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Nikon Coolpix 3200 Digital Camera

Nikon Coolpix 3200 QuickLook
Review Date
05/24/04
User Level
Novice - Amateur
Product Uses
Family / Travel
Digicam Design
Point and Shoot
Picture Quality
Good, 3.2-megapixel CCD
Print Sizes
4x6, 5x7, 8x10
Availability
March 2004
Suggested Retail Price
$279.95



Introduction

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 is the latest in a long line of Coolpix digital cameras whose popularity stretches back to the original Coolpix 900, Nikon's original "breakthrough" digicam. While Nikon is best known for exceptional high-end cameras and optics, in recent years, they've turned increasing attention to the needs of ordinary people, rather than exclusively those of the enthusiast crowd. Beginning with cameras like the Coolpix 775 and 885, they've incorporated Scene modes that set the camera up for specific picture-taking situations (such as "party," "beach," "fireworks," etc.). Special modes like these make it easy for novices to get usable photos in tricky situations, without having to take an advanced course in photography first. Based on the popularity of these models, it looks like Nikon is on the right track to meet the needs of the masses.

An incremental upgrade to last year's Coolpix 3100 model, the Nikon 3200 continues the lower-priced line of Nikon point and shoot digicams for truly entry-level consumers, without compromising basic picture-taking capability. The 3200 brings the line into sync with the current market, changing out the CF card memory format of the 3100 for a smaller, lighter SD card. Taking their commitment to the average consumer even further, Nikon introduced a selection of Framing Assist modes on the Coolpix 3100 that also made it over to the 3200. These innovative modes overlay framing guides in the shape of people, mountains or an alignment grid on the LCD monitor, making it easy to frame your subjects to best align with the camera's exposure and focusing systems. Consumers thus have a nearly foolproof way to capture great pictures in just about any situation--so long as they take the time to learn about these modes.

 

Camera Overview

Review Links
Overview
Specifications
Design
Recommended Accessories
Operation
Sample Pictures
Conclusion
Built to be portable and compact, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 ranks among the smallest digicams currently on the market. The camera is very nearly square from the front, almost as tall as it is wide, and its biggish grip contrasts nicely with the small lens, giving the impression of Nikon power in miniature form. Slightly taller than a credit card and about as wide, and a little under an inch and a half thick, the Nikon 3200 is designed to fit nicely into shirt pockets and small purses, perfect for travelers. It's so tiny (weighing just 4.9 oz. or 140 grams without batteries or storage card, down a smidge from the 3100), I'd highly recommend keeping the included wrist strap securely around your wrist when shooting. The automatic lens cover makes it quick on the draw, and eliminates any worry about keeping track of a lens cap. The camera's duotoned silver body is attractive and modern, with a small, chrome highlight on the front handgrip. Built into the Coolpix 3200 is a 3x optical zoom lens and a 3.2-megapixel CCD for capturing high quality images, and a incredible amount of preset shooting modes. Since the camera operates mainly under automatic control, its control layout and menu display are very user friendly.

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 features both a real-image optical viewfinder and a 1.5-inch color LCD monitor. Though the LCD monitor provides more accurate framing, it also decreases battery life. You can turn it on or off via the Monitor option on the Setup menu. The camera's 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-115mm lens on a 35mm camera, a moderate wide angle to medium telephoto) offers maximum apertures from f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on the zoom setting, and is made up of seven elements in six groups. The camera uses contrast-detection autofocus in normal mode, which ranges from 1.0 foot (30 centimeters) to infinity. In Macro mode, the camera focuses as close as 1.6 inches (4.0 centimeters), and automatically switches to continuous AF mode, focusing constantly when the Shutter button is not half-pressed. (Note that closest focusing is possible only when the lens is set to a fairly narrow range of focal lengths towards the wide-angle end of its range. The zoom indicator that appears at the top of the LCD when zooming and the "tulip" macro icon both turn green when the zoom is set within the optimal range.) Turning on the camera triggers the shutter-like lens cover to open, and the lens to extend forward a bit over a half an inch. In addition to its 3x optical zoom, the Coolpix 3200 offers a maximum 4x digital zoom, which lets you "zoom" in even closer (equivalent to a 460mm lens on 35mm camera), although the digital zoom simply enlarges the center pixels of the CCD, resulting in lower image quality. The 3.2-megapixel CCD produces high-resolution images, good enough for printing to 8x10 inches with good detail, as well as lower-resolution images for sending via email or printing as 4x6-inch snapshots.

