Nikon D3200 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic saturation levels and good hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.|
Skin tones. The Nikon D3200's Caucasian skin tones looked just about right when using manual white balance in simulated daylight. A very good job here. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Nikon D3200 did shift cyan toward blue, red toward orange, and light green toward yellow, but shifts were relatively minor. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 4.81 after correction for saturation, overall hue accuracy was better than average. Hue is "what color" the
The Nikon D3200 has a total of seven saturation levels available, three above and three below the default saturation, plus an Auto setting. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically relevant, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. The fine steps between settings mean it's easy to program the camera to just the level of saturation you prefer. Saturation also doesn't impact contrast, which is very good.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with several saturation settings, see the Thumbnails index page for more (look for the files named D3200OUTBSATx.JPG). Click on any thumbnail above to see the full-sized image.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the Manual white balance setting, but overly-warm results with Auto and Incandescent. About average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was very warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. (We'd say unacceptably so, though unfortunately this is common.) The Incandescent setting was a bit better, but also too warm and yellowish for our tastes. (Some users may prefer this look, though, as being more representative of the original lighting.) The Manual setting by far produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool. The Nikon D3200 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +0.3 EV. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Excellent results under harsh lighting, with very good handling of contrast, detail, and color.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Nikon D3200 performed very well here, requiring no exposure compensation for our "Sunlit" Portrait shot to keep the face reasonably bright. (The average for this shot is +0.7 EV, so the D3200 does much better than average.) Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera did a very good job of holding onto detail in the highlights and deep shadows. We preferred skintones from the Manual white balance setting as they were a little pinker than Auto, but both were pretty good. The Nikon D3200 also produced good exposure and natural-looking color with our Far-field scene with very few blown highlights, though there are some very dark shadows in the trees. Overall, though, an excellent performance for its class here.
Very high resolution, 2,400 to 2,500 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, slightly more from raw files.
|Strong detail to
2,400 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
2,500 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
2,500 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
|Strong detail to
2,500 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,400 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,500 lines in the vertical direction. Extinction of the pattern didn't occur until around 3,400 lines in both directions. We weren't able to do much better in terms of absolute resolution with raw files processed through Adobe Camera Raw, perhaps just slightly more in the horizontal direction (about 2,500 lines), though color moire and chromatic aberration was more evident. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images but with very good detail. Minor edge-enhancement artifacts visible on high-contrast subjects. Moderate noise suppression visible at base ISO.
Sharpness. The Nikon D3200 produced very good detail overall when coupled with a sharp lens such as the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G prime used in the above left crop, though images are still slightly soft overall. Some very minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the halos around the branches in the crop above left, but overall results are quite good. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows some mild to moderate noise suppression, as the darker and lower-contrast areas of the model's hair show significant smudging where individual strands of hair merge. Still, a pretty good performance here considering the resolution and target market. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
Raw vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D3200 delivers very detailed JPEGs that are a little soft overall even with a prime lens. Better detail can often be obtained from carefully processing raw files, without additional sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above. Examples include in-camera Fine JPEG, and a raw file processed through Nikon's ViewNX 2 software using default settings, and the same raw file processed with Adobe Camera Raw 6.7, then sharpened in Photoshop. We found that sharpening with 300% unsharp mask and a radius of 0.3 pixels worked well for the Nikon D3200's NEF files.
As you can see, results from a raw file converted with Nikon's ViewNX 2 software are very similar to the in-camera JPEG, and the software wasn't really able to extract more detail. Adobe Camera Raw was able to extract quite a bit more fine detail in the pine needles, but as expected, it also shows slightly higher noise levels as well as some chromatic aberration that the camera suppresses in its JPEGs. Bottom line: When coupled with a good raw converter, the Nikon D3200 rewards raw shooters with amazing detail, especially considering the price.
ISO & Noise Performance
Good detail versus noise handling up to ISO 800.
|High ISO Noise Reduction = On (Default)|
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800|
Noise levels are fairly low at ISOs 100 through 400, though some detail is lost to noise reduction even at base ISO. ISO 800 shows a very fine noise "grain" but detail is quite good, though some chroma noise is visible in the darker shadows. At ISO 1,600 noise levels increase with a touch more blurring in the fine details and more visible grain, but detail is still pretty good. This trend continues as ISO rises, with progressively stronger luminance noise and increased chroma blotching, though we see less smearing than expected. ISO 12,800 is quite grainy with poor detail and obvious purple and yellow blotchiness in darker areas.
