6.28.2012

The latest chapter in my ongoing Nikon D3200 review.

ISO 100

After a week of shooting portraits with black and white film in a medium format camera and shooting a television commercial with a Sony a77 I decided to take a break this afternoon and go for a stroll around downtown Austin in the warm glow of the late afternoon.  As a counterpoint to the lit, on tripod work I've been doing I chose to take along just the little Nikon D3200, the kit lens (18-55mm) and, well....nothing else.  My first observation:  The whole package is small and light and easy to walk with. I do think it will balance better with a single focal length lens so I'm trying to decide between the 35mm 1.8 Nikon lens or its longer brother, the 50mm 1.8 lens.  I'm not into expensive glass for what I consider to be my new point and shoot system so I'll leave my choice right there.

Let's get the stuff that's most important to the web dwellers from hell first. An ISO test.  The above image was shot (handheld) at ISO 100.  It's about as noise free as I can imagine and the large file is creamy smooth and detailed.  All the files from the D3200 seem to want some sharpening if you look at them at 100% but if you don't have you nose pressed to the screen the unsharpened images look natural and.....photographic. 

ISO 3200

The image directly above is the other half of my ISO test. It was shot at 3200 ISO (also handheld). If you blow it up you can see a pepper grain pattern noise that has no color flecking or transmorgification of duplicitous color.  That means there's a pattern that looks like Tri-X film grain but is not bothersome to me and is invisible at normal magnifications and viewing distances.  The nice thing about the Nikon files is how they maintain color saturation at the higher ISO's.  The high ISO's are a little better than the Sony a77 files.  Maybe by one half to three quarters of a stop.  

ISO 3200

Here's one more at 3200 ISO.  The beer in the image is Alaskan IPA ale.  It was delicious. The perfect counterpart to a 100 degree stroll through the asphalt heaven we call home.  I got and drank the ale at Caffe Medici on Congress Ave.  Giving up caffeine doesn't mean that all is lost...
I do wonder what the staff think when we photographers descend upon their workplace and spend time photographing our beverages...

ISO 800

Sometimes, when I am between projects and Belinda is working at the ad agency I cook dinner for the three of us.  I made a dish last night that was kind of fun. I got a handful of red potatoes, the small ones.  I rinsed them, quartered them and steamed them for five minutes and then set them aside.  I did the same with several handfuls of fresh green beans.  I got a big skillet and sauteed sweet onions in olive oil, a touch of butter, fresh oregano from our herb garden and some comino pepper.  Then I pulled the onions out and tossed in the potatoes, cooking them until they started to get brown and crusty.  Then I tossed in the blanched green beans and finally added back the onions and some carrot chips for color.  But I like to photograph while I cook so I set the camera at ISO 800 and kept it next to my chef's knife while I partied on the prep.

ISO 800

The camera and lens combo is good at close distances. The lens focuses down to about a foot.

ISO 800.

Here's my finished dish. I call it "carrot, green bean and potatoe sauté.  The family thought it was yummy.  I served a smoked brisket (lean) along with it and I made a peach pie for dessert. A mix of healthy and fun.  I was shooting in manual and underexposed the two images directly above.  I pulled them up over a stop in Lightroom but the noise didn't come up to badly.  Nice to know there's some safety room there when you're cooking and not paying attention to the numbers in the bottom of the finder.  I served dinner with a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon.  Ben had mint tea.


ISO 100.

So, what do you give up in what is ostensibly a $600 dollar, 24 megapixel DSLR?  Let's go through them by the numbers:  1. No depth of field button. You're on your own.  I know what f8 will do but it's nice to be able to see it.  2. The finder is small.  It's bright but it's small. I wish they'd just bite the bullet, conquer their fear and put a great EVF in this camera.  (The bottom line is I've enjoyed using cameras with much worse finders and, like anything else in life, if you use it enough you'll get used to it.  It's just hard to use after having used cameras with much better finders.  Kinda like driving an M series BMW and then saddling up in a Toyota Corola...). 3. The HDR (techno V... ) crowd will cry, moan and whine about the lack of autobracketing.  4.  I'd rather piss and moan about the loss of a PC socket. Or, 5. A separate set of control wheels for the aperture and shutter speed settings.