In keeping with the tradition of the entry-level Coolpix line, the Nikon Coolpix 3200's exposure control is very straightforward. Operating mainly under automatic control, the Coolpix 3200's user interface is easy to learn. Most of the exposure options are controlled through the multi-page LCD menu system, although a handful of external controls access basic features. A Mode dial on back of the camera controls the operating mode, with four preset "Framing Assist" modes, a Scene mode for specific shooting situations, Auto setting, and Movie and Setup modes. Manual mode has been removed from the camera with the update from 3100 to 3200. The Framing Assist modes include Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait, each offering a range of framing scenarios. For example, under Portrait mode, you can set up the framing for a centered single subject, a single subject off to the right or left, a close-up portrait, two subjects positioned side-by-side, and a figure shot with the camera held in portrait rather than landscape orientation. Once a specific setup is chosen, bold yellow subject outlines appear in the LCD monitor to help you line up the shot for the best focus and exposure. (See the animated screenshot above right, showing the framing options for portrait mode.) Sports mode offers enhanced options for capturing fast-paced action, such as a rapid fire mode that captures 16 tiny images in two seconds that form a single 4 x 4 image mosaic. The Scene position of the Mode dial provides access to 10 preset "scenes," which optimize the camera for what would normally be more difficult shooting situations. Available Scenes are Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close-Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, and Back Light. In the 3200, Nikon has added a Panorama Assist mode, which includes a slight overlay of the last image so you can more easily line them up for better off-camera stitching. Each scene mode sets multiple camera options to configure it for the specific type of subject and shooting condition chosen. These tools make the Nikon 3200 extremely flexible in a variety of conditions, providing almost worry-free operation.

Depending on the exposure mode, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 offers a wide range of exposure options. Though no mode allows the user to control the aperture or shutter speed directly, the exposure compensation can be set in any mode to deal with high contrast, dark or light subjects. It is not reported on the LCD display, but the Coolpix 3200's shutter speeds range from 1/3,000 to four seconds. The Exposure Compensation adjustment optionally increases or decreases overall exposure from -2 to +2 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third-step increments. A White Balance adjustment offers five preset modes, an Auto setting, and a Custom setting for manually determining the color balance. The Nikon 3200 uses a 256-Segment Matrix metering system to determine exposure, evaluating the contrast and brightness across the frame to determine the best exposure. In any of the Framing Assist modes, the emphasis of the exposure reading is placed on the AF area. ISO light sensitivity is rated at 50 during normal shooting, but the Coolpix 3200 automatically raises it as high as 200 when conditions require it. (Note though, that the camera doesn't report its chosen ISO value to the user while shooting, although it does warn you when it's boosting the ISO, by displaying "ISO" on left side of the LCD screen.) You can also access Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode, which automatically chooses the least blurry image in a series shot while the shutter remains pressed. (The Best Shot Selector feature is one of my all-time favorite digicam features, as it makes it possible to hand hold even very long exposures.) The Nikon Coolpix 3200's built-in flash is rated as effective to approximately 6.5 - 11.1 feet (2.0 - 3.4 meters) depending on the zoom setting. In my own testing, I felt that the flash actually worked to much greater distances than its rating would suggest, but discovered that it "cheats" a bit to get there, boosting its ISO as high as 200 when the flash range gets out toward 13 feet or so. (It appears to begin boosting its ISO at somewhere less than 8 feet.) This ISO boost is actually fairly common in lower-end cameras. It works in that it lets you get well-exposed images at much greater distances than you would otherwise, but has the significant disadvantage that it greatly increases image noise. The 3200's flash operates in Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime (Fill) Flash, Flash Cancel, and slow sync (night) modes. It appears that slow sync is now an option in any mode, although in some Assist and Scene modes, the flash mode is automatically set for you. Portrait Assist, for example, defaults to Red-Eye Reduction mode but can be overridden, while in Night Portrait Assist the default Red-Eye Reduction can not be overridden. Night Portrait Assist and the Scene modes Night Landscape and Dusk/Dawn also enable an automatic Noise Reduction feature to eliminate excess image noise resulting from the higher ISO sensitivity and longer exposure. Flash is also not available in Sports or Landscape modes.

Other camera features include a Self-Timer mode, which provides a 10-second delay between the time the Shutter button is pressed and the image is actually captured. A Continuous Shooting mode captures a rapid series of images while the Shutter button is held down, with the actual number of images dependent on the size and quality settings, as well as the amount of memory card space. (The sequence length varies from three images at the 3200's highest resolution and image quality setting, to approximately 45 images at the smallest image size and lowest quality.) There's also a Multi-Shot 16 mode, which captures 16 thumbnail images in sequence, arranged in rows of four within a full-sized image. The Nikon Coolpix 3200's Movie mode offers three options: TV Movie, (640 x 480, 223 seconds max on 128MB card) Small size (320x240 pixels, 438 seconds max on 128MB card), and Smaller size (160 x 120, 1754 seconds max on 128MB card). The actual length of recording time depends on the amount of available SD card space, and appears in the LCD monitor.