Overall, pretty good noise performance considering the 24-megapixel resolution, but it's no surprise that noise is higher at the pixel level than its 16-megapixel siblings. See our Print Quality analysis section below for recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, usually using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. We know this; if you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us. :-) The focus target position will have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
Very good detail in both highlights and shadows, very high resolution and good overall exposure. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|0 EV||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
The Nikon D3200 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. Though contrast is a little high, shadow and highlight detail are both very good. The default exposure (0 EV) did the best job here, producing a bright face without blowing out too many highlights in the white shirts. Despite the bright appearance, there are relatively few clipped highlights in the mannequins's shirt and the flowers. Some shadows were pretty dark, but remained fairly clean. The camera's contrast adjustment also did a good job of decreasing overall contrast without also affecting color saturation. (See below.) Still, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
Dynamic Range Analysis
A key parameter in a digital camera is its Dynamic Range, the range of brightness that can be faithfully recorded. At the upper end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is dictated by the point at which the RGB data "saturates" at values of 255, 255, 255. At the lower end of the tonal scale, dynamic range is determined by the point at which there ceases to be any useful difference between adjacent tonal steps. Note the use of the qualifier "useful" in there: While it's tempting to evaluate dynamic range as the maximum number of tonal steps that can be discerned at all, that measure of dynamic range has very little relevance to real-world photography. What we care about as photographers is how much detail we can pull out of the shadows before image noise becomes too objectionable. This, of course, is a very subjective matter, and will vary with the application and even the subject matter in question. (Noise will be much more visible in subjects with large areas of flat tints and subtle shading than it would in subjects with strong, highly contrasting surface texture.)
What makes most sense then, is to specify useful dynamic range in terms of the point at which image noise reaches some agreed-upon threshold. To this end, Imatest computes a number of different dynamic range measurements, based on a variety of image noise thresholds. The noise thresholds are specified in terms of f-stops of equivalent luminance variation in the final image file, and dynamic range is computed for noise thresholds of 1.0 (low image quality), 0.5 (medium image quality), 0.25 (medium-high image quality) and 0.1 (high image quality). For most photographers and most applications, the noise thresholds of 0.5 and 0.25 f-stops are probably the most relevant to the production of acceptable-quality finished images, but many noise-sensitive shooters will insist on the 0.1 f-stop limit for their most critical work.
JPEG. The graph at right (click for a larger version) was generated using Imatest's dynamic range analysis for an in-camera Nikon D3200 JPEG file with a nominally-exposed density step target (Stouffer 4110). At the base ISO of 100 (the optimal ISO), with Active D-Lighting set to Off and default Contrast setting, the graph shows 12.3 f-stops of total dynamic range, with 7.65 f-stops at the "High" Quality level. These are are good results for an APS-C model. Compared to the highly regarded Nikon D7000, the D3200's JPEG did much better in total dynamic range (12.3 f-stops versus 10, though a lot of the improvement is likely due to improved JPEG), but the D3200 didn't do quite as well at the highest quality level (7.65 versus 7.97 f-stops) because of its higher noise levels as a result of its smaller photosites. Note though that this measurement has a margin of error of about 1/3 f-stop, so differences of less than 0.33 can be ignored.
RAW. The graph at right is from the same Stouffer 4110 stepchart image captured as a raw (.NEF) file, processed with Adobe Camera Raw using the Auto setting. As can be seen, the score at the highest quality level increased 1.19 f-stops from 7.65 to 8.84 f-stops, while total dynamic range increased one f-stop from 12.3 to 13.3. Again, these results are quite good, though results at the highest quality level fall short of the D7000's 10.1 f-stops, again because of higher noise levels. Still, pretty good results. It's also worth noting here is that ACR's default noise reduction settings reduced overall noise somewhat (see the plot in the lower left-hand corner) relative to the levels in the in-camera JPEG, which would tend to boost the dynamic range numbers for the higher quality thresholds.
