Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested

After lagging behind Canon for quite a while in the resolution stakes, Nikon has struck back at the professional end with its 36.3MP Nikon D800, and down at the budget end with the 24.2MP Nikon D3200.

Naturally, there are many of us who don't think a £500/$650 camera body has a particularly 'budget' price tag, but the Nikon D3200 is still very new, and we'd expect the street price to drop right below that of the Nikon D5100 once the novelty has worn off a bit.

So what's actually new here? As well as having nearly twice the image resolution of the Nikon D3100, the Guide shooting mode is bigger and better, with more choices and smarter pictorial illustrations of all the salient points. These features are very good news for beginners.

For sporty shooters, there's faster EXPEED 3 image processing, whereas the Nikon D3100 and Nikon D5100 have the previous generation EXPEED 2. Processing and write speeds from the internal buffer to the memory card are also considerably quicker than with the other two cameras.

Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested

Those who like to shoot video of sports action as well as stills will be pleased by the addition of an external microphone socket, which was lacking on the Nikon D3100.

Back in stills mode, there's a jump from the D3100's 3fps to 4fps in continuous drive mode. The LCD is also boosted from 230k to 921k dots, matching the Nikon D5100's resolution, but lacking its pivot facility.

The first casualty of increased sensor resolution is often high ISO performance, with images taking on a grainy appearance or lacking fine detail. The Nikon D3200 does well to limit the damage, producing crisp, clean images all the way up to ISO 3200, while still delivering usable results at its highest ISO settings.

Some of the Nikon D5100's little luxuries are lacking, like an exposure delay shooting mode (to avoid mirror bounce) and a feast of Custom Functions, but it's clear that the Nikon D3200 is definitely a major step up from the Nikon D3100.

Image quality

Outdoor

Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested

Punchy, vivid and not quite as bright as with the Nikon D3100, outdoor quality is actually very similar to that of the up-market Nikon D7000.

Resolution

Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested

Helped by its 24.2MP sensor, the Nikon D3200 rules the roost for image resolution, but you'll need a high- quality lens to make the most of it.

Noise

Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested
ISO 100

Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested
ISO 3200

In low lighting conditions at high ISO settings, the Nikon D3200 produces slightly grainier-looking images than other cameras, but fine detail is retained.

Colour error

Best sports DSLRs: 6 tested

There's very little to choose between the Nikon D3200 and the Nikon D5100, and colour accuracy is very good in both cases.

Image test verdict

The Nikon D3200 gives punchy image quality that's more natural-looking than the Nikon D3100. Image noise at high ISO settings is more noticeable though.

Read our Nikon D3200 review