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 stores images on SD memory cards, but the standard retail package in the US includes no memory card. There is enough onboard memory, however, to hold 28 "full resolution pictures" according to the box. In reality, the camera will hold 28 two megapixel images, 18 three megapixel images at standard compression, and only 9 at full three megapixel resolution with minimal compression. Given the camera's 2,048 x 1,536-pixel maximum resolution size, I'd recommend picking up at least a 64 - 128MB memory card so you don't miss any important shots. Images are saved in JPEG format, with three compression levels available. A CD-ROM loaded with Nikon View software accompanies the camera, compatible with both Windows and Macintosh platforms (including Windows XP and Mac OS X). Nikon View provides minor image editing and organization tools, for enhancing images. There's also an excellent tutorial video that walks users through all the information needed to get started with the 3200. The camera comes with a set of two single-use AA alkaline batteries, but can also use rechargeable NiMH AA cells, one CRV3 lithium battery pack, or two LR6 AA nickel manganese batteries. While the Nikon 3200 has excellent battery life, I still highly recommend picking up a couple of sets of high-capacity rechargeable batteries, and keeping a spare set freshly charged at all times. Click here to read my "battery shootout" page to see which batteries currently on the market are best, or here for my review of the Maha C-204F charger, my longtime favorite. The optional AC adapter is handy for time-consuming tasks such downloading images to a computer, but good-quality rechargeable batteries largely eliminate the need for it. Also included with the Nikon Coolpix 3200 is a video cable for connecting to a television set for slide shows, and a USB cable for downloading images to a computer.


Basic Features

  • 3.2-megapixel (effective) CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,048 x 1,536 pixels.
  • 1.5-inch color LCD display.
  • Real-image optical viewfinder.
  • 3x, 5.8-17.4mm zoom lens (equivalent to a 38-115mm lens on a 35mm camera).
  • Maximum aperture f/2.8-f/4.9, depending on lens zoom position.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/3,000 to four seconds.
  • 4x Digital zoom.
  • Automatic exposure control.
  • Built-in flash with four operating modes.
  • Built-in mic and speaker for including sound in videos and playback from the camera.
  • SD memory storage.
  • Power supplied by two AA batteries, one CRV3 lithium battery, or optional AC adapter.
  • Nikon View software for both Mac and Windows.
  • Tutorial video.

Special Features

  • QuickTime movies (without sound).
  • Continuous Shooting, Multi-Shot, and Multi-Shot 16 mode.
  • Ten preset Scene modes, plus four Framing Assist modes.
  • Self-timer for delayed shutter release.
  • Best Shot Selector mode.
  • Blur warning.
  • Macro (close-up) lens adjustment.
  • White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a manual setting.
  • 256-Segment Matrix metering.
  • ISO equivalent of 50 (ranging to 200 in Night Portrait mode).
  • DCF (Design Rule for Camera File System) compatibility.
  • Exif Version 2.2 support.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compatibility.
  • USB cable for quick connection to a computer.
  • Video cable for connection to a television set.


Recommendation
As one of the smallest Coolpix models in the line, the Nikon 3200 melds the power of a Nikkor 3x optical zoom lens, a 3.2-megapixel CCD, and a range of automatic, preset shooting modes into a very consumer-friendly digicam. Automatic exposure control lets the camera take charge of all the picky details, although a handful of exposure options provides creative tools when you need them. With its diminutive dimensions, the Coolpix 3200 is great for travel, and the range of preset shooting and framing modes anticipates most common shooting conditions. The 2,048 x 1,536-pixel maximum resolution is high enough for making 8x10-inch photographic prints, while the 640x480-pixel resolution setting is perfect for sending email attachments over the Internet. The uncomplicated user interface means you won't spend much time learning the camera. Perfect for novice users or anyone looking for a point-and-shoot camera with a few extra features and great ease of use, the Coolpix 3200 could also serve as a great take-anywhere snapshot camera for more advanced shooters.

