Nikon D3200 review - Quality

Quality

Nikon D3200 vs Sony NEX-7 vs Canon EOS T2i / 550D

 
To compare real-life performance when zoomed-out, I shot this scene with the Nikon D3200, the Sony NEX-7 and the Canon EOS T2i / 550D within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

All three cameras were fitted with their respective 18-55mm kit lenses which were set to their widest angle 18m settings to provide an equivalent field of view. I didn’t attempt to adjust the zooms to compensate for the marginal differences in crop factor between the three cameras.

  Nikon D3200 results
1 Nikon D3200 Quality
2 Nikon D3200 RAW vs JPEG
3 Nikon D3200 Noise
5 Nikon D3200 Sample images

All three cameras were set to f5.6 in Aperture priority exposure mode, stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test and tone enhancement features were left on the default settings – Active D-Lighting on the D3200 was on, Auto Lighting Optimizer on the T2i / 550D was set to Standard and DRO was set to Auto on the NEX-7. The ISO sensitivity was manually set to 100 ISO on all three models.

The image above was taken with the Nikon D3200 with the AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode with the aperture set to f5.6 and the sensitivity was set to 100 ISO. The D3200 metered an exposure of 1/640 at f5.6 – the same as the EOS T2i / 550D. The NEX-7 selected an exposure of 1/800 at f5.6 and so 1/3EV exposure compensation was set to produce the same exposure as the other two cameras.

Overall the D3200 has produced a good result from this high contrast scene. Despite its tendency to occassionally over-expose in just these kinds of situation, this time it’s got the exposure bang on with a histogram right in the middle of the chart and no clipping. The colours are well saturated and the white balance is good.

Moving onto the crops, the first one is distinctly average in terms of the fine detail, while you can make out the window frames and crosses on the roof of the chapel, the detail in the stonework and the foreground rocks isn’t as clear as it might be. The second crop with the lighthouse is much more promising though. Despite the slight atmospheric haze, the lighthouse is a distinct white cylinder and the foreground roofs and window frames are reasonably cleanly defined. There’s a slight softness to the edge detail in this crop that could almost certainly be addressed with different processing and there’s not too much evidence of noise at the base 100 ISO setting.

The third crop from closer to the edge of the frame also looks very good with no visible softening and no evidence of colour fringing. Lastly in the crop from close to the centre of the frame the edges look sharp and well-defined, but the softness apparent in the other crops is evident here too.

Given that they probably share the same sensor the D3200 crops make for an interesting comparison with those from the Sony NEX-7. The most obvious difference is that the NEX-7 crops are a little more contrasty than those from the D3200, so the detail looks a little bit sharper, but there isn’t really any more detail there. In the second crop, the lighthouse looks more clearly defined as does the foreground detail, but again, I think this is mostly, if not all, down to the contrast and possibly more aggressive sharpening. It’s the same story in the final crop where the NEX-7 has produced a more contrasty result with more apparent detail, but more noise too. It’s quite likely that what we’re comparing here is results from the same sensor and the differences are entirely due to lens characteristics and processing.

Compared with the results form the Canon EOS T2i / 550D’s 18 Megapixel sensor, the Canon crops again look a little sharper and more clearly defined than those from the D3200. The Canon kit lens is prone to fringing at the edge of the frame, but other than that I think these outdoor crops look a little more detailed than those from the D3200. The truth is that the quality gap between 18 and 24 Megapixels is less than you might expect.

Check out my D3200 RAW vs JPEG results on the next page or see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my D3200 Noise results.

 
Nikon D3200
 
Sony NEX-7
 
Canon EOS T2i / 550D
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO


Nikon D3200
results : Quality / RAW vs JPEG / Noise

Nikon D3200 JPEG vs RAW

 

To compare real-life performance between RAW and JPEG files on the Nikon D3200, I shot this scene in the camera’s RAW plus Large Fine JPEG mode enabling me to compare images created from exactly the same data. The sensitivity was set to 100 ISO and the aperture to f5.6.

The JPEG was processed using the in-camera defaults, while the RAW file was processed using the supplied Nikon ViewNX 2 software which provides basic RAW editing tools.

  Nikon D3200 results
1 Nikon D3200 Quality
2 Nikon D3200 RAW vs JPEG
3 Nikon D3200 Noise
5 Nikon D3200 Sample images

The first colunm shows the results from the in-camera processed JPEG using the default settings. alongside in the middle column are the results produced using Nikon ViewNX 2, also on the default settings, and the results, if not identical, are so similar as to make little difference.

