretty great
- Built-in flash
- Extremely easy to focus manually, at least using a magnifier for the viewfinder; MUCH better than the Canon Eos 5D Mark II I used with a viewfinder magnifier plus its dedicated manual focus screen!
- Extremely light and pretty compact for a DSLR
- Lens manages flare extremely well
- Lens has pretty good close-up capability
- Reasonably sharp for a kit lens (tons of chromatic aberration especially at 18mm, easy to correct though)
- Using a magnifier a pretty good finder, for the price
- VR works quite well
- (Almost) whisper-quite (for a DSLR) shutter sound, probably the less noisier this side of a Fuji X100 series camera
- The kit lens covers full frame between 24 and 85mm
- Base Iso 200 in Live View, that stays set at 200 even after you shut down Live View
- Can’t change aperture in Live View; you have to switch down the mirror, change aperture, re-start Live View. Why?????
- Dials feel plastic on plastic, really awful build quality compared to how Nikon used to build even the cheap film cameras (Nikon F-301, F-601 and the like)
- It switches back from self-timer to single shot automatically (and no, multiple self-timers means just that: multiple shots in a row with x seconds between them)
- Rear lcd quite crappy, barely visible in strong light outside
- Slow focus with the 18-55; sometimes hunts in low-light
- Zoom too high in review mode (maybe more than 100%?); it looks pixellated and basically like crap, worthless to determine proper focus