 

Design

With its tiny dimensions, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 could almost hide behind a credit card (it's just a little taller). Though the camera body has a few protrusions, they're slight enough to avoid hanging in pockets, especially when combined with the smooth contours that define the camera. Despite its size, the Coolpix 3200 fit my hand surprisingly well, though I highly recommend making use of the included wrist strap. The Coolpix 3200's duotone silver body is modern and chic. High quality Nikkor optics and a 3.2-megapixel CCD give the Nikon 3200 great image quality, and a selection of Scene and Framing Assist modes make operation a breeze, even for novice users. The Coolpix 3200 measures 3.15 x 3.46 x 1.5 inches (88 x 65 x 38 millimeters), and weighs 7.1 ounces (201 grams) with batteries and memory card. The photo inset above right shows the 3200 posed with an SD memory card, to give you a sense of the camera's overall size. Although it is very similar to the CoolPix 3100, and would appear to be a straight-over upgrade, there are a few differences to note.

The camera's front panel contains the 3x zoom lens, built-in flash, optical viewfinder window, and the self-timer lamp. The self-timer lamp also serves as an AF (autofocus) assist illuminator, and it has been moved from left of the flash to right under the flash, perhaps to guard against the user's accidentally covering it with a finger. A shutter-like lens cover protects the lens when not in use, and automatically slides out of the way when the camera is powered on (eliminating the hassle of keeping track of a lens cap). When powered on, the lens telescopes out nearly 5/8 inch into its operating position. A curved, sculpted ridge beneath the Shutter button acts as a finger grip, and comfortably aligns your fingers as they wrap around the camera.

On the right side of the camera is the Secure Digital (SD) memory card compartment and an eyelet for attaching the wrist strap. The SD card compartment door opens toward the back of the camera, and is hinged to the camera body so that it can open as wide as necessary to access the card. The card releases with a downward press. Also visible from this side is the spring-loaded cord door that moves up and out of the way to make room for the cord when using the optional AC adapter pack.

On the opposite side of the camera is the connector compartment, protected by a rubbery cover that remains attached to the camera. Inside is the Video Out / USB jack. The 3100 used a DC jack on this side, but this has been eliminated with the introduction of the new adapter design.

The Shutter button, power button, speaker, microphone, and power on LED are the only features on the Coolpix 3200's top panel.

The remaining external controls are all located on the camera's rear panel, along with the 1.5-inch, TFT color LCD monitor and optical viewfinder. Two LEDs next to the optical viewfinder light or flash to indicate camera status, such as when focus is set, the flash is charging, or the camera is accessing the memory card. A two-way zoom rocker button in the top right corner controls optical and digital zoom, as well as some Playback viewing options. In the center of the back panel is a five-way nav disk, which accesses Flash, Macro, and Self-Timer options, in addition to navigating menu screens. The disk has a separate button in the middle for accepting selections, a solution that is easier than trying to press in the entire disk as we've seen in other cameras. This button can also be pressed to initiate picture transfer when the camera is connected to a computer. Just right of the LCD panel are the Menu and Playback buttons, with the trash button on the lower right. The mode dial has been moved from the top, where it appeared on the 3100, to the back on the Nikon Coolpix 3200. This is a good choice on Nikon's part, giving the users almost all their settings in one look at the camera.

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 has a flat bottom panel, although rounded edges curve up toward the rest of the camera. The battery compartment door and plastic, threaded tripod mount line up side-by-side, making quick battery changes while mounted to a tripod impossible. This won't likely be a problem for most Coolpix 3200 users, though, given the point-and-shoot nature of the camera. A hinged, plastic door covers the battery compartment, with a lock release button to open it.


Camera Operation
Despite the Nikon Coolpix 3200's limited exposure control, the camera offers a nice selection of external control buttons, making for an easy-to-navigate user interface. Flash mode, Self-Timer mode, Macro mode, zoom, record mode, and an Erase function are all accessible via external controls. The Mode dial at the back of the camera accesses the main operating modes, and a multi-directional Arrow pad on the back panel navigates through on-screen menus, in addition to accessing camera features directly. The LCD menu system is fairly short, with user-friendly icons in the Scene and Framing Assist modes. Operating this camera is so straightforward I doubt you'll need the manual for much more than reference. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to get into the swing of things.

Record Mode LCD Display: In Record mode, the Nikon 3200's LCD reports limited status information, including camera modes, the resolution/quality setting, number of available images, etc. Half-pressing the Shutter button displays a green circle when focus is achieved, but the camera doesn't show aperture or shutter speed information as some do. The display mode can be changed from the Setup Menu, letting you choose between a viewfinder display of the subject by itself, with overlaid status information, or with an overlaid grid as an aid to orienting the camera to your subject.


