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19th April 2012
Nikon D3200 hands-on preview
by Ian Burley

Nikon's D3200 is the most sophisticated entry-level DSLR yet

The new 24 megapixel Nikon D3200, also available in red

  • Pricing: D3200 body only: 559.99 / 667.00,D3200 with 18-5mm5 VR: 649.99 / 775.00, available from mid-May
  • AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G 619.99 / 739.00, available from 24th May.
  • Click here for D3200 and AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G product photos taken at the Nikon UK press event

Nikon UK says that despite the double-whammy of natural disasters in Japan and Thailand that seriously affected camera production in 2011, Nikon is now consolidating its position as the number one imaging brand in the UK. Having introduced high-specification professional model DSLRs earlier this year in the form of the D4 and the D800, today we add a high-specification entry-level DSLR, the D3200. Considering this is a beginner's DSLR - certainly not an 'enthusiasts' camera - its specification is remarkable: including a 24.2 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, the same Expeed 3 image processor as the D4 and D800, plus compatibility with a new optional wireless data module, the WU-1a, which is designed to let your smartphone or tablet computer control the camera as well as for quick and easy image sharing to social media networks. It's been around 18 months since Nikon introduced the D3100. The original D3000, unveiled in July 2009, is still on sale and Nikon says the D3200 is an addition to their line up, not a replacement model.

So what's new in the D3200? Top of the list has to be that 24.2 megapixel APS-C (DX format) sensor coupled to Nikon's latest Expeed 3 image processor. With so many pixels at one's disposal, in theory it should be possible for images to withstand heavy cropping better. The D3200 can only shoot continuously at 4 frames per second, but on recent evidence we can expect sublime image quality from the D3200. The standard ISO sensitivity range is 100-6400 and this can be extended to12800 in boost mode. A Multi CAM 1000 AF module is employed, with 11 AF points, although only the central point is a cross-type. Scene recognition is supported in intelligent Auto mode. The LCD monitor panel has been upgraded from a 230,000 pixel display to 921,000 pixels.

Full HD (1080 resolution) video recording is supported and at 24,25 and 30 frames per second, progressive. Clips can be up to 20 minutes long. Nikon says that the latest high speed SD cards are supported and, in the absence of detailed specifications at the time of writing, I must assume that this means UHS-1 cards. Disappointingly, Nikon couldn't find space for two microphones in the D3200's design, but there is a stereo microphone socket for external mics like Nikon's own ME-1.

The WU-1a wireless data adapter plugs into the D3200's USB port

An interesting new optional accessory for the D3200 is the WU-1a wireless data module that connects to the D3200's USB port. This is specifically designed for point-to-point communication with a smartphone or tablet computer. Android devices will be supported from day one, but iPhone and iPad users will have to wait until later in the year. The WU-1a enables the connected device to display the camera's still image mode live view and you will be able to take photos using your phone or tablet. Images can be sent to the the connected device for convenient posting to image sharing and social media networks. However, there is no support for DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance), which would have enabled the camera to be connected wirelessly to your wireless LAN and for stills and video to be played on your computer or other DLNA-capable devices, like some network-connected TVs. The WU-1a is not designed for connection to a wireless LAN, anyway.

The D3200 builds on the educational extension of scene modes that Nikon calls Guide Mode

Despite its impressive specifications, the Nikon D3200 is being positioned very much as a beginner's DSLR. This continues a policy started with the D3000 and D3100. One reflection of this is Nikon's Guide Mode, an evolution of the concept of scene modes that aims to educate the user through simple objectives and suggestions for achieving such aims. Assisted with example before and after images, you can find a guide for to, for example, enhance the red colour in sunset scenes. Guide Mode will advise adjustment of the camera's white balance setting. Another example might be to create a dark and moody low key image. In this case the Guide Mode suggests using the exposure compensation control. Hopefully users will eventually not need to rely on the Guide Mode for frequently used solutions.

Nikon has made it clear that the target market for the D3200 is for non-expert photographers who have ambitious demands on a camera despite their lack of technical knowledge. A typical application would be for family photography. The D3200 is actually a very sophisticated camera, one that an initially inexperienced photographer can grow to use with increasing sophistication over time, thanks to features like the Guide Mode and WU-1a wireless module.

I find it a bit strange that the Nikon 1 compact system camera range, which I assume is selling to relatively inexperienced photographers as well, doesn't have its own Guide Mode. Nikon 1 cameras have advanced high-speed shooting features for simplifying the capture of the exact moment you want to preserve, but the D3200 doesn't offer such versatility. When I brought this up at the Q&A session with Nikon the explanation was that the Nikon 1 system is less of a serious photographic solution, or more of a 'snapshot' solution offering minimal controls to the photographer, while the D3200 was more of a conventional photographer's tool. This left me less than convinced. Should Nikon 1 cameras be limited in features compared to their larger DSLR counterparts? Why shouldn't Nikon's DSLRs be blessed with some of the unique high speed electronic shutter shooting modes of Nikon 1 cameras? It's rather too easy to think that Nikon wants to keep Nikon 1 as far apart from its DSLRs as possible in order to avoid cannibalising its own sales. However, the reality is that the simple attraction of compact system cameras is compact size and light weight. Nikon has worked hard to keep the D3200 relatively small for a DSLR, but compared to almost all CSCs, it's still huge in relative terms. I just wonder that Nikon might actually risk losing sales to rival brands if a potential customer rejected the bulk of a D3200 and felt short-changed by the lack of D3200 features, like Live Guide, in Nikon 1 offerings. These concerns aside, the D3200 is a remarkably high specification camera for an entry-level model and it looks like it deserves considerable success for Nikon.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G

Somewhat eclipsed by the D3200, Nikon today also revealed the new AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G fast wide angle prime for FX (full frame) cameras. The optical design employs 11 elements in 9 groups and two elements are aspherical. This lens has a moisture-sealed mount, according to Nikon, although I don't know if it is a fully sealed design. When mounted on a DX (APS-C) format camera body the field of view is cropped to that equivalent to a 42mm focal length lens on a full frame body. For a 28mm lens the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G is large and bulky, but that's because it is very bright for this category of lens. It's not too heavy, though.

Nikon also revealed a new FX (full frame) lens today, the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G

Product shot gallery from the launch presentation event

Below is a gallery of product shots taken of the D3200 and the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G during the press presentation by Nikon UK in London this week. Click on a thumbnail to view a larger rendition of the picture:



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