ISO 100

So, you give up some stuff.  What do you get in return?  How about a camera that feels solid but is small, lightweight and comfortable? I like the size and the grip. I think the files are very, very good and very, very detailed. The 4 fps is fast enough for me and, even though the buffer isn't very big it clears very quickly if you are using fast SDHC cards.  The battery life is much better than I thought it would be.  I think you can expect 750 shots with no chimping and about 500 shots, well chimped. You also get to have a really bitching file generator for far less than a grand.


Two other complaints, one that's easily remedied. First, you can try hard but you'll have difficulty seeing she screen on the back if you're out shooting in the daylight.  Especially in Austin in the Summer where we enjoy about 12 hours of harsh, brutal sunlight.  I'm sure that if you live in one of the dark countries you won't even think about it but I had to step into deep shade to be sure I was setting things correctly.  And I just gave up on chimping as it was doing more harm than good.  You could carry a Hoodman loupe around with you but that would just be goofy. No solution for this.  Set your camera before you get out of your car and pray you don't need to change settings in full sun.

The other complaint is that the active D-Lighting has no range of adjustment, it's either on or off.  I'm used to the Sony cameras which have both an automatic setting and five levels of manual setting for shadow recovery.  Easy fix. Turn it off and do your shadow savings in post.  One way or another you'll need to hit the shadows with a little noise reduction if you are making heroic detail saves.


When I first started shooting with the camera I thought I'd be happy just plugging away with large, fine Jpegs. I am not.  It's not that the Jpegs aren't good.  They are as good as they need to be, it's just that you have so much more control over the files in raw.  On most cameras these days I feel the need to boost contrast and crunch down hard on the blacks.  (That means I think the blacks are too weak as the camera companies try to give you the dynamic range you thought you wanted). I think the blacks in most digital cameras are totally un-filmlike and boring. Next time you find some noise in the shadows jump on that black slider and your files will look a hell of a lot better. I swear.


I'm presuming the lens adds about $100 to the overall kit price.  It's worth it.  It's a nice focal range, it's sharp in the center and the corners and edges come in well with a combination of stopping down and lens correction software in Lightroom. What you end up with is an image that is sharp and has good resolution but which needs a bit of a contrast boost and some black bump. I also like to add a bit of clarity slider for most files except for the high ISO files where the clarity slider accentuates the noise.


Should you run out and buy this camera?  Do you already have: A Nikon D800 or Canon 5Dmk3 or Olympus OMD EM-5 or a Pentax K-5 or .......?????? If so you don't really need this one, do you? But if you have a kid who's a budding photographer or videographer, or a spouse who wants a lighter, easier to use camera it's killer.  It is my current, "this is the camera you need for your sports, family photo, vacations" recommendation camera. The files are nice and clean and the VR in the lens works great.  The only thing missing, and something that would make this the ultimate tyro camera, is auto-ISO. Edit:  I found the auto-ISO. Instead of being part of the accessible ISO setting via the rear panel you have to go into the menu to turn it on and off. Painful but okay.  Most people doing auto-ISO leave it on all the time.  The rest of it can turn it off until we overdo happy hour and still want to shoot....


What about competitors? Well, the Canon t4i looks good on paper. I haven't played with one yet but it adds some sophistication to the movie mode with a phase detection/ contrast detection hybrid that seems like it's what we need to focus quicker in the video mode. It shoots at 5 fps instead of 4. The lower pixel count of the sensor, couple with Canon's sprinkling of high ISO pixie dust will probably get you a stop more cleanliness at high ISO's and that's about it.  If you have a bag full of Canon lenses it's kind of a "no brainer." But you will be paying $300 more.  