Playback Mode LCD Display: In Playback mode, the LCD reports the image series number, resolution/quality setting, file name and folder it's stored in on the memory card, and the date and time of image capture. It also displays an icon if the image is one that's been selected for quick download with Nikon's host software, as well as an icon indicating that you can record an audio note to accompany the image. There's no option for disabling the information overlay, but a slide show option lets you see the images sequentially, with no overlay on top of them. Pressing the zoom lever toward the wide-angle end zooms out to a 4-image thumbnail view of photos stored on the card. Pressing it in the wide-angle direction a second time shows a 9-image thumbnail display. Pressing the zoom control in the telephoto direction zooms in as much as 10x on the subject, handy for checking image details and focus. The animated image above right shows the various playback-mode displays, with the exception of a zoomed image, which I neglected to capture. :-(



External Controls


Shutter Button: Just to the right of the power switch, the Shutter button sits on the right edge of the top panel. This button sets the camera's exposure when halfway pressed, and releases the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Switch: Nestled in a small divot that it shares with the power LED and speaker, the power switch goes on and off with a push.


Mode Dial: Better positioned on the back panel than it was on the 3100 model, this ribbed dial selects the camera's main operating mode. Choices are Setup, Movie, Auto, Scene, Portrait, Landscape, Sports, and Night Portrait.


Zoom (W and T) Rocker Button: Located in the top right corner of the camera's back panel, this two-way rocker button controls the optical and digital zoom (when enabled) in any record mode. In Playback mode, the "W" button activates the index image display mode, while the "T" button controls digital enlargement of the captured image.


Multi-Directional 5-way navigator (Flash, Self-Timer, and Macro Buttons): Situated in the center of the rear panel, this button features four arrows, one pointing in each direction. In any Settings menu, the arrow keys navigate through menu selections, and the center button selects.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images.

In Record mode, three of the arrow keys control specific exposure features. The up arrow controls the camera's flash mode, producing a popup menu of options (Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Anytime Flash, and Flash Cancel). The left arrow activates the camera's Self-Timer mode, while the bottom arrow activates the Macro focus mode.

When connected to a computer with Nikon's software loaded on it, pressing the center button triggers a "one touch" upload of selected images to the computer.


Playback Button: Just left and below the 5-way navigation disk, this button accesses the camera's Playback mode.


Menu Button: Above the Playback button, this button displays the settings menu in any camera mode. It also dismisses the menu display.


Erase Button: Just below and to the right of the 5-way navigator pad, this button pulls up the Erase menu while in Playback mode.


Batt Open Button: In the center of the battery compartment door, on the bottom of the camera, this button unlocks the compartment door so that it can slide forward and open.

Camera Modes and Menus

Setup Mode: The following Setup menu automatically appears whenever the Mode dial is turned to the "Setup" position:

  • Welcome Screen: Chooses the welcome screen that appears at startup, either none, static, or animated, or lets you designate a previously-shot image as the welcome screen.
  • Date: Sets the camera's internal clock and calendar.
  • Monitor Settings: Sets the monitor to Show info, Hide info, Framing grid, or Off.
  • Date imprint: includes the date as part of the image.
  • Brightness: Adjusts the brightness of the LCD display.
  • Sound settings: Can turn on or off the button sound, shutter sound, and startup sound, as well as control the volume.
  • Blur warning: Toggles blur warning feature on or off; if the camera detects an unsharp image, it warns the user and gives the option to delete the image.
  • Auto Off: Enables the Auto Off feature, which automatically shuts down the camera after a period of inactivity, to save battery life. Times are 30 seconds, or 1, 5, or 30 minutes. Sleep mode will put the camera in standby mode after 30 seconds regardless of auto off setting if no change in scene brightness occurs.
  • Card Format: Formats the SD card, erasing all files (even protected ones).
  • Language: Changes the menu language to German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese, or Korean.
  • USB: Sets the USB protocol to Mass Storage or PTP. The PTP option is best for Windows XP and Mac OS X systems (unless you want to mount the camera on the desktop), while Mass Storage is best for older operating systems. Mass storage essentially makes the camera appear as a hard drive to the operating system when plugged in via the USB cable.
  • Video Mode: Sets the video output to NTSC or PAL timing.
  • Reset All: Resets all camera settings to their defaults.
  • Battery type: For the battery icon to report low battery conditions properly, this must be set. Options are Alkaline, NiMH, or CR-V3.
  • Firmware version: Reports version number of firmware (the operating software) running on device.

