Nikon d3100 vs d3200 – Which Nikon DSLR is a Better Option?

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While small in size and convenient, compact cameras often lag behind DSLRs in picture quality, due to the size of the camera’s sensor.  They are also unsuitable to capture usable images of non-stationary subjects, which further limit their use.  The Nikon D3100 and the Nikon 3200 cameras are both excellent options for new photographers looking to upgrade from a compact camera to an entry level DLSR.

Nikon D3200 vs D3100 – At a Glance

Nikon D3100 Nikon D3200
Year Introduced 2010 2012
Format DX DX
Crop Factor 1.5X 1.5X
Megapixels  14.2 Million  24.2 Million
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Image Format RAW or JPG RAW or JPG
Sensor Size 23.1 mm x 15.4 mm 23.2 mm x 15.4 mm
Sensor Cleaner Yes Yes
Autofocus Points 11 11
View Finder Coverage 95% 95%
Frames Per Second 3 4
ISO 100-3200 100-6400
Expandable ISO Up to 12,800 Up to 12,800
Built In Flash Yes Yes
Card Slots 1 1
Card Type SD, SDHC, SDXC SD, SDHC, SDXC
LCD Size 3” 3”
LCD Fixed or Swivel Fixed Fixed
Video Yes Yes
Video Type HD or VGA HD or VGA
Internal Autofocus Motor No No
GPS Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Wireless Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Wi-Fi Optional Accessory Optional Accessory
Battery Single EN-EL14 Single EN-EL 14a
Unique Features Preset Scene Modes Preset Scene Modes
Size Without Lens 4.9 “ x 3.8” x 2.9” 5.2” x 4.1” x 3.0”
Weight Without Lens 17.8 Ounces 17.6 Ounces
Manufactured In Thailand Thailand
Body Only or with Kit Lens With Kit Lens With Kit Lens
Accessories Manual, Charger, Cables Manual, Charger, Cables
Cost $499.95 $529.95

*Information from Nikon USA website, including pricing.

Similarities Between the Nikon d3200 and 3100

nikon D3200 vs D3100 The Nikon D3100 and D3200 are very similar, with the D3100 being the second generation of the D3000 series of DSLR cameras offered by Nikon, while the D3200 is a slight upgrade and is the third generation.  The biggest similarity of the two cameras is the outstanding quality of the images that the cameras capture.  In normal lighting, using a good lens, the images produced by both the D3100 and D3200, are equal to the Nikon, D4, which is Nikon’s top of the line professional camera.

The small size and low weight of both cameras is also very similar, which will be appreciated if carrying a camera around on a regular basis. As experienced photographers will tell you, “the best camera is the one that you have with you”!  Due to the lightweight and small size, there is no reason not to go anywhere without it.

Both cameras offer a variety of pre-programmed scene modes where the user selects the type of subject being photographed and the camera automatically selects all of the camera settings, which will optimize the image of the subject.  The available modes include sports, portrait, night portrait, landscape, close up and children.  This is addition t the fully automatic modes and aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes.

Also similar is the low cost of either of the cameras, as well as the tremendous value that either camera offers.  The technology behind the cameras is very advanced and is shared by many other Nikon digital cameras, including the D4.  Either camera offers excellent value, especially as the next generation of the D3000 camera series is introduced.  This will result in the pricing getting even more competitive on the D3100 and D3200!

Other similarities include an 11-point autofocus system, the ability to shoot in JPG or RAW format, the 1.5x crop factor, built in flash, a single SD card slot and a viewfinder that provides 95% coverage.  Both cameras have the ability to shoot video is HD or VGA formats, if shooting video is important.  While the D3200 shoots a slightly higher frame per second than the D3100, the speed is virtually the same.

Differences Between Them

There are two major differences between the two cameras and they are the effective megapixels and the ISO range.  While the D3200 has 24.2 effective megapixels, the 14.2 megapixels provided by the D3100 is more than suitable.  If the same image were taken using the D3100 and the D3200 in identical light, using the same lens, it would be virtually impossible to tell which camera took which image.  The 14.2 megapixels found in the D3200 does not mean the camera is inferior to the D3200.  Keep in mind that the D4, which is top of the line digital camera, “only“ has 16.2 megapixels!

While both cameras can boost their ISO to 12800, the D3100 has a normal ISO range from 100-3200, while the D3200 has a normal range of 100-6400.  In most cases, photographers avoid shooting in extremely high ISO because of the impact that it can have on the image.  At high ISO settings, the camera’s “brain” or processor removes any graininess or “noise” from the image, while processing it in the camera.  Typically this processing results in “softer” images.  Although the D3100 and the D3200 have the ability to process images taken at ISO levels, the best images are typically achieved at low ISO settings, where noise reduction is not needed.

Pros and Cons of Each

In addition to the excellent image quality, the low overall weight of both the D3100 and D3200 is a very positive feature.  This allows the user to have a camera, which is easy to carry around, yet performs vastly superior than most point and shoot compact cameras.

Another positive feature of the D3100 and D3200 cameras is their ease of use, which allows the photographer to concentrate on composing the shot.  As the photographer’s skills develop, they have the ability to move to shooting in manual mode, where they select the camera’s settings, including shutter speed and aperture.

There are a number of cons with both of these cameras, with the first being the small size.  While the low weight is great, the small physical size of the cameras may make it difficult to use, especially if the user has large hands.   Many feel that the hands tend to cramp when gripping the camera over time.

Another downside of the camera is the limited number of buttons that allow the user to manually configure the camera.  Although there are a limited number of functions that can be done via both cameras’ simple menus, the overall menu system and lack of external controls is a downside to the camera, but this was necessary to keep the cost down.

Overall Recommendation: Nikon d3100 or d3200

While both cameras are excellent, I would select the Nikon D3200 over the D3100, due to the increased ISO performance the D3200 provides.  I would also buy the black version and not the red version!

Although an ISO of 3200 on the D3100 is an acceptable, the ability to get clean images in low light at ISO at 6400 gives the D3200 a significant advantage in the type of shooting I do, which tends to be in low light and without a flash.  Although both cameras can have their ISO boosted to 12800, it comes at a price in regards to the quality of the images the camera produces.  While the D3200 does have a larger number of megapixels, this is not a factor in my selection.

I would also chose the single lens kit, which includes the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55 F3.5-5.6 VR lens over the double zoom lens kit, which includes the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-55 f3.5-5.6 G EDII and the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 55-200 f4-f5.6G ED.   This is because the lens supplied in the single lens kit is a VR or Vibration Reduction lens, which basically stabilizes the lens.  This allows for very clean images reducing the impact of any “camera shake”, while the image is taken.  This really impacts the quality of the images!  The lenses in the double zoom kit are not VR lenses. If price is your primary concern, I would go with the Nikon d3100 model at this price point on Amazon.

Although both cameras are marketed as entry level DSLRs, experienced photographers will appreciate the high quality of the images the cameras produce, as well as the small size and the lightweight qualities of the camera.  The D3100 and the D3200 are both a big step up from a vast majority of compact or point and shoot cameras.  Overall, I would opt for the Nikon D3200.

Robert Alexander
 

A camera geek and freelance photographer, Robert (Aka "Rob" or "Bob") spends way too much time examining the finer points of cameras.

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