Nikon D3200 - Review and user experience - Part 5 - Conclusion

For the rest of my D3200 Review and User Experience - Click here

I should make it clear that this assessment of the D3200 is very much influenced by my needs and tastes, how I use cameras and what I use them for. It is as a result of this that I come to the conclusion that I do.

There is no doubt that the D3200 gives you a lot for the money it costs. In terms of features, speed and ease of use, the notion that this is somehow a "beginners" camera is somewhat ludicrous. Its capable of being used for any photographic purpose that you would want it for, with an incredible amount of versatility. Just a few short years ago it would have been state-of-the-art and while things move on, if a camera like this can't let you fulfill your photographic vision, then as I often write, maybe you should try stamp collecting!

However ultimately the D3200, a camera I really wanted to like, has proved a disappointment for me. As I wrote when I bought it, it is a camera that fits in very nicely to what I have already. The ability to use my Nikon lenses in a crop mode and with 24MP available in a relatively small and light DSLR body made it seem like a good idea at the time. But ultimately its the quality of those 24MP that have disappointed me.

I've been editing many of the pictures I took with the camera on my recent trip to Sussex, and have uploaded many of them to the stock photography websites that market my work. Many, if not most have been accepted. However in virtually all cases, the images I have uploaded have had to be downsized to make them acceptable.

Ultimately this is the problem that I have with the camera. At the full 24MP, 68MB resolution, for what I shoot, the images from the camera just aren't sharp enough for me. Plus I have found it difficult, if not impossible to sharpen them in Photoshop without adding substantial amounts of luminance (grainy) noise. The reason for this seems to be that Nikon have added an "industrial strength" anti-aliasing / low pass filter to what is presumably the same 24MP APS-C sensor that is in the NEX-7. And yes the images from my NEX-7 are also somewhat soft out of the camera (including raw) though they are not quite as soft as those from the D3200 and more importantly, I am able to add sharpening in Photoshop that makes them very acceptable for uploading to my stock libraries at full size. I have used the same lenses on both cameras, so this is not the issue. The issue to me is how Nikon have chosen to "handicap" the output from this camera.

In many ways this 24MP APS-C sensor is a "step too far" in my opinion. Despite what others have written, I really think that it gives poor results at anything higher than ISO 800. Certainly there are substantial differences between how this sensor compares with the 16MP Sony sensor in cameras like the NEX-5n, Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5, which are all execellent at high ISO's and somewhat magical in the way they can recover detail from shadows without increasing noise. The results from my NEX-7 are however excellent at ISO 100, and its interesting that when Sony released a video when this camera was announced they showed it being used a travel camera in good light. 

However when I bought the D3200 I assumed that I would get results not dissimilar to my NEX-7 and when compared like for like straight out of the camera, there is indeed not much of a difference. However, as mentioned above it is when sharpening is applied that the differences emerge for me. The D3200 also seems to not respond to better lenses being used. While on my NEX-7 a better lens gives sharper images, this is far less observable on the D3200. Its also the case that this "image softening" doesn't do anything for the high ISO images either, as far as I'm concerned. True there is less visible noise from the D3200 files, but the overall effect and excessive softening of images makes them just as unpleasant to view as the NEX-7 images.

OK, I'm being (VERY) picky, you might argue, and there are certainly many cases when the D3200 would suit many photographers. For example, it would make an excellent portrait camera. This slight softening of results would work very well as bitingly sharp portraiture may have its fans amongst photographers, but most clients I know prefer something a little less "revealing". It would also work very well as a general all-round family life / social life / holiday documentary camera, and would yield excellent prints and produce excellent images when viewed on tablets and monitors, assuming of course that these are not blown up to 100%. 

Its interesting I think that Nikon have chosen to place this 24MP sensor in this "entry-level" (I hate that term! but you know what I mean) camera and not in something like a D7000 replacement. I'm pretty sure that they are aware that what they have done with it would attract a lot of negative comments should they put it into an enthusiast / semi-pro / pro body. 

The question, though springs to mind, is why "cripple" a camera such as this with such a strong AA filter? I'm convinced that is what it is, since I've had experience of this before. Pentax always used to do this with their DSLR's before the K-5 and like the D3200 I found it impossible to sharpen up the files to an acceptable level. The output from the D3200, in fact reminds me very much of the images I got from a Pentax K-7 I had for a while. Returning to the question, I don't really have an answer as to why Nikon have done what they have done. The only reason I can suggest is that Nikon didn't want to make a camera this cheap as good or better than their more expensive models and thought having a lot of pixels would be a good selling point for the market its aimed at. A bit negative I know, but I really can't think of any other good reason for it being like it is.

Now if the D3200 produced results like my NEX-7 I would have been raving about it and while I love the handling, the menus and the overall speed of the camera in use, if you are considering this camera then I would advise you to look at as many samples as you can to make sure that you are happy with the sharpness of the files. This is my only criticism, but then as far as I'm concerned thats pretty much the most important thing for me. The D3200 has many virtues but ultimately if it doesn't produce sharp files at full size then I don't really have a use for it.

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