Movie Mode: This mode is denoted by a movie camera icon on the Mode dial. Movie mode captures moving images (without sound) at 15 frames per second for as long as the memory card has available space. Pressing the Menu button pulls up a resolution menu, with options for TV Movie (interlaced 640 x 480 pixels), Small Movie (320 x 240 pixels), and Smaller Movie (160 x 120).


Auto Record Mode: Activated by turning the Mode dial to the Auto position (green camera icon), this mode places the camera in control of both aperture and shutter speed, as well as most other exposure features. Pressing the Menu button displays a limited Shooting menu.

  • Image Size and Quality: Sets the image resolution and compression level. Choices are 3M High (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 3M Normal (2,048 x 1,536 pixels), 2M Normal (1,600 x 1,200 pixels), PC (1,024 x 768 pixels), and TV (640 x 480 pixels). (Secondary Screen)
  • White Balance: Chooses from Auto White Balance, PRE for custom presetting of white balance, Daylight, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy, Speedlight. (Secondary Screen)
  • Exposure Compensation: Increases or decreases exposure from -2 to +2 EV, in one-third-step increments. (Secondary Screen)
  • Continuous: Chooses from Single, Continuous, and Multi-Shot 16 capture modes. (Secondary Screen)
  • BSS: Best Shot Selector shoots up to 10 shots and picks the one with the best focus. Flash is automatically turned off in this mode, since it is intended for capture of natural light photos in low light.
  • Color Options: Selects among Standard color, Vivid color, Black and White, Sepia, and Cyanotype. (Secondary Screen)



Scene Mode
: Designated by the word "Scene" on the Mode dial, this mode offers 11 preset shooting modes for specific shooting situations. This screen is much improved from the 3100, with all icons appearing on one screen. Pressing the Menu button calls up the Scene selection menu, with options for Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, and Panorama assist modes. You can also adjust the resolution from this menu.


Portrait Assist Mode: Labeled on the Mode dial with a woman in a hat, this mode is best for portraits, and is the first of the camera's Framing Assist modes. In Portrait mode, the camera uses a larger aperture setting to decrease the depth of field, producing a sharply focused subject in front of a slightly blurred background. Pressing the Menu button calls up the Scene Assistance menu, which lets you choose from a range of portrait setups, including basic Portrait, Portrait Left, Portrait Right, Portrait Close-up, Portrait Couple, and Portrait Figure. In each of these modes (except basic Portrait), an outline appears on the LCD display to help you align the subject. Just as in Scene mode, pressing the left arrow key while in the Scene Assistance menu provides access to the main Shooting menu. Resolution adjustment is also included.


Landscape Assist Mode
: A mountain scene distinguishes Landscape mode on the Mode dial. Here, the camera employs a smaller aperture setting to produce sharp detail in both foreground and background objects. As with Portrait mode, the Scene Assistance menu offers a handful of options (accessed as in Portrait mode). Framing options are Landscape (no guidelines), Scenic View (mountain outline), Architecture (grid), Group Right (outlines of people), and Group Left (also outlines of people).


Sports Assist Mode
: A figure in action is the icon for Sports mode, which uses faster shutter speeds to freeze action. The Menu button accesses the Scene Assistance menu, with options for Sports, Sport Spectator, and Sport Composite modes. Sport Spectator enables the user to instantly press down on the Shutter button without pausing halfway to focus, and works best with unpredictable subjects within a range of 9.8 feet (3.0 meters) and infinity. Sport Composite mode takes 16 images in two seconds, each time the Shutter button is pressed, and arranges them in a four-by-four array, much like Multi-Shot 16 mode. As with Landscape and Portrait modes, pressing the left arrow key while in the Scene Assistance menu provides access to the main Shooting menu.


Night Portrait Assist Mode: Indicated by an icon of a person in front of a star, this mode is for twilight and dusk portraits. The flash is automatically set to Auto Red-Eye Reduction mode, and syncs to the slower shutter speed, which allows more ambient light in to balance color and shadows. The camera's ISO setting automatically adjusts as high as ISO 200, depending on the light level (not reported on the LCD screen). The Scene Assistance menu offers the same framing outlines as in Portrait mode, with the same access to the Shooting menu.