My final take on the camera and lens as a package is this:  Nice shooting package and very well done by Nikon. Would I like more stuff on the camera? Always.  Do I want to pay more? Naw.  You could do decent, professional work with this combo and, if your client never made eye contact with your camera package he or she would never know whether you shot your jobs with the top of the line or the bottom of the line camera in 90% of all jobs.  All bets are off if you are shooting professional sports for money or you need very high ISO's for paying specialized work.
This one really proves that it's not the camera the operator.  Operate well and the D3200 will reward you.


Good basic field kit?  This body, the 12-24mm (which I owned and was happy with...), the 35mm 1.8, the 50mm 1.8 and the Nikon 55-300 mm DX VR zoom.  Now you're ready for just about anything.  Add specialty lenses to taste.


The telephoto end of the kit zoom is pretty nice. I'd still through in a little more contrast and black.

Nikon will do well with this one.  But I'm not switching systems yet.

Hello Sony.  Still waiting for a couple of things.  I'd like to know for sure that the full frame camera is coming soon.  And, I'd like you to produce a 60mm f1.8 lens for the cropped frame cameras. That would be the perfect portrait length.  Please make it small and light and send it to me now.  The check's in the mail...







22 comments:

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Thanks for the nice review Kirk.

My brother is contemplating about a camera, and I showed him one of your previous articles already. Don't know exactly, but I think he also likes video, so I told him to have a look at the D5100 as well. But he's sort of a believer in Canon (we both used to have A-1 film cameras when we were younger, and he still has his). I think I'll have to dig out some 600D and D5100 comparisons - his old FD lenses won't fit anyway (for this, I'd rather recommend some Pen camera or such).

BLB said...

I'm afraid Nikon has gone a little Toyota on us here. We drive Hondas because there are only a couple models - low, medium and high, it's pretty easy to choose. But Toyota often has so many that it's hard to choose or, worse, hard not to slowly slide up the range. With the 3100, 5100 and 3200 so close in price (at least at Amazon) it's hard to know what feature is worth $100-$150 bucks and which are not.

Neil said...

It seems only a short while ago you were telling us that 12MP was the sweet spot, enough pixels for most of the people most of the time... Most photos end up on-line at less than 1MP, and 12 is enough to print high quality at 22" x 17". Even Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display only needs a 5MP image to fill the screen.

So do we really need to slow down our post-processing and fill up our hard drives with 20MB files?

Are you sure that, "this is the camera you need for your sports, family photo, vacations" is good advice? Really? Family photos and vacation shots at 24MP?

Before, there were cost barriers to going high-res, i.e > say 16MP. But just because those barriers have been removed doesn't automatically mean it's a good idea...

Lanthus Clark said...

Hi Kirk!

Congrats on the new baby!

As to your lighter "walkabout" lens question, I won't even hesitate to recommend the AF-S Nikkor 35mm f1.8G DX. It lives on my D90 almost permanently and is an excellent lens for the price. I also have the 50mm f1.8D, and the 35 is simply a better lens. Sometimes the 50 can also be a little too long for certain situations, but the 35 always just seems right.
The pics on this post are with the 35: http://thephotophile.blogspot.se/2012/06/normal-focal-length-prime-lens-as.html

Have a great day!

Lanthus

D said...

Nice useful review, Kirk. Sounds like an inexpensive way to get more megapix---something I have repeatedly denied I'd ever need. I don't do much landscape or wildlife anymore, but this would be a nice little supplement to my aging (?!!!) D300 and would allow me to use most Nikon lens. Now if it only had an Oly-like tiltable EVF or at least a tiltable screen, it would be a no brainer at that price. (No-brainers work out well for a man limited in that area.)

Unfortunately, similar to Olympus last winter, Nikon has placed itself in a bit of a smelly scandal in Japan and I REALLY hate to give either company more of my money. I am running out of Japanese camera companies. Only Canon, Sony, and Mamiya are still clean as far as I know. Maybe I'll finally grab a Leica.

Carlo Santin said...

Either the 35mm 1.8 or the 50mm 1.8 would be terrific with this camera. I have both and find myself going back and forth between the two (on an ancient 6mp D50). The 50mm 1.8D is a tiny lens, making for a very compact and light set-up. The 35 is a bit bulky, especially with the hood, but is very light. The 18-55 kit lens has always been good right from the first non-vr version. I don't see how you can go wrong for the money.

