Nikon Coolpix 3200 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Coolpix 3200 is the successor to Nikon's Coolpix 3100 and shares a similar compact body design, three-megapixel imager, and 3x optical zoom lens. It features an Auto record mode for point-n-shoot simplicity, but eliminates the Manual mode that was present in the 3100. It has a rich set of preprogrammed Scene modes to assist you in those ordinary but often challenging photo ops, including a Panorama assist mode that was not present in the 3100. Other differences from the 3100 include the addition of sound to its movie mode, the use of SD instead of CF memory cards, a much-need AF-assist illuminator and a rearrangement of the camera controls. The Coolpix 3200 will keep beginners happy with its simplicity, and offers the intermediate user some flexibility in exposure control.
The Coolpix 3200 is very compact but its well-shaped handgrip makes it easy to hold and one- handed shooting is a breeze. The 1.6-inch color LCD is used for image review, preview, access the settings menus and also serves as the camera's data display. This is a high quality display with a real-time refresh rate, but it was difficult to view in bright sunlight despite its brightness control. I was impressed with its usability in low-light conditions as the display "gains up" to give you a brighter view. Thanks to the Quick Review feature you can quickly check your last picture on the LCD and then jump right back to capture mode by simply tapping the shutter button.
The 3x Nikkor zoom lens is sharp and has excellent macro coverage down to about 1.6 inches. The lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wideangle but is relatively free of pincushioning at full telephoto. The zoom and focus mechanisms move smoothly and quietly through their range. Its 38-115mm (35mm-equivalent) optical zoom range is typical for a camera in this class, offering a sufficient field of view for pleasing panorama's, and enough telephoto magnification to bring your subject closer.
The power up to image capture time was about 3 seconds. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter button and capturing the image, measured an impressive 1/10 second when pre-focused using the optical viewfinder; use of the LCD monitor adds about 1/10 second to the pre-focused lag because of the delay in presenting the live viewfinder image. Shutter lag including auto-focus delay measured 5/10 second using the LCD monitor, but a disappointing 1.5 seconds with the LCD turned off; apparently, turning off the LCD also turns off continuous autofocus, lengthening shutter lag. The shot to shot performance allowed 2 images to be captured in 1.5 seconds, with subsequent shots taken at 2 second intervals. Using flash, shot to shot time ranged between 5 and 6.5 seconds depending on the distance to the subject. Continuous mode captured 3 frames in 1.5 seconds, then slowing to 1 frame every 2.3 seconds as the camera emptied its buffer to the SD card. While I'd hesitate to call the 3200 a high-performance camera, it is sufficiently responsive to capture most family shooting situations. These timings were based on the camera set to single advance mode, 3M High (2048 x 1536) image size, auto white balance, and flash off with a 256MB Sandisk Ultra II SD memory card.
Movie mode has a "TV" setting for shooting clips at 640x480, plus settings for 320x240 or 180x120 resolutions, all at 15 fps; movies are limited in size only by the remaining amount of unused memory. The Coolpix 3200 includes a microphone and movies are always recorded with sound; as a result, the optical zoom can be used to compose movies before recording starts, but not during recording. Movie mode has an option for Single or Continuous autofocus; make sure that it's set to Single to avoid recording the clicking noises of the autofocus system at work. I did notice a fair amount of chromatic aberration (purple fringing) in the captured movies.
I was pleased with the CoolPix 3200's outdoor results. Images were in sharp focus, well exposed, and richly saturated. My only complaint during outdoor use was the ineffectiveness of the LCD monitor in bright sunlight; you'll be thankful that there's a small zoom-coupled optical viewfinder for use in such conditions. The LCD's poor viewability in bright sunlight limits the usefulness of the 3200's Panorama assist feature, which uses the LCD to help you align the sequence of images comprising a panorama.
The indoor results were also pleasing. The limited range of the built-in speedlight (about 11 feet) and the field of view at wide angle will limit your flash shots to small rooms and portraits of small groups. You'll be able to include yourself in those group portraits thanks to the 3200's tripod socket and the use of its self-timer. The 3200 has several features which improve its effectiveness in conditions of low ambient light; the LCD viewfinder image is "boosted" and there's a focus-assist lamp which will allow you to capture sharp images using flash even in complete darkness. There's also a Blur Warning that will alert you to a shot marred by camera shake, offering you the choice of saving or deleting the blurred shot. The CoolPix 3200 is very effective at squelching its flash at close range, and, combined with its macro focusing capability, would be a good choice for capturing images of small objects for inclusion in online auction listings. Your Macro shots without flash will be improved by using the Best Shot Selector mode, which captures a sequence of up to 10 shots and saves only the sharpest.
The Coolpix 3200 is powered by either two AA cell batteries or one CR-V3 lithium battery. We've always recommended the use of NiMH rechargeable AA batteries; they supply a lot more power than alkalines and they'll save you money. There's now a money-saving alternative to disposable CR-V3 batteries; check out our list of CR-V3 rechargeable batteries. Because Alkaline, NiMH and Lithium batteries have different indications of their state of charge, Nikon added a menu option to define the type of battery installed, presumably to enable the 3200 to more accurately determine the remaining battery life. I was disappointed with its accuracy, however. Using freshly-charged 2200mah NiMH batteries, the 3200 captured about 60 images before reporting battery depletion; during recharging, a smart battery charger indicated at least half of their capacity remained. The rechargable RCR-V3 Lithium ion battery fared much better, producing about 150 images before the 3200 presented the "Warning!! Battery Exhausted" message, and shut down.
The Coolpix 3200 is an easy to use and reasonably priced (~$300 at the time of this review) three-megapixel compact camera. It yields sharp pictures with good tone and color saturation. The 3-megapixel high quality images will yield photo-quality prints right up to 8x10" size. This camera will please the novice as well as the intermediate user and thanks to its small size and light weight, you can carry it around all day. While I was happy with its image quality, I was disappointed by its short battery life with AA size NiMH cells and poor LCD visibility in bright outdoor sunlight.
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