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Nikon D3200's contrast setting offers seven levels, plus an Auto setting.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the D3200 did a very good job of preserving highlight detail and bringing out shadow detail. Highlight retention was improved, but the contrast setting had a larger impact on opening up the shadows. The lower contrast setting opened-up shadows in our Far-field shot as well, without making the image too flat looking. Overall, very good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different contrast adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
Nikon's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. As usual, Nikon did a very good job here.
Nikon's Active D-Lighting
The shots above show the results with Active D-Lighting Off and On. (Like the D3100, the Nikon D3200 only has these two settings, while Nikon's more advanced models let you choose from a range of strengths of the effect). This is different than the touch-up menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly leaves raw file data strictly as it comes from the sensor.) Mouse-over the links to see the difference, and click on the links to load the corresponding full-resolution image.
As you can see from the images and histograms above, enabling Active D-Lighting resulted in reduced highlights, while the darkest shadows were boosted slightly. Midtones were reduced as well, though, making the image look a bit too dark, so we preferred the leaving it Off for this shot. The effect of Active D-Lighting will vary quite a bit with the subject and lighting: The camera decides what needs adjusting, and by how much, so the effect can be quite a bit greater or lesser depending on what the camera sees.
Above is another example of Nikon's Active D-Lighting at work, this time with our Far-field shot in bright daylight. Again, mouse-over the links to see the difference, and click on the links to load the full resolution images. Highlights were subdued while shadows were boosted, this time without reducing overall exposure.
with Face-priority AF
Here, we can see the effect of the Nikon D3200's full Auto mode which selected Portrait Scene mode, as well as face detection enabled in Live View mode. As you can see from the shots above, the Portrait Scene mode made an improvement to exposure versus Aperture-priority at f/8, reducing overall contrast and lightening shadows, though noise is a bit higher as it boosted ISO sensitivity to 400. Portrait mode also selected a wider aperture of f/4 for better subject isolation, and a faster shutter speed of 1/320s to avoid subject motion blur. In Live View using Aperture-priority, Face-priority AF mode made a huge difference, actually overexposing the subject by using a slower shutter speed of only 1/25s. (It would have likely done better if it had more control over exposure in Program mode.)
Low Light. The Nikon D3200 performed very well on the low-light test, capturing usable images at the lowest light level (1/16 foot-candle) with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100). Auto exposure was a little off at the lowest light level (a fairly common occurrence in all but the best SLRs), so we used manual exposure for these shots.
As you'd expect, noise increases as ISO goes up and light levels go down, but remains well controlled and fine-grained to ISOs as high as 3,200. There were a few hot pixels here and there especially with NR turned down, but nothing unusual. Some minor banding could be seen at ISO 12,800, as well as some minor heat blooming in the bottom right, but that's not unusual either.
Color balance was good with the Auto white balance setting, just slightly cool, though there's a strong shift towards magenta at lower light levels.
The camera's phase-detection autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens. That's not bad, but not quite as good as some SLRs. The Nikon D3200 was however able to autofocus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. In Live View mode, the camera's contrast-detect autofocus was able to focus below 1/16 foot-candle which is surprisingly good and very useful, since AF assist is not supported in Live View mode.
Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D3200 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Great print quality, making a 20 x 30-inch print from ISO 100-400; ISO 3,200 images look great at 13 x 19; and ISO 12,800 images make a good 5 x 7.
ISO 200 shots also look great at 20 x 30 inches.
ISO 400 images also stand up to printing at 20 x 30 inches.
ISO 800 prints start to show a little more noise in the shadows and a little softer detail at 20 x 30, so while we'd call them usable, we prefer them printed at 16 x 20 inches.
ISO 1,600 prints are pretty good at 16 x 20 still.
ISO 3,200 shots are a bit rough printed at 16 x 20, but look good at 13 x 19 inches.
ISO 6,400 images are rougher, looking usable at 13 x 19 inches, but the noise in the shadows is objectionable, so we prefer the 11 x 14-inch prints.
ISO 12,800 images are certainly usable at 8 x 10, but look closer to a clean photograph at 5 x 7 inches.
Overall, the Nikon D3200 doesn't disappoint in the print size category. We like that it maintains decent 20 x 30-inch quality through ISO 800, and even ISO 12,800 shots make a great 5 x 7!
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)