Mike said...

Forget the camera review. I want to try out the vegggie saute'!!!! Mmmmmmmmm.

Shaun said...

Hi Kirk. First, thank you for your inspirational, thought provoking and stimulating blog which has become a great companion on my journey of photographic enlightenment. Your words are the perfect antidote to GAS and loss of mojo. It's the perfect reference for anyone who wants to know why the camera doesn't matter.

I own a D3100 with 35mm 1.8g and 50mm 1.8g. The latter was unboxed earlier this week and my first impressions are wow!!! It's now my preferred lens due to it's superb image quality. The 35mm 1.8g performs brilliantly as a walkabout lens as evidenced at http://www.shotbyshaun.com. That said, I am currently walking, shooting and loving the 50mm 1.8g.

Once again, thanks for a great blog.

kirk tuck said...

The camera is very easy to set at 6 megapixels for most of your shooting. Or 14. And it would still be a good value. The video is always the same resolution. You get to decide. If your family shoots RAW files that's another story...

It's competition is the Rebel line. Is 18 megs that much different?

kirk tuck said...

Time for a Leica indeed.

kirk tuck said...

I got "two thumbs up" from my spouse and my teenage son. Give it a try.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Shaun. I've heard good things about both lenses. And the prices are not daunting....

Condor said...

I don't know what this business I often read is where people think that using jpeg means no adjustments never ever. I use jpeg, and adjust to my heart's content in Aperture. They even have a black point slider, for advanced users.

kirk tuck said...

totally agree. I use all the sliders in LIghtroom 4 as well. A low compression Jpeg is still a pretty hardy file.

Unknown said...

Kirk,

Great review of the 3200. I am in Hawaii now, shooting it amost exclusively while my D300s languishes in my backpack. Using the 50 1.8 and the 105 2.8 macro. Even tried the Rokinon 14mm manual with nice results. I want to complement your open, thoughtful and accessible review of the 3200 -- all you said rings true with my experience.

Tony

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Tony. I always appreciate feedback. I appreciate it more when it makes me feel good.

movingmemories said...

Kirk, as a fellow Austin area resident and Texan I look forward to reading your blog. You are always entertaining and insightful regardless of the subject. I enjoy seeing familiar places through your imaginative eye.

I would like your comments comparing the Nikon D3200 and the Sony A57. I am about to help my fifteen year old daughter purchase a new camera in the couple of months. I believe both cameras will be more than adequate for general photography. My main concerns are auto focus accuracy and performance at higher ISOs for music performances.

kirk tuck said...

Line extension is a long time marketing tool. You only need to buy what you need. If you want to play with big files without spending big money. It's good. If you want a camera with every bell and whistle it's a different story.

Andy B said...

I, too, enjoy reading your blog and would also be interested in your comments comparing the D3200 with the A57. Your previous blog had me all but convinced to replace my Sony A700 with an A57 for my family and vacation photos and all-around shooting!

kirk tuck said...

Andy, the D3200 is a technically straightforward and logical camera while the Sony A57 is a bit wilely and eccentric. They are such different beasts. The Sony is faster. The Nikon is more regimented. I recommend you head to a camera store and play with them both before ordering. They feel so different from each other. That said both will give you really good images.

Lenard Burgess said...

Thank you for the review, it echos my experience with the 3200 as well, a lot of "pros" on the redacted web site say it is crippled. It appears that it is only as crippled as the user looking through the viewfinder.

I have enjoyed my 3200 a lot, very happy with the files especially the ones shot with the 35. I bought the new 24-85 VR lens to test it out, if it works like I hope the D3200, 35, and 24-85 will join the 5DII, 24 TS-E II on a two month long trip through the Caribbean next year.

John Krumm said...

All Alaskan beer is brewed right here in Juneau, one of our most successful hometown companies. Great beer. If you ever run across their barley wine, snap it up.