The third row of crops was also produced in ViewNX 2, this time with the sharpness setting increased to 4 (from a default setting of 0) and the contrast boosted to 15. The result is a much punchier, consumer-friendly image closer to the results we saw from the NEX-7 on the outdoor test. Possibly I’ve gone a little too far with the contrast, but it serves to demonstrate what you can achieve with just a couple of basic tweaks to the D3200’s RAW data.

Editing the RAW files in this way of course offers the scope for much more, but you can achieve a similar result to this in-camera by changing the Picture Control settings in the Shooting menu. The question is how many novice DSLR users will be aware of that or bother? One reason Nikon may be treading gently when it comes to in-camera contrast and sharpening is noise. In my tweaked RAW output, the noise is more visible but, for a 100 ISO shot, I think it’s pretty acceptable. The same might not be true as you move up the ISO sensitivity range. To find out how they compare at higher sensitivities see my D3200 noise results.

 

D3200 in-camera JPEG
 
D3200 RAW default processing
 
D3200 RAW tweaked processing
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO


Nikon D3200
results : Quality / RAW vs JPEG / Noise

Nikon D3200 vs Sony NEX-7 vs Canon EOS T2i / 550D noise

 
  Nikon D3200 results
1 Nikon D3200 Quality
2 Nikon D3200 RAW vs JPEG
3 Nikon D3200 Noise
5 Nikon D3200 Sample images

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions , I shot this scene with the Nikon D3200, the Sony NEX-7 and the Canon EOS T2i / 550D within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

All three cameras were fitted with their respective 18-55mm kit lenses set to their wide angle 18mm focal length and all were set to Aperture priority exposure mode with the ISO senstivity set manually.

The above shot was taken with the Nikon D3200 with the AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. For these tests the camera was placed on a tripod and the D3200’s Active D-Lighting tonal enhancement was turned off. Auto Lighting Optimzer on the Canon EOS T2i / 550D was disabled as was D-Range Optimizer on the Sony NEX-7. Noise reduction for all three cameras was left on default settings. In Aperture priority mode with the aperture set to f4 the camera metered an exposure of 1/4 at 100 ISO.The Canon EOS T2i / 550D metered the same exposure and the Sony NEX-7 was adjusted by 1EV to produce an equivalent exposure.

The 100 ISO crop from the Nikon D3200 is by no means noise free, you can see a little bit of texture in the cream coloured wall and the dark areas of the memorial frame, but it’s not interfering with detail and you’d have to be looking very hard to spot it. The noise level increases appreciably in the 200 ISO crop, but it’s still negligible.

At 400 ISO there’s another ramp up and this time it’s enough to make a difference to the amount of detail you can see in the crop. The text isn’t as crisp as in the earlier two crops and edges are starting to get a little fuzzy. At 800 ISO you really don’t have to look too hard to see the graininess over the whole of the crop area. Having said that, other than looking a little more contrasty and less saturated the 800 ISO shot is perfectly usable at less than 1:1 sizes.

At 1600 ISO we’re definitely beyond the point where you’d consider the D3200’s image quality good enough for 1:1 reproduction, but despite increasingly noisy and clumpy pixels, the 3200 to 12800 ISO settings provide passable results viewed at smaller sizes on screen.

Given the slightly more punchy results produced by the Sony NEX-7 in the outdoor test, you might have expected it to perform less well than the D3200 in this high ISO Noise test, but in fact the opposite is the case. At the base 100 ISO setting the NEX-7 starts out with a better result and at 400 ISO, where there’s clearly visible grain in the D3200 crop the NEX-7 is looking a lot cleaner. The 1600 ISO crop provides a bit more of a clue to the cause of the difference, the NEX-7’s noise reduction is simply more effective than the D3200’s. To be sure, some of the detail in the NEX-7 crop looks smoothed, but I think this is overall a better result than the more laissez faire Nikon approach. And lest we forget the Sony also has the advantage of multi-frame noise reduction in its Handheld Twilight mode. I of course understand the NEX-7 is a more expensive camera, but it’s interesting to see two different processing approaches to what are almost certainly the same sensor.

Compared to the 18 Megapixel Canon EOS T2i / 550D, at the lower ISO sensitivity settings there’s actually very little in it, but from about 400 ISO upwards the T2i / 550D has cleaner crops with less visible noise than the D3200. It’ll be interesting to see what sensor Canon has in store for its next range of entry-level DSLRs and how it compares to the D3200.

Now head over to my D3200 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions.

Nikon D3200
 
Sony NEX-7
 
Canon EOS T2i / 550D
100 ISO
100 ISO
100 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
6400 ISO
6400 ISO
6400 ISO
Hi1 12800 ISO
12800 ISO
H 12800 ISO
16000 ISO Not available
16000 ISO
16000 ISO Not available

Nikon D3200 results : Quality / RAW vs JPEG / Noise

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