Playback Mode: Pressing the Playback button on the camera's back panel instantly enters Playback mode. Here, you can review captured images and movies, erase, enlarge, copy, and protect images, and also set them up for printing. Pressing the Menu button offers the following options:

  • Print Set: Sets the DPOF settings for captured images. The "Print Selected" option pulls up an index display, letting you mark individual images for printing. Once images are marked, you can establish whether any text is overlaid on the image (such as image information or the date and time). You can also cancel print settings here with the "Delete Print Set" button. (Secondary Screen)
  • Slide Show: Automates a slide show of all still images on the memory card with three seconds between shots. You can also enable a looped playback that will play for 30 minutes before the camera goes into standby mode. (Secondary Screen)
  • Delete: Erases selected images from the memory card, or all images (except for write-protected ones). (Secondary Screen)
  • Protect: Write-protects individual images from accidental erasure or manipulation. An special display of the images on the card appears, with a three image filmstrip across the top and a larger image preview on the bottom, which you scroll through and select images to be "locked." Protected images are only deleted through card formatting. (Secondary Screen)
  • Auto Transfer: Marks all images for auto transfer, which transfers images to a computer instantly when connected. (Secondary Screen)
  • Small Picture: Create a lower resolution version of an image with this tool, choosing from 640 x 480, 320 x 240, or 160 x 120. Great for pictures you know you'll want to email. (Secondary Screen)
  • Copy: Quickly copy images from internal to external memory or vise versa. Great for images you want to bring along or keep in memory for the startup screen. (Secondary Screen)



Specifications

See camera specifications here.

 

Picky Details

Cycle times, shutter lag, battery life, etc. can be found here.

 

In the Box

The Nikon Coolpix 3200 ships with the following items in the box:

  • Coolpix 3200 digital camera.
  • Wrist strap.
  • Video cable.
  • USB cable.
  • Two single-use AA alkaline batteries.
  • CD-ROM loaded with Nikon View software and drivers.
  • Quick start video CD
  • Instruction manual and registration kit.

 

Recommended Accessories


Recommended Software: Rescue your images!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. I get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A surprising number of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digicam reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of this product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

 

Sample Pictures

See the full set of my sample pictures and detailed analysis here. The thumbnails below show a subset of my test images. Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size photo.

Outdoor
Indoor
Indoor Flash

House
Musicians
Macro

Davebox
Resolution
Viewfinder Accuracy

 

Gallery Images

See the Nikon Coolpix 3200 sample gallery images.

 

Test Results

In keeping with my standard test policy, the comments given here summarize only my key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Nikon Coolpix 3200's "pictures" page.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Coolpix 3200 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

As with all Imaging Resource product tests, I encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the camera performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how the Nikon 3200's images compare to other cameras you may be considering.

  • Color: Good color, appropriate saturation. Throughout my testing, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 produced slight color casts, but its color was quite good overall. Skin tones were good, and the always-difficult blue flowers in the Outdoor Portrait test came out very well. Indoors, the camera's white balance system did an unusually good job with the tough incandescent lighting, producing slight color casts with each option, but well within acceptable bounds in all cases. Color accuracy was pretty good on the Davebox target (where I actually settled on the Auto white balance), with only slight oversaturation in the red and blue color blocks. Overall, very good color.

  • Exposure: Accurate exposure, but very high contrast. The Nikon 3200 handled my test lighting fairly well, though it had trouble with the deliberately harsh lighting of the Outdoor Portrait. Contrast was very high in this shot, losing detail in the highlights, even while the shadows were somewhat plugged. (Actually, it wasn't so much that the shadows were too dark as a case of having no midtones.) Indoors, the camera required a slightly less than average amount of positive exposure compensation. I was generally pleased by the performance of the 3200's exposure system, but if there were one thing I could change on the camera, it'd be to drop the contrast a couple of notches.

  • Resolution/Sharpness: High resolution, 1,000 lines of "strong detail." The Nikon Coolpix 3200 performed well on the "laboratory" resolution test chart. It started showing artifacts in the test patterns at resolutions as low as 600 lines per picture height, in both horizontal and vertical directions. I found "strong detail" out to at least 1,000 lines. (Some might argue for 1,050 lines, but I'm a bit more conservative in how I judge the results with this target.) "Extinction" of the target patterns didn't occur until about 1,250-1,300 lines.

  • Closeups: Excellent macro performance: A very small minimum area with good detail in the dollar bill. Flash is partially blocked by the lens, however. True to Nikon form, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 turned in an exceptional performance in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.21 x 0.91 inches (31 x 23 millimeters). Resolution was high, with great definition in the dollar bill. (The coin and brooch were out of the plane of focus, due to the very short shooting distance.) There was quite a bit of softness in the corners on the left side of the frame. (Soft corners are a very typical limitation of macro modes on consumer-level digicams.) The Nikon 3200's flash was partially blocked by the lens, resulting in a shadow in the lower left corner of the frame. The flash almost throttled down for the macro area, but was just a little bright. Still, a pretty good performance considering the close range. (Plan on external illumination for the very closest macro shots, but at "normal" macro distances of a few inches, the onboard flash should work quite well.)

