First impressions of the Nikon D3200's performance are good, and we think this camera is likely to appeal greatly to novice shooters. And because it has a few features that enthusiasts will also appreciate, they won't need to upgrade too quickly as they gain experience.
Autofocus acquisition in the majority of cases is quick, slightly dropping in low light situations, but the system copes well otherwise. Although the Nikon D3200 doesn't boast the AF speed of some other DSLRs, the average user should have no problems using the camera in everyday shooting scenarios.
It's worth bearing in mind that autofocus is slower when using Live View, because the speedy phase detection is replaced by a slower contrast detection system. This may frustrate some shooters who are used to the quick speeds of compact cameras.
On the whole, the camera's automatic white balance system seemed to do a good job of measuring the scene, and produces mostly accurate results.
In some daylight situations the camera produces slightly cooler images than is preferable, but, as usual, you have the opportunity to choose the white balance in-camera if you think that's going to be a problem.
One niggle, however, is the screen output. It seems to favour cooler, greenish tones - giving the impression that an image is a lot cooler than it is in reality.
On a couple of daylight or shady occasions we altered the white balance to the appropriate setting, and on the LCD screen the result seemed to be roughly accurate. However, upon inspecting the images on a computer, they were overly warm, and even had an orange cast in some cases.
While this wouldn't necessarily be a big issue for a more experienced user, who would probably be shooting in raw format and colour correcting afterwards, for the intended novice user of the Nikon D3200 it is an issue that the rear screen can't be relied upon for an accurate depiction of colour.
By introducing a greater number of pixels to the sensor, there comes a greater risk of increased image noise. Nikon says that noise levels remain roughly the same as from the 14.3 megapixel Nikon D3100, but in certain rare conditions, the performance is slightly worse.
Thankfully, our labs data showed that the Nikon D3200 performs extremely well when compared with its predecessor.
When shooting at high sensitivities, such as ISO 1600, noise is generally controlled well. When viewing images at 100 per cent there is sometimes some smoothing where noise control has been implemented in JPEG files.
It's important again to think about the intended audience and the (un)likelihood of very large printing, although of course any cropping would emphasise the noise levels further.
Viewing images at A4 (US letter) size shows there's plenty of detail, good colour tones and a low level of noise. It's also pleasing to see that good results can also be had with the 18-55mm lens, which is included as standard with the kit package.
Happily, images shot at even higher sensitivity settings, such as ISO 3200 and ISO 6400, also show a good level of noise control. Although, as you might expect, there is some detail drop-off, it's certainly preferable to not being able to get the shot at all.
When examining high sensitivity (ISO 6400) raw format images with noise reduction switched off, we can see that more detail is captured - but at the expense of introducing more luminance and colour noise.
If desired, the amount of noise reduction can be controlled via Nikon's Capture NX2, or with Adobe Photoshop when the relevant profiles become available for download. You can also elect to shoot with noise reduction switched off in-camera, tailoring noise control in post-production.
However, this wouldn't be the recommended option for most beginner users, who would, in the majority of cases, be more than happy with the output provided by the in-camera noise reduction tools.
It's also worth pointing out that this can't be controlled via View NX2, the software which comes supplied in the box.
Matrix metering does a good job in the majority of occasions, struggling a little in high contrast or mixed lighting conditions. The option to change metering modes is, as you might expect, a little hidden away in the menu system.
One of the benefits of having a 24 million pixel sensor is the ability to crop into an image and still retain a high resolution output. This is useful when shooting something further away than the reach of your lens.
Cropping is available in-camera, and it's relatively easy to apply, negating the need to do much on a computer once the image is downloaded.
We can see the option to straighten horizons being particularly appealing to users. We would have liked to have seen the ability to add ratings from within the camera, making it easier to see which images to ditch and which to keep, but perhaps this is something Nikon could consider for future models.