Nikon Coolpix 3200
At a Glance
Nikon's 3.2-megapixel Coolpix 3200 is compact and light--it weighs just 6.7 ounces--and it's nicely designed for point-and-click simplicity. It has a slightly plastic look, but feels sturdy enough to resist any knocks it may receive on your travels. We found it very easy to grip, and its controls were simple to operate with one hand. In particular, composing our shots with the smooth and precise 3X zoom control was a breeze.
Though the 3200 has a slot for an SD memory card, the camera carries only 14.5MB of available internal memory (enough for about nine shots at the highest setting) is included in its $280 price. The good news is that you won't be left in the cold if you forget to pop in your SD card.
The 3200's menus take a little getting used to. At first we didn't know whether to enter its separate setup mode or just press the menu button for our current mode--but we soon got used to its quirks. The menus are not deeply nested, yet we sometimes felt as though we had scrolled a lot because there were only three options per page. The smallish 1.6-inch LCD screen was extremely difficult to use in bright sunlight. You can reduce the LCD's brightness, but that washes out the colors.
To complement its full-automatic setting, the 3200 offers 15 scene shooting modes to assist in capturing everything from sunsets to beaches to fireworks, plus a setting that lets you use Nikon's included image management software to stitch shots into a panorama. If you want anything more advanced, such as aperture- or shutter-priority automatic, you'll want to look elsewhere.
The 3200 lets you set gridlines on its LCD screen, to frame your shots more accurately. Other framing lines assist in positioning people in portraits, scenery in landscapes, and straight lines in shots of buildings.
By holding down the shutter release, you can take up to ten shots of the same subject, thanks to the Nikon's Best Shot Selector mode. The camera decides which of the images is best and commits only the sharpest to memory. This might help you get a better photo when you're shooting in low light conditions, where slow shutter speeds and a shaky camera tend to yield blurry images--for instance, inside an art museum where using a flash is prohibited.
The 3200 earned high scores in our still life test, which is designed to test color accuracy, sharpness, and detail under daylight lighting. We saw remarkable exposure accuracy and color reproduction. The camera's shot of our outdoor San Francisco rooftop scene (with lots of blue sky) was somewhat less impressive, though not bad: Well exposed; modestly good detail in the shadows; noticeable speckling in the blue sky; and natural, albeit somewhat muted colors.
We took the 3200 along on a stroll through San Francisco's Embarcadero waterfront. Soon we had a nice variety of shots of tugboats working in the bay, skateboarders ignoring the "no skateboarding" signs, and tourists on the terraces in front of the Ferry Building. It was a sunny day and all of our shots displayed bright, vibrant colors and good contrast.
Powered by two AA alkaline batteries, the 3200 lasted just over two hours or 220 shots--an average lifespan. Alternatively, it can take rechargeable AA batteries or a CR-V3 disposable lithium battery, which has an exceptionally long life.
Easy to carry and easy to use, the Nikon Coolpix 3200 is an excellent choice for informal photographers who couldn't care less about fine-art imaging but who want to take great-looking snapshots.