  • Night Shots: Slightly limited low-light capabilities, but more than capable of handling typical city street lighting at night. The Nikon Coolpix 3200 has somewhat limited low-light shooting capabilities, despite its Dusk and Night scene modes. The camera produced clear, bright, usable images down to the one foot-candle (11 lux) light level, although the shot at 1/2 foot-candle was still usable, if not quite as bright. Given that typical city street lighting at night produces about one foot-candle of illumination, the Nikon 3200 should do fine in most outdoor night shots with artificial lighting. Color was pretty good in the brighter shots, but took on a warm, reddish cast in the dimmer exposures. Noise was moderately high, but not too distracting.

  • Viewfinder Accuracy: A tight optical viewfinder, but very good accuracy with the LCD monitor. The Nikon Coolpix 3200's optical viewfinder was a little tight, showing only 84 percent frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 83 percent at telephoto. The LCD monitor fared much better, showing about 99 percent at wide angle. However, at telephoto, the framing was actually just slightly loose, as the measurement lines wound up outside the final frame. Given that I like LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accurate as possible, the Nikon 3200's LCD monitor has a little room for improvement, (but not much, it's really pretty good).

  • Optical Distortion: Higher than average barrel distortion, but low pincushion. Optical distortion on the Nikon Coolpix 3200 was a little higher than average at the wide-angle end, where I measured approximately 1.0 percent barrel distortion. The telephoto end fared much better, as I found only 0.05 percent pincushion distortion there (about one pixel). There was a fair bit of softening in the corners of the image, but chromatic aberration was low, with only weak color showing around the target lines. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)
  • Shutter Lag and Cycle Time: Average to better than average shutter response, average cycle times. The Nikon 3200 does pretty well in terms of shutter lag, particularly at the wide angle end of its zoom range. (Shutter lag is a fairly fast 0.61 seconds at wide angle, a decidedly average 0.97 seconds at telephoto.) Cycle times are good to average for its price class, at 2.2 seconds for large/fine files, but its buffer space is pretty limited at only two shots before the camera has to slow to wait for the memory card to catch up. It does better in continuous mode, at 1.3 frames/second for three frames in large/fine mode, and nearly two frames/second for 30-40 shots in small/basic mode.

  • Battery Life: Even though it's powered by only two AA cells, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 showed pretty good battery life. It uses a custom "dummy battery" connector for its AC adapter, so I couldn't measure its power consumption directly, but I measured its worst-case run time (record mode with the LCD turned on) at 140 minutes on a set of "standard" 1600 mAh cells. (I report results based on 1600 mAh NiMH cells for the sake of consistency, but modern high-capacity cells have true capacities a good 25-35% higher than this.) You can thus expect worst-case run times of three hours or more with good-quality NiMH cells in the 3200. Regardless of the 3200's long battery life though, I still strongly recommend that you purchase several sets of high-capacity NiMH AA cells and a good charger to go along with them. To see which NiMH cells are best, see my battery shootout page. Read my review of the Maha C-204F charger, to learn why it's my longtime favorite.




Conclusion

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Nikon's Coolpix line of consumer digicams has always been well-received, appreciated for their image quality and ease of use. From the sharp Nikon optics to the full range of exposure control, the Coolpix series has satisfied a wide range of users. The Coolpix 3200 continues this trend, with its 3x Nikkor lens (with exceptional macro capabilities), 3.2-megapixel CCD, and well-rounded offering of preset shooting modes. The consumer focus of the 3200 is expressed in its Framing Assist modes, providing nearly infallible framing and exposure metering for entry-level users. Compact and travel-worthy, the Coolpix 3200 is a very flexible point-and-shoot camera, with just enough features to produce great images with minimal hassle. In my testing, the Coolpix 3200's images showed accurate exposure and good color, but were quite a bit more contrasty than I personally prefer. Under average lighting, the high contrast makes the sort of bright, snappy-looking images that appeal to many consumers. Under strong daylight lighting though, the high contrast results in lost highlight detail and a harsher look to the images. I hasten to point out though, that my tastes in photos aren't everyone's. (The basic reason for showing the standardized test photos on this site.) If you like sharp, contrasty images, the Coolpix 3200 would be a great choice in a digicam, as it does most everything else right, with great-looking color, an excellent white balance system, exceptional macro capability, and great ease of use.

 

Reader Comments!
Questions, comments or controversy on this article? Click this link to see what other Imaging Resource readers have had to say about Nikon Coolpix 3200, or add comments of your own!


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