Sunday, 20 January 2013

D3200 - first comparative test

Time to take an objective eye at my recent investment in a Nikon D3200, which replaces my D40 as lightweight, take-anywhere digital single lens reflex (DLSR) camera. The new camera, launched last April, boasts 24 megapixels, the D40 (which dates back to November 2006) a mere 6.1 MP. Both these cameras are 'DX' format, which means the sensor is not full-frame (for a sensor the size of an old 35mm film frame, choose a Nikon FX format camera, like the D800 or D4, which cost five and ten times more respectively).

The two photos below were taken on the D3200 and D40 respectively, perched atop of a tripod, both set at 200 ISO, in 'program' mode, with Picture Control set to 'vivid', colour balance to 'auto' and Image Quality set to 'JPEG fine'. The lenses used were both 18-55 zooms, the kit lens that came with the cameras, the D3200's lens having Vibration Reduction (VR) but otherwise identical optically.

Given the fact that the settings were identical, my first surprise is that the metering systems of the two cameras differed by two-thirds of a stop (the D40 metered the scene at 1/250th sec at f8, while the D3200 opted for 1/320th sec at f9). So before comparing the two photos, I altered the exposure of the D40 by minus one-third of a stop, and of the D3200 by plus one-third of a stop.

Above: the D3200's rendition of the scene, below, ditto from the D40. The image from the D3200 is visibly cleaner, crisper, even when shown at a small size (though feel free to click to enlarge). The tinted section within the yellow boxes will be enlarged, to show that difference in pixel count does matter.

Below: close-ups taken from both cameras, the D3200's is top. This is a 130% enlargement from the original size frame.

Below: the smaller number of pixels means the frame from the D40 needs to be blown up by more than 300% to get the same size image as that above.

This now, is Most visible (especially if you click to enlarge). Compare the little tree in the foreground, or the row of windows on the roof of the building.

Let us now move on to Vibration Reduction. This is, in my opinion, the greatest advance in lens design in recent years. The ability to take acceptably sharp shots on slow lenses (ie. one with a small hole letting in light) makes a huge difference. Before VR, the rule-of-thumb was that to hand-hold a sharp shot, the longest exposure you could get away with was the reciprocal of the focal length (ie. 1/50th of a second for a 50mm lens, 1/25th of a second for a 24mm lens etc). VR (or IS in Canon language) lets you hand-hold at three to four stops longer (ie. 1/6th of a second for a 50mm lens, 1/3rd of a second for a 24mm lens).

So then - below are two whole-frame images hand held at f4 with the lens set at 24mm; the top one with VR switched off (1/4th of a second), the bottom one with VR switched on (1/3rd of a second).

The difference is clearly visible - and I made a real effort to hold as still as possible while taking both photos. I'm not entirely satisfied with the sharpness of the lower photo (with VR on), so a slightly shorter exposure (say 1/5th of a second) should be acceptable with the lens set at 24mm (equivalent to 35mm on a full-frame DSLR or 35mm film camera).

All in all, I'm delighted with the technological progress that six years have brought in terms of digital imaging, and very happy to have bought the Nikon D3200, a camera I can whole-heartedly recommend to anyone (except camera snobs and professionals shooting images for billboards).

This time last year:
Miserable depths of winter (no snow)

This time two years ago:
From - a short story (Part 1)

This time three years ago:
A month until Lent starts

This time four years ago:
World's biggest airliner over Poland

This time five years ago:
More pre-Lenten thoughts


adthelad said...

correction - both you and I know you meant to say 'a slightly faster shutter speed' or 'a slightly shorter exposure time' rather than 'a slightly longer shutter speed'. Regards,A

Michael Dembinski said...

@ adthelad - of course I meant to say that :)

Many thanks, duly corrected...

Good to know there's someone sensible looking over my shoulder!

Anonymous said...

Nobody deserves a new camera more than you do, Michael. Hope you enjoy it and that it gives you at least 6 years of great service!